Lois & Clark & Chris & Ronnie: Superman & Lois

Ronnie: Welcome to a special edition of Lois & Clark & Chris & Ronnie. Why special, you ask? Well, in this one we don’t talk about episodes of Lois & Clark at all. Instead we’re training our eyes on the current Superman show on the air, Superman & Lois to see how the two compare and contrast with each other. Chris’ and my relationship with Superman & Lois predates this article series, actually. For some reason we thought it’d be a good idea to watch the program together. Correct me if I’m wrong, Chris, but I think we made it 4 episodes in before pulling the plug, just to give you an indication as to where we’re coming from. While I had a lot of problems with Lois & Clark in individual episodes and collectively, I’d rather watch it 10 times out of 10 than devote another minute to Superman & Lois.

Loosely based in the “Arrowverse”, Superman & Lois’ raison d’etre is that the pair have two teenage sons. One, Jonathan, is a jock. The other, Jordan, is a dud. Hence why Chris and I referred to the show as The Adventures of Jock ‘N’ Dud internally and to others. Spurred on by Martha Kent’s death and Lois quitting her job, the family uproots from Metropolis to Smallville, which has transformed from idyllic small town to depressing meth lab of racial resentment and crippling poverty. You know, I’ve always said I wanted to know how NAFTA affected Superman’s hometown! The pilot introduces us to the main characters as well as the supporting cast, which mostly consists thus far of Lana Lang and her family. Her husband voted for Trump! Again, just what I want from my Superman fiction.

Besides both pilots containing the line about his mom making his suit, there’s a real night and day between Lois & Clark and Superman & Lois. For one thing, the latter has more of a budget to achieve its ill-advised action sequences, so we get a pretty lengthy battle between an Iron Man knockoff referred to as Captain Luthor. Literally the cliffhanger for the first episode is him taking off the helmet to reveal he’s a b-b-b-b-b-black man! Don’t worry, the CW would never let Lex be black; “Captain Luthor” turns out to be Steel from an alternate universe where Superman went evil and killed everybody. Isn’t anybody sick of “alternate Superman kills everybody” yet? Just me? Okay.  Superman & Lois is dour, having taken the color scheme or lack thereof from Man of Steel. Everyone is fucked up to some degree, from Dud’s social anxiety to Lana’s daughter having tried to kill herself. The difference might be that this show focuses even less on Superman, instead aiming at his shitty sons. Thus, it’s more of a teen show than one for adults or families, so that might help explain the moodiness.


The special effects are fine, but fuck to anybody who says they’re theatrical film-worthy. No. No no no.

Chris: So DC had this problem where they wanted to produce television based on some of their properties but also didn’t want to overexpose their marquee heroes by having them appear on weekly shows. Keep Batman and Superman for the paying audiences, the logic went, and build a kind of proto-MCU out of interlocking modestly budgeted TV shows based on the lesser known DC characters. It wasn’t a terrible idea, and they found real success by taking C list characters and buffing them up by giving them A list characters supporting casts and plots. Arrow, for instance, is basically Batman remixed with a little Iron Man. When DC decided to do Supergirl they decided to pull the same trick. Oh sure the show’s about Kara, but she has human parents, lives in the big city, works in news with Jimmy Olson and Cat Grant, and fights Lex Luthor. The result was a big hearted, successful, well liked show that ran for six seasons and made Melissa Benoist a viable TV star.

There was really no downside, until things didn’t go as planned on the movie side of things. After a five year stint of Henry Cavil as Superman that was controversial at best and disastrous at worst, the idea of a Superman show didn’t seem like such a bad idea anymore. Add to that a few well liked appearances by Tyler Hoechlin as the Man of Steel on Supergirl and a Superman spin-off actually seemed more like a no-brainer. Except, Supergirl was already doing Superman over on her own show. If they did a cheery show about Superman working at the Planet, hanging with Jimmy, chilling with his folks and fighting Lex Luthor it would ironically look like a carbon copy of Supergirl. So the only solution was to go the other way and explore Superman’s relationship with the small town he grew up in and how that heartland hamlet is fairing in the unforgiving twenty-first century. The solution was to take a character beloved world over for being a smiling beacon of hope and grind his stupid face into the wretched misery of life in flyover country.


What part of Superman and Lois DNA churns out the second coming of Harris and Klebold?

Or that’s my theory anyway. It’s the best explanation I can muster for why Superman & Lois is such a joyless chore. I mean Jesus. I’m not really a fan of the Arrowverse, I thought the first couple seasons of Arrow were pretty entertaining, but bailed after the third, and only stuck with Flash and Supergirl for a season apiece, but at least those shows were watchable. They weren’t for me, but I can see why people liked them. They were chipper and soapy and featured attractive people in their twenties falling in and out of love with each other while punching out bad-guys in colorful cities. They were silly and cute. But Superman and Lois is trying to be the opposite of all that and it’s embarrassing to watch. If Snyder’s Man of Steel is him trying and failing to do a Terrence Malick existential epic then S&L is the CW’s equally misguided attempt to ground Superman in John Sayles style social realism.


“God, my mom is such a pain. You try to commit suicide one time and SOME PEOPLE never let you live it down. They act like you might, like, try to kill yourself AGAIN. Parents just don’t get it, right, Dud?”

When I say Superman & Lois is hysterically grim, I don’t mean that it’s funny (though it is), I mean it goes to uncontrolled, extreme, emotional lengths to convince the audience that things are bad. It doesn’t want you to forget that things are dour for even a single second. Clark’s parents are dead, their farm is falling apart, he gets laid off, one of his sons is depressed, you can tell because he has bangs and wears black clothes. His childhood best friend Lana Lang’s marriage is failing, her husband is an unemployed fire-man who voted for Trump, their daughter tried to commit suicide. And it goes on and on. Add to that a washed out color palette a tendency to shoot when the sun is low so everything is bathed in yellow light like it’s nuclear fucking winter, and you could be forgiven for thinking the show takes place in one of the outer rings of Hell. I remember when we were watching together I kept asking you if the show thought I was stupid, because it was the only explanation I could find for why it kept yelling the same things in my face again and again and again.

Ronnie: I mean, I knock the MCU for relying too much on quips and glibness, and now I’ve gotten my wish: the complete absence of those things in Superman & Lois. I can’t claim to like it. While I’m not opposed to a darker Superman or a Superman that deals with darker subject matter, I am opposed to whatever the hell this is supposed to be. Like Chris said, Supergirl is basically the Superman show, so Superman & Lois must look elsewhere. No Daily Planet, no Metropolis, no Kents, no Jimmy, no Perry; instead it’s intravenous drugs, suicide attempts and reverse mortgages. Superman is also maybe the fourth or fifth most important character on the show. We’re used to that on Lois & Clark because they had neither the budget nor the inclination to make it an action show (in the first season anyway), but it’s jarring with this one. Arrow is about Green Arrow and his idiot friends. Supergirl is about Supergirl and her idiot friends. And so on. Superman & Lois is about the titular pair’s shitty sons and their emerging superpowers or lack thereof.


Goofus and Gallant

Now, the show does a trick that superficially is a twist but is actually pretty predictable. See, Jonathan’s the jock with the spot on the high school football team, the enforced heterosexuality of a girlfriend, he doesn’t need “therapy” or “pills” or any of that shit. Jordan, aka dud, listens to music and plays video games and basically profiles as a potential school shooter. So who do you give the powers to, which one is more dramatically interesting? You give ‘em to Dud, of course. You could expect Jock to follow in his father’s bland footsteps, whereas there’s always the possibility that Dud goes Brightburn. (Remember that movie? No?) It creates a tension as to whether or not the son will follow in father’s footsteps or not. Overall, the teenage stuff is pretty dreadful. Dud has a line in the pilot about how Clark may be Superman but that doesn’t make him a great father. It’s this kind of petulant whininess that has me wary for subsequent episodes. I can imagine the pitch: Superman can save the world, but can he save his family? You know what, I don’t give a shit. Notice how I haven’t mentioned Lois before? Well, it’s cause she gets nothing to do.

Chris: That’s a great point Ronnie, about the show really being about the kids. The Superman and Lois episodes we watched were primarily about how the zippy heroes of our collective childhoods fare when they have kids of their own, and the answer appears to be not too well. I suppose that in a vacuum that the idea of taking an invincible symbol of Truth and Justice and making him prostrate before the demands of adulthood could be relatable and useful, but this show isn’t up to the task. Like, I loved Friday Night Lights as much as any white, liberal, coastal elitist, but that show was special. It had actors who went on to star in Martin Scorsese movies. It didn’t have to work killer robot men from alternate dimensions into its examination of life in small town America. And at no point did they force their actors to try and sell dialogue like “It’s true. I’m the most full-of-crap lady in Smallville. And most days when I’m smiling, that’s not how I feel inside.” Holy shit. Three time academy award winner and Transformers: Dark of the Moon star Frances McDormand wouldn’t be able to do anything with writing like that, do you really think that Sloane from Entourage makes it work?


What’s the last TV show to do a “____ is secretly black” twist? Sons of Anarchy Season 4?

Ronnie: While the Odds & Ends will cover some of the chicanery the show gets up to as Season 1 progresses, I still don’t know what the endgame for Superman without Superman is. See if Dud goes to the dark side or maybe do a Smallville speedrun with all the warmth sucked out of it. Depending on how hard this show tries to connect with Supergirl, the latter has churned through most of the villains as well as the storylines associated with the character. I guess it’s akin to making a Batman show finally after eight seasons of Arrow and two years of Batwoman. Where do you go when the majority of the story material is well trod ground?

Chris: I don’t actually understand why we’re still trying to force Superman into these awkward scenarios in the first place. Why we’re trying so hard to deconstruct Superman in the twenty-first century, as if A. it hasn’t already been done many many times before, and B. the central conceit of the character hasn’t emerged as stronger than any of the attempts at deconstruction. Like, the general consensus on Batman leans toward that sort of postmodern approach. You take a poll of the most beloved Batman stories and you’ll almost certainly see Miller’s Dark Knight Returns, and Year One, along with the Nolan films ranked pretty highly, if not at the very top of the list. He’s a character that thrives on being taken apart, closely examined and put back together for a new modern audience. But you take that same poll on Superman and you’re going to get very different results, that poll will probably feature the Byrne Man of Steel miniseries, Morrison and Quietly’s All Star Superman and the Donner movies. Those stories all have dashes of darkness and psychological insight, but they’re really more about the indomitable spirit of hope and optimism that Superman represents.


Look at the “S” on the chest! It’s an elbow nudge special.

I think it’s because, at the end of the day, it’s really counterintuitive to try and do a “realistic” story about an alien who crash lands on Earth undetected and lives relatively quietly among us for decades because he happens to look exactly like humans and also has fantastic, physics defying powers due to the color of the sun that he uses to fight crime. How do you even fit those two things together? The silly shit cheapens the serious shit, and the serious shit kills the fun of the silly. I suppose it’s probably possible to do it well, but I don’t know why you would. That’s a lot of circles to square before you can even get to the business of telling an actual story, especially when there are other characters more suited for the task. Superman can turn back time by flying around the Earth. He can dig out new oceans on far away planets and tow suns from solar system to solar system, but even he is powerless against the forces of globalization on the American Middle Class. Okay? I guess? I don’t know what any of that has to do with each other, but, good to know.

The ultimate irony is that DC had its most well liked iteration of Superman in years recently when they gave him a ten(ish) year old son named Jon and had him move out to a farm in a small town just outside Metropolis. The stories (primarily by Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason) were fun and sweet and thoughtful. Jon was bright and inquisitive, Superman was a loving and attentive dad, and the town they lived in was full of vibrant interesting people. It was the exact opposite of this show. DC fucked it up eventually of course, that’s kind of their super power, but it was nice while it lasted. Check it out if you haven’t yet.


A plot point in the pilot is that the router is located in the barn amidst all sorts of hazards. Fuck you, TV show.

Ronnie: Not only did they ruin Jon by aging him up, they made him a bisexual! But that’s a discussion for another time. If nothing else, Lois & Clark contrasted with Superman & Lois does show how versatile these characters are, that you can take the same basic setup and go on divergent paths with them. I think I can speak for Chris when I say our preferences lie closer to Lois & Clark than this program. For all its many documented faults, Lois & Clark promotes an optimistic view of the character, an alien raised as a farmboy who just wants to help people in accordance with the moral and ethical framework provided to him by his adoptive parents. Look, man, I don’t need to explain exactly the appeal of Superman, but know that this Pleasantville ass colorless economically depressed emotionally depressed shithole Smallville iteration isn’t what anyone is looking for.

Or maybe we’re wrong. It was popular enough to get a second season and Internet buzz is fairly positive. I remain committed to the stance that it’s the children that are wrong, however. In any event, that wraps things up here. Tune in next week at which point we’ll delve into Season 2 of Lois & Clark. New writing staff! New Daily Planet offices! New Jimmy! We’ll be covering “Madame Ex” and “Wall of Sound”.

Odds & Ends

-Dud plays Mortal Kombat vs. the DC Universe and chooses Raiden against Superman, naturally.
-Morgan Edge will turn out to be Superman’s half-brother whose retail estate and mining schemes are just a means to replicate Kryptonian powers and terraform the planet into Krypton. No kidding.
-Superman has a professional if frosty relationship with General Sam Lane (Nip/Tuck’s Dylan Walsh) in a way that’s unsettling. Like, Superman is part of the military-industrial complex in this version of his life!
-Nadria Tucker on working for Superman & Lois: “Some personal news: Wednesday I got word that my contract on Superman and Lois won’t be extended, my services no longer needed, my outline and draft subpar (obviously I disagree with that last bit lol). This, after months of me flagging #metoo jokes in dialogue, of me defending the Bechdel test, of me FIGHTING to ensure the only Black faces on screen aren’t villains, of me pitching stories for female characters (there’s one in the title of the series!) that went ignored.” So, you know, the show might not be good, but it’s also a terrible workplace.

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