Lois & Clark & Chris & Ronnie: “The Phoenix”/”Top Copy”

Chris: We’ve detected an odd trend developing here at the old Lois and Clark and Chris and Ronnie offices. As you may have noticed, we alternate who opens and closes each article. Lately it’s seemed like the quality of the episodes we’ve covered have risen and fallen in little two-episode arcs such that I keep opening the articles with the good eps and Ronnie keeps getting saddled with introducing the bad ones. The trend continues this week as we discuss “The Phoenix” and “Top Copy”, two of the strongest episodes of L&C (again, it’s all relative) we’ve seen. They’re both fun engaging stories that hit that sweet spot of advancing the overall season plotlines while also telling successful stand-alone stories. “The Phoenix” especially is, like, good enough to maybe cross over into quality television? Am I crazy for thinking that? I dunno, maybe L&C has just eroded my standards to the point where I’m giving standing ovations to basic competency. Let’s try and figure it out together.

In “The Phoenix” L&C provide two moments that they’d been promising for the entire second season and even as far back as the season premiere, namely the return of Lex Luthor and Clark finally asking Lois out on a date. I’m gonna start with that second one first because I have less to say about it. And here’s what I’m saying: I liked it! I thought Cain and Hatcher brought just the right kind of earnest nervous energy to the whole thing. There was never a will they or won’t they tension to the relationship (I don’t know if any show ever really has that tension because they always get together, except Cheers, and that’s why Cheers is the GOAT), it was always a question of when. The when is apparently an upcoming Pearl Jam concert which, huh. As a Nineties Kid there’s something specifically disconcerting about Superman listening to Pearl Jam. I know they’re solidly Dad Rock now, but this was 1995, Pearl Jam was still pretty cool back then. And I also know that the whole mission of L&C was to make Lois and Clark into Hip Young People but still. Clark should have asked her to, like, Tony Bennett or something. Or Natalie Cole, she was simultaneously cool and classy. Superman and Crowd Surfing are two concepts that should never go together, that’s all I’m saying.


It’d be funnier if he had some pithy amount left, like 71 cents.

It doesn’t really matter though, because they don’t get to go to the concert anyway, because it’s all hands on deck to deal with the return of Lex Luthor, baby! He’s back! And he’s balder than ever! The date becomes hanging out while searching for Lex and Clark gives the tickets to Jimmy who unfortunately doesn’t break his neck when he attempts stage diving and no one catches him. Opportunity missed. Anyway, I was concerned when I saw that Shea was only in one episode of L&C this season because they devoted a significant amount of time and energy into building his return up, but “The Phoenix” is a really solid conclusion to the Luthor plotline. It’s still a bummer because Shea is, by far, the most entertaining performer in the cast, and Lex is the most interesting character. I’d always like to see more of him in that role. Hell, if they managed to fit his seventy-two-year-old ass into Superman & Lois, I’d watch that. And that show fucking sucks. 

Ronnie: I don’t know exactly what day this’ll be published, but I want to declare that day SHEAMAS. I mean, this may just be me, but I’m more apt to devote a day to veneration of John Shea than to celebrate this “Jesus Christ” character pulling a Tom Sawyer on his friends. Right from the cold opening the episode is something special. Tony Jay and Tasha Yar are trying to resurrect Lex. He flatlines, they admit defeat, but then he SMASHES open his coffin. Tony Jay: “I can’t believe it.” John Shea, after 12 episodes in absentia: “Believe it.” SMASH TO CREDITS. It’s wonderful.


The Departed actually ripped this episode off.

So wonderful is the rest of the episode, which may be in the running for BEST LOIS & CLARK SO FAR. I’m aware of how monumental such a declaration is. But this has so many things I enjoy about the show, from John Shea onwards. There’s a commitment to continuity–Tony Jay is back, so is Tasha Yar, and among the topics they discuss when Luthor goes undead is Intergang, whom Jay disregards as thugs without a sense of style. To find Kryptonite, Lex seeks out one of the scientists from “Metallo”. Given how rarely events build upon each other in Lois & Clark, especially in cases when doing so would be advantageous, I do get a dopamine release when the show makes an effort to reference itself in an organic fashion. It adds color, as do one-off scenes with informants such as Billy Bigmouth; the latter gives the sense these people actually are reporters in the business of reporting.

Then there’s John Shea himself, who has to be enjoying himself. If not, he’s an even better actor than I thought. Lex comes back to life without money or power, so he has to lean on undervalued qualities of his to succeed, such as his penchant for disguises. Him going bald means people don’t immediately recognize him, and as such if he puts himself in a wheelchair or throws on a fake mustache he’s incognito for all intents and purposes. I like how he does it even when there’s no real goal in mind; in one case he impersonates an old man just to psychologically screw with Lois. That makes it difficult to believe when he does his “all I have left is you” speech/spiel later, but regardless it’s a real scene, man. For once Lois & Clark doesn’t even end abruptly; there’s a surprise betrayal, a surprise death and by the end of it, Lex is behind bars. The only downside to “The Phoenix” is knowing how few times John Shea reappears in Lois & Clark, so the odds of him as a Hannibal Lecter-esque presence are slim to nil.


It’d be funny if Lane Smith had a heart attack for real.

Chris: Yes to everything you said about how rooted the episode is in the broader continuity of the show. Watching Lex get filled in on what he’s missed was great, but so was watching the “Metallo” scientist lose his shit a little when he realized he was in the room with Lex fucking Luthor. One of the downsides to the current model of serialized television is the constant escalation, when you tell a long story over the course of a season, it has to feel monumental, and the story you tell the following season has to feel even bigger. It’s numbing after a while.  L&C was made before that mindset kicked in, so in the few cases where they actually tap into a larger story and let the characters from various episodes interact it feels fresh and exciting. I also was completely surprised by Tony Jay’s betrayal of Lex, it was the best kind of turn, one that you don’t see coming and makes total sense in retrospect. Of course the loyal number two was just waiting to screw over his boss and run away with the power and money.

I also liked that what ultimately brought Lex down was his love for Lois, which turned out to be genuine, or as genuine as Lex Luthor can be. It’s fitting too, at its core L&C is a romance show, so Lex shouldn’t finally go down because he lost a fight with Superman over Metropolis, he should go down because he loses the fight with Clark for Lois. That’s not to say there isn’t a fight with Superman for Metropolis, but that’s not really what brings Lex down. He’s lost to Superman many times before, it’s when he realizes that he’s truly lost Lois for good that the fight goes out of him. And god bless Shea, he sells the shit out of that realization. One minute he’s a ferocious fighting force, and the next he’s an empty shell of a man. It was like all the air went out of him. And speaking of being a fool for love, let’s pour one out for Denise Crosby, Lex’s mad scientist side piece. Unlike Tony Jay her loyalty to Lex was total, and it led to her death. RIP Doc, I’ll never forget the time you dressed up like Trent Reznor to electrocute Lesley Jordan

Ronnie: Tony Jay’s betrayal was unexpected, and it makes his shit talking of Intergang previously in the episode an interesting instance of foreshadowing. He broaches the subject of Intergang and then brushes them aside as thugs with no sense of showmanship, thereby solidifying his perceived loyalty to Lex. It’s a minor moment I nonetheless appreciated. Another thing I liked was that Lex’s first impulse again was to commit suicide by way of pulling a Frank Grimes and this time Superman was able to stop him. Not often enough do you see villains willing to say “fuck it” and face oblivion rather than going to jail. I hope the next time Luthor pops up he also tries to kill himself and it’s yet another method. Like, he tries to dive into a vat of sharks or he takes up smoking (also known as “the long game”).

On the one hand, I sort of want the show to be of this quality all the time, but on the other I feel like without the valleys the peaks would not be as rewarding. You know? “The Phoenix” would be a decent episode of television when compared against, you know, all of television, but when compared against “Fly Hard” or “The Eyes Have It” and such it’s fucking gold, Jerry. As you said about serialized television’s perpetual escalation, Lois & Clark provides an alternative method that’s just as valid, just as entertaining.

I don’t have a whole lot to say about Clark asking Lois out–it’s what it says on the tin, so to speak–but I do want to share that when I told my roommate that “in this episode Clark asks Lois to go to a Pearl Jam concert” he laughed, furrowed his brow and said “seriously?”. That’s the correct reaction to the Pearl Jam aspect of the plotline, I think. It’s impossible to know what will and won’t date a piece of art, but this will never not be entertaining to me.


Lex rocking the FDR chic look.

Odds & Ends

-The scientist, Dr. Rollie Vale, is a cyborg now because Metallo crushed his arm.
-When faced with hair loss, Lex decides to shave it all off. Lex Luthor is not about half-measures.
-”This will definitely put me over the top with Angela” -Jimmy when Clark gives him Pearl Jam tickets. What does over the top mean to Jimmy? I see him as the kind of guy who tries the yawn as an excuse to put your arm around a girl trick but loses his nerve halfway through and ends up punching the girl in the head when he yanks his arm back.
-”Jimmy, I did not become the editor of a major metropolitan newspaper by being able to yodel.” – Perry is the best, man.

Chris: So moving on, is “Top Copy” as good as “The Phoenix”? No, obviously not, “The Phoenix” is the best hour of television L&C has produced thus far. But it’s a pretty solid episode all on its own that continues the relationship plot from the previous episode in a satisfying way. We’re in the back half of the season now and it’s nice to feel some continuity between installments. This week we’re introduced to tabloid journalist/intergang assassin Diana Stride (played by Scarsdale Surprise’s Raquel Welch) and her quest to discover and reveal Superman’s identity to the world. Diana is a glossy celebrity interviewer in the Barbara Walters mold, respected by hard newsmen like Perry but not above a gossipy scoop. This is basically who Cat Grant should have been. Her fame and prestige also give her the access and cover to travel around the world to execute black ops and gather blackmail on prominent figures for Intergang as well. This makes a lot of sense because Raquel Welch was widely known for her ability to blend into a crowd if necessary. A significant portion of the episode Welch sneaking around places in a ninja costume and karate chopping guys in the neck. Too bad there wasn’t a scene where a witness struggled to pick her out of a police lineup of 55 year old red headed women in leather catsuits.


“Tell me more about your sexual exploits in Korea, grandpa!”
“Stop calling me grandpa, Jimmy.”

But I digress. Stride is hot on Clark’s trail, forcing Clark into working overtime to protect his secret identity precisely when Lois is really starting to take a hard look at him as a prospective boyfriend. She’ll start talking about their relationship and Diana will appear around the corner, causing Clark to bug his eyes out, break into a sweat and make a lame excuse to leave. My favorite was when he had to return a video. It’s never a great idea to think too hard about any of this, but at the same time, it’s fun to watch Lois getting closer to the truth and see Clark struggle with just how honest he can afford to be with her. As we keep saying, Superman is immortal and invulnerable, he doesn’t have any physical weaknesses, so stories about him work best when they have emotional stakes. He’s feeling less comfortable with lying to her all the time. But If he tells Lois he’s Superman he risks infuriating her due to his deception, or drawing her closer due to her infatuation with his alter-ego. Not to mention the possibility of exposure should she write up the story of the century. And now that he’s taken the step of acknowledging his feelings for her, he can’t really go back to the way things were either. It’s a problem with no easy solution.

And while we’re on the subject of Clark’s dilemma, can I say I’m kind of enjoying how Perry and Jimmy provide running commentary on L&C’s evolving relationship?  Jimmy delivers the play-by-play and Perry provides perspective and context. Apparently there was another crack reporter team who fell in love and it was a personal and professional disaster in the same mold as Ray McKigney’s love for his own hand. Perry lays out the grim story to Jimmy over the course of the episode, noting how Lois and Clark’s dynamic threatens to play out in the same fashion.  It’s got a funky charm that a lot of the other Perry mentors Jimmy plots have lacked this season. It’s the first time the show has found a use for the fact that Whalen looks and acts like a guy who has never interacted with a woman in a sexual way. And it also plays up how Perry is simultaneously a wise old man and a pompous wind-bag.


“Next on 60 Minutes: YOUR DEATH, in less than 60 Minutes!”

Ronnie: See, I think this episode is less a Catholic joke and more a Raquel Welch joke. “Those aren’t buoys…” But I digress. While “Top Copy” is a weaker sister in this pair of episodes, that doesn’t mean it’s without its charms. This may be me misrepresenting things based on a flawed memory, but it feels like we haven’t had that many episodes devoted to people trying to figure out Superman’s secret identity, and fewer of those people have been journalists with the associated skills. I feel like Superman is one of the few heroes who requires a secret identity to work as a character (others include Batman and Spider-Man) because there has to be a contrast between his mortal life and Superman. That’s why I think in a lot of stories where he loses the secret identity he abandons “Clark Kent” entirely.

I like that Lois & Clark is continuing with the Intergang thread in a way that makes sense for the series; it’s a happy medium between the show being a series of discrete events and it devolving into “Intergang scheme of the week”. Raquel Welch’s character is likewise a novel concept; I like that Intergang matriculated a famous journalist for the purposes of assassination. Rather than turn an existing journalist, I’m imagining Intergang trained a girl from childhood both in how to kill people and how to vet a source. It’s Red Sparrow only with more space devoted to what “TK” means. If Lois & Clark can create one-offs like this as opposed to the more risible antagonists in the show’s history we’ll be sailing smoothly.


Well this blows the special effects budget into Season 3.

This episode does suffer from one of my least favorite superhero conventions, the story of a character’s identity being revealed and then being unrevealed through a contrivance (in this case a hologram). I dislike it because it’s unrealistic. Yes, yes, this is a world of flying laser shooting men, but still. My problem is that disproving it via subterfuge–hologram, both showing up in the same place at the same time–doesn’t necessarily unring that bell. Look at real life: a not insubstantial portion of the population believes JFK Jr. is both alive and a Trump backer, so you have to think some people would go “yeah, I buy him as Superman” and reject evidence to the contrary. Think about all the people who thought Richard Jewell was responsible for the Olympic bombing even after the media and FBI cleared him. There’d always be some doubt. Perhaps the show will surprise me and have the events of “Top Copy” come up later, but I have a feeling they’ll be swept under the rug.

Chris: I hear you about the we’re gonna reveal the hero and then take it back using some nonsense trope, but I want to make an exception for this one because of just how baller it is. Apparently, Martha Kent’s community college art program has laser technology that makes holograms sophisticated enough to fool people’s eyes and also simple enough to be run by a sixty something farmer with (presumably) a high school diploma using only a laptop. That’s just fantastic. If this is what they were rocking in 1995 imagine how sick the tech over at the Smallville Learning Annex is today. They’ve probably developed clean energy and faster than light travel as a result of achieving the singularity and tapping the almost limitless intellectual potential of artificial intelligence. Also pottery on Tuesdays and Thursdays, be sure to sign up ASAP because spots never last long.


Take a look at other victims of Diana Stride’s machinations.

This is, I think, the platonic ideal of what an average episode of Lois & Clark should be. Silly fun, with a cool guest star and a goofy premise that’s used to gently explore some genuine emotional problem the main characters are having. It reminds me of that episode from the first season about the invisible man. That was a campy story about a guy who develops invisible tech that’s used to rob banks but was also about how Lois was afraid Superman’s growing popularity would mean he’d forget about her, as well as Clark’s fear that Lois’s infatuation with Superman meant she’s never take him seriously as a potential suitor. Diana forces Clark to be even more duplicitous to Lois just when he should be opening up and is also a reminder of how ruthless and unscrupulous journalists can be when they get on the scent of a story. You also throw a few references to broader continuity and maybe a visit from a recurring character and I’m a satisfied customer. Speaking of recurring characters, Mayson Drake makes another welcome appearance, this time she’s simultaneously a rival for Clark and an unwitting source for Lois. I like her character a lot.

Ronnie: To be fair, you’re correct about the delivery of the ID reveal switcheroo. Who would’ve thought Martha offhandedly mentioning her community college course was an instance of Chekov’s Gun? I find the concept of Martha Kent as Superman’s Q DELIGHTFUL. In any event, it continues to amuse me that the show introduces a major complication at the minute 40 mark and by minute 45 it’s neutralized. Such is the case with this secret identity reveal. “Top Copy” reveals it, we see Raquel Welch pawing a Superman costume in Clark’s closet, and then it’s off to the races. Welch is likewise arrested without incident, almost as an afterthought. The strange staccato pacing is beginning to appeal to me; it’s a weird way to do a show, but just as valid as anything else. It reminds me of how on Smallville the show would basically end at 36 minutes and then we’d have the characters spew what they learned at each other, preferably in a barn setting.


Nope. No catfight. [sigh]

I wanna talk for a moment about Mayson Drake and how the show may or may not be using her correctly. While it makes sense to throw in romantic complications for the title characters before they couple, given they’re on the verge of dating as it is it feels too little too late on that front. Farrah Forke does a decent job with the character, but there isn’t a lot to her despite her having a lot of potential. That she’s assistant DA gives her a plot reason for being in episodes and I think “Top Copy” showcases that well; within Raquel Welch trying to kill dudes you have the age old dilemma of whether or not a reporter will give up sources to effect justice. It’s basically the security vs. privacy debate. Add to it that she doesn’t like Superman and you have a characters that can create interesting conflicts, but Lois & Clark never employs her to her full potential. Instead she occasionally shows up to moon over Clark while having any concrete plans of theirs cancelled by happenstance. The character idea is solid, the execution is lacking, and like I said it feels too late in the game to introduce competing love interests for either Lois or Clark.

That wraps things up for this edition. What do we have to look forward to on the horizon? Well, let’s see. There’s “Return of the Prankster”, which is what it says it is, and an episode featuring Intergang once more that is said to be a goodbye to a certain supporting character. You guessed it: JIMMY’S GONNA DIE.

Odds & Ends

-Seinfeld Alum Tracker: 1. Raquel Welch would go on to appear in Seinfeld’s Season 8 finale, “The Summer of George”.
-Speaking of Seinfeld (and when aren’t we, seriously), I appreciated the moment Lois and Mayson expressed their mutual dislike which was followed by relief. It reminded me of when Jerry and Janeane Garofalo blurted out “I hate you!” at the same time and called off their engagement.
-Lois and Clark play chess at work? Sure, whatever.
-Sign of the times: Clark literally pulls a “I have to return some video tapes” to get out of a conversation with Lois.
-Pa Kent wants to fuck Raquel Welch. Who doesn’t?
-When Jimmy suggests there is a resemblance between Clark and Superman, Perry notes people say the same of him and Richard Nixon. This is a reference to the TV movie The Final Days in which Lane Smith indeed played Nixon.
-I didn’t pay the closest attention but I’m pretty sure Raquel Welch did not swing her arms when she walked. Quite an achievement for someone named Diana Stride, huh?
-Robert Culp also makes an appearance as Welch’s Intergang superior. So far Intergang’s membership consists of Peter Boyle, Robert Culp, Raquel Welch, and isn’t Bruce Campbell making an appearance soon? Sounds like a quality organization to me. The eclectic casting has to be a chit in Intergang’s favor as best antagonist now that Lex is more or less shelved, although their competition is scant. Toyman? Prankster? Smart kids?

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