Lois & Clark & Chris & Ronnie: “Chi of Steel”/”The Eyes Have It”

Ronnie: This time out on Lois & Clark & Chris & Ronnie I have to apologize ahead of time: the writers on the show thought for some reason they could ably write about other cultures, people not their own. There is a resounding rebuke to that idea in the content of these episodes, “Chi of Steel” and “The Eyes Have It”. For the former, know that shows in the 90s were contractually obligated to do an episode about Chinatown. The X-Files did it, Law & Order did it, and now Lois & Clark does it. The point is to contrast our whitebread heroes with the alien and cloistered Chinese community, where everyone keeps secrets of what goes on there and their customs befuddle our senses of right, wrong and good taste.


If that’s Hong, I don’t wanna be right

To wit: the plot for this week is a ninja steals Perry’s bearer bonds. Now, comics are rotten with ninjas, and they get away with it (sort of) due to the fantastical nature of the universe. Like, there’s men who can fly, guys named “Black Knight” who wear armor and ride winged horseys, ninjas still being around isn’t too ridiculous. But in a real-ish show like Lois & Clark the presence of a ninja is just ridicuorous. It gets worse, or better, based on your perspective. Perry’s friend Brian Doyle-Murray is in cahoots with Chinese “indentured labor” and there’s something involving James Hong’s dragon something or others. It’s like someone’s knowledge of China came from an episode of Jackie Chan Adventures. Let’s not neglect the fact that this episode posits ninjas come from China and not Japan. Clark has a Chinese doppelganger who works at Chinatown Daily, and if you haven’t seen a Chinese-American newspaper office before, know it includes a dojo. I don’t know how this got on the air. It’s more offensive than claiming eating bat caused COVID-19 or that it was made up in a Chinese lab.

Something I want to point out about “Chi of Steel” is that Hilary J. Bader wrote the script. If you don’t recognize the name, she was (died of breast cancer in 2002) best known for working on several of DC’s animated programs, from The New Batman Adventures to Superman: The Animated Series to Batman Beyond. It should go without saying her output on those programs dwarf the quality of this racist nonsense. It should also be said that the credited writer doesn’t necessarily bear primary responsibility for the end product; The Simpsons commentaries will place the credited writer’s contributions anywhere from 15%-25% of the result, and I have to figure the same applies for other TV shows. So who knows her degree of culpability. I just thought it was funny to see Bader, a pro who flourished in the animated field, flounder when trying her luck at a live action Superman.


Chances of James Hong appearing in your Chinese-centered episode of TV in the 90s was approximately 78%.

Chris: It’s hard to know how to approach an episode like this. Do you spend all your time pointing out each individual inappropriate characterization, insensitive plot point and racist trope? It wouldn’t be particularly insightful or useful, it’s not like the racism is particularly subtle. Anyone with eyes and ears would see it, or if they didn’t it’s because of a level of willful delusion that this comedy blog isn’t going to crack. There are gongs in the score, for Christ’s sake. Do you wave some of it away as a product from a different time? Make some half hearted attempt to rationalize the episode as not intending to be racist, and contextualize it as a fantasy no more realistic than any other candy coated element of L&C? Who would that be for? You spend too much time making excuses for all the isms and phobias in old pop culture and the next thing you know you’re harassing lady game developers on Twitter and backing kickstarters about robot frogs.

A big part of me feels like we just shouldn’t address the episode at all. “Chi of Steel” is about two things, Lois and Clark’s adventures in Chinatown attempting to track down a rascally ninja who robs from the rich and gives to the poor, and the patriarchy. We are neither people of Chinese descent nor are we women, so going too deeply into the positive or negative values of the story would be supposition about how we think it made other people feel. I know it made me feel gross, but who fucking cares what I think? I want to say maybe we should just put our heads down and keep it moving, but that doesn’t really work either. Fucking hell, Lois and Clark and Chris and Ronnie isn’t the place for an existential crisis about the way we look at thirty year old depictions of the other in culture. Let’s just acknowledge that it sucks, hold our noses and push through.


“You’ve now been promoted to ‘man’.”

Perry and his friend Brian Doyle-Murray are hanging out at their men’s club, smoking cigars and talking about finances (presumably the way men do when they’re hanging out at men’s clubs) when a fucking ninja crashes through the window, karate chops a safe open and steals a bunch of money. Perry is upset because a significant portion of that money was his. Brian Doyle-Murray is an industrialist who produces computer chips at a fraction of the normal cost, and Perry had literally just invested in said industry, which is why Brian Doyle-Murray had all his money. Why Perry would hand what we’re told is the majority of his life’s savings over to an apparently legitimate businessman in cash is a mystery. Anyway, Lois and Clark decide to track the ninja down in order to help Perry get his savings back and because ninjas are always news. That’s the third thing they teach in journalism school, after if it bleeds, it leads, and sex sells.

Ronnie: I’m pretty laissez faire about art insofar as I think anyone should be allowed to do anything in the name of art, good taste be damned. So I’m not about to say you can’t write about another culture. But would it have hurt to crack open a book? Study a few films? Ask a Chinese person “hey, could you look over this script for this TV show, I want to know if it might happen to be super offensive?”. I don’t think it’s a big ask. I feel like if you literally asked any Chinese person to take a pass on this a lot of the problems would be flagged. Anyway. This is a pretty ridiculous episode even if you excuse the racial insensitivity, because it posits Superman can be defeated by mere proficiency in martial arts. Superman, who has superhuman reflexes and reaction time. While I admire Lois & Clark for adding a vulnerability to Supes besides “magic” to the mix, that it’s stupid is beyond questioning.

The Chinese nonsense and the sexism storylines converge when the obvious is outed: the ninja is James Hong’s granddaughter. It’s only our innate sexism that blinded us from what is true. We get an underwhelming climax about a guy named Mao using shapeshifting abilities and the understanding that the crimson bands of whatever cannot be used by just anybody. The specifics aren’t important. The important thing is respecting women, which Pa Kent learns to do after he spends a day doing the weekly shop. How does Ma do it? She does point out Pa runs a farm from 4 in the morning, but she does too, so the division of labor isn’t weighted in favor of anybody. He does cook…or does he? Clark uses his X-ray vision to notice “House of Hunan” wrappers in the trash. Oh, Pa.

Chris: Lois gets the bulk of the sexism plotline, obviously. She and Clark head to the men’s club to do some investigative work and she’s denied entrance by the doorman. Clark manages to restrain her from physically attacking the guy right there on the street and for a second I was on his side. Dude’s just trying to do his job, it’s not like it’s his personal policy, he’s just trying to hold on to his job. But then he mutters something sexist under his breath and it turns out it probably is. I like the idea that this men’s club only hires misogynistic employees. Maybe there’s a multiple choice on the application that reads Women, can’t live with them, followed by one box that says can’t live without them, and another that says can’t kill them. Applicants that check the first box don’t get binned on the spot. Distressed that her male coworkers aren’t supportive enough of her anger, Lois dresses up as a tiny man, infiltrates the club and steals some evidence. It proves something somehow.

The whole thing is very 90s, and the ninja reveal has all the subtlety of that the doctor is the patient’s mother riddle we all heard on The Cosby Show. But there are a few nice moments. There’s a scene where Perry, Clark, Jimmy, and Lois are all trying to figure out the ninja’s identity and the three men’s behavior towards Lois become increasingly more dismissive and belligerent until they’re all laughing, smoking cigars and screaming at her to get coffee that’s revealed to be a dream.Turns out Lois fell asleep at her desk and the coffee portion of her nightmare was informed by Clark asking her if she wanted any. It builds nicely and does a good job of keeping the show from drifting too far into 2D women good, men bad, territory. But I was a little confused by Clark being the one to realize the ninja was a girl all along. Does that signify that he’s learned to see beyond his own bias, that he was never biased to begin with because he’s Superman, or that Lois is also guilty of the very sexist assumptions she accused everyone else of having? I dunno, and honestly who cares? Let’s never think about this episode again.


Admittedly, Dean Cain chomping on a cigar, screaming “COFFEE!” is pretty funny.

Odds & Ends

-Teri Hatcher in drag as a businessman bares a striking resemblance to Under the Cherry Moon era Prince.
-Turns out Jimmy spends his spare time pretending to play the stock market. I never thought I could miss Michael Landes so much.
-Why would Pa agree to “switch chores” with Martha when he’s on vacation and demonstrably not doing any chores? What the hell does that prove? Maybe the Kents should swing by the ICU while they’re in Metropolis, check out that MRI machine everyone’s always talking about.

Ronnie: A panicked scientist accosts Lois, shoves a light in her face and then is killed by adversaries who want him and his research for reasons unknown. What results is Lois becomes sort of a genius phenom like Travolta in Phenomenon. Clark discovers the late Dr. Faraday’s specialty was light and next thing you know it, Superman’s been blinded. The result is some pretty ill-advised blind gags, cause Superman may have all those powers, but without sight he’s a bumbling buffoon. Like, you’d think with all of his super senses they’d compensate like with Daredevil, but nope. Comedy is hit or miss on this show and with “The Eyes Have It” it’s more in the miss column.


“Behold, the dreaded…flashlight!”

So you’ve got Lois spouting science and Superman blind as a bat. The score is Mickey Mousing all over the place and I hate it. So what do you think would improve the episode? Well, if you said “racism” you’d be incorrect in that it wouldn’t improve the episode and correct in that it’s used in the episode regardless. See, for some reason the evil scientists have to impersonate an Indian doctor by the name of Banerjee. We should be glad that Superman’s blindness means they only need to do a vocal impression of Banerjee and don’t have to go the full nine yards of doing a brown voice and having a brown face. I get it, it’s the 90s, that guy hadn’t come out with The Problem with Apu, but I suppose my question is: why include this? Who benefits from it? It’s like the scene in Skinner where (long story) Ted Raimi skins a black man, wears him and starts speaking in AAVE. Why is this here?

Maybe I’m not in the right mood for shenanigans but this might be the worst episode we’ve done. I didn’t enjoy any of it. Blind jokes are such low hanging fruit that seeing Dean Cain in the costume bumble like an idiot is neither endearing nor edifying. What the hell is the plot anyway? Who could possibly give a shit. Bob from UHF’s sinister plan couldn’t matter one whit to me. I’m tired. If I wanted shenanigans by the legally blind I’d rewatch Mr. Magoo.


It’d be funny if he also couldn’t gauge his own strength so he’s smashing through phone booths while groping around for shit.

Chris: I don’t think this is the worst episode of L&C we’ve watched. I don’t think it’s as bad as the love potion one, and nothing was as irritating as Jimmy’s weird Die Hard subplot in that other one where they’re all hostages, but it’s the worst one we’ve seen this season. And it’s not that it’s really terrible so much as it’s deeply, deeply boring. Superman gets blinded and stumbles around like an asshole for a while and then he gets his sight back and that’s it. Like, it basically loses interest in itself and doesn’t bother to resolve some of the B plots. Kind of like that Simpsons where Krusty is doing the “Stingy and Battery” theme song and just trails off they bite, and light, and bite and lite and bite, lite, lite, you know what I’m talking about.

Lois gets zapped in the brain and all of a sudden starts spouting facts, and it never gets fixed does it? I think at the end she says something weird at the Planet and Perry just shrugs at Clark and goes I guess this is going to keep happening until it doesn’t, and that’s it. And then there’s the whole Jimmy subplot, he got a girl’s number and isn’t sure when to call her? Or something? Does he even actually call her? I don’t even remember, please remind me. The only real tension in the plot comes from the fact that Superman being blind also means Clark is blind so he can’t change back without giving away his identity. But that gets disappeared at the end too, see Clark was supposed to go away with Mayson Drake the sexy DA from the Intergang episode, so everyone thinks he’s with her. Except of course, for Drake, who ends up assuming she scared him by coming on too strong and forgives him for not going away with her without letting him even explain what happened. So we don’t even get the satisfaction of any kind of emotional consequence at all.


No way does Pa Kent eat multiple baguettes. Come on!

You already covered the pointlessly contrived insertion of the racism so I’ll just say I agree with you one hundred percent and it’s a spectacular unforced error on the show’s part and move on to the one moment in the episode that I liked. Superman is in Lois’s apartment and he needs to go somewhere, so he falls out of the window toward the street below, and then hails a cab. It made me laugh for no other reason than thinking about how bewildering it would have been to be a citizen of Metropolis and see Superman crash onto the pavement, pick himself up, stumble into a cab and zip away. You’d spend the rest of life not knowing how or why that happened, and you’d tell the story to everyone you met from that moment on.

Ronnie: Okay, if not the worst we’ve ever done, this is my least favorite because it’s aggressively about nothing. Superman going blind doesn’t teach him anything, nor does Lois becoming a computer teach her anything. It’s just random bullshit that happens to these people, done in a not entertaining way. Like, Superman has to help another blind guy and when the blind guy asks him for directions he pulls a Costanza and covers his mouth and says “flavin”. Dean Cain isn’t a good enough physical comedian for him traipsing around blind to be worthwhile. It just sucks, man, from title on down.


The Nye Mets are Dr. Banerjee’s favorite squadron

Chris: No, I’m generally inclined to agree, I also just think your reaction is compounded by how lousy “Chi of Steel” was too. Both episodes were bad in different ways too (minus the moment of overlapping racism), with “Chi” being overstuffed with plot and hopelessly racist, and “Eyes” was more just a fucking limp noodle of gaffes and bad puns in roughly the shape of an episode of mid 90s network television. It’s a shame. Last week’s double feature of “Seasons Greedings” and “Metallo” signaled an upswing in quality for L&C, but then its yin-yang identity reasserted itself and delivered two real stinkers back-to-back as compensation. We’ve reached the halfway point of the second season, and it remains a show unable to harness its potential for anything other than short bursts while also being too essentially solid to be terrible for about the same amount of time. A smart person would probably cut their losses and walk away from the whole thing, and I like to think that I am a- wait a minute, who’s that I see on the horizon? Is that… John Shea coming towards us? Ronnie? Are you seeing what I’m seeing? Is he… is he… is he bald? God damnit Lois & Clark you’ve done it to me again.

Odds & Ends

-”Lois, the coroner’s here. He’s a doctor.”
-Jimmy has a useless dilemma that brings to mind the movie Swingers. Why did they give Jimmy girl troubles increasingly when they recast him as an obvious child? It’s disconcerting.
-Superman asks Lois not to report on his blindness because his “enemies” could never be allowed to know of his weakness. By “enemies” I assume he’s referring to titanic foes like George Jefferson, Balki Bartokomous and Peter fucking Boyle.

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