Lois & Clark & Chris & Ronnie: “Pheromone My Lovely”/”Honeymoon in Metropolis”
Ronnie: Oh boy. Where do we begin? I suppose with the caveat that this is Lois & Clark & Chris & Ronnie again, our sixth look at the television series that brought Superman into the 90s. This is a rough and inexplicable episode that will require me to unpack it at length. Let’s start with the opener: it’s Superman’s Dexter intro, which culminates in him stopping a garbage truck to retrieve an empty milk jug to show a black child it’s something you recycle now. It gets worse, because we’re in the sci-fi/superhero trap that is the “love pheromone” episode. Those never end well. It will consist of characters acting in an embarrassing fashion that is never referenced again, and boy oh boy is there embarrassment to heap out. I’ll start with my most damning criticism of the show yet: Smallville did it better.
Fencing? Now I know where Smallville picked up that from.
It all starts with Lex Luthor shitcanning a scientist played by Morgan Fairchild who specializes in pheromones. They had a brief sexual relationship but as Lex puts it, “you were an itch. You’ve been scratched”. She retaliates at this snub by going to the Daily Planet, which for some reason is the setting of a fashion shoot for a new perfume, and spraying the staff. You see, she found out Lex is going out with Lois and decides that she and her co-workers deserve it. Cue everyone behaving like idiots, with the exclusion of Clark, who is immune because he’s Kryptonian or asexual. In the 1990s both were considered unknowable threats to humanity.
I should specify this is a love pheromone, not a sex pheromone. Sex pheromone you couldn’t put on Sunday night ABC; it’d be like the big scene at the end of Society. Love pheromone, though, results in Perry looking at the cleaning woman’s ass and Lois filling the office with red and white balloons. It’s silly shit that doesn’t really inform us of anything about the characters we don’t know, unless “Perry wants to step out on his wife” counts, and I don’t think it does. Of course, “Pheromone, My Lovely” wouldn’t be complete without a slut-shaming Cat Grant joke. She’s been shown flirting with some dude, and later on she goes “what spray?”. Cue comedy saxophone. I just can’t.
Chris: You called this episode inexplicable, and I think that’s a perfect description. What really struck me about it though, is how it really encapsulates the identity crisis at the core of the show, and how I don’t know if it’s resolvable. Lois and Clark was designed to be a 10 o’clock “adult” show but was switched at the last minute to an 8 o’clock “family” show and required a significant amount of last minute retooling to fit the more puritanical standards of the time slot. As a result, L&C has come off so far as weird and unsatisfying, too goofy and vanilla to be taken seriously and too character driven relationship oriented to be silly fun. That’s not to say I haven’t liked some of it, because I have, but the tension between the original intention of the show and the demands of the time slot are always noticeable and often hamper even the best episodes to rise above “decent”. It would be easy to assume that all the network meddling kept the show from achieving its potential, but episodes like “Pheromone My Lovely” make me wonder if any version of this show could actually work. Let me explain.
So Morgan Fairchild (dressed inexplicably like Stevie Nicks) sprays the Daily Planet office with her love spray because she’s mad at Lex. Or maybe jealous of Lois? Or something? Anyway, she sprays them all and everyone falls in love with the first person they see, which means Lois falls for Clark. It’s played at first as reasonably straightforward, she flashes him some skin, messes with his tie, I think she sits on his lap at some point. It’s all over played but basically fine. But later that night she shows up at his house in a trench coat and whips it off to reveal… an Arabian Belly Dance costume and starts doing the dance of the seven veils, which, no. There’s nothing that screams “network interference” like a sexy outfit that involves floor length skirts and a face covering.
But it got me thinking, I don’t want to see this sort of silly-sexy Lois Lane because it’s weird and embarrassing. But I honestly think a sexy-sexy Lois would also be pretty bizarre and uncomfortable too. Like, if Lois showed up at Clarks kitted out in Victorias Secret and really made a serious play for him that would be just as awkward.Because he’s still fucking Superman and Superman is still an essentially silly premise for a story. And again, that’s not bad, I just don’t know if I can invest in the situation the way I need to for it to work. I don’t know if you can make an authentically sexy show about an alien in a cape and booties who blows out fires with his breath and the woman who loves slash doesn’t recognize him when he puts glasses on. That’s why it was such a good idea to give him a kid in the comics. Superman works much better as a father figure than sexual object; he’s a big hearted, slightly out of touch guy who dresses funny and you roll your eyes at, but who you also kind of expect to fix all your problems. That makes sense to me. Halfway through the first season of L&C, and their version still doesn’t.
Clark: “Lois, I’m trying to write about the budget deficit.”
Ronnie: Yet we both tried to watch Superman & Lois and we hated it. Guess it all comes down to the execution, right? I want to correct you on the infatuation bit because it’s actually dumber: you only fall in love with someone you have existing feelings for. Morgan Fairchild sprays Lex expecting him to fall for her, but he doesn’t. He does fall for Lois, though. That means that Perry secretly does want to screw the cleaning lady, and Jimmy wants to bone a supermodel. I mean that last one makes sense but Perry seems out of character. In any event, it’s a show called Lois & Clark. Do we really want to burn film on the editor-in-chief’s marriage?
I do agree with you that I don’t want to see a sexy Superman because there’s something inherently wholesome about the character. It’s like imagining your dad having sex or looking at porn. Batman can be sexual. Spider-Man can be sexual. Superman, I don’t think so. Really, though, this episode was a failure from the conception on. None of it works. It’s not funny, it doesn’t reveal anything about the characters, and Lex is further diminished by being involved in some love potion bullshit. There’s some behind the scenes going on that will explain the push-pull and schizophrenic tonal shifts, but you don’t beat SeaQuest DSV with this nonsense. Although maybe you do–”Pheromone My Lovely” is one of two episodes this season to crack 20 million viewers. Sex sells, or at least a facsimile thereof does. Are you surprised THIS of all shows drew 20 million eyeballs, Chris?
Lane Smith should’ve received hazard pay. You know it’s never good when you feel embarrassed for the actors while watching something.
Chris: Couple things. First, I don’t want to get too into Superman & Lois, as we’re going to be doing a deeper dive on that show a little later, but I will say that it seems like an attempt to course correct from L&C by fixing what wasn’t broken. The CW apparently decided the trick to successfully adapting an obviously ridiculous concept like Superman for television is to make it as serious as possible. So they move the Kents to an economically depressed small town located under Monty Burns sun-blocker and make sure the cinematographer films everything using the camera’s “dust-bowl” filter. Second, as much as I’m a “nineties guy” I really don’t know if 20 million is a lot for that time. In the end L&C ended up doing better than SeaQuest in the ratings, and both got their breaks beaten off by the 103rd season of Murder She Wrote. You can have the smoldering chemistry created by Teri Hatcher and Dean Cain or the will-they-or-won’t-they tension between Roy Scheider and Darwin the Talking Dolphin, but no one out-sexes Angela Lansbury.
In the end, “Pheromone” feels like an act of willful self sabotage. It was written by series creator and showrunner Deborah Joy-Levine, the woman who developed L&C for the older, more mature, ten o’clock audience, and left after the first season. She’s on record as being unhappy with the lighter, more kid-friendly form the show was forced to take and maybe “Pheromone” is some kind of post-modern commentary on that frustration. Like maybe it’s dealing with how instead of getting to do a real show about a real romance and relationship she’s forced to make safe, candy-assed bullshit, much like the candy-assed bullshit romance created by the love potion? She hates what the show is becoming so she creates a terrible episode about her hatred? That way, the audience is as angry and unsatisfied as she is? It makes sense in a punk rock, “ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated” kind of way. But when Johnny Rotten said that, it was at the end the last Sex Pistols performance for more than a decade (or ever, depending on how you feel about Sid Vicious). When Deborah Joy Levine said it, she had eleven more episodes to go.
Seriously, Cat Grant can do better than this guy.
Ronnie: I think we ought to discuss Cat Grant and Jimmy Olsen. More in tune readers will know both are not long for this world; Cat Grant is gone entirely after Season 1 and Michael Landes is replaced as Jimmy at that time too. I can see why, having seen half their work. Cat may have had some purpose in the “for adults” Lois & Clark, but right now she’s a PG-13 rating in a PG rating. Basically all she does is stand around, someone makes the lewdest reference the FCC will accept at the hour, and then she’s done. As for Jimmy, Landes got fired and replaced because the powers that be thought he looked too similar to Dean Cain. Which, okay, I guess. I’d fire him because he’s comic relief that isn’t funny and the show still hasn’t devised a use for him. Sometimes he’s the staff photographer, other times he does odd jobs for Perry. I daresay I prefer the Jimmy from Batman v. Superman over this one…
Next: Lois and Clark have to go undercover as a married couple. Doesn’t sound too promising, but it can’t be as bad as this.
Odds & Ends
-Seinfeld alum tracker: 0.
-”Elvis didn’t cheat on Priscilla!” – Clark to Perry. It goes to show Clark Kent is a stunningly naive person.
-The episode title is a reference to the Raymond Chandler novel Farewell My Lovely, for, from what I can tell, no goddamn good reason.
Chris: Okay, this is more like it. Something hinky is going down between a congressman and a notorious arms dealer, and the best vantage point for two reporters hoping to score a scoop happens to be from the window of the honeymoon suite in a luxurious hotel across from the office where the villains are doing business. So it falls to Lois and Clark to pretend to be a couple of newlyweds in order to convincingly occupy said sweet for the requisite amount of time to get the story. It’s another high concept story designed to force Lois and Clark to acknowledge their growing attraction to one another, but this one works because it replaces the cringey sexual shenanigans of last week’s entry with a more wholesome, domestic situation.
“Honeymoon in Metropolis” is basically a forty-five minute Rock Hudson/Doris Day movie, complete with a split screen shot of the two talking to one another on the phone while in their respective beds. It’s about two people who are used to living alone having to cohabitate and finding that they actually kind of like it. It isn’t forced or pointless like “Pheromone” because Lois and Clark aren’t under any kind of spell that exaggerates their behavior and everything isn’t reset back to normal by the episode’s end. The situations they encounter are less “Lois tries to straddle Clark at his desk at work in the middle of the day” and more “Clark sees Lois first thing in the morning before she’s put her face on and still thinks she’s cute”. There’s a short montage of the two killing time between meetings by playing various board games and Clark questioning Lois’s obsessive drive to win at everything that does a lovely job of evolving the growing comfort between the two. The Lois and Clark in “Honeymoon in Metropolis” are different people than they were in “Pilot”. They’re more comfortable with one another, closer. This is the kind of episode that does a convincing job of displaying how and why that is.
“What’s your favorite scary movie?”
And here’s the thing, Ronnie: it’s not not sexy. I know we made a big deal talking about how a Sexy Superman is inherently problematic, but this episode made a decent case for how someone might go about actually doing it. For the most part the sexiness is indirect. It’s in the natural way they fit together and how they get along. It’s in that scene where they take stock of each other first thing in the morning and find that they like what they see, or how they end the episode by calling each other to say goodnight. It’s sexy because it’s comfortable and organic, not because they’re doing forced or overtly sexual things. Except for that one moment anyway. You know the one. It’s the first night in the suite and Lois and Clark are figuring out the sleeping arrangements. He’s in a t-shirt and she’s in a long sleep shirt and shorts. Lois takes the bed and Clark takes the couch and Lois goes into the bedroom and closes the door, there’s a slightly slowed down shot of her shorts hitting the ground and then we see Clark consider using his x-ray vision to peep on her in bed. But he resists because he’s classy like that. But then we cut to later at night with Lois asleep, bare shouldered, presumably nekkid, and Clark waking her because there’s a doin’s transpiring across the way. That’s all just overtly sexy, and here’s the thing: this is a work situation, Lois. You’re at work. I know it feels like it’s not because it’s late and you’re in a hotel room, but it’s still work. You need to wear clothes at work. I’m not saying you gotta be in a pantsuit and heels, but sweats and a t-shirt never killed anyone. Or what was wrong with the sleep shirt and shorts from earlier? I don’t want to make a federal case out of it, just, come on. Do better, okay?
Fred Stoller asking for his paycheck.
Ronnie: I’m not sure “this” is more like it, exactly, but “Honeymoon in Metropolis” is a vast improvement over “Pheromone My Lovely”. To be fair, it could be 60 minutes of televised static and it’d be an improvement. This is a classic episode setup done adequately; I can think of a number of shows that required the two leads to pose as a married couple for reasons of varying quality. Specifically I’m thinking of The X-Files. What sets this episode apart is they barely have to pretend to be a couple, and the supporting cast is there to help with surveillance almost immediately. It reminded me of Archer, actually, although this has worse humor and acting and really everything else.
The episode ratchets up the Lois & Clark sexual tension somewhat, although we’re still in territory where it’s hinted they have feelings for one another. I think we’re meant to assume Clark puncturing his pillow and causing feathers to fly out is some sort of metaphor for sex, and he does it twice. It still doesn’t top “heat vision = masturbation” from Smallville. I appreciate the slow pace of the romance, as if it happened too quickly they’d get into Moonlighting territory. I know from retrospect no one particularly “had a plan” with Lois & Clark, but professional codependency leading to romantic connection works for me.
All The President’s Supermen…is a title I’m surprised they haven’t used yet.
I dunno, this one didn’t do enough to distinguish itself for me. I watched it twice and had trouble staying awake both times. Congressmen making deals with preposterous sounding consulting firms, Sore Throat…it’s all a bit blurry for me.
Chris: I’ll admit it’s possible I overrated “Honeymoon” simply because it followed two flops and so seemed better simply by dint of it being decent, but I dunno. I think this is an episode that fits in nicely with what I want L&C to be, a show about two people who work together realizing that they like each other. Those are certainly modest hopes, but they keep a man alive. And there should be a place for modesty anyway. Everything these days seems to be designed with posterity in mind. TV understands that it’s at the center of the pop-culture universe and even shitty superhero shows are designed to be watched and rewatched, dissected and reassembled, podcasted and blogged about like they’re fucking Dostoevsky. Part of the point of this whole idiotic enterprise we’ve undertaken here is to look at a superhero show that was made in the old model, namely to kill an hour a week and not really be thought about in the hours in between.
With that in mind here’s my question to you Ronnie, halfway through the first season, what do you want Lois and Clark to be? I think we can both agree that the platonic ideal of a Superman show for both of us is the Animated Series from the late 90’s. It was both great fun and completely infeasible as a live action show. I don’t know how much you liked Smallville, but you watched the entire run, which was more than I could muster (I tapped out after two seasons). And it was also, very pointedly, not a “Superman” show. And neither of us made it more than half a dozen episodes into Superman and Lois before quitting. I know the shit I tend to enjoy the most are stories where the characters grow and change in reasonably logical and interesting ways. My favorite L&C episodes have also been the ones that were most focused on the characters doing things that involved them learning about each other. The one where Lex tests Superman’s abilities and the Smallville/Kryptonite episodes both had that, and those are maybe my two favorite non-pilot episodes. So again, with all that in mind, what would you like to be seeing here?
Look kids, stock footage!
Ronnie: Some supervillains would be nice. I know they’ll look goofy on the show’s budget, but dammit I await the days we get a Metallo or a Toyman in here. Even a Prankster will suffice. Shady deals between Congressmen and Charlie from Major League, I mean, I can see it on other TV. More comic book stuff in general would be nice. I know I’ve said before that I despise the Arrowverse “everything’s a nod”–and I do, don’t get me wrong–but the famine of comic book references is getting to me. For every introduction of Kryptonite there’s episodes like this week’s pairing.
That brings this underwhelming week to an end; next week we have to look forward to a remake of an Adventures of Superman episode and one guest starring Elliott Gould, who starred in Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice. Nifty!
Odds & Ends
-Seinfeld alum tracker: 2. Fred Stoller as a bellhop. Charles Cyphers (one of the Houston Astros bastards in “The Hot Tub” and, incidentally, the sheriff in Halloween) plays the heavy.
-Apocalypse Consulting. I burst out laughing when I heard that one.
-”Surf’s Up: Superman Builds Undersea Trench”