Back in 2001, when I was still in Jr High, I sat on a ratty old yellow sofa in the upstairs room of my parents house in Indiana to watch the primer of a show called ‘Smallville’. I have to give credit where it’s due, it was my dear mother who told me to watch it because it was about Superman as a kid. Of course if my mum thought it was cool I’d think it was stupid, but nevertheless I tuned in to the WB, fog mascot and all, (now CW), to watched the pilot when it aired on October 16th 2001. And guess what, I loved it! Through the shows ten-year run there wasn’t a week that I missed. Despite the fact I moved countries between season 7 and 8. I stuck with Smallville through the good and the bad.
Now you turn the tv on and you’re bombarded with shows like Arrow, Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, Agents of Shield, Powers, Agent Carter (RIP), not to mention Netflix shows like Daredevil and Jessica Jones. Back when Smallville hit the small screens comic book films were still considered silly and for kids only. Bryan Singer’s X-Men had released but we hadn’t had Spider-Man. Batman hadn’t been seen since Joel Schumacher slapped nipples no the batsuit and screwed that up, and Superman since Chris Reeves in ’87. Marvel Studios was a day dream, and a Batman V Superman a fantasy.
Developed for TV by Al Gough and Miles Millar, Smallville was the brilliant coming of age tale of Clark Kent, the boy who would be Superman. Its family dynamic was charming and infectious, the setting was familiar and characters fun. Not only did the show explore Clark’s origins but equally did so of Lex Luthor. Both Clark and Lex would need each other in order to become who they are meant to be. The antithesis of Clark’s life was seen in Lex. Lex’s father Lionel, played by John Glover, was a cruel and vicious man, and all Lex wanted was to feel loved. His mother and brother had died, and Lex’s lusts over the life that Clark has became the wedge between them. The show was originally meant to focus solely on Clark’s high school adventures, but by season 4 the show was a hit and superheroes were accepted by major audiences like never before. The show survived a further 6 years before coming to an end on May 13th 2011. A remarkable ten year run saw the boy Clark Kent become the man Superman.
A tv show doesn’t last that long unless it has something attractive, and Smallville had heart. Gough and Millar were brilliant at fusing comic book antics and mad science with a pre-teen vibe that matured as the show did. But they also chanced upon some fantastic talent. Tom Welling made a great Clark Kent. He humanised Clark and made this god-like superhero relatable. His powers weren’t a joy they were a burden, and Clark desperately wanted to be ‘normal.’ There has yet to be a Lex Luthor as fierce as Michael Rosenbaum. You can read in the oral history of Smallville that they wanted someone with comedic timing, but someone who can be dangerous. Rosenbaum was a tremendous Lex. He was a tormented character, desperate for love, hot tempered, dangerous, obsessive and yet oddly likeable. You’ll never love and hate a character more. And Duke’s of Hazard star John Schneider made the ideal Jonathan Kent, capturing that all-american country farmer spirit oh so well with Annette O’Toole as a wonderful Martha Kent to balance the Kent boys out. Of course Clark wouldn’t be who he becomes without his best friend Chloe Sullivan. Created for the show, this wannabe reporter, who is always the friend, becomes a staple to Clark’s development and push to become the Man of Tomorrow. She is also the link between Lois and Clark meeting for the first time.
The show took liberties to tell their version of the Superman mythos, introducing major players like Perry White, Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, Supergirl and various members of the Justice League during Clark’s adolescence. It kept the show fun and interesting and allowed moments for winks at what the future will have in store. Smallville reached some monumental peaks during its first 7 years, whether that was Clark meeting Jor-El (voiced by Terrance Stamp), Lex being admitted into an insane asylum, Clark fighting Brainiac (played by James Marsters) or Bizarro, Jonathan Kent’s death, the building of the Fortress of Solitude, or Clark taking flight to break into a plane 50,000 feet in the air, the excitement was endless. For all the teen-drama there was some considerable action and adventure being had week after week.
It can’t be denied that when Gough and Miller departed from the show it changed, and not necessarily for the better. Tone and aesthetic changes plus a sudden push to have Clark in Metropolis, working at the Daily Planet, in love with Lois, and saving people as the red-blue blur didn’t play out as well as it could have. By series 8 Tom Welling and Allison Mack, who played Clark’s best friend Chloe Sullivan, were the only original cast members. Losing Rosenbaum’s Lex hurt the show and the new show runners, Kelly Souders and Brian Peterson, who had written for the show since season 2, didn’t do well to find a new path or a worthy on-going nemesis for Clark. Relying heavily on the Luthor legacy and a surprise protege of Lex’s, the show lost some credibility and interest. Hindsight says a ‘time-jump’ would have served the show better if they insisted on going on beyond 7 years to allow Clark to fit more easily into his future role as Superman/life in Metropolis. Seasons 8-10 were mixed with some okay moments, but ultimately didn’t live up to the greatness the earlier years did. I look back on the finale with sadness over the misuse of Darkseid, the muddled love story with Lois, and the fact we never saw Tom Welling as Superman properly, even in the finale. Lex’s return in the finale, Clark taking flight properly, and the shirt rip to John Williams’ score were highlights that reminded you what the show was all about and what its aims were. It was Clark’s story, not Superman’s.
Still Smallville proved that audiences will invest in tv shows about Superheroes, it paved the way for the darker toned Arrow, the light-hearted Flash, and more. With The Flash introducing multiverse nothing would please me more than to see a Flash/Arrow crossover with Smallville, and what better way to pay tribute to the show that really made these other shows possible.
What do you think? Were you a Smallville fan? Share your thoughts about the show below!