Lois & Clark & Chris & Ronnie: “The Green, Green Glow of Home”/”The Man of Steel Bars”

Chris: Oh hello, I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you come in but please, have a seat. As it happens, you’re just in time for the latest instalment of Lois & Clark & Chris & Ronnie, the only series on the Internet brave enough to recap old episodes of Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman two at a time. Our goal is to neither praise nor bury L&C, but to look back at a time when the popular culture wasn’t so goddamned obsessed with superheroes and how making a show about one turned out when there wasn’t such a rigid formula for success to follow. All the L&C we’ve seen so far have vacillated between dopey-good and dopey-bad without ever really achieving straight good or bad status (although some have come close). This week we’ll be double fisting “The Green, Green Glow of Home” and “The Man of Steel Bars”, episodes 8 and 9 respectively of the first season.  Let’s get in there and see what’s what.

“The Green, Green Glow of Home” isn’t just a significant episode of Lois & Clark because it’s the series introduction of Kryptonite, but also because it’s the first episode to tell a story outside of the confines of Metropolis. When a farm in Smallville is seized for testing by the EPA and the farmer himself goes missing, Lois and Clark are assigned to cover the story, much to Lois’s annoyance. Being a big city gal, Lois can’t imagine anything interesting or important happening so far from Metropolis; but Clark obviously knows that Smallville has its share of secrets. As it turns out, the EPA story was just a cover for paramilitary lunatic Jason Trask, last seen hucking Lois out of an airplane in episode 2. When Clark first arrived on the Kent’s property all those years ago, a mysterious meteorite also crashed into a neighboring farm and was immediately covered by… I don’t remember. Something. The point is, the guy who owns the farm (Deep Throat from the X-Files!) finds the meteor in 1993 and tries to figure out what it is, alerting its existence to government lunatics and causing him to go on the run, but not before entrusting it to his neighbor and friend Jonathan Kent to keep safe.


Not all comic relief is created equal.

Ronnie, this is, to me, the best episode of L&C since episode 3, the one where Lex tests Superman’s powers. Setting the action in Smallville put Lois at a rare disadvantage, her brassy confidence and hard nosed mentality come off as arrogant and pushy in the slower, friendlier confines of a small town. But instead of being bitter or pouty, she adjusts, allowing Clark to take the lead and comes to appreciate his more measured tone more. And of course Clark comes in contact with the Kryptonite which temporarily depowers him and forces him to consider life as a mere mortal. Remember how he faked a cut finger last week to fool the smart kids? This week he actually gets a paper cut and is shocked by how much it stings. Clark probably hasn’t felt anything close to pain for fifteen years, so even a small irritant would be pretty alarming for him. This is the kind of closely observed character work that I think L&C really has a good handle on. It allows it’s characters to have human moments and to react to them in interesting ways. How about you?

Ronnie: I mean, you’ve got me hook line and sinker if you introduce Jerry Hardin into the proceedings. Hardin, aka Deep Throat from X-Files, is a good indication that things are going well. Slap a baseball cap on him and he goes from government spook to farmer just like that. I like how obvious the foreshadowing for Kryptonite is; the episode begins with Superman stopping a carjacker and responding “not so far” to the guy asking “man, don’t nothing hurt you?”. Enter the glowing green rock that’s attracting the attention of the federal government as well as Bureau 39. Remember them? They’re back and not in pog form. The first sequence of Clark succumbing to Kryptonite is pretty unintentionally funny because Clark doubles over, Pa rushes to him but doesn’t bother to close the box of meteorite that’s causing the reaction. I kept yelling at the TV “close the box!”.


Finally Jimmy does some actual photography. Next he’ll have to become a useful character, but baby steps.

That said, “The Green, Green Glow of Home” being the best show since the third one is dead-on. I might even go so far as to claim it’s the best since the pilot. By introducing an element of Superman lore it positions Lois & Clark as being an actual Superman show. What I mean is you could take previous shows and with a few tweaks they could be about any superhero. They could be about Night Man if you replaced the Daily Planet scenes with ones at a jazz club. So to do something specific to Superman is a step in the right direction in my opinion. If the show has an overriding problem so far it’s that the Superman scenes are dramatically inert; he can do anything, meaning nothing can oppose him meaningfully. That’s why the most compelling episodes and scenes are ones that force a philosophical dilemma on Superman, such as the aforementioned Lex Luthor episode. Well, now we have a means with which to tax him physically and not a moment too soon, I say.

The episode also lays some groundwork for the romance between Lois and Clark by having the former see the latter in his home environment, meet his parents, etc. The culture shock material isn’t great but it’s inoffensive. You know, she assumes the Kents don’t have or know what a fax machine is, but lo and behold they do. It’s fine; moreover, it accomplishes the task of getting the characters to know one another better. We’re almost at the halfway point of the season so I would expect then to be when they begin ramping up the romantic aspect, which has been wayward in some episodes as Lois & Clark grapples with whether it wants to be a will they won’t they or a crappy action show (“crappy” modifying “action”, not “show”).

Chris: I agree with everything you said. We talked in our first entry about how strong the cast of Lois and Clark is, and it’s that casting that remains its best feature, which is how it should be. The cast of the Superman comic is justly hailed as having a particularly deep bench of interesting supporting characters and “Green, Green Glow” gets a lot of mileage out of taking time out to focus on Clark’s parents Jonathan and Martha. So John Kent originally died when Clark was just a boy, as anyone who saw the 78 movie knows, but when DC rebooted everything in the 80s they decided to keep him around so Clark didn’t have two dead father figures. That said, he and Martha were still just simple, salt of the Earth farmer types, two solid Midwestern greatest generation figures who provided unconditional support and love for their son. Well, L&C decided to update the two a little farther and throw a little “post-retirement empty-nest” friction into their relationship. It’s not that Jonathan and Martha don’t get along, it’s more just that she’s a little restless and interested in spreading her wings, and he’s happy with how things are. She’s into painting now, and taking dance classes and shit like that, and he’s, well, he’s not. But he tries his best to go along because he loves her.

This dynamic is a really nice addition to the Superman mythos for a bunch of reasons. Of course it makes the Kents more human and well rounded than they’re often portrayed but it also reflects the contrast in the Clark/Superman dynamic as well as his evolving relationship with Lois. You can see how Clark would be particularly drawn to Lois as much of her gumption and ambition is a kind of reflection of his mom’s, just as his more cautious approach to life in his civilian identity is an extension of his father’s conservative style. Similarly, Lois gets a glimpse of how life with Clark (or a Clark type) doesn’t have to be the cultural wasteland she was previously imagining.  I’m going to keep coming back to this, but Lois & Clark can’t afford to do action on a large scale the way Superman requires, so it’s the relationships between the characters and the time that a 22 episode season affords to develop those relationships that the show will live and die on. Invisible Men, Robot Boxers and Smart Kids come and go, but this is the stuff that makes up the spine of the show, and so far, it’s where it works best too.


Not all special effects are created equal.

Ronnie: I think it was interesting they brought back Trask from the second episode, made him an actual threat, and then summarily killed him off. This is the first time an antagonist learned Clark’s secret and I think it’s funny the way the show got out of him being a recurring problem for the cast is the police execute him. There’s a number of “shit just got real” moments in “Green, Green Glow of Home” and Clark revealing his identity to Trask is one of them. Obviously Trask had to die or be incapacitated somehow or else everyone would know Superman’s secret identity; he doesn’t seem the type to keep it to himself. Now, I’m pretty sure the xenophobic angle is relatively new for Superman. Previously villains would hate Superman because he foiled their plans or, in Lex’s case, was dubiously responsible for the loss of their hair. The idea of Superman as the scout for an alien invasion is a refreshing angle that I don’t think had been exhausted in the early 1990s. I’m curious if any character takes up Trask’s obsession or this is Lois & Clark’s final word on that motivation.

Overall, I think the episode succeeded at its aims, to provide a bulwark for Superman. By bringing Smallville into the proceedings the scope feels the largest it’s been since the pilot. Anyway. So after the customary Odds & Ends, please join us for the back half of this week’s workload, “The Man of Steel Bars”. In it, Superman is sent to Oswald State Correctional Facility, wherein he runs afoul of Schillinger and the Aryans. Will he become a prag or will he be shuffled into the “others” grouping with Rebadow and Busmalis? Read on to find out.

Odds & Ends
-Seinfeld alum tracker: 0.
-Along with Kryptonite, please welcome Jimmy’s Signal Watch to the show everyone! The watch is, of course, designed to emit an ultra high frequency tone that only Superman can hear, alerting him that his presence is required at the Planet or wherever Jimmy is at the moment. Jimmy explains all this to Cat after activating the watch in the newsroom, they are then baffled when Clark comes over clutching his ears in agony, complains about the noise, and switches the watch off. Jimmy and Cat are the dumbest people alive.
-Lois had a girlfriend who claimed learning square dancing was a good way to meet guys. This is the most improbable thing in the series about a space alien who stops carjackings.
-No Lana in Smallville, but there is a “Rachel Harris” who Clark took to senior prom and still obviously has a crush on him. Why they didn’t just use Lana is a mystery. Rachel Harris is a cop and that comes into play eventually, but they could have just made Lana a cop and no one would have minded. OTOH, Lana was often portrayed as a genuine rival for Clark’s affections and Rachel is basically a buck-toothed hayseed, so maybe they just didn’t want any confusion about what was what in the romance department.

Ronnie: The premise for this one is that Metropolis is undergoing a heat wave and through some dubious science Superman has been blamed for it. This leads to a number of silly but mildly amusing scenarios that really hearken back to the Silver Age of Superman comics. By which I mean a lot of nonsense occurs. Right? Silver Age Superman, if it’s known for anything, it’s elaborate stunts to induce a marriage as well as absurd idiocy that comes from running out of ways for a really powerful guy to be tested. So in “The Man of Steel Bars” Superman is taken to trial for his involvement in climate change and sentenced to no longer use his powers, which scientists believe causes the heat. He immediately violates the injunction by stopping a gunman outside the courtroom. Thus, he’s taken to jail, and the question “what would Superman in prison be like?” is answered.


Look at that jackass.

There’s a germ of a good idea here, to explore Superman’s relationship to Metropolis, but instead things are overwhelmed by a lot of bullshit and nonsense. Like for some reason the mayor is played by Sonny Bono. I can’t think of a good reason for him to portray the mayor; two wince worthy references to famous songs of his in the dialogue don’t suffice. I did appreciate one reporter asking him the absolutely insane question “Mister mayor, isn’t it true that if the temperature reaches 100 and everyone keeps driving their cars that we will all die a slow, suffocating death from carbon monoxide poisoning?”. Anyway, those hoping for some Oz-like grittiness when Superman’s in lockup will be sorely disappointed. He wins one fight by ducking out of the way and then he’s bailed out by the Daily Planet and sort of remanded into their custody. Missed opportunity for the Daily Planet staff to use Superman as a superpowered butler (or sex toy, in Cat Grant/possibly Jimmy Olsen’s case).

I want to stress I’m not opposed to silliness or lightheartedness; I’m doing a fucking Lois & Clark recap article series, after all. But I think there’s ways you can do it well and ways you can do it haphazardly, and “Man of Steel Bars” falls into the latter. Like, Lex is behind the plot, obviously. Of his plots thus far, “trick Superman into accepting responsibility for climate change” is one of his more nefarious plans. Clark feels he has to go into exile and, in a wild ramping up of the romance throughline, he kisses Lois goodbye. Are they on a “Kiss Hello”/”Kiss Goodbye” routine? I don’t fucking think so. Superman solves the problem and we’re back to square one. At least Lex made a killing on air conditioning. Having Lex be behind every bullshit penny ante scheme is beginning to diminish him as a threat, although I still enjoy John Shea’s performance. Like, he’s almost to the point of George Costanza’s pettiness regarding Lloyd Braun. What I wouldn’t give for Shea to put on ridiculous glasses “to [somehow] fool Superman”. The kiss? Never addressed. I guess in The Big City you kiss all of your colleagues goodbye. On the lips. What are we doing here?


If he really thought he was leaving he’d use tongue.

Chris: I’m torn on the amount they’re using Lex. On the one hand, he’s the only genuinely interesting opponent Clark/Superman has come across so far. I wonder if they’d have gone to the trouble to kill Trask off last week if the actor had been able to project anything other than shrill mania. On the other hand, I completely agree that his total commitment to crime has the effect of devaluing his presence as a threat. I got a laugh trying to imagine what his weekly calendar must look like: Monday: hook up with evil engineer to rig space shuttle explosion, Tuesday: lunch with bitter mobster burning down Metropolis, Wednesday: meeting with cracked scientist about weather machine plot, Thursday: jazzercise. At what point does he do actual legitimate work?


Lex’s tiny Metropolis is on point, though.

To me, the platonic ideal of the Post Crisis Lex is a man who’s basically 55% pure evil and 45% genuinely great man. That’s what makes him tragic and interesting, he actually could be the man he pretends to be, but he can’t get over the  slightly larger part of himself that’s impatient, immoral and uncaring to actually do it. That said, I don’t just enjoy watching John Shea play out Superman stopping a train crash on a train set while smoking a giant cigar, it’s also another fun way to suggest Superman in action while not actually having to show it. I don’t understand why they can’t seem to transfer that kind of energy and creativity to the other menaces running around Metropolis.

As for the actual heat wave plot, eh. They’re still putting Superman up against a problem that he can’t solve with his fists and is more about challenging his values than his safety, and I still like that. But the shit with him in prison was all kind of half-assed and I guess I don’t understand what the point of it was? The idea that Superman basically allows himself to be governed is always interesting, but they don’t really even brush up against anything thoughtful or compelling. Mostly it’s dumb sight gags and physical comedy like Superman instinctively floating away from spilled coffee in the courtroom  to demonstrate that he sometimes accidentally uses his powers or applying too much force when pressing his finger down to be printed and destroying the table. I’m sure in his civilian life Clark has come across spilt liquid or apply pressure to something, and he managed to do so without giving his alter-ego away. Yet for some reason, in the presence of Johnny Law, he loses control of his fine motor skills. I will say I liked how his serious mugshot session devolved into smiling and posing for pictures with various officers and eventually whores and drunks that happened to be in the precinct at that moment. Superman is a man of and for the people.

Ronnie: There’s not enough of a focus for my liking. You want to explore Superman’s relationship to the city and how people will turn on him on a dime, go ahead. Don’t mix it in with prison hijinks and courtroom shenanigans. I cannot get over how corny everything is, from casting Sonny Bono as the mayor to the “trial”. If the show is going one way forward, I’m hoping it’s “The Green, Green Glow of Home” as opposed to “The Man of Steel Bars”. That said, I did ironically enjoy how fucking melodramatic Clark’s departure from the Planet was, in that no one believed he’d either abandon his life in Metropolis in general or for the rest of the episode. Were I Perry I wouldn’t hire Clark back, just to spite him for wasting everyone’s time.

I suppose it did pique my interest that Lois & Clark tackled the subject of global warming, which to my knowledge was still credibly believed to be liberal bullshit deserving of coverage in Captain Planet and little else. The conclusions drawn in the episode are encouraging in that it’s established to be a man-made problem that requires a man-made solution, but otherwise it’s a plot engine to get the city against Superman and not a sincere exploration of the divisive topic. You can’t expect too much from an ABC dramedy airing against the 40th season of Murder, She Wrote.


I wish Lois & Clark did that Chris Elliott Action Family gag where Cat Grant is just covered with black bars.

Chris: The environmental stuff is what it is. I don’t want to get too into “spoiler” territory, but I’ve watched the next episode and the cold open may involve Superman using his super powers to recycle a plastic milk carton. Or perhaps I’ve said too much. My point is, that sort of Captain Planet environmentalism was all over the airwaves at the time. We have a tendency to look back at the 90’s as an era of avaricious consumption and rampant bigotry/misogyny, and while there was a lot of that, there was also a lot of hippie dippy progressive energy too. The early part of the decade in particular had a potent strain of tie-dye, hacky sack, hemp shirt style grooviness that was pretty loud for a second. Don’t ever forget that C+ Animal House knockoff PCU was a reaction to the perceived over-correction of liberalness in the culture at large and how we all just needed to relax and fucking party together. What I’m saying is that movie fucking sucks. It sucked then, and it sucks now.

“Man of Steel Bars” seems like another example of their being two viable ideas for episodes that get jammed inelegantly together into an unsatisfying whole. In this case it’s Superman Goes to Jail, and Superman Worries His Powers Have Unintended Consequences. Either one of those ideas could have made a complete, interesting episode, but, like with the undercover episode, we get a lame non-starter that tees up some ideas with potential and buries them under a pile of gaffes and bad puns. A final observation: Lois and Clark just seem like the worst writers. Every time we hear anything they’ve written it’s always this shitty, hammy prose that would get them laughed out of a tenth grade English class. That story Clark wrote about the little kid throwing his Superman doll at Superman wasn’t just super cheesy, it was fucking confusing. Was the kid mad at Superman because he was giving up and running away, or was he mad because he in fact believed Superman was responsible for the heat wave? I don’t know, and I don’t really care, but the idea that something like that would get published in a major newspaper is up there with Lois taking up line dancing to meet guys, if you know what I mean.

Ronnie: Strong disagree on PCU, but I think redressing that is for our Pardon The Interruption-like program Wait, Wait, Fuck You. All I’ll say is that I remember PCU a hell of a lot better than any other Animal House ripoff and it has both Jessica Walter and Parliament-Funkadelic in it. Can Ratcatcher boast that? I don’t think so. I guess what I want to say is who do you want to be: an old bitch like Chris or a cool dude like Ronnie.

Anyway… you’re right about Lois and Clark’s journalistic skills or lack thereof. I don’t expect the featured prose to be equivalent to, like, real prose, but it shouldn’t be as embarrassing as this. The only competitor I can think of is Karen Page on that Daredevil show. Her editorial to close Season 2, you remember that? Brutal stuff.


Chyron should read “Crazed Woman Takes Over Local Broadcast”.

Next week on L&C&C&R we’ll be dealing with two episodes that dial up the horniness, either literally or through a ridiculous plot contrivance I’m surprised the show hadn’t already used. Yes, we’re getting our titular couple having to go undercover as marrieds for dubious reasons!

Odds & Ends
-Seinfeld alum tracker: 2. Not only has Marcelino the cockfighter returned (with lines of dialogue, no less), Mr. Lippman portrays a scientist who furthers the theory that Superman is the cause of the hot weather.
-”Just like when Elvis played The Sullivan Show.” Add to that a reference to Nixon deputizing Presley and I’m starting to think we might have to start including an Elvis reference tracker here in Odds & Ends.
-Proposed headline: “Superfeat = superheat”.
-Tony Jay is back as Lex’s elderly minion. He doesn’t really do anything, but Tony Jay got a paycheck.
-I know there’s a heat wave but Cat’s outfit would’ve gotten her fired on the spot.

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