Lois & Clark & Chris & Ronnie: “Twas the Night Before Mxymas”/”Lethal Weapon”

Ronnie: Welcome welcome welcome to the ONLY long-form criticism of Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. You may have noticed these articles take longer and longer to get out; partially that’s my laziness, but it’s also due to the malaise of having reached Season 4, definitely in the running for one of the worst four seasons of the show. Our titular couple have settled into married life finally, but all the stupid elements dragging the series down remain at the fore. But by hook or by crook my compatriot Chris and I will shut the book on this endeavor conclusively. We now reach the halfway point of the final year, and it’s a seasonally appropriate one too, as episode 11 is “Twas the Night Before Mxymas”. That’s right, it’s an Ultra-Humanite centered hour.

Lois has a glass half empty view of the Christmas holiday whereas Clark is expectedly optimistic and cheerful. For some reason things take a good turn this Christmas; there’s peace talks in “Eastern Europe”, Jimmy has a Rhodes scholar girlfriend, the Kents and the Lanes are all in Metropolis for Christmas. Howie Mandel appears at a bar, drinking some Heineken, grousing about the fifth dimension and how he’ll happily rule here once he’s defeated Superman by stripping everyone of hope. Cue Groundhog Day ripoff that only Clark realizes is going on. Things occur the same way just shittier. Like, in Reality A the Kents aren’t worried about their crops, but in Reality B the crops failed and the bank’s fucked them and there’s little… hope. The loop keeps going on, things gradually declining in quality. The Daily Planet tree gets smaller and smaller each time in an obvious metaphor. I also find it pretty tiresome!


Look at that sweater and tell me the Kents didn’t vote for Trump.

Mandel, dressed like a gay magician pirate, finally receives some significant screentime with our hero halfway through the episode, confirming he’s behind the time loop. Clark semi-successfully convinces Lois that they’re in a time loop and there’s even a return of the Superdrawing ability which he uses to sketch an accurate Howie Mandel. Mandel eventually offers the following bargain: Superman leaves Earth or else the time loop continues. The conclusion is actually pretty nice, I gotta admit: Superman uses his foreknowledge and his Supermanness to instill hope in the hopeless and short circuit Mandel’s machinations. Call me a sap if you must, but this is the kind of earnest cheesy shit the show does well and should be doing on a regular basis. I also have to give credit for them keeping the comics’ Achilles’ Heel of Mxy, that he’s banished if he says his own name backwards.He does, in hilarious fashion: he reads the card on a present addressed to him.

The end result: a kinda good episode of Lois & Clark? Or maybe I’m being overly generous for the holiday season. Fuck it, who cares, print the legend.

Chris: I think it’s the fact that it’s a Christmas episode. Those things give the created and audiences permission to embrace the broad emotional cues that television is so good at creating. “Twas the Night Before Mxymas” pulls off the very difficult feat of being clever and stupid in just about equal measure. Like, the notion that people lose hope by taking “tomorrow” away, as Mxy does, is thoughtful and fun. Hope is, by definition, the belief that things can and will change for the better. But if tomorrow never comes, there’s no possibility of change, and thus no hope. It’s neat. On the other hand, the Groundhog Day loop is goofy at best and stupid at worst. Why does “hope” somehow reduce every time the loop begins again if no one (outside of Superman) knows it’s happening? It would make more sense if everyone was aware of the repetition and became more and more resigned to being stuck just where they were. Or, it could be about Superman losing hope as he’s unable to affect any meaningful change.

But that doesn’t really matter because it’s fun watching things just get progressively worse and worse for everyone and Clark can’t get any traction in his efforts to stop the world from sliding into misery. I’m not entirely sure if we’re supposed to think it’s funny when Martha dumps Jonathan in front of god and everyone at the Planet Christmas party, triggering a fatal heart attack, but it made me laugh. Things just got so bad so quickly. And why would repeating December 24th over and over have an effect on what happened before the loop started? It’s one thing for Lois’s opinion of the article she’d been working on to get worse and worse, it’s another to have Jimmy’s Rhodes Scholar girlfriend somehow transform into a whore. It’s the same woman, she’s just a prostitute now which, the lack of sex-positivity aside, would have to mean that her life had been going very differently for quite a while. And also, Jimmy seems both aware that his girlfriend is a hooker and bummed out about it, which is baffling because presumably he invited her to the party fully aware of her profession.


Doesn’t he know that watch is covered in germs?

But it all kind of works too. It reminded me in of those episodes right after the wedding-that-wasn’t back in season three when Lois amnesia and thought she was down-on-her-luck torch song singer Wanda Detroit while Clark bitched to his parents that the frog eating Lois clone he unwittingly married refused to fuck him. None of it made any sense, but it was all of a piece and was so breathlessly executed that it was hard not to get caught up in its manic energy. Tempo is so important to shows like this. It’s all malarkey, but if it’s served with a little wit and verve, everyone can have a good time. No one tunes into Lois & Clark for Homicide style social realism. We want silly colorful adventures and charming banter between the leads. And like I said at the top, if the silly adventure involves somehow saving Christmas, more the better. I mean, c’mon, it’s fucking Christmas, a holiday devoted to the birth of what would become the world’s most famous zombie that we celebrate by giving presents to one another and lying to children about where some of them came from. If you can’t be open hearted and goofy on Christmas, when can you?

Ronnie: I think the thing is the episode feels alive. Everybody is feeling things, and those naked emotions trigger emotions in the viewer. That the whole supporting cast is there helps a lot. It’s not only Lois losing hope, it’s Perry and Jimmy and the parents and even Ralph the Daily Planet staffer I never thought I’d see again becomes shittier as the time loop continues. I also really like how Lois gradually becomes aware of events having occurred before. It plays well. Hell, I’ll even give credit to Howie Mandel. I think he’s generally obnoxious as a persona but he does a good job here. If not good, he does not do what you dread upon hearing “Howie Mandel as Mr. Mxyzptlk”. Hell, I expected it to result in an hour I’d skewer for this column, but it turned out to be the episode I’ve liked most in, wow, literal years’ worth of Lois & Clark. How’s THAT for a Christmas miracle?


“Heineken? Fuck that shit! Pabst Blue Ribbon!”

Chris: Yes, yes, yes! This was almost exactly what I was going to say! This episode works because it has something that precious few episodes of Lois & Clark do, supporting characters with little arcs of their own. We talk all the time about how barren this show is of supporting and recurring characters and how that’s been more and more of a problem as the show has gone on. This was never an ensemble, but there used to be things for the supporting characters to do. Like, remember when Jonathan thought Martha was having an affair because a dude in her art class did a nude painting of her? Or when Jimmy and Perry were cleaning out his office and Perry was droning on and on about what everything was and where it came from? And obviously Lex always had shit going on. That’s all gone, and it’s been gone for a while (as evidenced by the fact that all those examples are from the first season), and that’s a problem because this is probably the time when L&C need them the most.


[insert Deal or No Deal joke here]

Part of the reason Cheers was the GOAT of will-they-won’t-they plot was that when that question was answered they moved onto other things. Yeah, they sort of had to because Shelly Long left the show, but even if she hadn’t, they were going to marry Sam and Dianne and, again, move onto other things. Cheers had a robust supporting cast of great characters who were more than capable of filling the spotlight and so they transitioned from a romantic comedy to an ensemble show about as smoothly as anyone has ever done it. Lois & Clark doesn’t have anything even close to that to fall back on, so what you have are a bunch of boring stories about a married couple. Cain and Hatcher do still have fantastic chemistry. I too really liked Lois’s dawning awakening to what was happening, but at this point in the show we should be focusing on Jimmy’s love life, or Perry’s, or something non relationship related that those characters can do. Because the Lois and Clark will-they-or-won’t-they story is done, and they’re left with a big fat nothing to fill its place.

Odds & Ends

-In a questionable creative decision, a sign of deterioration of hope in the time loop is that Jimmy’s girlfriend goes from Rhodes scholar to sex worker. Sex worker? Why, she’s literally human garbage!
-I find it hard to believe Lois’ mom’s Christmas wish is to be reunited with her robot fucking husband, but tis the season.
-The John Woo movie Paycheck isn’t very good, but it has one very smart idea, which is that if people could see into the future it would quickly cause the world to quickly spiral into chaos and destruction. So much of life is bound up with prediction and suspense. From enormous global events like the economies of nations and that are the result of guess work and trial and error, to more day to day activities like watching basketball, if we knew what was going to happen, we wouldn’t actually do it. This is all to say that even though Paycheck is limp and uninspired, I really liked Woo’s latest movie Silent Night.
-Chris wrote that preceding Odds & Ends, so I (Ronnie) want to affirm that the column’s unified position is Paycheck no, Silent Night yes.

Ronnie: The prodigal son is a story archetype for a reason. Lois & Clark takes a stab at it with an episode dedicated to Perry White, “Lethal Weapon”. I don’t recall if his son Jerry’s been mentioned at length before, but there’s nothing in the series that contradicts Perry having an estranged son who has trouble with the law. This is a tale of fathers and sons; “Lethal Weapon” lays it on pretty thick that Jimmy is the son relationship Perry wishes he had with Jerry, up to and including a pretty hilarious shot of a photograph of Perry and Jimmy fishing together. There’s another pair, Mr. Gadget (John Spencer) and his oaf Metropolis PD son (Biff Tannen!), that also figure into the plot. All the while Superman’s powers are on the fritz.

This is actually pretty good; if there’s a problem with the episode it’s that it tries to contain too much. I’m not one to turn down John Spencer or Biff Tannen, but I think you can do the same plot without them. The rest of the material is pretty strong; you have Perry’s continuing issues with his son, Jimmy suspecting things about Jerry but not wanting to separate Perry from his son again, and Superman’s got Red Kryptonite poisoning. In Lois & Clark it seems as though Red K does whatever the plot of the episode dictates, and in “Lethal Weapon”’s case his powers can’t be controlled. It escalates to a pointless invocation of domestic violence imagery when Clark sees the bruise on Lois’ arm she received from him touching her. Not the right venue for this, Lois & Clark.


At any respectable workplace, anybody with a photo like this of them and the boss on their desk would be bullied into quitting.

 Chris: I agree Ronnie, this was a pretty good episode. And in an ask-and-ye-shall-receive style turn, it’s an episode that works largely because it did all the things I was complaining about above. Everyone has something to do this week, and it all ties together with a Seinfeldian tightness that is super rare for this show. The only logical explanation for the radical course adjustment over the last couple of episodes is that the creatives behind L&C obtained access to some kind of time machine, which they used to travel to the then far-off year of 2024, wherein they read our articles and adjusted the show accordingly and resulting in a delightful Mobius Strip style paradox of cause and effect. Not too shabby for a blog that no one reads, am I right?

Anyway, in the comics Perry, Jerry is younger, probably around sixteen. Young enough to still be impressionable, while also being old enough to get into real trouble. It’s worth mentioning that Jerry is his middle name, his first name (or forename, if you’re trying to sound like a piece of shit) is Perry, just like his dad. This means that, yes, Perry named his son Perry Jerry White, and if that’s not a one-way ticket to alienation I don’t know what is. In the comics Jerry is an angry young man for much of the same reason as his television counterpart is, his father is more dedicated to his job at the paper and relationship with his staff than he is to his family. And if you think TV Jerry going back into the clink was kind of a downer, comic Jerry dies and then it’s revealed that he’s actually Lex Luthor’s son, meaning that Perry’s wife Alice cheated on him, while he was fighting in the Korean War, with the worst person in the entire world. That one two punch is pretty hard for Perry to take and things get pretty dicey for a while. But things turn around because they end up adopting this little black kid named Keith whose AIDS stricken mom left him at an orphanage when she became too ill to care for him. You know, that old chestnut.


Superman should hold, or at least appear at, more press conferences.

So yeah, good job Lois & Clark. You’ve managed to churn out two decent episodes of television in a row, a feat not matched since, I don’t know, at least a year. It would be pretty funny if this show finally found its footing after three and a half years of wildly flailing around and not knowing what to do with itself when it was already too late and they were doomed. It’s like a much longer, shittier version of that stretch in the middle of the second season of Twin Peaks after they’d wrapped up the Laura Palmer mystery and replaced it with Coop getting a severed deer’s head with chess pieces stuck in its mouth while James is involved in a terrible Postman Always Rings Twice homage, Audrey dates a cowboy and Benjamin Horne reenacts the Civil War with little figurines. I guess that also explains why L&C’s fourth season famously ends with Clark stuck in the Black Lodge while Bizarro takes his place, Jonathan getting blown up in a bank and Lois’s ghost being stuck in various wood fixtures at the Planet office.


“Superman, you made sure he could still breathe, right?” “Uh, yeah, right.”

Ronnie: Perry is up there in terms of characters on this show, probably because he isn’t overused and Lane Smith is always a game performer. (Remember him as the rival coach in The Mighty Ducks? What a prick!) I think he plays his arc well; the father who feels so guilty about his parenting that he overlooks all the suspicious shit his son is doing. I buy his emotions at the end, feeling betrayed by his son but loving him anyway. He sells the emotional plea asking his son to give in to the authorities, that they’ll face this together. It’s some of Lane Smith’s finest work in the series.

Superman’s dilemma is pretty good, although I don’t know if Red Kryptonite was the way to go. Why not introduce a new kind of Kryptonite? I think it’s reasonable to have a third Kryptonite by Season 4. But it’s still a good idea to face Superman with the inability to regulate his powers; like Cyclops, one of Superman’s attributes is being able to hold back, repress, and that’s seen in Dean Cain’s performance. Now, Dr. Klein’s solution of meditation is dumb, and it involves him saying something about chimps fucking, but it’s not a bad idea in a vacuum that Superman instill mental calmness to help with his powers. Again, I think the real missed opportunity in “Lethal Weapon” is John Spencer, because he’s pretty superfluous and not especially menacing, despite being a fine actor. Something about a megalomaniac in a sweater… it doesn’t work.


Evil Mr. Rogers!

Chris: I know I’ve said this before and I think I’m going to be saying it a lot more as we wrap the series up, but it’s hard to muster up much enthusiasm for this show anymore; no matter how good any one episode might be. On a L&C rating scale I’d give this episode a solid B+; it’s got a good hook, some good performances and manages to use Jimmy in a way that makes him seem impaired somehow. But so what, you know? We all know that whatever good will the show manages to build up between now and the end of the season will be wiped away by its cancellation and unresolved cliff-hanger.

It’s stupid I know, to say that, because all stories end and the value comes from how much you enjoy or learn from them. It makes me crazy when people say shit like “Why should I bother to see Aquaman 2 if it doesn’t count anymore?” What? What do you mean “count” count towards what? Does The Holdovers not count because there won’t be a sequel? Probably? I mean, Payne is doing that sequel to Election so anything is possible but you get my point. But I suppose I’m a hypocrite because I can’t help feeling it here. I didn’t mind it in Aquaman 2, but that’s because I liked the movie. To like an episode of television is to like a small piece of a whole, and at this point, I don’t think the whole can be salvaged.

Odds & Ends

-The guy who played Jerry didn’t have much of any acting career, but he did write the two Platinum Dunes Ninja Turtles movies, so he is my nemesis.


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