Binge 'n' Purge - Superman & Lois: Season 1
I think there’s a hard rule for any show in DC’s Berlanti-verse: at some point, one of the main characters has to become such a whiney bitch that I am forced to stop watching it.
It was for that reason alone that I nearly stopped watching Superman & Lois Season 1.
However, my issues with Berlanti’s take on Superman far precede my finally breaking down and watching the show. We’ll get to that in a bit, but for now, let’s try and figure out what the throughline for this season was:
Superman faces the greatest challenge of his heroic career: raising twin teenage sons. When Martha Kent passes, he and Lois are faced with not only the challenge of moving their family from Metropolis to the rural trappings of Clark’s youth, but also providing a heart to the community…a role once filled by his departed mother. What they could not foresee is that trouble has a way of following the Kents as a ruthless businessman takes an interest in Smallville providing jobs and opportunity on the economically struggling Midwest town, with those that have answered his call taking on a near fanatical devotion to him. As citizens continue to act strangely, then start developing superpowers, this clearly becomes a job for Superman!
I have to be upfront – I was NOT excited to hear this series was coming. Being such a huge Superman fan, you’d think that antithetical to me, right? Sadly though, producer Greg Berlanti has had, in my mind, an utterly disgusting take on the character…using him as little more than what wrestling fans would call a Jobber – someone who is brought in to basically get his or her butt kicked in order to make someone else look good. Much like Bruce Timm et al in the first season of their animated Justice League, Berlanti would bring in Superman only to have him taken out of the picture first to try and illustrate how grave the threat was. On the one hand, I get it…but Berlanti carried this to a point that it just nauseated me, having Superman become whiney and downtrodden all the while hoisting up Supergirl as the paragon of hope. “The world doesn’t need me so long as they have you.” Look, I’m not a hater or one of these guys on the internet who are strictly devoted to this odd ‘no grrls allowed’ nonsense. Supergirl is certainly worthy of her own spotlight and should be a hopeful character. She should be someone that gives people hope.
But not at the expense of others.
This is my beef with much of this stuff people label as ‘woke’. Let’s go back to why Captain Marvel failed while Wonder Woman worked (for me). Yes, representation is a great thing, but don’t make the same mistakes that the white-male driven Hollywood has done in the past – making someone seem great at the expense of someone else. Instead, remember that a tide raises all ships. Wonder Woman worked because it remembers this, allowing her greatness to shine while surrounded by characters that shone as well, though not as brightly. If your greatness comes at the expense of others, such as Captain Marvel mocking practically everyone with a Y chromosome, are you really great? Or is this a case of the oppressed becoming the oppressor? Such has been the case with Berlanti’s take on Superman: the greatness of others always seems to come at his expense when the core of both characters, Superman and Supergirl, is all about lifting EVERYONE up.
So, even in spite of all the good I was hearing about the series, I REALLY had to talk myself into watching it, for fear of how they’d make Superman look stupid this time? Would he be a fool to make Lois look great? Or would he be fodder for their kids…like any basic Nickelodeon or Disney Channel show?
I’m very happy to report that neither is the case. At long last, it seems like after many…MANY…errors, Berlanti and company FINALLY get Superman. Or, at the very least, have learned that you can make all characters shine while making it at the expense of no one.
That said, let’s take a look at the title characters: Superman and Lois Lane. To start, I’ve never had a problem with Tyler Hoechlin’s Superman. In fact, he’s pretty good in the role especially with the expanded duties his character has as a father. Just as when DC decided to take the jump and portray the character as a father, Hoechlin is great at playing Superman as the one thing media has had trouble capturing: imperfect. It’s very clear that Superman has a challenge here he’s not completely prepared for…and fails at from time to time. The important thing is that he recovers and rises to try again. While this is certainly not left singly to the actor, as…credit where it’s due, the writers deserve praise as well, Hoechlin does a great job portraying these weaker moments in a believable way. It’s also worth praise that the series writers managed to crack another nut that most, either fans or writers, are oft guilty of: Superman isn’t invincible, at least, not in the conflicts that matter…because the conflicts he should be having are the emotional ones. This show gets that, having a Kal-El that is sometimes forced to choose between his family and his commitment to protecting the entire world. Switching gears to Lois and have mostly the same praise. Bitsie Tulloch has a good chemistry with both Hoechlin and her teenage sons as well as being very believably a tough-as-nails reporter that’s also a pretty fierce mom…as you’d expect Lois to be. Keeping to the mythology, Tulloch also gives us a Lois that isn’t afraid to get herself involved with her stories, no matter the potential for personal harm and, while not completely the damsel-in-distress archetype that Lois can become under lesser writers, there’s still a vulnerability that sometimes requires rescue, either from her husband, her kids or even from herself. I do have to say though…there’s something…missing…in her performance. I can’t put my finger on it…and I’ve really racked my brain to figure it out. Tulloch nails a lot of what I expect from an on-screen Lois Lane and that’s to be lauded given, like Superman, the new challenges placed before her. But on occasion, certainly not consistently otherwise it’d be easier to figure out what’s wrong, there are just these moments where my brain says ‘No, that’s wrong,’ and I’ll be damned if I can pinpoint why. Maybe when I watch season 2 I’ll figure it out.
Stepping down into the main secondary characters, we have the twins Jonathon and Jordan, named after both of Clark’s dads…and here’s where the show nearly forced me away. When the season starts, we find Jordan to be the troubled one: he’s antisocial with mental health issues…anxiety, depression, honestly, he’s someone I should be identifying with given that I have those ailments myself. But unfortunately, he’s the first victim or the Berlanti Rule I mentioned earlier. I can’t identify with him because he’s one whiney kid. His behavior does turn around when it’s revealed that he’s inherited some of the powers of his father. As you’d expect, he does go down an egotistical, cocky path at first, but by the time the season wraps up, even though at times he’s been in peril, I’d say he’s the character that displays the most growth. His brother Jonathon, has almost the opposite path: as a captain of the football team trope, he starts off on top of the world and then, upon the discovery of Jordan’s powers, he becomes the recipient of the Berlanti Rule in a fit of jealousy. He moderates after a few episodes, but I do have to confess, it’s this whininess from either of these two that almost made the first half of the season unwatchable for me. I literally had to take a break after the eighth episode simply because I was worried that this series would devolve further…that Superman & Lois would indeed fall down the rabbit hole that had swallowed all the Berlanti-verse shows. And it took me a month to finally talk myself back into finishing the season.
Moving to the supporting cast, I was surprised to see Dylan Walsh in the role of General Sam Lane, Lois’ father, as I was most familiar with him in the FX drama Nip/Tuck. He also does a good job here in both portraying the General’s distrust of Superman and the need to ensure the United States maintains tools to incapacitate him should the need ever arise as well as trying to be supportive of his daughter and the family she’s surrounded herself with…including Clark. Most importantly, he does convey Sam’s need for the mission to always come first, no matter the expense to his family. This ends up keeping the role pretty dynamic: one episode he might be helping Superman, another he might be doing his best to get his hands on some Kryptonite. Filling a similar role is Wole Parks’ John Henry Irons. Although initially introduced as “Captain Luthor”, there appears to be a hasty re-write occurring mid-season to change his identity from a parallel Earth Lex Luthor to instead a parallel Earth Steel. Either take would have been fine, but I dig the Steel reference more given that the last time that character was embodied in live-action, it was by Shaq…and the less said about that, the better. [Oh, you KNOW you’re reviewing that, right? – Ed.] His arc starts off looking to kill Superman, as the Man of Steel was corrupted on his Earth and managed to wipe out all of civilization. However, as the story progresses, he sees he’s dealing with a different Kal-El, one changed largely by having a family, and works to ensure that what happened on his Earth won’t happen here…just in non-lethal ways.
Lastly, we have our villain, Morgan Edge, played by Adam Rayner. While I wasn’t completely on board with the show’s take on Edge and the big reveal in the closing half of the season, it does take notes from several comic storylines that I did enjoy, especially the Krypton Man/Eradicator stories and the long-running New Krypton story of the late 2000’s. Honestly, while I understand the need for this story in this medium, I’m kinda tired of the ‘Superman fighting other Kryptonians’ story beats and feel it needs to be given a rest. While I’m glad they didn’t go to the tried and tired General Zod route, well, a lot of the same beats were present. Given how many Superman foes are world-threatening and aren’t Kryptonian, this could be dismissed as laziness from the writing staff. In all fairness though, every Superman does need a storyline showing Superman refuting his own heritage and embracing his humanity instead. To that end, this story is serviceable. Still, in spite of all my complaining here, none of this is directed at Rayner’s portrayal of Edge. He takes what he’s given to work with and runs with it, very easily making a villain the audience can opening root against…all the while allowing for some dimension, showing that his evil isn’t his fault alone but also through his environment and the path his life had taken.
Superman & Lois isn’t perfect and still falls into some of the pitfalls inherent in the Berlanti-verse. The fact that it manages to rise above not only past Superman appearances in this universe but the whininess that emerges throughout the first half of the season makes it worthy of some recognition. Most CW shows, once they hit that whiney Berlanti Rule, rarely emerge from it. The fact that Superman & Lois managed it speaks volumes of the cast and to some extent the writing team (even though they were responsible for dipping into that well to begin with). All in all, the pros definitely outweigh the cons to this series and I’m happy to say that it exceeded my low expectations, given how poorly this universe had handled Superman up to this point. While still not my favorite modern-day Superman, that goes to Henry Cavill, I will say that I’m looking forward to what this show has in store for its future and am very pleased to bestow it with our Happy Cat rating. After a rough start, the show gets its stuff together for the final half…and there’s something to be said for a strong finish!