Lois & Clark & Chris & Ronnie: Krypton
Ronnie: Welcome to Lois & Clark & Chris & Ronnie, wherein we take an analytical look at a show with almost no lasting cultural footprint and really we’re more than halfway through so don’t question why we do this. That’ll cause us to question why we do this and there’s nothing good coming from that. As is customary when we wrap up a season, we’re taking a break to look at another Superman show…of sorts. While Batman has plenty of “Batman without Batman” shows (Birds of Prey, Gotham, Batwoman, Gotham Knights, Pennyworth), renderings of the Superman mythos tend to include, you know, Superman. The biggest exception is Krypton, a two season wonder from SyFy that is probably now best known for refusing to cast a black man as Superman’s grandfather. Rene-Jean Page casting controversy, look it up. But that’s a shame, because there’s so much more to Krypton than that, such as imperceptible political squabbles, cheap sets, the bacony stench of Canada, Adam Strange, and a lot of silly names we’ll have difficulty keeping straight.
We’re watching and covering the pilot if you didn’t already assume so. It begins with Seg-El narrating to his future grandson (THAT’S SUPERMAN, I nudge my imaginary neighbor) about the House of El, and then it goes even further back to the trial of Seg-El’s grandfather, who looks a lot like George Carlin. It’s grandfathers all the way down with this shit. George Carlin won’t accede to the Voice of Rao (present ruler of Krypton and three faced golden Quintesson looking motherfucker) is the problem, so he’s sentenced to death. There’s some camp present in all this talk of houses and guilds, such as when the bad guy dramatically rips the “S” off Lil Seg-El’s clothes. Now the kid’s just got a torn wardrobe. What does that solve, I ask. Carlin’s death is pretty funny too; it’s the spaceman equivalent of having to walk the plank. 14 years later and Seg is getting his ass kicked in a space bar. About this time “David S. Goyer” shows up in the credits and I’m thinking JerrySeinfeldLeavingTheProducers.gif. Two credited directors? Never a good sign.
He was sentenced to death for “the seven words you can’t say on Krypton”.
His grandfather’s “treason” meant Seg’s family lost its ranking, which is the Krypton version of the caste system I guess. Without a rank he can’t join a guild, which are ponderous on the level of Divergent’s factions. Seg, played as kind of a dour prick by some limey, would do well to engage in some zipline theatrics with the Dauntless folks. Amid the exposition that’s shaping a Kryptonian culture I cannot fucking give a shit about, Seg is being tailed by a guy in a hoodie and a Detroit Tigers baseball cap, which makes me wish Space Magnum P.I. was a thing. Space Magnum is actually Adam Strange, and he’s got something to say. It’s your grandkid, Marty, and someone from the future wants to 9/11 Krypton because of it. “You have to save Superman.” That’s it, that’s the premise of the show. Who is he saving Superman from? Brainiac,who’s been recast as Nerd Galactus for this series.
Hm. I’d overall put this in the middle of the pack of DC TV, right in the meaty part of the curve. It’s not offensive, but it’s still not good. Whereas Superboy was baffling, Smallville was tedious, and Superman & Lois was ponderous, Krypton is not altogether awful but I felt no compulsion to choose “next episode” on my DVD. Krypton is best emblematic of DC’s scattershot approach to adapting its characters; say what you will about the tenets of James Gunn, at least it’s an identifiable ethos. For fear of “brand confusion” television and film can never meet, yet in contradiction Geoffrey Johns’ rationale against casting Rene-Jean Page was that Seg-El should look like he could conceivably be Henry Cavill’s grandfather. In any event, this gulf between the two mediums means we get a lot of equivalent of that Garfield Without Garfield strip, and this is a Superman Without Superman, which leads me to wonder why is this nominally a Superman show at all. At times it felt like the producers wanted to do a sci-fi show but the only way they’d receive the greenlight is to smuggle it in through a Trojan Superman. The other stumbling block is I still don’t find Krypton particularly interesting. John Byrne was right to jettison it from the mythos in favor of Superman having less baggage. My attention span weakens when I’m faced with councils and guilds and it’s not like Planet of the Apes where I can at least witness fantastic monkey makeup. I have more I can say but I thought before that I’d turn it over to you, Chris.
“Your favorite space hero Adam Strange is on Krypton! And better yet, he’s dressed in his iconic hoodie and Detroit Tigers cap combination!”
Chris: So Ronnie, I was all set to not like Krypton. Even though I’m not, like, constitutionally opposed to the idea of making a television show about the supporting cast of another story,it was hard to muster much enthusiasm for this one. One of the great things about comics is you can really dig into the world of the comic and build up the supporting casts. But, as Ronnie pointed out, there has been more than one attempt to build a show around the Non-Batman denizens of Gotham, and by our accounting they’re oh for whatever-the-number-of-shows-they’ve-tried-is. Add to that Krypton isn’t actually about Superman’s supporting cast (as far as I know anyway), and is instead a pure SF show that takes place on Krypton a few generations before Kal-El is even born. So it’s a bunch of people I’ve never met, in a place that I’ve never really cared about, that’s distantly connected to someone I do care about. There’s few things that irritate me more in popular culture than the attempt to obliquely connect something original to some established IP. Just do your own thing, it’s fine. I may not watch it, but your attempts to backdoor some unrelated cultural cache into your TV show is embarrassing.I’d rather watch a hundred fan servicing movies that are just basically easter egg pornography. At least they’re honest about what they are.
But yeah, anyway, I went into Krypton expecting to be bored at best and actively irritated at worst and found to my surprise that I was entertainedish by it. It’s a pilot, and it has all the awkward, hammy writing and world building that comes with, but the world they’ve created was reasonably interesting. And the characters were kind of fuzzy and unformed the way they often are in pilots, but I think there was enough there to grow into kind of compelling characters. And for the most part, the overarching plotline it establishes and the kind of philosophical conflicts are the kind that could easily sustain multiple seasons of television. All and all I’m happy to give this show my highest rating: something I wouldn’t mind having on in the background while I do something else.
But I want to be clear, when I say the plot is interesting enough that it could sustain multiple seasons of a television show, I’m talking about the sociopolitical conflict, not the thing where Adam Strange (I know they couldn’t give him the comic costume, but did he have to look like a UPN refugee?) is trying to save Superman. File that with what I was just saying about forced tie-ins that connect your story to another, already established story. No, I was into the idea of this purposeless young man being radicalized by the deaths of his parents and fighting to rejoin/undermine the ruling class that threw his family out in the first place and then, you know, had them killed. I agree with you about generally finding Krypton to be an uninteresting place, it’s a civilization that was designed to exist in the past tense. The only significant thing about the entire planet is the fact that it explodes. But the upshot of a thing that isn’t really anything is that it can also be anything. It’s a blank slate. And maybe I’m a prisoner of the moment, but the idea of a generational conflict rooted in an entrenched, fundamentalist ruling class actively and sometimes even violently suppressing knowledge in order to keep their positions of power and the children who challenge them is a story I could get into.
“Don’t let my haircut fool you, Seg–I’m strictly dickly.”
I found whatsisshit, Seg-El, Superman’s grandpappy to be fairly obnoxious at first, the whole ruggedly handsome fallen prince who gets into bar fights is pretty tired. But I dug his becoming a mole for the resistance by marrying the fancy daughter of the one bad guy. I’ve mentioned in earlier articles how I also enjoy legitimate love triangles, where all three people are interesting and sympathetic. And the one the show is teasing between Seg-El, the Fancy Daughter, and the One Lady He Already Loves Who’s Mom is a High Muckety Muck in the Army seems set up to do that. But what’s fascinating is this whole conflict is rooted in what we know will be failure, right? We know the El’s will ultimately fail to protect the population of Krypton and that everyone (you know, mostly) will die screaming in just a couple of generations. I guess that’s another reason they shoehorned in the Superman plot line, you have to tease the possibility of some kind of win for the heroes. This isn’t Cries and Whispers (Bergman callback!), no one is coming to Krypton to be emotionally annihilated.
Ronnie: I think we’ll find ourselves at an impasse here, because upon reading your ‘bit’ my thought was that I see your point but I nonetheless disagree with it. Whereas your feeling that Seg-El’s obnoxiousness ebbed away, or at least was supplanted by compelling-ish plotting and world building, I was left questioning why I was watching this drip nobody from nothing. (By the way, Rene-Jean Page is a terrible actor so casting him wouldn’t have been a lateral move.) He’s boring and whiny and things just sort of happen to him. I guess you can give credit to whatever fledgling brand identity SyFy still has that Krypton mostly felt like a generic space opera slotted after Stargate: Who Gives A Shit rather than a Superman or even superhero program. While you saw promise I saw a bundle of cliches arranged in a slightly different manner than to which I’m accustomed.
“Mom, the ‘set”s assets aren’t fully loading!”
Since I do think I’ve articulated my position–guild talk makes me sleepy–well enough, I’m going to break with “tradition” of these interludes and talk a little bit about subsequent episodes of Krypton, for your edification. Like most DC shows, it couldn’t help itself introducing other comic book characters, even if their presence didn’t feel organic. You ever want to see Lobo in live action? Here’s your chance. Rebecca from Ted Lasso also shows up, as does General Zod and Doomsday. (Even that Chris Kent Richard Donner created for the comics appears in some form.) Yes, before Jor-El is born. Cast members we didn’t mention include Georgina Campbell from Barbarian as Seg’s ex-girlfriend Lyta-Zod as well as the replacement Kate Kane (Wallis Day) on Batwoman as Seg’s “bind”. The sky surrounding the Red Sun is empty for all the stars are on Krypton itself. This constitutes their earlier work so it’s nice to know these fine tea sippers are on to bigger and better things.
Chris: I hear you about the show’s generic traits; I’m not saying that it’s actually a good show so much as I’m saying the ingredients for a good show are there. Like take Superman & Lois: that’s a concept that starts behind the 8 Ball because having Superman fighting economic anxiety and turning Smallville into a depressed beige wasteland isn’t exactly in his wheelhouse, to say nothing of saddling him with a couple of bitter teens with sass mouths. Those are such inherently bad ideas that the show would have to be great to overcome them. Spoiler: it isn’t. Krypton reminds me more of Supergirl–a show that had the ingredients to be enjoyable and ended up squandering them on baffling characterization (like, why make Jimmy Olsen a bad-ass if you’re just going to turn around and create a new character to fill the traditional Jimmy Olsen role) and focusing on the wrong plots (why that show wasn’t about Cat Grant and the Mousy Girl Who Works For Her And Is Actually Supergirl is beyond me). Krypton is the kind of show I might watch an entire mid-season order of before abandoning, as opposed to S&L, which I think we made it through three episodes of before tapping out?
The ancient Kryptonian art of foxy boxing.
Anywho, that’s the pilot and I’m not watching any more episodes because life is short and I’m not as young as I was back when those other shows premiered. I don’t have time for this twenty-first century nonsense, I’ve got Lois and Clark to watch. I guess this is the last of these Super Digressions we’re going to take, seeing as how next season of L&C is the last one. Although I wouldn’t be opposed to doing one more article on the early 90’s Flash, hell I might be open to doing the whole season. I’ve always wanted to watch slash revisit certain episodes of that show. So what have we learned with these short tours through Superman Television Land? For me, I think I’ve decided that, outside of animation, Superman just doesn’t work on the small screen. He’s too epic and widescreen to fit comfortably on TV. I kind of even think a high budget, glossy, Peacemaker style limited series would serve him all that well. You need to believe anything is possible with the Man of Steel, which is why the only really good small screen adaptation is the Animated Series.
And this might be my 90’s bias poking through, but I think L&C might actually be the best of the live action series? It’s got two charming leads (I think the other shows peak with “I guess they’re okay”), and, in Teri Hatcher, a legit TV star. And it’s the least turgid of any of them. As dumb as it is, L&C still feels more like a show about actual adults trying to figure out adult problems than the teen shenanigans on Smallville, or Superman & Lois. As limited as Cain is as Superman (his Clark is still pretty solid) he still seems like a grown person to me, unlike the adults at the center of Krypton and S&L, those guys (I’m using guys in the more irritating gender non-specific sense) are all a little too pretty, and are cloaked in the stench of CW to actually by as grown-ups. Finally, its light tone makes it easier (for me) to forgive its failings than the relentlessly serious S&L and the fact that Superman is in it makes it better than Krypton. That doesn’t mean I think something anyone with dignity, self-respect, or any kind of purpose should watch, but I’m glad I’m watching four seasons of this over any of the other choices.
Ronnie: Normally this would be the end of it but I felt compelled to interject to remind you of The Adventures of Superman. I remember when I watched an episode for that Lois & Clark that “adapted” an Adventures of show I was charmed by the cheesiness and George Reeves’ performance. Anyway, just wanted to put that out there as an option–and my option–for “best live action Superman show”.
Odds & Ends
-Space people being British is a proud and stupid tradition and Krypton is in keeping with that. Sorry, but the gobbledygook still sounds dumb regardless of accent. You could be doing Swahili and my eyes would still glaze over.
-There are integrated black Kryptonians, so rest assured that despite Geoff Johns’ faux pas no one thought to adapt Vathlo Island. Not yet at least.
.Here’s an annoying thing about Krypton (the planet, not the show, (Well, also the show, but it’s not a problem native to the show)), if Kryptonians have been married off for political reasons and conceive children through chemistry or whatever, why do they still fall in love? Like, what’s the evolutionary advantage of developing feelings for someone if it doesn’t lead to pair bonding and reproduction? Love is basically a drug our own body doses us with in order to make us dumb enough to go through the potentially deadly and almost always excruciating process of childbirth and stick around each other for twenty odd years until the stupid kids brain finishes growing and they stumble off to repeat the whole cycle. No sensible woman would agree to all that if they were thinking clearly, and most level headed men would ditch at the first sign of trouble because honestly, who needs the aggravation? Marriage and parenthood are prisons! Man made prisons! You’re doing time! It’s a ridiculous setup and nature knows that so it dopes us up real good with love and affection and compassion and all that other horseshit. If Krypton were a society that had been matching people through eugenics AI and growing kids in tubes, you’d think love would just fade away. And that’s the one element of Krypton that doesn’t make scientific sense.
-Late in Season 2 the show introduces Black Mercy, the plant from “For The Man Who Has Everything”. DC productions are contractually obligated to try to provoke Alan Moore.