Lois & Clark & Chris & Ronnie: “Lord of the Flys”/”Battleground Earth”
Chris: [Clapping] All right, guys, let’s bring it in, come on, huddle up now, let’s huddle up. Okay, I’m not gonna sugarcoat it, that last quarter was rough. The first two quarters weren’t exactly picnics either, but we gave as good as we got. But then things got away from us. Last quarter was more bad than good, a lot more. We ended up in a hole, but there’s no use cryin’ about it or cussin’ or callin’ foul. This is where we are and if we’re gonna get out of it it’s gonna because we earned it. Step by step. Inch by inch. I know you’re tired, I know you’re hurting, I know the last time you were out there things seemed hopeless. But that’s over now. It’s done. It’s in the past, doesn’t matter. All that matters is we’ve got this one last quarter. One quarter to stand tall, to prove your worth, to take the chaos and madness of life and bend it to our will, to make it bow to us. Even if it’s just for a quarter. And I have to tell you, no matter the outcome, if you go out there, and you give it all, and I mean all, if you pour your heart and soul into just this one little quarter, it doesn’t matter what the score, you’ve won. And I’ve never been more proud to be a part of a team. I love you all. (sniffs) So, let’s get to it! One more time. One last time. Let’s make it our time, let’s seize it. Okay, hands in the middle, I wanna hear team on three, ready? One, two, three…
Let the cape smother me to death already. Fuck it.
Hello to everyone out there in computerland and to all the ships at sea, it’s your faithful reporters here at Lois & Clark & Chris & Ronnie, gearing up for what turns out to be the final season of, if not our favorite show, then one we aren’t always actively enraged by. Last season wrapped up months of stalling and false weddings and amnesias and double amnesias and clones with… more stalling. Shit. The latest roadblock into Lois and Clark’s happiness came in the form of Zara and Ching, two extremely boring Kryptonians from an entire enclave of (also boring) Krytonians who were off planet or under a desk or something when Krypton exploded and have formed a new society that needs Clarks help. Apparently he needs to rush off to New Krypton (the name of the, well, the new Krypton) and marry Zara who he was also already married to as a baby so to stave off a hostile takeover by the sinister Lord Nor, a ruthless wannabe despot who isn’t afraid to paint a middle aged front man of a first teer British Invasion band blue and sick him on whoever stands in his way. The episode ended with Clark recognizing that the needs of the refugees of his birthplace outstripped his love of Earth, his life as Clark and his relationship with Lois.
It wasn’t very compelling, either dramatically or narratively, we know that there’s no way that Clark is going to stay in Krypton so his sacrifice, while noble, isn’t much of a cliffhanger. And the writers and cast all seemed to be going through the motions, half assing through lame material and waiting for something more interesting to come around. Well, here we are, three Earth months later, everyone is freshly tanned and have new haircuts that don’t exactly look right yet, it’s time to see what magic the staff of Lois & Clark have whipped up to reenergize what has become a tedious slog. And if the season four premiere episode “Lord of the Flys” is any indication of things to come, the answer is… not a whole fucking lot. We open with a reunion of Lois and Clark that turns out to be a dream Lois is having that leads her to sleep embrace and kiss the air like Pepe God Damn Le Pew after that cat bolts out of his arms. It’s one of the most embarrassing things the show has made Teri Hatcher do, and she spent the majority of one episode in a chicken costume. Other than that she spends a lot of the episode being sad about, and covering for, Clark’s absence from everyday life.
Great, we even get the cheapest possible version of the post-death black costume.
As for Clark, he gets to put on a new unitard, this one black with a Blue S insignia and speed off to the giant spaceship that contains, Wall-E like, the remnants of what was once a proud civilization. And they’re mostly a bunch of wieners who keep bowing to Clark and barge in on him just as he’s about to explain to a woman that he can’t have sex with her. I swear, I’ve never seen a television show more obsessed with and simultaneously terrified of sex at the same time. The vast majority of seasons two and three were devoted to keeping Lois and Clark from sleeping together, and season four opens with him and Zara being ushered into a kind of spaceship Honeymoon Sweet that looks like the first pass at an Arabian Nights themed porno to make a baby already. Of course, that doesn’t happen, which, believe me, I’m fine with. Watching Dean Cain and Justine Bateman get it on wasn’t exactly on my bucket list. But it’s another example of the writers inserting sex into the plot specifically to yank it away again. To make things even weirder, Lois is able to board the ship and get closer to Superman by posing as one of The Kings Concubines. There are space concubines on this show now. I guess there’s a whole harem of women he needs to gallantly not fuck.
You know that you’re the one’s doing this, right, writers of Lois & Clark? You don’t have to inject all these sexual situations and then flee from them. There are other scenarios you could write about. Did you ever see Early Edition? Coach from Friday Night Lights starts getting the next days newspaper and uses the knowledge to avert tragedies. Maybe you could have Superman do that. Or he could teach a bunch of inner city geniuses or something, I don’t know. The point is that this psychosexual obsession with a TV superhero’s virginity has gone well past the point of strange and is now in the realm of concerning.
Ronnie: You know things are good when it begins with Lois doing the equivalent of George Costanza making out with a pillow he’s imagining to be Marisa Tomei. A lot of this episode is about the absence of Clark. There are some scattered moments here and there, such as Ma Kent buying his favorites under the assumption he’ll be hungry when he gets back, and Teri Hatcher does her best to convey Lois’ feelings of loss, but it’s a little rich considering we know he’s going to be back and he is back after like 20 minutes. It’s like when they killed off Wolverine in the comics; at the same time an alternate timeline old version of him, his son and his female clone were running around. You have to make us miss the character first before you have other people miss them, you know?
I think this episode suffers from, oddly enough, our between season perusal of Krypton. Say what you will–and I said plenty–about the show, but thought was put into the fictional ice planet society in which the program takes place. Somebody crunched some numbers somewhere. By contrast, no thought was expended in the illustration of Krypton, Kryptonians or Kryptonian society for “Lord of the Flys” (awful title for an awful show) beyond some fucking asshole on staff half-remembering bits and bobs of the Donner Superman movies. Give them a break, Wikipedia didn’t exist yet. Research required extra steps. You might say it’s unfair to compare a Season 4 arc of Earthbound television to a show set on the planet and in the society, to which my response “when in this endeavor did we even allude to being fair?”. Lois & Clark & Chris & Ronnie is nothing if not us taking potshots from the safety of semi-obscurity. Dean Cain’s not knocking on the door to kick our asses. Not yet anyway. I spent the majority of the episode thinking “wow, this is basically if Star Trek: The Next Generation didn’t have a budget”, which I guess puts this on par with Babylon 5, a show Doctor of Letters Daniel Daughhetee once described as “like community theatre Star Trek”. At least that had charm and this has none.
Mr. Mike The Barbarian
Moreover, the show doesn’t know whether it wants to be serious or funny. One minute a Kryptonian is melting soldiers into nothing and other Lord Nor is being interviewed on daytime television with a level of chirpy deference suggesting he’s a simple Donald Trump. You have to adopt a more serious tone if I’m to believe internment camps in Smallville are a sick joke by some doofus who never watched Shoah or Night and Fog. The cheapness doesn’t help either. I kept thinking of the cheap ass “what if Soviets won the war” and how our protagonists would all happen to be in the resistance as opposed to reluctant (or enthusiastic) collaborators. Never a good sign the show reminds you of Sliders without the charm.
Fun fact: I didn’t initially know this was a two-parter, so I was wondering if they’d really half-ass the denouement in the last five minutes. I’m sure they will half-ass it in part 2, but it’s good to know this story has 90 minutes with which to breathe.
Chris: I’m glad you brought up the cheapness Ron (do you mind if I call you “Ron”?) because that really struck me too. This is a show that seems to have the budget to erase the wires holding Dean Cain up in about fifty percent of the shots per episode, and they’re going to show an alien invasion, occupation and entire other civilization? Who thought that was a good idea? I understand wanting to scale up the drama in your show as it progresses but why do it by introducing plot beats that you have no hope of ever successfully executing? It’s like when George drove the Ross’s all the way to the end of Long Island to see the Hamptons that all of them knew didn’t exist. There are so many less expensive, Earthbound threats that could have been explored in greater depth. What’s Intergang up to? Did anything bad ever happen to Mindy Church? Maybe they install a crooked mayor or something. Or they could go to a parallel dimension where everything looks the same but everyone’s a jerk again. Didn’t Metallo show up at one point? Why not fire him back up and see if you can manage a super fight between Clark and one other person before you have him take on a quote unquote army.
We have twenty one episodes of this fucking show left and if they’re anything like “Lord of the Flys” we’re in for a slog. You know, there was a time when I actually enjoyed watching this show and talking with you about it. It was never very good but it had personality and idiosyncratic tendencies that were unpredictable and enjoyably baffling. Remember how each of the first two seasons that were primarily flashbacks and the cast got to play different characters? That was fun. Or the Dean Cain written Christmas episode where George Jefferson was going to take over Metropolis and ruin Christmas with a wildly popular, hideous rat toy that’s appeal was harder to buy than the show’s flying effects? Those were all either good or strange enough to find things to talk and laugh about. “Lord of the Flys” is bad, but even worse it’s boring and uninspired. There are no pet pigs or dream sequences where L&C get to cosplay as Lucy and Ricki. And forget any interesting guest stars, luminaries like Eliot Gould, Bronson Pinchot, Raquel Welch and Leslie Jordan are not walking through that door. The closest we get to that is Liza Gibbons and the guy who played Saul Rubineks main bodyguard in True Romance (remember at the end he’s shot up and coughing blood asking for someone to call for an ambulance and Chris Penn is like “how bout I call you a hearse” and shoots him in the head? that was fucking great.)
No! Not our Abe Lincoln bust!!!
Lois & Clark has always had a Ninety Nine Cents Store vibe to it, but I kind of liked that. Now though, it’s like we left the Ninety Nine Cents Store, drove right past the Sixty Six Cents Store down the street and finally stopped at the Thirty Three Cents Store Chuck Garabedian is always talking about. I’m afraid it’s Cool Ranch Soda, expired cans of plankton and That 70’s Show mugs from here on out.
Ronnie: But don’t you think Lois & Clark has interesting things to say about life under an oppressive regime? Yeah, me neither, but they sure try. Or seem to try. I don’t know. Parsing the intentions of Lois & Clark has never been my strong suit and it isn’t now. It’s with this ambitious storytelling that all of the show’s weaknesses are laid bare. For instance: the fact that the supporting cast consists of four people really hurts in that there’s no real opportunity to either show the void Clark’s absence creates or show enough facets of life under Kryptonian rule to be compelling. Like I said, I felt like I was watching any number of shitty 90s shows that didn’t counteract their cheapness with good or imaginative writing. Throw in some stock footage of dinosaurs and you’ve got a Sliders, as I mentioned before.
Besides the cheapness of occupied Smallville we’ve got the half-assed bullshit of Kryptonian culture and customs. Clark’s discussion with Justine Bateman about the difference between love and obligatory relationships forged by political relationships is just death. Oh wow, Justine has experienced love too? No kidding. And it’s with Ching? Shock of all shocks. Again, this is all stupid and reeks of “we have Star Trek at home”. I’d rather watch the one where Joe Piscopo teaches Data comedy. The more I write the more I hate this episode, the more I hate the show, the more I hate you, Chris, for making me do this, and most importantly myself for letting Lois & Clark & Chris & Ronnie happen to me. Here’s hoping the landing is a soft one and not United 93. Fuck.
Question of “how many extras can the show afford” has been answered.
Odds & Ends
-New Season, New Ching: trouble in paradise? Indeed, whereas Teri Hatcher boytoy Jon Tenney portrayed him in Season 3, come Season 4 he is portrayed by Mark Kiely. He also is not Chinese. Kiely has something over Tenney in that he appeared on an episode of The Shield playing a detective at the Barn. No word on if he ever knocked boots with Hatcher; it’s only speculation that doing so was a stipulation for the role of Ching.
Chris: So, the good news, is that our next episode, “Battleground Earth” is better than “Lord of the Flys” (also, it’s probably better than Battlefield Earth, or it’s no worse and it’s shorter. Good job finally naming an episode after a comparable IP, Lois & Clark). The bad news is that being better than “Lord of the Flys” is a crazy low bar to get over, and “Battlefield Earth” clears it with about an inch to spare. If “Flys” is a C- or D (F being reserved for, like, racist or truly epically embarrassing episodes, of which there are more than one of both), then “Battleground” lands in C, C+ territory. Banal and uninspired as opposed to lifeless and insulting. Huzzah? It benefits, I think, from having a straighter narrative that moves reasonably quickly to a decent climax. This little four episode arc has been Clark solving mysteries, untangling moral dilemmas and navigating political minefields. It’s mostly been just terrible, aiming for scope, depth and skill that far exceeded anything the show was capable of. The conclusion, though, manages to (barely) stick the landing using the tried and true method of a good old fashioned punch ‘em up.
A big help is the fact that the show finally lets Clark come face to face with his nemesis, Lord Nor, and Nor is given a couple of scenes to be theatrically e-vil so as to make him appropriately hissable. You threaten to rape Mallory Keaton, buster, and you and me got trouble. You just count your lucky stars that Nick died(powered down, whatever) at the end of the episode where he was Metallo or you’d have to deal with him too! And that guy wore headbands and shirts without sleeves so, you know, danger city! I’m assuming we’re all familiar enough with Family Ties for these jokes to land. Either way, there’s a Kryptonian trial that doesn’t make any sense because Clark is being charged with crimes he couldn’t possibly be aware of, seeing as how he’d never met another Kryptonian until a few days earlier. But for some reason, the folks that were chomping at the bit to get Clark to come help repel Nor are now trying him in a space kangaroo court and bending over backwards to give Nor the keys to the whole planet. It’s stupid and aggravating.
Kramer said the photo was supposed to be tasteful!!!
Then, after Clark has been sentenced to death, Ching pops up out of nowhere with a scroll that says that Clark can challenge Nor to a duel for the fate of, I guess everything. Apparently the fact that Clark wasn’t aware of the fact that he could just challenge Nor somehow invalidates the whole thing and he’s spared at the last moment. It’s fitting that the court that convicted Clark for violating laws that he couldn’t possibly have been aware of, get’s fucked by a completely unknown law of their own. There’s nothing more satisfying than a plot being resolved by a random twist that comes out of nowhere and negates the majority of what came before it.
Ronnie: I generally agree with Chris that this is better than “Lord of the Flys”. That’s still not saying a lot. It does go back to my contention that Clark’s alien heritage and the society he came from are among the least interesting aspects of Superman. I get that for an immigrant their roots are a part of them, but usually in that instance we’re talking about an immigrant from a real place instead of a fictional character from Spaceland. Krypton is not interesting, and if it can be it’s not by these writers. Here’s hoping that after this these jerks are never seen nor heard from again. “Battleground Earth” reminds me mainly of Under the Dome, that show where Hank Schrader is under some sort of dome, because Smallville is under one and we’re meant to find that impressive. Psh, the EPA did that shit in The Simpsons Movie and they’ve been defanged by decades of deregulation and privatization.
I mean, this isn’t a good hour of television, but it successfully bridges the gap between the show as it was at the end of Season 3 to a normal status quo. One in which, yes, Lois and Clark will finally get for real married seriously guys. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say the next episode, “Swear To God, This Time We’re Not Kidding”, depicts the two tying the knot. A spoiler would be to say Eternals breakout Bingus appears in the post-credits of Fast X. There’s shit about noble accusations, councils, duels, and other shit borrowed from uniformly superior episodes of Star Trek and its successors. My eyes glazed over, not going to lie. By the end I was on the military guy’s side. Gas Superman! Stop the show! End our purgatory 10 installments early! Wouldn’t it be great? It’s the writing equivalent of a snow day.
Put ‘em out of their mercy!
Chris: Yeah, I don’t think there’s much compelling evidence to support the idea that L&C is gonna get too much better before the end. The death of a television show is a peculiar, drawn out thing. It’s often obvious to everyone that it’s terminal long before the actual moment it ends, and by everyone I mean everyone, so there’s this general vibe of depression and acceptance that accumulates as the episodes pile up and the finish line get’s closer and closer. L&C isn’t a show that overstayed its welcome like The X-Files, where the (really truly) terrible finale didn’t diminish the quality of what came before (you know, generally). And it’s not like too beautiful to survive kinds of shows like Twin Peaks or Arrested Development that used their dwindling cultural relevance to go berserk and self-destruct in a blaze of glory, because fuck it. And it’s not one of those instantly forgettable shows that comes and goes in a season or two like… I don’t know, I can’t think of one, that’s the point.
Elements such as the above speak to the schizophrenic tone of the episode. Are we supposed to care about the invasion or not? The pamphlet makes me think “not”.
L&C was an interesting idea with established characters and a built-in audience that managed to garner a few peaks of success before collapsing under its own rickety construction. It’s hard to say that any show that survives for four years, garners multiple magazine covers, spin-off novels and makes it’s leads household names can really ever be labeled a failure, but there’s no way you can confidently label it a success either. It was a show with unreached potential and untapped resources that couldn’t get out of its own way long enough to find its voice. But that doesn’t mean that there weren’t flashes of what the show could have been, and I hope/imagine that there will be one or two more before we’re done. But man, those one or two tablespoons of sugar almost certainly won’t compare to the buffet of shit that’s almost certainly ahead of us. If it did, then the show probably wouldn’t have been dumped at the end of the season, yeah? And as much as I kind of want to just chuck it all and walk away, saving myself from fourteen hours of stupid, boring television that I’m watching for no one and nothing, I can’t help but think we’ve come too far to turn back now, and the only thing to do is to grit our teeth and run it out. To lay back, close our eyes, and think of England (Or Metropolis, whatever). Maybe we’ll be able to wring a few more jokes out of the meager offerings that await us, or maybe we’ll all die in a nuclear apocalypse or something. Both scenarios have their upside.
Ronnie: Lord Nor fucking sucks, and I think that’s one of the main problems with “Battleground Earth”: no compelling villain. Like, all of the Kryptonians suck, but he really sucks. He’s a bearded douchebag with ridiculous shoulder pads. Lex Luthor is a great villain, and he served as a good foil on Lois & Clark. Lord Nor is not. What is he besides a standard world conqueror with delusions of grandeur? You might say his actions later in the episode, exposing himself to Kryptonite gas to save Superman, is too little too late. “There’s some good in everyone”, Superman says. Fuck that. What about Henry Kissinger? The good Kryptonians are presumed to now be in charge of the colony so things are done and dusted and Clark will never encounter them again, even though one might think he’d stay in touch with the only other members of his species.
Superman IV had better fight scenes.
I’m only looking forward to the rest of the season insofar as once they’re married surely Lois & Clark will slowly become hardcore pornography. That’s why they’ve been holding back on any scintilla of intimacy, right? The dam will burst once they’ve committed to matrimony.
Odds & Ends
-This episode sort of reminds me of when Kirk and Spock had to fight to the death, only that was awesome and this lost to Touched by an Angel and 3rd Rock from the Sun in the ratings. (But not John Woo’s Once A Thief. Remember that one?)
-”For a spaceman, you’re the most romantic person I’ve ever known” – Lois knows like six people so that statement doesn’t mean as much as you’d think.