Lois & Clark & Chris & Ronnie: “The Dad Who Came In From The Cold”/”Tempus, Anyone?”



Chris: Regular readers of Lois & Clark & Chris & Ronnie (or reader, whatever) know that we here at the home office have a fairly ambivalent relationship with Jimmy Olson and an outright antagonistic one with the version of the character as played by Justin Whalen on L&C.  The general consensus is that the powers that be wasted a perfectly good Jimmy when they jettisoned the more mature Michael Landes after season one and replaced him with floppy haired nitwit Justin Whalen. Landes might not have been the greatest actor in the world, but at least his Jimmy felt like a legitimate part of the newsroom. Watching Whelan, you’re always expecting Child Protective Services to bust through the door of the planet and drag Perry away in handcuffs. It seemed like the creatives behind the scenes agreed, because Jimmy’s role has been greatly reduced over the last season and a half, or it has been until now. I don’t know if there was a rider in Whalen’s contract or if he dug up some dirt on Cain and Hatcher or if someone lost a bet, but halfway through season three everything stops so we can have a Jimmy episode. But after watching “The Dad Who Came In From the Cold” I’m going to surprise everyone, myself included, by awarding it the highest Lois & Clark rating possible: “it could have been worse.”

As you may have guessed from the title, “The Dad Who Came in From the Cold” concerns the sudden appearance of Jimmy’s rarely seen father, Jack, and the revelation that he’s less a dead-beat-dad-who-didn’t-care-about-his-son and more of a dead-beat-dad-who’s-an-international-man-of-mystery. That’s right folks, Jimmy’s dad is a martini sipping, cool car driving, hot blond banging, quip dispensing, world saving, spy, and he’s in town to shut down Lois and Clark’s investigation into the agency he works for, permanently if necessary. Jack is played by James Read, he’s one of those guys you see in things, but can never quite pin down, and he’s the reason the episode is as enjoyable as it is. Read’s Olsen is a man who loves his life as a jet setting secret agent but also regrets that it took him away from his son. Not enough to, you know, do anything about it, but he feels shitty about it, and that should count for something, right? Read brings both charm and pathos to a role that could have very easily been an embarrassment. For an example of that: see episode cat suit clad femme fatale Sweet Tart, played by Una Damon, a woman who looks both uncomfortable, and like she doesn’t want to be there. Jack is an interesting enough character that I was legitimately sad to see him go. Why couldn’t it have been Jimmy?


Winston Churchill!

The rest of the episode is more of a mixed bag, this is Lois & Clark after all. The gist of the plot is, the head of the phony baloney agency they made up for the show that Jack works for has gone rogue and is planning something terrible. The details of said terrible thing are on a fucked-up laptop that comes into the possession of Lois and Clark. They, in turn, give it to Jimmy to untangle or defrag or decode or whatever the fuck. Jimmy, you might remember, is the young person at The Planet and is therefor the only one proficient at working any and all electronic doo-dads and compu-whatsits that come around. Remember a couple seasons ago when Lois and Clark were hip young people who listened to Pearl Jam while surfing the internet superhighway? Now they’re just as mystified by newfangled contraptions as Perry. So, unaware of his bosses treacherous machinations, Jack is tasked with recovering the laptop, but is hesitant to, you know, murder his son, even if it is for “national security.” The spy plot itself is pretty rote and uninspired, Lois & Clark just doesn’t have the tone for cloak and dagger, it’s too brightly lit and cheap looking. You need atmosphere for spy shit, deep shadows and peeling paint on the walls of dingy motels. You need sex, an element that, as we’ve covered at length, Lois & Clark avoids like the plague. But still, Jack made the whole thing worthwhile for me. What say you, Ronnie?

Ronnie: Who called the title reference to a 1963 John Le Carre novel, huh? I wish I was reading that. Or watching that. Or having either the book or the blu-ray flung at me from a long distance. That’s not to say this episode is wholly without merits. I daresay every episode of Lois & Clark has some silver lining. (Except the Die Hard spoof. Fuck that shit.) Speaking objectively, Jimmy Olsen is an untapped resource. What do we know about him prior to this episode? His job. That’s about it. We don’t know where he’s from, how he came to work for the Daily Planet. The closest we got to a Jimmy 2.0 storyline was when Lois had to live with him for some stupid reason. “The Dad Who Came In From The Cold” follows in Season 3 by wringing material out of talking about characters’ dads. Clark’s is a mainstay, Lois’ has been exposed as a robot loving pervert, so fair dues to move on to Jimmy’s patriarch. Hell, Perry’s dad is probably dead. In any event, his storyline for Season 3 is how his separation from Alice is destroying his life.

Our episode begins with some guy getting exploded by a car. He’s somebody Lois knows from journalisming. In his last will and testament, delivered to her and Superman, he spouts a lot of confusing jargon and ends by making the observation that Superman looks a lot like Clark Kent if he didn’t have glasses. I think I have stated before but I hate these little moments that crop up because “meta” is a cheap substitute for humor and insight. YES, WE KNOW THE DISGUISE IS FLIMSY AND STUPID! STOP CALLING ATTENTION TO THAT! It would be funny if people could only make the connection if they’re dying. Like, you see a bright light and suddenly you remember where you left your car keys and that Daily Planet writer Clark Kent is Superman. Bud Collins’ death results in all sorts of spy pastiche bullshit, from a femme fatale named Sweet Tart (credit to diverse casting; she’s played by an Asian and they could’ve gotten a whole lot more racist with things) to, indeed, Jimmy’s dad the Bondman. Like, this guy is Roger Moore if you had the budget of Night Man. He makes jokes over people he’s just killed and everything. The thing is, I don’t know why Jimmy is connected to all of this. Surely you could do what I generously deem “spy bullshit” without the connection to everybody’s least favorite cub reporter.


No one has sex with her. It’s not that kind of show.

Look, man. It’s the third season. The show is the show. There’s no use pretending it’s in growing pains or it’ll become something else out of a metamorphosis. To be fair, Jimmy suffering from parental neglect is the most sympathetic he’s been since Landes exited, on account of the alternatives are “doofus Jimmy”, “man-child Jimmy”, “too stupid to breathe Jimmy” and last but certainly not least “Pervert Jimmy”. (I “like” that one the most since it reminds me of Serial Mom, where the actor played a compulsive masturbator.) We make fun of Whalin a lot in this column but he’s not a terrible actor, and he can actually sell the ambivalence Jimmy feels about his father intruding on the life he’s built without him. It helps that being “child” in a parent/child relationship pigeonholes his otherwise ambiguous age. Playing Jimmy as a kid doesn’t seem jarring when he’s feeling let down by his dad as opposed to when he professes his desire to fuck Lois Lane’s superhero alter ego. (That happened! I was there! Don’t tell me it didn’t happen.)

Chris: Your comment about all the dad drama made me think about how this doesn’t really feel like a show about adults anymore. It was never, I dunno, 30 Something or ER or anything like that. It was never a really genuine attempt to parse what it was like to be a young professional in the 90’s in America, but it did feel like it occasionally feigned towards more adult concepts and characterizations. Like, remember when Lois would unwind after work by watching soaps and eating ice cream out of the container? That was a clear inversion of her public persona as a tough as nails career woman and it gave her dimension and depth, her private and public selves were distinct and different. And the dreaded Die Hard homage episode did a nice job establishing why all the characters were still at the Planet after the work day was over, there was this relaxed, comfortable atmosphere established that was shattered by the idiot plot. Again, I’d never say that the characters in Lois & Clark feel real the way something like The Sopranos or even Northern Exposure did, but there was a sense of some kind of inner life that seems to have slipped away.

I wonder if somehow, the engagement is to blame. We’ve mentioned how weird and sexually confused L&C has become since the end of the first season and the departures of Lex and Cat Grant; as well as how it was clearly designed to be a racier, sexier show than what made it onto the airwaves, but lately it feels like that tension has toppled into the psychotic. Last week we learned that Lois’s father spends his free time making robots that he can fuck, and this week there’s an extended discussion where Lois and Clark, two engaged people in their 30’s, talk about how much they like kissing each other. It’s like the conversation two thirteen year olds who decided to go steady would have. It’s almost as surreal and unsettling as Sam Lane’s adventures in pervertland the week before. TV in the 90’s may not be the moral cesspool that we all know and cherish today, but it was hardly DIck Van Dyke style married-people-sleep-in-separate-beds territory either. This was the era of NYPD Blue toying with nudity, Seinfled having masturbation contests and Melrose Place’s weekly fuck-o-ramas. Hell, Angela Chase did it with Jordan Catalano a whole year earlier and she didn’t even have a driver’s license!

I really don’t understand the borderline obsessive drive L&C has to drain any kind of sexual heat from their two very attractive lead characters, and the effort has pushed the show into some really bizarre territory. I don’t want to see Lois and Clark, like, raw dogging in the office or anything, but I also don’t want to see them giggling and eskimo kissing (can we still say that?) like eighth graders at the end of the lunch table either. It’s creepy and infantilizing and makes me think about their sex life more than I would if they just demonstrably had one. Remember way back in season one when Cat was trying to rape Clark pretty much every week? We’ve gone from that to learning that Clark has literally never had sex before in his life and, spoiler alert, him and Lois finding a mystery baby on their doorstep next season. That’s right, Clark’s gonna go from virgin-betamale to husband and father without actually ever actually getting it on. I’m really starting to believe that if Lois & Clark is going to leave any impression on me, it’s that the show made Schumacher’s Bat Movies seem wholesome and well adjusted in comparison.

Ronnie: I notice how neither of us have mentioned the actual “plot” of the episode, and I think that’s telling. I’ll admit sometimes I play Pokemon while watching Lois & Clark, but I generally can follow the plots without trouble. With this episode, though, things become opaque through no fault of my own. There’s a guy who wants a computer that can shoot down a plane with the head of the FBI, CIA, NIA and Secret Service on it? We’ve both been on record for not caring much about the granular elements of these shows, but with this one it really feels superfluous, tacked on. Isn’t it enough to have Jimmy’s dad feelings and Lois’ reticence about being a parent? (Speaking of, cart before horse, Lane. You and Clark haven’t even had SEX yet. There’s nothing to disprove “Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex” because Clark has been established as a virgin. I don’t like discussing this any more than you do, but I feel it’s pertinent to what is essentially a romantic adventure program.) It’d be one thing if Lois & Clark went hogwild with the James Bond pastiche, but it doesn’t. The shit we’ve mentioned already is what you get in terms of Bond movie attributes, more or less.

The important thing is after a misunderstanding it’s recognized Jack Olsen is the GOOD kind of spy, who helps foment coups in South and Central America, not the bad kind who try to shoot down American airplanes. I doubt we’ll see him again so I don’t see why he doesn’t get a heroic sacrifice death, proving to Jimmy once and for all he loves him. It would add, like, stakes to shit. Since I’m rewriting the episode, I’d also give a larger role to Perry. Look, he wears the “surrogate father” role on his sleeve, so it would make sense for him to lock horns more with Jack than he does. Give him something to do besides moan how his own life is a big pile of burning shit. “The Spy Who Came In From The Cold” is an unfortunate combination of an uninteresting episode and a missed opportunity. I still don’t know what the NIA is or does. Is it serial numbers filed off CIA? Why? It’s not like the CIA is copyrighted. They acknowledge shit like the CIA and FBI exist in this universe, so NIA’s presence reminds me of when Law & Order would do an episode about, say, a golfer who’s basically Tiger Woods and in the dialogue someone goes “he’s as famous as Tiger Woods!”.


Odds & Ends

-Jimmy lost the wedding response card Lois & Clark sent him. Of course he fucking did.
-I know it was a different time but it feels weird that the wedding is in 3 weeks and Lois and Clark still live apart. Apart apart, not just “well the lease hasn’t run out yet so I technically have a separate residence”. Shit, when they DO get married (uh, next season), are we talking a separate beds situation?
-”Are you a good guy or a bad guy?” – nothing speaks to Jimmy’s immaturity that this is what he asks of his father.
-In “Metropolis is just like real cities only not”: the conclusion of the episode takes place on top of the Metropolis Trade Center. Superman obviously stopped Metropolis 9/11.
-I don’t think any other episode has done this, but for some reason this one begins with a shot of Superman’s crest, then it fades to the actual episode. Why? Is it to remind people this is, despite all appearances, a Superman show?  (Chris: they do this sporadically throughout the series. Like naming episodes it comes and goes and is maddeningly inconsistent.)

Chris: Okay, look, I’m generally not the integrity of the character guy who demands that every incarnation of a given character has to be the same as the others. As far as I’m concerned, it’s totally valid to change a character if it serves the particular story you’re trying to sell. It’s like my old professor used to say “These aren’t people, none of them are people.” That said, there’s a difference between legitimate interpretation and creating a whole new character out of whole cloth and slapping the name of an pre-existing character on it in order to cash in on name recognition. It’s especially difficult when the character bears virtually no similarities to their namesake. Case in point, L&C episode “Tempus Anyone”, and its depiction of beloved Superman supporting cast member Lana Lang. Traditionally, Lana is depicted as Clark’s sweet best/girlfriend from his childhood in Smallville. She’s good and wholesome and kind, and was Clark’s first real love, but she was also a little too soft and well mannered for him to settle down with. As much as Clark is a small town boy scout, he also craves the excitement and edge of city life. He loves where he came from, but he also needed to leave. And Lana is the embodiment of that, just as surely as blunt, brash Lois is Metropolis. They’re both wonderful, but ultimately Clark, as much as Clark loves Lana and Smallville, he needs Lois and Metropolis.

So that’s how Lana generally appears in Superman stories. There are variations of course, but that tragic tension tends to be the core of the character. Lois & Clark decided to try something a little different though, Lois & Clark was brave enough to finally say what we’ve all been thinking “What if, instead of being a decent, caring person that it would make sense for Clark to care for, Lana was a hateful bitch who wanted to grind Clark down into a meek lapdog who never helped anyone?” See, what happens is, Lois and Clark are finalizing the guest list for their now only three weeks away wedding and Lana’s name comes up because, apparently she’s come to Metropolis, and insisted on being invited. Because Lana is very pushy. Lois is nervous about inviting Clark’s old flame to their wedding, and is concerned that he may have lingering feelings, but before they can really hash things out, Future Villain/Time Traveller/80’s Sci-fi Movie fan Tempus (late of last seasons “Tempus Fugitive”) appears and whisks Lois off to an alternate dimension where Lois died before meeting Clark and as a result he never became Superman. That’s a thing he can do now too.


“Well I say I say your running off with Lois is preposterous, sir!”

In the alternate dimension everything is terrible and everyone is packing guns and Tempus is running for mayor against Perry, who has glasses. Also, Jimmy is a tech-billionaire who owns the Planet and is funding Perry’s campaign, and the Kents died a long time ago, leaving Clark to “bounce around alot growing up.” He’s also engaged to Lana, who is just the worst. She’s one of those pushy broads who is always pushing their milksop spouses, in this case Clark, around. Clark isn’t Superman but still occasionally uses his super powers to save people because he’s a decent human being (Kryptonian, whatever) with feelings. Lana’s convinced Clark (who still wears glasses despite having no secret identity to protect) that he should never help anyone because if anyone found out about his powers the government would capture and dissect him (I guess this is where Goyer and Snyder got their characterization for Jonathan from, I bet Zack Snyder was a huge L&C fan).  Lois needs Clark’s help though, so that she and H.G. Welles (he shows up again too) can get back to their dimension, and in so doing she convinces him to take on the mantle of Superman in that dimension too. It’s a perfectly respectable episode that’s marred by the presence of Lana, not just because it in no way reflects any other depiction of the character in the past, but also because she embodies the tired “the other woman is a fucking horror show” trope that makes everyone stupider.

Ronnie: Lana Lang’s loathsome presence really ruins the return of Tempus, something I’ve been looking forward to since his last appearance. I really didn’t like this episode at the start, because for one thing Dean Cain continually pronounces Lana’s name “LAN-a”. I didn’t watch all those seasons of Smallville to get told my pronunciation of that name was up to debate. Then Lana pronounces it “LAN-a” and I don’t know what to think. As Chris has indicated, Lana is the worst, and for a lifelong Midwesterner the show fucked up by casting Emily Procter, who will in a few years time be known as “the Southern blonde” on CSI: Miami. This whole thing isn’t on, and Lana is just a part of it. The whole explanation for how we’re able to have a sequel when the last episode mindwiped Lois and Clark amounts to “well, remember it!”. How does Tempus escape a 19th century asylum? “He escaped”. Brilliant, writers, brilliant.


“Man, Superman is so phony!”

I’m not saying I want a whole episode establishing the logistics of how the mindwipes could be undone, how Tempus escapes, etc. But a little more than “go with it!” would be nice. They do explain why Terry Kiser isn’t playing H.G. Wells anymore; this is 1916 Wells as opposed to the 1899 one they met before. Terry Kiser will become Hamilton Camp someday, you heard it here first. Earth-2 Metropolis is fucked because Charlton Heston is President and as a result the country is flooded with guns. Yep, that’s right: it would have to take a crazy alternate reality for America to have more guns than people. What a dystopia!

Clark is a reticent hero because his parents died when he was 10, thereby not imparting on him guiding moral and ethical principles, and because he has no Lois in his life, a foolish idiot who will force him into danger by first putting herself in danger. The lesson: these people need each other, and no Southern belle from Kansas or time traveling supervillain is going to keep them apart! Anyway, Lois sews him up a suit, he saves some people set to R.E.M. (unless you’re watching on DVD or streaming, where it’s been replaced), and reveals Tempus to be a phony trading on xenophobia and falsehoods. Perry wins by 97%, which I think in post-Trump America strikes me as pretty ridiculous. Even after his Dead Zone moment, Tempus still would get 20%. There would be Tempus dead-enders.

Chris: Thank you for bringing up the LAN-a pronunciation thing, that really bugged me too.What the hell was that about? Superman III and Superboy are both already on the record with how to pronounce Lana’s name, and probably some cartoons somewhere or the radio show or whatever the fuck. I’ve actually just now decided that LAN-a is a new character created specifically for the show who shares some very slight similarities with the Lana of Superman lore. Much like how the post office’s Mr. Zip bears a striking resemblance to Roger Meyer’s Manic Mailman, DC probably could sue for some kind of copyright infringement, but in this case they’d be suing themselves so they let the whole thing drop. As should we.


Fun fact: This H.G.Wells voiced Gizmoduck on DuckTales. Well, it may not be fun, but it is a fact.

I was also struck by how the show went out of its way to explain why Welles no longer looked like Terry Keiser. Less than a month since the episode with Lois’s recast parents and a week after the All New All Different Jimmy got his episode, we’re suddenly stopping everything to explain why the guy who’s second on the guest star call sheet looks different?  Was DC worried that they’d be flooded with calls from irate Bernie Lomax stans, demanding an explanation as to why Welles suddenly looked different? Why does this recasting get lamp shaded when none of the others did? While I’m absolutely being petty in the service of cheap shots and padding out this article, I think this also speaks to the overall sloppiness of Lois & Clark as a whole. We’re more than halfway through the second to last season of this show and it still feels rickety and haphazard.

I don’t care that the effects are terrible or that a lot of the guest stars are underwhelming, that’s the kind of shit that’s connected to budget which has to do with ratings and other things that are outside the control of the boots on the ground of making a television show. But, like the Superman shield that intermittently opens episodes, when you can’t nail down the details of your show, and your tone is inconsistent, that speaks to a lack of care that’s hard to overlook. If the people making the show care so little for how good it is, why should I even bother watching it? I don’t know what the ratings of this era of L&C were, but I don’t think it had quite cratered yet; that, I think, is still a couple of weeks away (hello, L&C Clone Saga!). I doubt that casual viewers were thinking that hard about the tonal consistency of their stupid Superman show, but I think it gets through on a subconscious level. And the nonsense is about to get much worse.


Earth-2 Metropolis is just Earth-1 Chicago!

Odds & Ends

-Seinfeld Alum Watch: Mike Moffitt (“that Michael Jordan is…so phony!”) plays one of Tempus’ cronies, “Major Domo”.
-We’re one week until the wedding! I sort of dislike these winks to the real world. Yeah, it’s a week for us but it should be whatever amount of time the story requires for you, otherwise what are we doing.
-”So Ben-Hur is president and I’m worm food.”
-”The only thing that’d ruin this would be a commercial”, Tempus says as he’s watching Lois blindfolded on a ledge. These jokes worked better upon airing than on streaming, I would bet.
-Tempus still has three more appearances to go, here’s hoping next time he transports L&C back to the old west so they can complete the Back to the Future cycle.

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