Lois & Clark & Chris & Ronnie: “Sex, Lies and Videotape”/”Meet John Doe”

Chris: Alright you fucking millennials, turn off your Tiktoks, put down that vape pen, and close the Instawhatever update on this week’s newest gender pronouns. Uncle Chris is here to tell you a story about ancient history. How ancient, you ask? This story is about a time so long ago that not only does it not take place this year, but it also isn’t from this decade, or century. This is shit from the last millennium, specifically the late 1980s and early 90s. It was a golden age in American History, what with communism dying, America ascending to lone superpower status, and Republican God King Ronald Reagan and his successor George H.W. Bush benevolently watching over us all. Things were simpler then. Better. All the colors were a little brighter, the sounds a little clearer and the pop culture a little less… oh gosh, let’s just say “urban” (more on that later). Back then every American man, woman and child had their own house complete with in-ground pool, a Dodge 4×4, and there were no nerdy pocket computers at everyone’s fingertips to disprove wild, unsupportable claims.

Back then, while MTV was still showing some music videos, they were also experimenting with other cheaper ways to fill their schedules. There were news breaks where human particle board and libertarian Kurt Loder would keep viewers up to date on which member of Motley Crüe was skating charges for wrapping their Lamborghini Countach around what telephone pole on Sunset while doing 120 in a drunken stupor and killing the person sitting in passenger seat when they flew through the windshield and skidded 50 feet across unforgiving asphalt which pretty much ground their face off. There were terrible shows that nobody liked where VJs (attractive idiots who introduced videos in the same manner DJs would with songs on the radio) tried to do things, game shows hosted by comedians who were better than that but needed the work, and dance shows where attractive young people rubbed up against one another in industrial settings while cameras piled on the Dutch angles to frame their crotches.


“If I capture this footage I can finally pay off my student loans!”

Club MTV was one such dance show. It started airing in 1987 and was hosted by a young woman named “Downtown” Julie Brown. Funny story about how she got that name. So, it turned out that there were actually two VJs named Julie Brown back then, and of course you couldn’t have two people doing the same job with the same name, so one of them had to change it. One Julie was a spunky, valley girl type redhead from Van Nuys. The other one was black. So… you know. Sometimes the redhead Julie was called “Miss” Julie Brown so both of them had nicknames and it didn’t seem like one was more authentically “Julie Brown” than the other. One Julie Brown was a lady deserving of the appropriate nomenclature; the other was, well, she was from downtown. I don’t want to belabor the point, but if you had your choice of which Julie your kid would spend time with, and one was a “Miss” and the other was, (looks around, leans in and whispers) downtown, I think we all know what the sensible choice would be, don’t we? We’re all on the same page here? Okay. good. I’m bringing this up because Downtown Julie Brown was on the first episode of Lois & Clark that we’ll be covering today, and it was pretty good. Ronnie?

Ronnie: Superman is receiving “the  International Peace Prize”, which doesn’t actually exist. “The King of Sleaze” Randy Goode (Jack Wagner, 1334 episodes of The Bold and the Beautiful), whose efforts to rehabilitate his image into that of a philanthropist has not manifested in receiving made up awards yet, is mad about it. He enlists Downtown Julie Brown to find evidence that will sully the Man of Steel’s reputation, and she does, taking photos of Superman making out with Lois. But she loses the actual incontrovertible evidence so she goes to a lab to fake the real photo she took. I’m not sure what the point of this wrinkle is, because Julie Brown still saw it happen. I guess nobody would believe the employee of a tabloid. The pics hit the stands and it’s an odd prelude to the scandal that’d define the late 90s, that being Monicagate. It’s really weird to watch an hour of television about Superman being cuckolded by himself, but here we are. For what it’s worth, Perry and Jimmy don’t believe the affair is legitimate. Practically everyone else does, to the point of the scandal jeopardizing peace talks between warring made up Eastern European nations. I do like the whimsy of Superman being able to solve Bosnia in this universe.


Not only is “super” not spelled “orgy”, two people making out on a bed is not an orgy, not even in Utah.

I think the episode handles the issue about as well as it can, given the absurdity of it all. Like, the couple is not going to dabble in actual adultery, so seeing how they react to everyone else perceiving adultery is kinda fun. I like the detail that Clark is receiving all sorts of sympathy gifts whereas trash TV reporters are accusing Lois of being a strumpet. That’s a word I’ve not heard in a while. Because this show isn’t very good the episode culminates in some bad special effects of Superman having to blow up a bomb by reflecting his heat vision off a piece of mirror in space and a press conference in which Superman affirms Lois and Clark’s marriage is totally normal. I definitely got Silver Age vibes from “Sex, Lies and Videotape”. More Superman heat vision trickshots please.

Chris: This is another decent episode that makes me wonder what in the fuck was going on towards the end of the last season and the beginning of this one. I know the show had to push the wedding off so as to coincide with the wedding in the comic (just as years before the writers of the Super titles had to kick the wedding down the road because of L&C. Turnabout and all that.), but they didn’t have to be so pointless and stupid. This is a solid idea for an episode of television; hell, these days it would be worth three or four episodes. It’s also a concept that the comics would explore from a different angle just a few years later when Jimmy snaps a photo of Superman flying into action while still wearing his wedding ring. Superman is a much more flexible character than he gets credit for, and the moral dilemma he faces between lying and saying the photo was fake and crushing thousands of fans by revealing that he has a whole side gig as a regular dude as opposed to doing good 24/7 is really interesting.


“It’s a UNIX system–I know this!”

This shit isn’t hard, you know? So much of L&C is devoted to hemming and hawing over possible romantic rivals that pose absolutely no threat to anyone, make-up-break-up horseshit, and berserk plot-twists like Clark marrying a frog eating Lois clone instead of the real woman while actual Lois gets double secret amnesia that first convinces her she’s a torch song singer, then erases her mind so completely it’s a wonder she can chew her food. Okay, full disclosure, that last example was fucking fire and I defy anyone to say otherwise, but the rest of it is standard hack TV. And it didn’t have to be. Being in a relationship when one of you is a world famous superhero would have its own unique challenges that could be so much more interesting than Lois’s terrible ex comes to town and is also a druid warlock and A bunch of Kryptonians set up a 99 Cent Store version of their home planet on Earth. Seriously, what the fuck?

Ronnie: Do we agree that this is a case of “too little too late”? We’re in the last eighth of the series, so for them to start broaching such simple relationship issues as trust is kinda infuriating, because they could have been doing shit like this the entire time as opposed to the myriad dead ends and dumb choices presented in the previous 78 episodes. Lois & Clark has been mostly bad in its run and having a couple of decent shows at this stage in the game isn’t enough to justify, say, a renewal for Season 5. I’ll give “Sex, Lies and Videotape” credit that it is a plotline that hinges on the titular couple being married. Comics couples are rarely married/stay married because writers always insist married life limits storytelling possibilities, thereby making this hour a rebuke to that conventional wisdom. Like, I don’t see the Moonlighting Effect at play here. Lois & Clark is a bad show but it’s not like it was a gem or worth watching outside a curio in the seasons where Lois and Clark were will they won’t they and she didn’t know his secret. It was just bad in a slightly different way.

Can we also talk about the nutjob pattern to stunt casting in this show? It really runs the gamut from strange to stupefying, with guests including Drew Carey, Sonny Bono, Booger Armstrong, Roger Daltrey, Don Swayze, Bo Jackson, Darth Vader and now Downtown Julie Brown. Every sort of stunt casting exists in Lois & Clark, from legends designed to lend the show credibility, up-and-comers whose notoriety exists in retrospect, and whatever the hell Joey from Full House was doing. If nothing else, Lois & Clark has given me some casting trivia to try to jam into conversations. “Did you know George Jefferson played Toyman in the 90s Superman show?” “No shit?”  “No shit!”


Pictured: Superman flailing at trying to define the word “is”

Odds & Ends

-This episode introduces fictional Eastern European nations Latislan and Podansk. Those are…not good names.
-The episode concludes with Lois and Clark cuddling, presumably naked, under a big comforter. Lois says her feet are cold and Clark offers to use his heat vision to warm them up. He takes his glasses off and they don’t bother to do any kind of heat vision animation even though they always had before because fuck you, that’s why. Lois giggles and tells Clark he missed, and Clark responds that, no, he didn’t, and they start making out. Did Clark set his wife’s bikini area on fire? Is that what’s going on here?
-”Sex, Lies and Videotape” is the sole episode written by Andew Dettmann and Daniel Truly in the series. Together they created Young Hercules. Apart, Dettmann runs Shemar Moore’s S.W.A.T. whereas Truly wrote multiple Special Victims Unit shows from the golden era. Truly is responsible for the CSU tech serial killer one, the swingers one with Rose McGowan and Opie from Sons of Anarchy as incestuous twin con artists, the one where Stabler shoots a kid and quits the force… Daniel Truly is a Law & Order legend is what I’m saying.

Chris: Moving on. The ironic streak of halfway decent Lois & Clark episodes well past the point that anyone would care continues with “Meet John Doe”, starring fan favorite(?) Tempus in what has to be his final appearance, right? I mean, it’s not his final final appearance, because this is the first of (hopefully) a two-parter in which Tempus uses a thingy to hypnotize the country into voting him president. Obviously it’s stupid, that goes without saying, but stupid isn’t the same as bad. “Doe” is another episode that taps into the Silver Age vein that runs through this series to create a relatively zippy, charming adventure. Not surprising really, as Tempus is the best Non-Luthor villain of the show, and yes that includes Peter Boyle sitting at a table and masterminding super crimes while sipping hot soup.


Putting the “special” in “special effects”.

I think you could argue that in some ways he’s actually Clark’s main adversary simply because he keeps coming back. Luthor had a whole season, but Tempus is like the fucking Road Runner, he won’t go down. I also think it’s somehow more appropriate that this incarnation of Superman’s arch rival is a fop who sounds like Matt Berry and bases most of his schemes on blockbusters from the 1980s. That’s the level the whole show is working on. Lex is classy, even when he’s wrestling snakes in his living room and getting drunk with his dog. Anyway, like I said, Tempus has this thing that controls people’s thoughts and he uses it to become president. President in this world doesn’t look like a particularly tricky job, though. Former President Fred Willard shows up a few times, once strolling out of the Planet office with the gang, and again later just chilling at a bar, tossing back a few cold ones. If he and Lois reminisced about the time they were cloned by Tony Curtis, we don’t see it.

Yeah, Tempus becomes president(-elect) and immediately starts hassling Superman by siccing the FAA and IRS on him. I guess he’s supposed to have used his brain controlling doohickey to get it done though, because this is the day after the election and he’d have no real power yet. On the other hand, if he was using this thing to turn the world against Superman, why does he need to be president at all? Maybe that gets explained in part two. Either way, Superman is stymied by this bureaucracy despite the fact that he can fly well outside of airspace and has no income and so doesn’t have to pay taxes, but he doesn’t think of any of that, presumably because he’s worried about these weirdo dreams of the future where Lois gets kidnapped into another dimension. Or something. The dreams are dreams, and as such are hazy. Has Superman always had these premonitions on the show, Ronnie? I freely admit that it could have been one of his first established powers and I wouldn’t have noticed, but I’m pretty sure this is a new thing.

Ronnie: Tempus has been entertaining before but I think they’ve run out of ideas, or we’ve reached diminishing returns. I suppose that’s pretty much the same thing. Anyway. Through shenanigans (time travel) he has escaped the mental hospital and onto his next scheme, which is becoming President of the United States. “Meet John Doe” feels simultaneously like a Silver Age story and a plot better left for Lex Luthor. Succeeding at becoming a third party insurgent candidate who uses trickery to win the election is something Lex can and has done in several mediums, so I agree with Chris that Tempus is the replacement for Lex in more ways than one. Lane Davies, to his credit, full asses the performance. He’s playing multiple characters, essentially; both the Tempus Lois and Clark know and the John Doe who is mysteriously swept to power. It didn’t exactly shock me to look him up on IMDB only to find out he has a theatre background. Of course. It makes sense.

I guess the main problem is I’m just sort of over the show in general? I know it’s going to end after this season, but the people making it did not, so my feeling is just that they’re wasting time here. This two-parter turns out to be Tempus’ final appearance so we’ll have to wait until next week to see if anything that approaches “sticking the landing” occurs. My ennui is my problem so I’ll try to disregard it. There are some flights of fancy that amused me, like Fred Willard returning to portray President Garner. He’s on a first name basis with Lois and Clark and offhandedly mentions prior to the election that he has to go dedicate a mini-mall, so either that’s an amusing flourish or the writers have a child’s conception of what a president does. There’s also an unnecessary subplot of Tempus using a replica of himself to pose as him in the mental hospital while he cavorts around as John Doe, and it culminates in a cliffhanger where Clark and the fake Tempus get trapped in time or something. This feels like a cheap version of the Phantom Zone, which is striking because it’s not like a crappy CGI triangle is impossible to construct. I sort of wish this was the series finale; it’d be like how on M.A.N.T.I.S. Mantis was killed by an invisible dinosaur. It’d be a big, idiotic swing.


Tempus shoots a homeless man in broad daylight and nobody cares. I’m starting to think Trump took his cues from an episode of Lois & Clark. Dumber things have happened.

Chris: I’m not sure the creatives didn’t know that L&C was on its way out the door by this point. If memory serves, the show started hemorrhaging viewers due to the shenanigans of the whole engagement and wedding. I think it was pretty well understood that the show was on its last legs. The whole series does end on a cliff-hanger though. I think. Or not. Maybe I’m full of shit. I mean, I’m definitely full of shit, but that’s more of a general state of being, as opposed to a specific instance of shit spewing, which this might end up having been. But it’s interesting to me insofar as for whatever reason the show feels as loose and relaxed as it has in ages. It’s like L&C spent three solid seasons actively trying to figure out what kind of show it wanted to be, finally found a groove that worked for them (halfway decent couple go on cheap adventures) and got canceled.

The other thing is how nasty the show has gotten. We’ve talked at length about was radically retooled right before airing to make it more family friendly, in the past. How it lead to the ouster of its creator, followed by a couple of seasons that were comically sexless. The writers did everything they could possibly think of to keep Lois and Clark from having an adult, sexual experience, up to and including Tempus’s previous appearance where they had to battle him through time because if not, their boning would immediately cause the heat death of the universe. And that was like ten episodes ago. But I feel like every episode since has had at least a little time devoted to reminding us that these two are DTF at any time, anywhere. The one post wedding episode establishes that they didn’t actually go anywhere on their honeymoon, preferring instead to stay at home and have weird, presumably gravity defying, human on alien sex. Last week they were so handsy that the paps got a picture of Clark rubbing up against Lois while in his Superduds. This week we got to watch Lois plead with Clark to “Make Love to Her” which I responded to in much the same manner as Jerry did when offered food prepared by Poppie. Gross.

Ronnie: It’s weird that Tempus is Superman’s archnemesis, right? Lane Davies is a game performer but it’s still weird that Tempus occupies the position of “Superman’s most persistent enemy” as opposed to anyone, really. Remember Intergang? Remember Lex Luthor? Whatever happened to them? I mean I know Lex “died”, but wasn’t the trophy wife in charge of Intergang last time we saw them? There’s less call for recurring foes in live action adaptations than in comics, I suppose, for a number of reasons. Nevertheless, the fact remains that Season 4 Tempus appears in multiple episodes and the rest is populated by, like, Drew Carey and Howie Mandel. At least the latter is nominally a preexisting Superman character. I suppose my point is that Lane Davies is a delight but Superman’s foe being a future jerk who has a convoluted relationship with writer and weekend enjoyer H.G. Wells. It’s as if the much lauded Silver Age sense of imagination was limited to the budget of a declining late 90s ABC program. I mean that is what it is.


Thus sparked Dean Cain’s lifelong hatred of big government.

Um, what else is there to say? This aired in March 1997; I share this to provide a context for the political satire “Meet John Doe” may or may not be attempting. Tempus is a one dimensional character–he hates the future because it’s a utopia, I guess–so any perceived commentary on the American political system at the end of the 20th century is probably accidental. I don’t have faith in the writers. Sorry, Tim Minear; just because you went on to write two pretty good X-Files and associated with disgraced rapist Josh Whedon does not mean I think you have what it takes to lampoon the clowns in Congress. That everyone’s mind controlled into supporting Tempus/John Doe renders any critique of demagoguery inert. I’m sorry, but Trump did not rise to power on mind control bullshit. People consciously chose to vote for him. Then again, this is unrealistic nonsense untethered to reality so asking for any 1:1 relationship between 1997 America and this is foolish. But I would’ve still appreciated a soft money gag.


This should’ve been the finale. Tempus is president, Clark is exiled to someplace even cheaper, all is lost. It’s dark. It’s edgy!

Odds and Ends:
-Seinfeld Watch: Dr. Wexler (“restrained jubilation”), whose name really is Victor Raider-Wexler, makes an appearance.
-Jimmy angles Lois and Clark into scoring him tickets to the inauguration so that he can hit on the President’s daughter. There’s no way the Secret Service doesn’t have a standing shoot-on-sight order for him, right?
-At a presidential rally Tempus promises to, no shit, Make America Great Again, a sad reminder that we live in a world on the intellectual level of a season four episode of Lois and fucking Clark.

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