Thursday, August 21, 2008

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Smallville?

My previous post generated a bit of discussion on the various shortcomings of Smallville. And while I don't really think about or talk about this show much anymore, I would like to outline some of the various places where Smallville went seriously wrong.

Smallville is a show that I kept watching because I deluded myself into thinking that there would be some sort of pay-off. The thing that is so frustrating is that it was a great idea for a show...and it has a built-in, fail-proof pay-off. And yet...

Smallville missed the mark completely in so many ways. And I'm not saying it needed to be loyal to comic book canon or continuity. I was absolutely into a re-telling of the story, with new characters and altered relationships and histories. I think some of the strongest characters on the show were created specifically for the show. Chloe Sullivan and Lionel Luthor, for example.

What I am saying is, I accept and appreciate the world that Smallville created, and that it is separate, but inspired by, Superman comics. But the makers of the show couldn't even keep a handle on that world.

So as Smallville quietly slinks toward the finish line, I am going to point out some specific mistakes made. Because I would hate to see this happen again with another comic-based show down the road.

1. Chloe Sullivan vs Lois Lane: I don't know about you guys, but I think Chloe became the strongest character on the show by, say, season 4. Right off the bat, she was clearly inspired by Lois Lane. A fast-talking spunky journalist who constantly lets her curiosity get the best of her. Plus, there's the whole massive crush on Clark Kent thing.

We knew early on that Chloe had a cousin in Metropolis named Lois Lane. Here's where the show went wrong: introducing Lois as a character on the show. If you want a great pay-off...make Chloe turn out to be Lois. This is something that there were rumours about...until Lois showed up. Chloe alluded to the fact that her cousin had no interest in journalism, and that Chloe had used her cousin's name as a pen name. In the context of this show, Chloe could have been Lois.

And that would have been great because all of the chemistry on the show is between Clark and Chloe (besides, of course, that between Lex and Clark). Lana is boring, and there is nothing between Clark and Lois. The viewers want to see Clark and Chloe together forever, but that can't happen because it's not canon. Well, make it canon.


2. Make Lana Lang a better character: Lana's character pretty much started and ended with being pretty and boring. I don't really think anyone was rooting for her. By throwing Chloe into the mix, you pretty much ruined any chance of the viewers wanting to see Clark and Lana as a couple. Lana ended up being a character that no one knew what to do with, so she ended up pregnant and married by the time she was 19. LAME. (And then not pregnant and not married soon after...but still boring).

3. The Death of Pa Kent: What a terrible, terrible episode this was. You know, the one where Clark finally tells Lana his secret, and she is totally cool with it, so he proposes to her on the spot? When they are, like 18? But then through some twisted fate and through Lex's jealous rage, Lana is killed in a car accident. So Clark goes to Jor-El of all people and begs him to change things so Lana can be alive again. And Jor-El does...on the condition that someone else Clark loves dies in her place.

You can see the problem here.

So Clark agrees to this. And then his dad dies of a heart attack the very night he wins the state senate election (which...don't even get me started about that). And ok with this? Lana for his father is a fair trade?! And for the rest of the series he's like "Gee I miss dad, I wish he wasn't dead." He didn't have to be, asshole!

4. The Constant Amnesia: There was no chance for the show to ever progress, or for the characters to grow, because every episode ended with one or more characters suffering short-term memory loss. The events of each episode never affected them. No lessons were ever learned, no stronger bonds were ever formed, no secrets were uncovered. Unlike with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, nothing that happened on Smallville ever mattered. You knew there would never be any repercussions at all. So it became very boring. Chloe would find out Clark's secret, but you knew she would have her memory wiped by the end of the episode. Or someone would turn evil and not remember anything later. Barely anything carried from one episode to the next. The gang would save some fellow high school kid's life, hang out with them for an episode, have some heart-to-heart talks, and then never see them again. They wouldn't try to be their friend later? I just find that weird.

5. Let Lex Have Some Fun: Now it would take forever to list every opportunity wasted by Smallville, but this to me is a big one. Smallville is a fantasy-based drama that pretty much allows for any ridiculous scenario to be swallowed by the viewers. This made for some pretty fun episodes, such as the red kryptonite-infected Clark stories, the Jimmy Olsen film noir dream episode, the Chloe forcing everyone to tell her the truth about everything epsiode, and many others. It also led to some pretty terrible episodes (vampire sorority anyone?). Everyone enjoys an episode where someone gets to act out-of-character. Hands down, the best episode of Smallville was the body switching one between Clark and Lionel. Brilliant! It should have lasted a month!

Where am I going with all of this? Ah yes. So there were all these episodes where characters got to act all crazy and fun. But there was never really one where Lex was affected in a fun way by anything. The closest we got was an episode where Lex was split into evil Lex and good Lex (science!), or when he was possessed by Zod. When you have a comedic talent like Michael Rosenbaum on the show, USE HIM! Good lord, the possibilities!

I don't know what disappoints me more, the fact that we never got to see Lex be silly or the fact that we never got to see Jonathan Kent (John Schneider) sing!

6. That Whole Marriage Thing: Remember when Clark married that girl who could teleport? And then she died, like, the next day? She was murdered, actually. Horrifically. It was all very traumatic. The kind of thing that would really mess you up and haunt you.

Unless, apparently, you are Clark Kent. Because guess what Clark pretty much never mentioned ever, ever again before the body was even cold: his dead wife.

I kid you not. Here is Clark one episode later!:

I'm just saying, if you are going to have a storyline that stupid, at least try to make it have some sort of lasting repercussions.

And since we're talking about weddings: how about Lex's? What did we see, like, 3 weddings? At least. He's actually the lamest playboy on Earth. Every girl he holds hands with he marries.

Haha...actually, Smallville's portrayal overall of Lex's crazy, sordid life was pretty hilarious. Remember when Clark learned that Lex had slept with, like, 12 girls in one year or something? And Clark was shocked and disgusted and thought Lex had a sex addiction? Good lord. If anything, I was let down by the low score. Also...that "exclusive underground" strip club where, according to Lex, things happened on stage that were supposedly crazy? But then Clark went to it and Lois was dancing as an amateur stripper (probably one of the worst moments of the show ever) and stripped down to her bikini? Yeah, pretty crazy, Lex.

But I got sidetracked. What I wanted to mention was that Lex's whole engagement and marriage to Lana was gross and dumb. The show is so damn wholesome everyone has to get married.

7. Let Him Fly: for the love of Schuster, why the hell does Smallville have a "no tights, no flights" policy?! It's a show about SUPERMAN. Let the man fly! If I have to watch a politician in a suit flitter around the skies on Heroes, I can certainly handle SUPERMAN flying around Smallville. And the few times we've seen it, it looked kinda cool. Especially when he was ripping the door of Lex's jet.

8. Clark Is a Terrible Person: this is the biggest problem with Smallville. We've seen the evolution of Lex Luthor from weird nerdy rich kid to full-on super villain, and the whole way we've seen Clark relentlessly pushing him closer to the edge. ANYONE would become a villain if they had a friend like Clark Kent. He's a complete and utter douche. His entire relationship with Lex, his alleged "best friend," was based on Clark breaking into his home and demanding favours (and not in a sexy way). And it just. never. stopped. It was the most one-sided relationship ever.

All Lex wanted was someone to like him. To give him a hug or some sign they believed he could be a good person. Clark didn't give him anything close to that, and instead reminded him any chance he could that Lex could not be trusted.

Superman made Lex Luthor by being a complete asshole all the time to him. That's a problem. Frankly, given this back story, I am rooting for Lex for the rest of their eternal struggle.

Sorry, I just had to get all of that off my chest. Now I can forget about Smallville forever.

In conclusion, Tom Welling is not shirtless nearly enough.


Dan said...

Hilariously brilliant analysis! I agree with everything you say - love the picture of Clark the Widower in mourning next episode.

Personally, I'm fond of the ever-shrinking distance between Metropolis and Smallville. In early seasons, they were a few hours' drive apart. Then Smallville became just an outer suburb of the city. Next season, they'll build WGBS News in Clark's barn.

I blame continental drift.

Anonymous said...

I think the 'No Flights' policy is because Superman initially can't fly in the early comics. He just super-jumps from place to place like The Hulk.

J Ray said...

well you have one less reason to stay away from smallville now-i remember reading an interview (i don't remember who it was with or even what website it was) where the question was posed again: are they staying with the "no tights, no flights" for this upcoming season?

the answer was that they could promise they'd keep the "no tights" part of it. so apparently we get some flying action this season.

honestly, i had (finally!) given up on the show, and then Geoff Johns has to go and announce he's writing a Legion episode! why?!? I was done! haha

First said...

I made the right choice to never invest any time in this show. I'm gonna go bask a bit now.

Sea_of_Green said...

LOL! I, too, have been watching this show relentlessly for some unknown reason (only thing on at the time?), and gleefully watching the trainwreck unfold. Geez, how Green Arrow needs his own series! He saved that one season, hands down.

I agree with most of your points here. I have to say, though, that I think Lana should have left the show in an earlier season -- say, at the time she went to France -- and either never came back, or came back after Clark had already struck up a relationship with Chloe/Lois. Because, quite honestly, the character of Lana just isn't that important to the Superman mythos.

I also would have liked to have seen MORE genuine Superman villains or soon-to-be-villains, in place of the grand majority of the "freak of the week" crowd.

An episode about Lori Lemaris would have been fun, since Clark supposedly met her in college. But that's just a pipedream. :-)

rachelle said...

dan - seriously! Remember there was one episode in, like, season 5 where Martha drives between Metropolis and Smallville no less than three one night. That is one long-ass night, considering the drive between the two places is supposed to take 3 hours.

j ray - well, i'm glad to hear there will be flying. And, yeah, the Geoff Johns Legion episode will definitely be worth checking out. That's the way it is with Smallville...every time I think I'm out, they pull me back in with some Superman-related thing. Because sometimes I just forget that the show is about Superman.

sea of green - oh man! Lori Lemaris! See, that's probably one of those things that they didn't do because they thought it would be too stupid. Which is, y'know, ironic.

SallyP said...

I rather enjoyed the show in the beginning, but it certainly has gone to pot in the more recent seasons. I'm only watching it now, because of Green Arrow. Rowwrr!

Hello Pineapples! said...

Best "in conclusion" ever.

Just found your blog via my boss via the Coast. After reading this, I'm really glad I hadn't bothered with Smallville. I kept reading about it on TV blogs and I was wondering what I was missing out on. Apparently, not too much.

Teebore said...

Wow, couldn't agree more. You really hit the nail on the head.

Smallville has this annoying tendency (that Heroes shares, far too often for my taste) to have people with powers ignore their abilities in order to create plot.

I specifically remember an episode where Lana is going to be shot, and she's talking to Clark on the phone. He races to where she is and stops the bullet. But then HE STOPS AND TALKS TO LANA IN PERSON! He could have just raced away again, Lana none the wiser, but the writers needed her to be suspicious of Clark so he had to do something dumb for no reason.

Shortly after this, Lost came on during the same time slot. I figured I'd record Smallville to watch later, but I just...sort of forgot. That's when I realized that between boring Lana, massive reset buttons and the refusal to pair Clark with Chloe, I was done.

I returned for the 100th episode, intrigued, and was really excited all throughout: Clark finally told Lana his secret(something he had no reason not to tell her for years) and I thought maybe this show was finally moving past its status quo.

Then Lana died. And I knew a big ol' Smallville-sized reset button was right around the corner. And part of that reset involved Jonathan dying for stupid reason.

And just like that I was done with the show all over again.

M Hancock said...

Right on with #8 being the biggest problem with Smallville. What really bugs me about it is that it's a glaring problem that could have been turned into something much better. A common Batman theme is how, simply by existing, he created the villains of Gotham. A storyline acknowledging that Clark did the same in driving Lex down his path could have been great. It could have gone towards Clark actually thinking his life through, or it could have acknowledged that treating Lex as crap was as an unavoidable sideeffect of the secret identity, and played up the tragic aspect.

Instead, we get Self-righteous clark whose motives and actions are rarely if ever questioned, fighting the evil baddie. Thanks, but no thanks.

Dave said...

I totally agree with your comments about the whole potential Chloe=Lois thread and was dissappointed when it didn't come to fruition.

I actually liked the whole Death of Pa Kent episode, though. I know the sacrifice aspect was kind of bullshit, but it was kind of chilling seeing his Pep-Pep die. I got a little excited when Clark FINALLY told Lana about his powers. It was a cool moment when he "flew" from ledge to ledge in his fortress.

Finally, I agree with you about Clark being a terrible person and a rotten friend to Lex. Seeing the way he is treated and mistrusted throughout the course of the show made me understand his slip into eventual villainy. I actually really liked this about the show. Clark's pervasive douchbaggery made him seem like the most human of Supermen I've seen on screen, right up there with "Emo Superman Returns". This Clark has a little Frank Miller's "Dark Knight" version of Superman in him.

Love your blog

rachelle said...

sallyp - yeah, I am pretty into Green Arrow on the show. I was also really into Bart Allen.

hello pineapples - welcome! The TV blogs do a pretty good job of summing up smallville so you don't have to watch. Especially Omar over at television without pity. He deserves some sort of award for doing such a great job every week.

teebore - nothing has let me down as consistently as smallville. that 100th episiode was terrible.

M Hancock - Here's how Clark and Lex should have gone: Since the world of Smallville obviously sets things up so Lex is going to know Clark is Superman in the future anyway, Clark should have just been honest with Lex about his abilities. Season 3 would have been a perfect time, when Lex was all institutionalized and he and Clark were getting along so well. And then they should have been the best of friends for a couple seasons...then things could start to take a turn when Lex starts to get some ambitious and mildly evil ideas about how unstoppable he and Clark could be if they worked together. And then Lex eventually does something really stupid and bad and a rift starts to build. Hell, you could still have used Lana as a device to divide them further. Make Lex have the crush on Lana...make her date Clark and then Lex just like they did...just do it better!

rachelle said...

dave - thanks!

Yeah, the show has a lot of cool moments. I mean, something made me watch it for so long. Just overall it's very frustrating. I think I would have liked that 100th episode better if:

a) Clark hadn't actually proposed to Lana. Seemed kinda rushed and gross.

b) Clark hadn't been as aware that someone else's life would be taken in exchange for Lana's.

Outburst said...

Agreed, not the greatest show. But for a Superman fan, seeing Bizarro and all these other characters in a live action production still produces moments of awe, even if they're tightly sandwiched between an awful lot of Dawson's Creek-style drama.

theREELaddict said...

Great article. So dead on, especially about the amensia and Clark being a douche.

The other things that drove me nuts was the fact that they would have amazing finales, and then piss away the potential repercusions in the following season premiere. I remember the Zod finale was intense. It really seemed like the world had gone to shit. Then everything gets resolved in the first episode of the next season. Argh.

What also used to drive me nuts (on a smaller scale) was that the show has this tendency of when Character A and Character B fight, A will say something really dramatic/piercing/insightful/stinging, only to have B look dumb, and then turn around on their heels and leave without a word. The only thing missing was the "Sad Sack" Charlie Brown music.

I ruined the show for a friend after pointing that out beacuse it started driving him nuts how often he noticed that happens.

In the end I stopped watching SMALLVILLE a long time ago. I don't mean to be offensive with this coming analogy, but it's the best way I can describe my relationship with the show for a while.

It was kind of like living with an abusive partner. The show was just bad and I wondered why I kept sticking with it, and told myself I would stop watching or make excuses that it might get better, or it was once good. Then an actual great episode would come along, and I'd think: "Oh, maybe it's going to get better now."

Then there would be ten crappy episodes in a row. And still I'd think "Well, it was good once, maybe it'll get good again." And so on. Till I finally gave up and left the show.

Haven't gone back since, for exactly the reasons you mentioned here.

Dave said...

One of my friends turned me on to a game I like to call "Chloe Face". Whenever Chloe is onscreen I like to pause the screen intermittently and compare the number of girl-faces she makes to the number of monster-faces. No score is kept but everyone is a winner. Seriously, I think she is a very pretty girl but the pause button hates her. None of the other members of the cast seem to suffer from this affliction. It's very Bizarro.

@thereeladdict - You make a good point about the finales. I think it's a pretty great show if you just string together the finales and a few highlights here and there.

Faith said...

Ahahahahaha! You are my hero.

Morgan said...

An amusing and accurate concise list. There are certainly problems with smallville. I couldn't even bring myself to watch more than three episodes (if we count two half episodes as a whole one) and I noticed a few of these. Some of them are visible in commercials!
But your list just makes me feel all the better about my decision as every so often I'd wonder if maybe I just was missing the good episodes.
Clark killed his father? And didn't really angst about it? Wow, that's worse than Spiderman making a deal with the devil.
Anywho, this reminds me of that Silver Age story where Superboy creates the villianous Lex Luthor by being an inconsiderate moron.
(A fire in a chemistry lab! With a person inside? I'll just blow on it really hard causing unsecured tubes of chemicals to fly about haphazardly instead of using one of my gazillion other superpowers to handle things safely!)

Anonymous said...

I agree with all of your list (especially the conclusion) but there was one problem. The bit about Jor-El's condition for bringing back Lana was really about bringing back Lana. When Clark got shot and died, Jor-El brought him back to life and he told Clark that someone would die in his place after it was done but Clark never agreed to it.

Clark going back in time was just to save Lana, he didn't know his dad would die in her place that night.

Talkin Bout Comics said...

We laugh because it's true. Sadly, I kind of cry because it's true as well. My daughters and I really enjoy Smallville, and have been watching it together for a few years as the seasons come out on DVD. Neither of them are growing up in the environment I did, and although they have a good bit of comics and superhero exposure, they aren't as steeped in Superman as some of us were growing up. They have easier access I guess, but the forms it takes are different.

I view Smallville like I view the movie Constantine. It's not so bad if you pretend it isn't about THE Clark Kent... just A Clark Kent, who has a lot almost in common with that other Clark Kent.

It's a really flawed show, but at least it's a show that makes reference to something I like. It's fun pointing out references to my girls, and explaining them, because that's what old people like to do. "Back in my day Cyborg had his robot parts on the outside..."

rachelle said...

Ha! Totally. "Back in my day, Superboy wasn't 35 years old! And Martha Kent wasn't a senator! And Jimmy Olsen wasn't older than Superman!"

I think the show got a lot of people interested in Superman and in comics in general. Especially girls. And that's good.

Anonymous said...

I didn't like the casting or characterization of Clark~Supes.

He's Frodo Baggins in a red bomber jacket. What happened to the steely eye, the chiseled jaw and the true grit of the iconic character?

He cringes and hides his 'abilities' like extra nipples. They're POWERS, dude. Be proud.

Practically half of the series consists of Clark pacing around in the hay-loft sorting out his 'feelings.' Even the Fortress is reduced to a Psychiatric Help booth. Poor Jor-El would probably wish for death if he wasn't already dead.

Maybe the appearance of Doomsday will shake things up constructively.

Maria said...

friggen hilarious and dead-on.

i practically snore when i see lana lang on screen, GOD what a worthless, one dimensional character. chloe and clark together would have been absolute perfection.

i would also love to see clark break away from his preachy, whiny nature and kick some serious ass for once. seems like he's lecturing everyone in his life about right and wrong and losing his powers every 20 seconds while getting beat up by various nobodies on a constant basis. this is SUPERMAN for cryin out loud, throw him some balls.

jonnybignote said...

There's a legitimate reason why you don't see Tom Welling with his shirt off anymore - age, marriage, and a family have seen to that - check out Tom Welling google images - IF YOU DARE!

Anonymous said...

some of this stuff i agree with you,but the initial story was a before superman story,so no he doesnt get a suit and no he doesnt need to fly,youll be seeing this in the upcoming and final season 10...and they do need some more tom welling shirt off times,like a whole show dedicated about it.

generic viagra said...

What a nice and amazing TV series, I like Smallville a lot, the teenage Superman would be the Superman dealing with his real life before becoming a hero.