Lois & Clark & Chris & Ronnie: “Super Mann”/”Virtually Destroyed”

Chris: We get a lot of letters, here at Lois & Clark & Chris & Ronnie. We get a lot of letters, we get a lot of emails, we get phone calls, text messages, direct messages, video messages and Tiktoks. We get people coming up to us on the street, interrupting meals at restaurants, even camping outside our homes. One time a guy attached a note to a brick with a rubber band and hucked it through my window. That one annoyed me because I was home and he could have just rung the doorbell. People are always reaching out to us, is what I’m saying, they reach out to us and they all say the same thing: “Lois & Clark is a pretty good show, but it needs more swastikas.” And to this we always respond the same way: “Lois & Clark has been off the air for twenty-five years and we had nothing to do with it’s production anyway.” But from now on, instead of brushing them off with our stock response, we can direct them to season three, episode nine, “Super Mann”, for an installment of Lois & Clark that’s positively brimming with them. Yes, the Nazi insignia is all over “Super Mann” because Nazi’s are all over “Super Mann” because I guess someone thought that was a good idea.

The episode opens way back in 1993, when a few cryogenic storage units that were just hanging out in a basement somewhere in Metropolis open up to reveal three young people, all blond haired, blue eyed and generally cut to fit the exact specifications of Hitler’s beloved Aryan master race. It seems that these three specimens had been chosen to be frozen during WWII as a kind of back-up plan should the Reich fail in its campaign to conquer the world. Their mission is to ascertain if Germany succeeded, and if they didn’t, hook up with other sleeper agents (many of whom were also frozen so that’s a kind of pun) and recommence taking over the world. As it happens though, pretty much the first thing they see when they hit the streets of Metropolis is Superman swooping in to save a little girl from a falling billboard (the ep repurposes footage from the third ever episode “Never Ending Battle” in a clever establishing gimmick) and realize their job is going to be much harder than they had anticipated. Then we cut back to good old 1995 and catch up with Lois and Clark as they go about their lives as a newly engaged couple and see that the three dastardly villains have managed to gain high profile All-American jobs as an NFL QB, country-western music star, and glamorous supermodel. Presumably the three are planning to use their influential positions to further their heinous goals.


Turning Points USA finally got a budget.

Ronnie, I don’t know what to make of this episode. On the one hand, it’s lively and energetic, it’s got reasonably compelling villains and a sci-fi plot that is in line with old Silver Age Superman stories, the period that we both agree L&C is best at emulating. On the other, man, maybe it’s the 2022 in me, but I don’t need fucking Nazis in my light-hearted superhero romcom. This Superman is more suited to battle evil toy manufacturers played by The Jeffersons and recently deceased gay icons than racist terrorists. I don’t know if you can make a television show where one episode has two kids stacked in a trench coat pretending to be an adult and an episode where giant swastikas are unfurled in city streets. But it was the 90’s, history was over, America was one long party hosted by President Bluto that was never gonna end, and nothing bad was ever going to happen again. You know what they say about hindsight. That said, if you can get past the swastikas, there’s some interesting stuff in the episode. I particularly liked how by 1995 the three Aryan’s didn’t necessarily see eye-to-eye on the whole “violently overthrowing the government” thing anymore, and that maybe some of them were more affected by pretending to be wholesome Americans than they’d like to admit. What did you make of it?

Ronnie: Yeah, this was all right. I know it’s ridiculous to say this in a vacuum but “Super Mann” (dumb title) feels very 90s insofar as there are definite “end of history” vibes to the episode. Like, the Soviet Union is done for, there’s a bland liberal consensus for a unipolar world order, we’ve solved all the geopolitical problems, let’s work on the existential ones. So the introduction of thawed out Nazis seems appropriate as something we need to “solve”, because in the 90s we had the mistaken assumption Nazism was a relic of the past as opposed to a vile ideology we hadn’t entirely expunged from Western civilization. Like, next episode Superman will finally tackle the deficit. So for the Nazis this time out their plan is infiltrating society via the most pliable avenues: country music star, football quarterback, supermodel. Those are the three archetypes of American success.

I don’t know how much of this is me reading into things but this episode of Lois & Clark seems determined to say something of merit about the slide into fascism and how it’s a slippery slope as exemplified by the character played by Sean Whalen, who is not Justin Whalin’s brother (to my confusion). He starts off a squirrely fan of Hank West with ambitions of becoming a writer and the next thing you know he’s saying “America used to be great” and donning a swastika. See how easy it is to become a Nazi if you’re a weasel person chump? That’s the lesson I gleaned from “Super Mann”. As usual, there’s nuclear warheads afoot that exacerbate Metropolis’ transformation into a Nazi police state, and Superman is sidelined for dubious reasons.


The chinless face of fascism

Chris: I don’t know if it meant to say something, but it certainly resonates today in a way that it probably didn’t back in 1995. Like, this was the era of Ruby Ridge, Waco, and Oklahoma City, so it’s not like we were completely out of crazy right wing white people, but at the same time, they were felt fringe in a way that probably made them soft targets for mediocre television. It is funny to think that L&C might have taken the extra step to make the villains literal Nazis in order to put more distance between the show and anything close to a political statement, only to accidentally make something that feels eerily on point almost thirty years later. Doesn’t Jimmy’s wiener friend actually say they need to make America great again? It might not have been exactly those words, but they were close enough to register. And Whalen’s geeky proto-fascist also feels like an early incel too.  It’s not, like, artful, but it’s good enough that it made me a little uncomfortable.

But like I said above, I think it’s a pretty well put together episode. They did a pretty good job making the three Nazis distinct from one another in a short time and they all had different fates. It definitely had that comic quality of “These People You’ve Never Heard Of Have Been Important For a Long Time and We Just Forgot to Mention It Until Now.” The Football guy gets his idioms wrong in the manner of Sandra Bullock in Demolition Man, that’s always fun. And he’s played by the karate bully from Karate Kid III too. I think I’ve said this before with earlier episodes, but I wish this plot had unfolded over a few episodes instead of being jammed into just the one. There’s a bunch of new characters who have to be introduced and change in one manner or another, along with a well coordinated attempt to overthrow the US government.  I think the whole “the season is one long story” trope is pretty overused in TV today, but there are definite upsides to letting shit breathe a little too.


Theory: episode was pitched by working backwards from “wanna see a Nazi strum a guitar?”

Ronnie: I think if you read about the episode it comes off as more daring and politically cogent than it actually is. Let me disabuse you of any notions, dear reader; this is still Lois & Clark, with all the positive and negative connotations attached to that. It’s pulp and stupid with a patina of realism that makes it age a lot better than really anything else on the program. It’d be one thing if it were just defrosted Nazis; it’s another that there’s a whole shadow apparatus of capital N Nazis supporting them, complete with Senator. Now, I’m aware that “outside pathogen infects American government” is a popular plot point, and the conspiracy-minded 90s had a lot of it, but usually it was the Cigarette Smoking Man or the gay guys in JFK, not actual Nazis who escaped punishment–real or cosmic–to whip up a frenzy in modern day. How quickly things fall into fascism in “Super Mann”–by the way, is there a reason for that title or what–is also a stroke of accidental genius. We interpret it as the show saying how close American society is to authoritarianism, whereas the writers of Lois & Clark had to squeeze everything into 45 minutes. So in my estimation “Super Mann” is a good hour of television mostly because of how fucked our country has gotten in the intervening time rather than how skillful the production pulled this off. The mediocrity accidentally becomes genius.


This is just embarrassing.

I think on a technical level there’s some faults in that while the Nazis look Aryan, they’re pretty lumpy in terms of charisma. Not every Nazi can captivate like Hitler, but somebody who can lead a crowd would be nice. I also think there’s not enough time between the creation of the “National Society for a Better America” and the reveal of the swastika. If we’ve learned anything from the last six years is that reactionaries are not subtle, but this is a bridge too far, so to speak. Like, use a Confederate Flag if you must. There’s perceived to be wiggle room there. The swastika is unambiguous. It’s like if instead of saying “very good people on both sides”, Donald Trump said “those Nazis sure are swell”. See, there’s a slight difference.

Odds & Ends

-The headline of the 1993 Daily Planet is “Democrats & Republicans deadlocked over budget”, with a smaller headline boasting “Congress votes on new pay raise”. How do they make this stuff up?
-One of the guest actors is named Paul Kersey. Paul Kersey, of course, is the name of Charles Bronson in Death Wish. That must’ve created a small bit of confusion. “You said the fuckin’ Death Wish guy was auditioning, not this lump!”
-I love how lazy the Nazis are with their names. Hank West, Steve Law, Lisa Rockford. The last one isn’t too bad but the first two reek of “something like that, but not that” writer room desperation.
-The Nazis wearing full uniform in their hideout reminds me of Charlie answering the door in Nazi regalia, eating a banana, in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.
-Do you think Roger Goodell would suspend Steve Law if he called for a Fourth Reich on national television? I say yes but only after immense public pressure.
-Perry’s marriage is still in the shitter; he’s been contacted by Alice’s divorce lawyer.
-”Gravity is kind of like magnetism” – Lois Lane, scientist.

Chris: Lois & Clark’s run of inadvertently making mediocre television that feels topical continues as we move on to “Virtually Destroyed”, where the Man of Steel fights perhaps his greatest foe: virgins on the internet. Our legions of readers might not be aware of this Ronnie, but Teri Hatcher had a moment in the mid-90s. She was the titular character on a network show that, after a shaky start, had settled into its groove and was pulling in solid ratings. She was making a run at movie stardom with Heaven’s Prisoners, a goofy New Orleans based mystery where Alec Baldwin actively fought with his cajun accent and where she did a scene with full frontal nudity, got into a catfight with a young Charlize Theron in the underwhelming Tarantino knock-off indie 2 Days in the Valley, and she was a year away from achieving Bombshell Immortality by appearing as a Bond Girl in 1997’s Tomorrow Never Dies. But “Virtually Destroyed” seems to be interested in another of her accomplishments, namely, her holding the the title of “Most Downloaded Woman in the World” due to a very specific photo of her draped only (presumably) in Superman’s cape, and her (along with Cains) relationship with that dubious distinction.


Included for the public record. Yeah, that’s the ticket.

As the episode opens we see that Metropolis has been enveloped in what can only be described as “Virtual Reality Fever”, that very-90’s-and-also-somehow-2022 mistaken idea that all anyone wants to do is slap on giant goggles and a couple of Nintendo Power Gloves so they can wander around the insides of a computer simulation like assholes. And the Mark Zuckerberg/Bill Gates style boy-genius behind the best VR in town is Jaxon Xavier, a seemingly innocuous dorkus who says he just wants everyone to have as good a time online as possible, but who we know spends his time on-line pretending to be a big tough guy who kicks the shit out of Superman and gets to make out with Lois Lane. Assisted by the AI on his computer voiced by 90’s comic and convicted child molester Paula Poundstone, Xavier plans to lure Lois into his VR by promising her an exclusive interview and then trap her within it for his own mysterious purposes. But a wrench is thrown into his plans when Lois arrives with Clark in tow and the jealous Xavier has to retool his plan on the fly to correct for this unforeseen complication.

So yeah, this is basically an episode about how a very online guy has a completely one-sided relationship with a beautiful woman, and how he’s thrown into a rage by the real men who threaten his delusion. Like, Xavier has a whole plan where it turns out he’s Lex Luthor’s secret illegitimate child and he thinks Lois has vital information that will help him unlock some secret Manchurian Candidate brainwashing tech Lex stored online and he lets all that go because he’s just so angry that Lois has an actual boyfriend that isn’t him, a person that she’d never actually met before. And what makes it even more interesting is that Dean Cain wrote it. I don’t remember what kind of reputation Cain had online in the 90’s, if he had one at all, but it’s hard to watch the episode and not think about all the folks fucking furious at Olivia Wilde for dating Harry Styles, or that truly bananas “open letter” to Chris Evans about his girlfriend, or a million other examples of non-famous women being harassed and terrorized by Nice Guys. Teri Hatcher was one of the most famous, recognizable, women on the planet in 1995, it’s not crazy to think that there were more than a few raisin cakes out in cyber-land who thought Dean Cain was all that stood between them and Teri Hatcher’s heart. I bet he got letters.

Ronnie: On the one hand, this episode is terrible. It’s terrible in the way most television shows that don’t understand technology that try to understand technology are terrible; I don’t need to give you a laundry list of dramas that trotted out the “virtual reality but for REAL” moral panic. It’s also hilarious in the way most television shows that don’t understand technology that try to understand technology are. Chris and I, we’re assholes in ivory towers chuckling at misuses of the term RAM and such. There’s a lot of misinformation in “Virtually Destroyed”; actually, misinformation has the wrong connotations. The proper term is “nonsense”. There’s a lot of nonsense in this episode. Imagine that boring prick Neil DeGrasse Tyson trying to factcheck this shit. He’d burn out the A, C, T, U, L and Y keys on his keyboard.

I’m glad you pointed out Dean Cain gets teleplay and story credit for “Virtually Destroyed” because I think that informs a lot of the content in the episode. You get the sense that Cain is positioning himself as the Chad to Jaxon’s Virgin. Which, sure. But it’s also, like, you’re a TV star already, man. Millions of people watch you per week. You don’t need to devote an hour of your show to establish that you’re cooler than some computer nerd. The virtual reality is pretty boring because it’s just the normally filmed reality but with occasional cutaways to the characters in VR gear. In terms of other complaints I have, Jaxon’s Luthor connection is both heavily telegraphed and out of nowhere. By that I mean he brings up Lex A LOT, and Lex is a character who is almost never mentioned in episodes of the show unless he actually appears in them. But also…why would Lex be father to some computer doofus in his 20s? It’s tying an important character to some nobody I guarantee we’ll never see again. It’s like if The X-Files did a one-off where the Jersey Devil turned out to be Smoking Man’s kid.


“Now Jimmy, I don’t want you online dating on my behalf.” “But Chief, there are cum hungry sluts near us RIGHT NOW!” “Nevertheless, Jimmy.”

This episode is a landmark in that it is the closest we’ve gotten to a sex discussion between Lois and Clark. Sure, it’s coy, couched in euphemisms and things left unspoken, but it’s there. It happened. Don’t tell me it didn’t happen. It starts with a discussion of what kind of mattress they want and then logically follows to dancing around the question of sex. Like in Marvel movies, sex isn’t allowed to exist in Lois & Clark, so the suggestion of it bumps up against the strict no sex policy. I’m not against the policy per se; I’m an adult, I know where to go on the UltraWeb if I want to find out how Superman fucks, not to mention when, where and why. When Clark admits he’s a virgin my reaction is on the same page as Lois': a couple of “oh my god”s followed by a fervent desire to change the subject. I’m likewise grossed out when Lois describes her fucks as “federal disasters”. “I’ll be your first nonfederal disaster” Clark quips. So we’re meant to assume it’s “The Mango” all over again and Lois faked ‘em all, huh?

Chris: Here’s the thing, we know that Lois & Clark isn’t a very “good” television show. You can pop on a Law & Order from the same era and come away impressed by the show’s economy, pacing, and acting (assuming you’re okay watching Chris Noth play a righteous cop). Or you could watch an X-Files and soak in its haunted, paranoid atmosphere and sly humor. Those shows have seams that show, but essentially stand up as well made examples of episodic television. L&C aint that. I don’t think it’s necessarily bad either, but what makes it enjoyable is less tangible than those other, better shows I just mentioned. For me, how much I enjoy a Lois & Clark episode is rooted almost entirely in how interesting I think it is. And I found “Virtually Destroyed” to be very interesting because it gave me an opportunity to see how Dean Cain (and maybe Teri Hatcher?) felt about knowing that at any moment a bunch of dorks were sitting in front of their comically bulky monitors and jacking it to a picture of her wearing a piece of his costume.


Bicycle helmet of THE FUTURE!

There have been obsessive fandoms and possessive weirdos as long as there have been people, but the internet really collapsed the distance between objects of desire, and their objectifiers. There was a time when a person had to actively look for the deranged shit people said about them (extreme outliers like John Lennon and Jodie Foster accepted), but the internet made it almost impossible to look away. Hatcher and Cain were among the first celebrities to reckon with that new reality, and it was interesting to think about how strange and disorienting it must have been for them at the time. These days it’s par for the celebrity course, but those two were real canaries in the coal mine. Hell, maybe that’s why Cain cracked. There’s probably a direct line between reading creepy things perverts write about you on newsgroups in the 90’s and equating having to wear a mask on an airplane with the Killing FIelds of Cambodia. So yeah, I’m not gonna say that “Virtually Destroyed” is good enough to even make it onto a list of the best Lois & Clark episodes, let alone any real television, but it made me think, which isn’t something the show usually does. So I gotta give it that.

Ronnie: Novelty is important, I agree. I think the prompt “have you ever seen ________ do ________ before?” is instructive. If an episode features a number of successful utilizations of this prompt it’s more than likely a success. “Virtually Destroyed” fits the bill, even if the virtual reality segments have the stink of syndicated television to them. Until Smallville I don’t think Superman ever talked about being a virgin before. For good reason, sure, but it’s still something. On a related note, you have to believe Dean Cain fulfilled some fantasies of his own with this episode because he and Hatcher have the most intense makeout session this series has yet to offer. They kiss a lot in “Virtually Destroyed”, actually. I can imagine him futilely trying to explain to Teri why; “it’s because the characters have to make Jaxon jealous! Yeah, that’s the ticket!”

As has become typical for this series, Jaxon receives a fate worse than death to wrap up his character. He ends up in a situation where in the real world he is comatose but braindead because of his scientific bicycle helmet misfiring or something. This means his mind, his consciousness, resides in the Virtual Reality in perpetuity. Or, as suggested by the ending, computers in general. Unless there’s a followup episode when he infiltrates Perry’s game of Free Cell and wreaks havoc on the Daily Planet offices, this is very well his final fate. Don’t get me wrong: it’s deserved because Jaxon Xavier is annoying. Yet I can’t help to think how harsh this is. I spend most of my time online and I regularly want to kill myself; I can’t imagine how much suicidal ideation I’d suffer if I spent all my time on the Information Superhighway. Although Jaxon’s VR looked impressive, I’m betting the seams show pretty quickly. It took Matthew McConaughey a few days to unravel Serenity; by about that time Jaxon should be bumping up against invisible walls and shit.


Not only is he trapped in cyberspace, he’s literally trapped in a monitor. Brilliant.

This brings this week’s foray to a close. What does next week bring us? Lois’ parents. We see the return of her dad the sports medicine maven (played by a new actor) and the introduction of her mother, each getting their own episode to establish why Lois turned out the way she did. The inevitable conclusion to Sam Lane’s robotic sports medicine shenanigans is, of course, falling in love with one, so we get to see that. There’s never a dull time to be here at Lois & Clark & Chris & Ronnie, except for maybe the assing around they do before Lois and Clark finally tie the knot, which won’t be until next season. Tune in next time!

Odds & Ends

-Jaxon’s virtual avatar is played by the guy who portrayed Zangief in Street Fighter as well as Leatherface in Platinum Dunes’ Texas Chainsaw Massacre movies. Jaxon himself went on to voice Dib on Invader Zim. As the credits indicate, Paula Poundstone is “The Voice of the Computer”. Paula Poundstone, an alleged “woman comedian” or “comedianne”, is best known for driving around drunk as shit with foster children in her car. She and Kelsey Grammer were the It Drunk Drivers of the 90s.
-Clark compares Virtual Superman’s use of the word “citizens” to RoboCop. I’d rather be watching RoboCop. But not RoboCop 3.
-Jimmy tries to enlist Perry into online dating. It goes about as well as you would think. I gotta say, I’m actually starting to feel invested in Perry’s fucked up personal life.


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