Lois & Clark & Chris & Ronnie: “Target: Jimmy Olsen!”/”Individual Responsibility”
Ronnie: In our penultimate column of Lois & Clark & Chris & Ronnie for the second season of Lois & Clark, we’re faced with something that occurs rarely but still too often: the Jimmy spotlight episode. Chris and I are in agreement that while Landes’ portrayal wasn’t great, Season 1 Jimmy far outpaces Season 2 and onward Jimmy. Moreover, you can’t do a Jimmy-heavy episode because the character is too slight and annoying to be load bearing. As proof of this, consider “Target: Jimmy Olsen”. The inciting incident is that Jimmy’s doctor, who he’s had from childhood through “adulthood”, has been murdered by a coterie of baddies looking to resurrect “Project Valhalla”. Not since the Janus Project in Judge Dredd have I been irritated by such pretentious project naming. The episode becomes a dumbass version of The Parallax View as it seems Project Valhalla is people trained from childhood to be programmable assassins. Jimmy is one of them. Why? What does this add? Who would entrust assassinating even a meter maid with Jimmy Olsen?
You know what doesn’t date well? The suggestion that mind control can be included in flu vaccines unleashed upon an unsuspecting populace. I know, it was the roaring 90s, we didn’t think the conservative movement would wholesale abandon science, but still, it’s jarring to hear this shit as a plotline in the year of your lord 2022. “From where I come from we don’t need drugs to control our women” says Erick Avari, to whom they’re selling the assassination programming. Where do you come from? The actor is from India, but he’s sort of a jack of all ethnicities like Mark Margolis. There’s so much wrong with this episode conceptually and in execution it’s hard to narrow down the shittiness to just a few discrete elements.
Like Lahey and Randy, no doubt costume play is part of Lois and Clark’s sex life.
The thing of it is, 20 year old assassins aren’t a threat to Superman. Jimmy is not a threat to Superman. Nor are the villains of the week, which include two women and a large Swede (?). “Target: Jimmy Olsen” ambles on until all is resolved, the bad guys are put away and the kids can’t be controlled by the word “warrior” any longer. This brings me to Scaramucci or whatever the hell his name is, because he does appear in back to back episodes. Here he gives Lois a hideous eye mobile and is given the opportunity of dating Lois just because Clark had to whisk off and save somebody right when she was to articulate her feelings. Scaradino wins by the two sweetest words in the English language: default!
Chris: In our last installment you mentioned the risk in lampshading the preposterous nature of Clark/Superman’s disguise consisting of a pair of glasses and slightly different hairstyle. This story rests on a really fragile conceit and the more you think about it, the less sense it makes. It’s one of a thousand reasons the idea of A More Realistic Superman never really works. You can’t tell a realistic story about an alien baby who looks and develops like a person in complete secrecy while also developing fantastic powers that defy physics and logic, there’s no realism to latch on to and enhance. That said, it helps to have something logical and relatable to ground the stories so the show has some kind of compelling emotional core. But the closer you get to making the characters act like humans, the less sense they make. It’s a real pickle and, despite that, I wish they’d done more with the Clark Is Always Called Away When Lois Wants to Talk plotline.
If you think about it, there would always be someone calling for help in Metropolis, right? It’s a city that’s analogous to New York City and that city has a population of around eighteen million people. In a city of eighteen million it’s easy to imagine that there’s someone crying out pretty much every second of the day, whether it’s a cry of genuine panic while they’re being attacked, or having some kind of medical emergency, or a cry of alarm when they, like, trip and fall or stumble off a curb or stub their fucking toe. You’ve stubbed your toe, and you know that shit hurts, it’s hard not to make some kind of sound. The point is, if you think about it (never a good idea), Clark would be constantly inundated with cries for help and need to learn how to distinguish the cry of someone shocked at coming home to a B&E, and a surprise party. So why does it only seem to happen at Inconvenient Moments?
“He took it out.”
This is all my way of saying that I think a better show could have suggested that maybe Clark is always hearing those cries for help when Lois wants to talk because he’s trying to evade her. I think the show wants to address the clash of a personal and professional life and how hard it is to dedicate yourself to another person if you’ve dedicated yourself to your work. Clark genuinely cares for Lois but he feels responsible to something larger than himself or any one person, so Lois ends up suffering as a result of the very values that she loves about Clark (and Superman). It’s an okay enough problem, but it also makes me think about the mechanics of Superman’s super hearing and the “reality” of its dimensions that I detailed in that last paragraph. OTOH, if the story was about Clark subconsciously using his hearing to run away, then all that goes away. It’s a choice the character is making that foregrounds his anxiety about changing his life as opposed to a vaguely hacky problem that exists only to have Lois get annoyed at Clark. I’d much rather watch that episode of Lois & Clark than the shit we got this week.
Ronnie: So, uh, Chris, I notice you didn’t mention at all the main plot or Jimmy or anything. That’s all right. I can see why you wouldn’t. It took me a bit to find anything worth saying about Jimmy and his plot and it took a viewing of Serial Mom for my brain to start percolating, oddly enough. Justin Whalin has a supporting role in that as Scotty, a pornography obsessed youth who refuses to wear his safety belt, thereby drawing the ire of Serial Mom. He’s killed at an L7/Camel Lips concert by way of being set on fire. Seeing that it all clicked. That is how Whalin is used well. He’s not a straight arrow dork, he’s a twerp pervert! If Jimmy was that instead of whatever Lois & Clark wants him to be, it’d be better. See, in the comics Jimmy functions as Superman’s Pal, and with the diminished interest in Superman in this series there’s not much call for that. So Jimmy, or at least Jimmy 2.0, doesn’t have a real niche for the series. Michael Landes’ Jimmy was a fast talking slick sort of guy you can see calling Clark “CK”. What is Whalin Jimmy? He’s nothing. He’s no one.
Borrow a cheap gorilla suit, be more racist than usual…come on, you can do this, Lois & Clark.
Chris: Yeah, I didn’t really have much to say about the episode, did I? Because I didn’t care about a second of it. I didn’t like Jimmy, I didn’t like his psych-major girlfriend/accomplice and her phony analysis of everyone and everything around her (though speaking of someone who was in high school when his father got a masters in therapy, I have to say that her insufferable behavior was pretty true to my experience), and I continue to have no interest in Tony Baloney. Say what you will about the Disney+/Netflix model of ten chapter, this-is-all-one-long-episode of television model, they don’t have this kind of obvious wheel spinning/time wasting. And to be clear, there’s nothing wrong with burning an episode or two off by focusing on a minor character. Those can be some of the most charming and idiosyncratic episodes of all; they allow shows to be silly and discursive and relieve the tension of a season-long arc a little. But for them to work there needs to be some kind of tension to relieve, and, and this is the most important part, it needs to be entertaining. L&C doesn’t really have much of a season-long arc, other than the budding romance and Intergang popping up from time. And man, Jimmy is just not a character you can hang an episode on.
We’ve talked in the past about what a difficult character Jimmy is to write because he’s never been able to grow out of his Newsie style cub-reporter role. Evolving perspectives on child labor dictate that he can’t be a kid kid anymore but he also never grown into an independent young adult character in the vein of Dick Grayson or Wally West. So you end up with this kind of man-boy monstrosity that seems more like a serial killer in training than a 90’s slacker. They say in the ep that Jimmy is twenty, which, okay, I guess. But no twenty year old in 1995 would say something like “And I thought listening to The Violent Femmes was what would melt my brain.” Fuck you, Jimmy. No twenty year old in 1995 thought The Violent Femmes were dangerous, no sixteen year old thought that, I should know, I was a sixteen year old Violent Femmes fan in 1995. I liked their most recent album Why Do Birds Sing a lot, no one thinks an album called Why Do Birds Sing is going to melt their brain. If Jimmy was an actual twenty year old in 1995 he’d be doing lines and going to My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult and Tool concerts. He’d have his arms and neck pierced like my idiot uncle. He’d dig the Femmes, sure, but he’d never think they were dangerous. But you can’t have that, because Jimmy can’t ever actually be a young adult, so you get this little boy in a young adult’s body and, like with this episode, nobody wins.
What the fuck did you give her, Scaradino? Who knew the guy was into the avant garde.
Odds & Ends
-Seinfeld alum tracker: 2, Erick Avari was a cabbie in “The Pilot”, and the doctor from “The Wallet” shows up. Also, Charles Napier not only did a voice on Superman: The Animated Series, he was in Steel. Not a whole lot of people can claim that distinction.
-The first issue of Kurt Busiek and Brent Anderson’s Astro City does an outstanding job telling the story of a Superman type who spends every moment of every day responding to the calls of alarm that he never stop hearing.
-Speaking of distaff Supermen, the Sentry was once defeated by Iron Man overloading Sentry’s algorithm that prioritizes crimes/cries for help. Good comic.
Ronnie: Now we’re cooking with gas, by which I mean Brisco County Jr.’s own Bruce Campbell is here. Like all good Americans I’m a fan of The Chin–I recently bought the entirety of Burn Notice so The Fall of Sam Axe would make sense to me. He portrays Bill Church Jr. in “Individual Responsibility”, the son of Peter Boyle’s character, who is mentioned and on the other end of a phone call but not seen. (Lois & Clark doesn’t have “multiple Peter Boyle appearances” money.) Campbell’s pretty fantastic in the role; if anyone should become a recurring foe for Superman, it’s him, because Campbell nails the smarmy muckity muck of an old timey gangster. The man knows his way around holding a cigar, to say nothing of an evil laugh. Bruce’s plan in “Individual Responsibility” is to buy the Daily Planet by any means necessary. What beggars belief is that Perry falls for Campbell’s “good guy” schtick, which is the same as his father’s, but I guess memories of the guy caddying for Perry as a boy run deep. It makes answering the question “am I losing my edge” easier. One could see either Lois or Clark going “no, but you’re so close to this story it’s straining your objectivity”. Still, this disbelief makes Perry too naive, especially when it’s established Church Sr. did indeed run Intergang.
I love him so much. Bring back Brisco County Jr.!
“Individual Responsibility” also serves as a milestone in that it introduces another form of kryptonite, red kryptonite. In the comics the rock has various effects in various stories (the only consistency is the inconsistency) whereas on Smallville it caused Clark to behave like a troubled, impulsive youth. Here it induces apathy in him, and that makes for some fairly good comedy. When first exposed to it, he reasons a robbery of the paper’s payroll truck isn’t his problem because they’ll just “reissue the checks”. I’m reminded of Kryten on Red Dwarf losing his guilt in “Polymorph” in that red kryptonite Superman only cares about fulfilling his own needs at the exclusion of the collective goodwill. Dean Cain is an underrated comedic presence and he gets to show off his chops in this episode. He even makes the concept of Superman lying down at a psychiatrist’s palatable. Well, mostly palatable.
In the end, everything’s back to normal with Bruce Campbell exposed on the front page and Clark/Superman no longer in thrall to the temptations of apathy. Even Lois and Clark are on the mend with Clark promising he won’t interrupt her with a shitty excuse to go somewhere else, which–easier said than done, pal. As Chris brought up in the last episode, there’s always going to be civilians whining for help, so Clark’ll just have to prioritize which ones receive attention and which people have to die so he can get laid that night.
I’ve spent way too much time thinking what Lane Smith’s Perry would think of the Baz Luhrman Elvis biopic. Would he like it? Would he have a rage stroke? People (aka me) want to know.
Chris: Yeah, this was the episode that really made me start to think about the possibility of really suggesting that Clark uses his super hearing as an excuse to avoid talking to Lois. I mean, if you go to the trouble of actually getting Superman on a shrink’s couch you may as well do something interesting with it. I was mixed on the way the show actually used therapy (and the episode in general) because I appreciated how they feigned toward the more “realistic” (there’s that word again) stresses that might come with being Superman, and was also kind of annoyed with how thin the scenes with the sessions actually were.
I’m not expecting a Sopranos level of insight into how therapy works, but at the same time, I’d have appreciated a little more depth or insight. Like, I don’t remember the therapist having much useful to say or Superman having much of a breakthrough about managing his personal and professional(?) life. Also, the arc of the plotline is really kind of weird when you think about it. Superman gets wonky because of Red K. So he goes to therapy to sort out the wonkiness, but it turns out that there’s more Red K under the couch, so he gets wonkier, which necessitates his going back more. So his problem had nothing to do with his actual inner state and was enhanced by the therapy. Also it turns out Intergang they could get to Superman’s through sessions because the receptionist was crooked and sold him out. All the therapy was really, was a device to put Superman in the same place over and over so he could be poisoned. If it weren’t for that, there was nothing the therapist scenes accomplished that they couldn’t have done with his parents. That said,I did like the look Superman gave her when she told him their hour was up. The first time Superman wants special treatment for being Superman and he gets shut down.
Fitting he’s the one selling the red kryptonite, because red kryptonite is sort of the Dominicans to kryptonite’s Cubans.
As for Campbell, look, I am a pale, husky, white guy in my 40’s, so yes, obviously I love Bruce Campbell. But as good as he was in the episode, it’s the first time I felt like the show really didn’t rise to support the guest star the way it should have. It just all felt so rushed, I don’t pay as much attention to this show as maybe I should, but, was there actually an episode where Peter Boyle was exposed as the head of Intergang? Because I don’t remember that happening, but the characters on the show just kind of blow past it like it’s old news. And I understand why they don’t go to the trouble of having everyone believing Church Jr. is a philanthropist for episodes and episodes because it would just read like Lex 2.0. But then why have Perry believe he was ever good to begin with? As you said, it just makes him look dumb. Like with the Super Therapy, the whole question of Church’s ethics gets set up so quickly just so it can get knocked down that it just all feels ill conceived and undercooked. As a result the fun of watching Bruce Campbell make Superman act like Mr. Kruger just kind of underlined how lazy the rest of the episode was.
Ronnie: While a better episode than its predecessor, “Individual Responsibility” does have its share of problems, and I think chief among them is that two episodes were mashed into one. Bruce Campbell and red kryptonite should’ve been one episode and Superman in therapy should’ve been another. It’s not like they didn’t have 22 slots to fill for the season; Superman in therapy works as a fanciful deconstruction that you might expect Stan Lee to do were he writing Superman in the 1960s. (1960s Superman was concerned with magic imps and moving planets, fake shit like that, as opposed to fake shit like psychiatry.) “Superman on the Couch” seems like it could be a speculative article in a magazine of renown, like The New Yorker. In any event, the show is a tug of war between introspection and what passes for action in this series. Dividing the two would solve some issues.
The sci-fi elements of Lois & Clark have always been an afterthought so it interests me when they hearken back to the nominal mythology of Krypton, kryptonite, Superman’s origin, etc. One thing I think the show does well is that not everyone has kryptonite; remember in the Lex resurrection episode he had to find someone else who had the item before he could use some on Superman? Making it a finite item in the hands of the few is a more edifying take on the concept than, say, Smallville, where Clark couldn’t walk down the street without being harangued by “meteor rock”. Whether red kryptonite will recur remains to be seen, but I just wanted to praise the show for its restraint in what is Superman’s most obvious weakness. Given how rarely I have anything nice to say about this shit, I don’t want to neglect to mention when I do have something nice to offer the article.
Does anyone actually lie down on the couch for therapy? I feel like if I tried that my therapist would think I’m an asshole.
Chris: I think you’re completely correct in your assessment that “Individual Responsibility” should have been two episodes. And with the knowledge that “Target: Jimmy Olson” was just a waste of forty four minutes, it’s hard not to think that it would have been better if they’d just eight-sixed the one to expand the other. Like, Superman (and Clark) could have been acting the fool because of the Red K, pushing Lois towards Hunky Tony in part one. In part two he could have gone to therapy to figure out if it’s possible to be an honest partner to Lois (both personally and professionally) while also maintaining such an important secret. I honestly don’t think this is rocket science or that we’re using the hindsight of 21st century television to make these kinds of observations either. Fucking Cheers knew how to unpack a difficult relationship into episodic bites, and they were doing it ten years earlier and in installments half as long.
But still I press on, and not just because of this column either. I still like Lois & Clark more than I don’t, even if it’s almost despite myself. I still think Hatcher and Cain have terrific chemistry and was a little touched by that scene at the end where they reconciled for the millionth time and were sweet talking to one another. I like the Kents and I like Perry and I love Bruce Campbell and am always happy to see him, even if it’s in a subpar episode. Our next installment will have more Campbell, so that’s something to look forward to, along with the return of Tony Jay as the treacherous Nigel St. John and a whole host of other surprise guests sure to thrill the kinds of people who read and write these stupid blogs. We’ll also be wrapping up the second season and, as a result, the halfway mark of the entire series. You’ve come this far with us, why stop now?
Odds & Ends
-Seinfeld alum tracker: 2. The guy who discovers red kryptonite played Earl Haffler, the man who bet Kramer on flights and was subject to Kramer’s Dominican cigars pitch. An alum who’s been making the meme rounds is David Graf, the cop who wanted to order a muffin before helping Jerry with Joe Davola. You know, he’s relevant because of that shooting that happened. (I’m making the details generic so this article remains evergreen.)
-Intergang’s front organization is called “Multiworld Communications”.