Lois & Clark & Chris & Ronnie: “Ultra Woman”/”Chip off the Old Clark”

Ronnie: Welcome back to Lois & Clark & Chris & Ronnie. I’m the last guy in that list of names and have I got a pair of episodes for you. In the first episode, Lois gets superpowers and runs afoul of Shelley Long. In another, Superman is faced with the downside of celebrity: being accused of having an illegitimate child. In many respects these episodes represent a step forward. In other respects they have all the problems associated with this series as it exists.

I feel terrible about saying this, because it lends credence to all that we hate about the comic book nerd, but I really appreciated the continuity at work here. You’d expect Lois & Clark to just sort of forget everything by the end of the week, and for the most part that’s true. Continuity gets a bad rap sometimes. Sure, it can be used for ill: note the countless incestuous storylines in comics that have no merit outside of explaining what Hawkman’s deal is. But used correctly, such as in “Ultra Woman”, it suggests that the world these stories inhabit is a real one and actions have consequences. To wit: this episode begins where the last one left off, at the “we’re glad you’re not really dead, Lois & Clark” party at the Planet. The villains this week are sisters of the guy who found Red Kryptonite way back in Season 2’s “Individual Responsibility”. A lesser program would have unrelated characters chance upon the item, whereas Lois & Clark does due diligence by making sure there is a reason for a character or characters to have access to an item that weakens Superman. It’s a refreshing change from the comics or, say, Smallville, where it seems like you can’t walk 20 feet without finding some Kryptonite.


Costumes provided by Patrick Warburton’s The Tick.

Said sisters are played by Shelley Long, Diane from Cheers, and Mary Gross from SNL. They have good chemistry and the rapport is fairly amusing. I liked when they’re explaining the plan to each other and Mary Gross talks about getting back at everyone who made high school hell for them, then having to admit Shelley Long was pretty popular. Long made some pretty rough choices post-Cheers and I would put this well above Troop Beverly Hills and Frozen Assets. The sisters stage a fake baby down the well scheme so they can blast Superman with Red K, rendering him apathetic. Things backfire and instead Lois receives Superman’s powers. Enter: Ultra Woman! Remember in last time’s I Love Lucy parody Lois made her own costume for Super Woman? Someone must’ve had a brainstorm…

You can sort of see where this is going. Bestowed with superpowers, Lois has a better understanding of Clark’s responsibilities as a superhero. Clark, in turn, realizes how Lois feels as a partner to someone with superhuman abilities. If the subtext is too subtle for you, don’t worry, because dinnertime with the Kents will make it text so overt even a blind person could see it. It’s no surprise that “Ultra Woman” shifts Season 3’s plot into higher gear by finally going through with the engagement. It’s a cute twist on the “who’s asking, Clark or Superman?”, with Clark doing the ol’ switcheroo on Lois at the same fountain. I’m just glad we’re past the wheel spinning of the will they/won’t they. Onward with the wheel spinning known as a very long engagement!

Chris: The thing about Shelley Long is that she’s terrific, but she’s also a TV actress. There was a time where that was a pejorative, and it made performers feel the need to do movies in order to prove something about their range and appeal. That’s not so much a thing anymore. There are still actors who want to do movies just because they’re movies and movies are great, but think about people like Julia Louis Dreyfess and Brian Cranston, who seem content to make their mark where they work best. Long’s best known scene partner Ted Danson is also pretty much the King of TV, with around a half-dozen signature parts across different genres and formats. But all this and two bucks will get Shelley Long a cup of coffee because she ditched an all time great show for a career in movies that never panned out because she’s not a movie actress. It’s not for nothing that her best known theatrical role is playing Carol Brady in the Brady Bunch movies. The week’s L&C reminds us that it’s all of our loss that she spent so much time making shitty movies, because she’s really fun in the right part. She’s quick and nimble and commands the screen whenever she’s on it. Oh well.


She had to turn to a life of crime after the failure of Troop Beverly Hills.

You don’t come right out and say it, but I feel like you enjoyed this episode, I know I did. Long and Gross (who I just learned is the sister of Family Ties dad and Tremors loveable doomsday prepper maniac Michael Gross) do have fantastic chemistry and surprisingly complicated relationship. You liked the planning part where Gross had to admit that Long was popular in high school. I liked how later in the episode Gross is exhilarated at seeing her superpowered sister getting pummeled with bullets but also genuinely panicked at the idea that Superman might actually hurt her. Long get’s all the great lines but Gross really sells the love/hate cocktail that can exist between siblings. That dynamic combined with Lois and Clark’s newfound understanding of the others’ plights, and Perry’s marriage falling apart make for a surprisingly emotional episode of a show that used Balki Bartokomous multiple times, and once had Clark play baseball with himself Bugs Bunny style.

I also feel like this was one of the better looking episodes in a while. They do a lot of this super thing happened and it was too fast for people to see, and it played better than usual. I don’t know if they got some new FX equipment or the budget was a little higher this week for some reason, but it feels  more muscular and real than usual. And while Lois’s Ultra Woman outfit was pretty lame, her wardrobe was a lot more flattering than it often is. She’s wearing a suit and tie for a lot of the episode, in a cute and understated joke about how she’s Clark this week, and it looks fantastic. I’ve complained some about how the PG show doesn’t seem to know what to do with Hatcher’s innate sex appeal, and tends to over-correct into dowdiness. But this week, when she wasn’t in costume, she had a relaxed, comfortable look that accentuated her beauty without tipping into glamor or cartoon sexiness. Even her hair looked great.

Ronnie: You’re right, I did enjoy the episode. It’s good because it works on multiple levels. Purely as a bridge to get Lois & Clark from “locked in an eternal argument over their relationship or lack thereof” to “engaged” it does the job and it doesn’t come off as overt or hackneyed in accomplishing that task. I think it was also inevitable that we were going to see Teri Hatcher experience being superpowered and “Ultra Woman” again does it in a pretty competent manner. Add to that some funny performances by Shelley Long and Mary Gross and you have one of the strongest hours of Season 3 thus far. Teri Hatcher in particular does a stellar job weighing the exhilaration that comes with superpowers with the burden of responsibilities it entails. Her breakdown about not being able to stop everything at once despite her abilities is some good stuff.

Eventually Shelley Long steals Ultra Woman’s powers and doesn’t do a whole lot with them. Their plan is to steal old ATM bills I guess? Anyway, it results in a deliciously lo fi sequences of Lois & Clark trying to get Clark’s powers back. Bestowed with a STAR Labs prototype facsimile of Mary Gross’ device, Superman exits a taxi cab and prepares to fight Shelley Long, making sure she gets her hands on him. Lois pivots to the prototype and fires it, transferring the abilities back just in time for a bullet fired by Mary Gross to ricochet off Superman’s midsection. The image of Superman arriving to the scene in a fucking cab made me laugh out loud. There wasn’t a better way for him to arrive, that’s what makes it so funny. I also like how Superman throws the prototype into space, which Long did with Mary Gross’ device too. This episode of Lois & Clark is really advocating throwing all our shit into space. No way will that ever backfire.


“My life is a prison of my own making, folks. Every day is torture.”

Chris: I like that this one mixes up the formula a little too. I’m always talking about how I want the main plot to somehow comment on Lois and Clark’s relationship, but that reflection is almost always seen through the villains. Think about the Perfect Couple of last week’s episode, or the couples retreat of the week before. But this time, Lois and Clark are themselves the catalyst for that reflection. By seeing how life is from the other person’s perspective, they both are able to understand how hard it can be to be in a relationship with themselves. Or something. I’m saying that Lois learns how fucking hectic it is to have super powers, and Clark has to deal with being a man of flesh and blood, as opposed to steel. Suddenly shaving isn’t so easy. I kind of wish this had been a two-parter, so they could have explored the idea with a little more depth, but it is what it is. I also feel like, as well acted as Hatcher’s scene is where she talks about how overwhelming it is to constantly hear cries for help and how heartbreaking it is to have to prioritize emergencies, it’s always dicey to get too close to the “reality” of Superman’s life, if you think about it too hard you’re faced with the fact that Clark is constantly letting people die so he can, like, go to a movie.

But I digress. This was a solid Lois & Clark, and continues the continuous string of solid episodes all way to three, which might be a record. I’m not going to go back and check.  I feel like this and the one with Jonathan Frakes both succeed in their modest aims of banging a solid hour of television out of two people with chemistry having to work together to defeat a likable antagonist played by an actor from an earlier, better TV show. I guess I care that Lois and Clark are engaged? But honestly, I’m more interested in the mechanics of the relationship and how the characters change and grow together over time, and “Ultra Woman” continues the trend of leaving L&C in different places than where they started. I’m pretty sure this all gets undone eventually, so I’m going to enjoy it while I can.


That’s the look you give when Jimmy says anything.

Odds & Ends

-Seinfeld Alum Counter: Larry, the manager at Monk’s, portrays an ungrateful husband character who bickers with Ultra Woman.
-It’ll be a while before I see Dr. Klein and don’t think “why isn’t he being played by Stephen Tobolowsky?”.
-I love Perry’s Elvis clock.
-Superman comes up with Lois’ superhero moniker after seeing a bench ad for “Ultra Vitamins”.
-Second episode in a row to reference Batman; Mary Gross tells Shelley Long “[Superman] has all the powers of Batman” after getting hit by the Red Kryptonite ray.
-Celebrity Name Drop corner: Antonio Banderas sends Ultra Woman flowers. Jimmy expresses interest in her too, while admitting he’s no Deion Sanders or Brad Pitt.
-Perry’s marriage disintegrates offscreen. Say it ain’t so!
– Shelly Long smokes in at least one scene, I miss smoking on screen. Fucking liberals…
– Are we still doing title cards? Or what?

Ronnie: There are shades of “You’re Having My Baby”, the Larry Sanders Show episode wherein a woman claims to be pregnant with Larry’s child with this episode of Lois & Clark. “Chip Off the Old Clark” isn’t as funny, but few things are as funny as Larry Sanders. Lois and Clark are getting down to some loving when Jimmy calls and tells them they have to turn on the TV, whereupon there’s a report of some woman who claims to be the mother of Superman’s child. Here’s the thing: though Clark insisted he never slept with Leigh-Anne, the kid does have superpowers. This wouldn’t necessarily prove anything in the DC Universe, but in the world of Lois & Clark very few people have special abilities so the connection between Superman and the boy seems apparent. Jesse is played by child “star” Alex D. Linz, best known for taking on the mantle of burgled child from Macauley Culkin in Home Alone 3. I’d say this show pales in comparison to Larry Sanders Show’s episode because not for a second do you believe Superman hooked up with this woman, whereas with Larry Sanders it’s a distinct possibility. The lack of ambiguity makes it so that the story is “how did the child get superpowers” instead of “did Superman fuck a redneck”.

This makes Lois’ doubts about Clark tiresome. It’s understandable she’s stressed by the situation, but we know Clark won’t–can’t–have a checkered history so it’s just a lot of wasted time. I mean, it’s implied Clark was a virgin until he met Lois, so I don’t know what the fuck anybody wants from this guy. The public seems enraptured by the issue, however; there are protests and everything. People picketing…somewhere…to protest Superman’s lack of fatherly responsibility. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, but then again much of the episode doesn’t make a lot of sense. Eventually an explanation comes: last year in Michigan Superman saved a plane during a lightning storm and transferred some of his powers to Jesse. You’ll remember lightning is capable of doing that as seen in “A Bolt in the Blue” from the second season. Fortunately for everyone, Jesse is losing his abilities and will soon be powerless.


Wow! The Shadow looks like shit!

In world news, Tanzor and Fostonia–terrible fake country names, honestly–are signing a peace treaty. I had trouble parsing this one, but it seems it’s the main plot for the episode. See, Anonymous wants to nuke one of these countries for money I guess. No, it’s not Anonymous the hacker troll collective but instead it’s a master of disguise played by Dave Coulier. He’s got this whole plan that involves doing blackface–there’s a scene of Anonymous painting his skin African-American–and kidnapping the president of Tanzor…or Fostonia, whatever. He accomplishes this by roping in the kid and asking him to “hug” the president into the sky. It’s all convoluted and stupid and an excuse for Superman to stop a nuclear strike again.

Chris: So, with this one, I’m going with the More of This Please, but Much, Much, Better rating, by which I mean I applaud a lot of the intention behind the episode without really thinking it turned out all that well. Like you said, the tension of “Chip Off the Old Clark” rests on the notion that anyone would think Clark could be a deadbeat dad, which is a no go from jump. It’s one of those irritating L&C plots because all they had to do to make it work would be to say that Clark simply hadn’t known he knocked some lady up and the whole thing would be a lot more plausible. The kid’s around five, and this is the third season of L&C, why couldn’t the lady have said “I had a one night thing with a guy six years ago, and had a baby. I didn’t know who he was and I figured I’d raise the kid alone until he suddenly started lifting the car up and whatever.”

The idea that Clark has a kid he’s neglecting is unthinkable, but the idea that he had a youthful indiscretion that yielded a child he was unaware of is at least possible. And it’s such a shame because these are the kinds of ideas the show should be playing with at this point in the series. Lois and Clark are an official couple now, part of being a couple is accepting that your partner has a whole past of their own from before you were a couple and that past sometimes includes accepting that they bring baggage from that past. Yes, I’m saying that children are baggage. If Lois and Clark wants to show a relationship growing and deepening, I think Lois having to recon with the potential of Clark having a sexual history is fair game. Just put some work into it. Don’t set the woman up as so obviously full of shit. We all know there’s no way Clark had a kid with a NNL (Non-Lois-Lady), but it’s okay to pretend like we don’t. It’s okay to nudge the audience towards possibly considering that maybe…


I mean, he’s not called Super Stud. I feel like you’re calling him that just to make the “dud” pop, which is unfortunate.

So yeah, poor execution of a decent idea. But I do have to say that I also appreciated how the show once again dipped into its past continuity for its villain and  to explain how it was that the kid got Superman’s powers to begin with. This season of L&C seems less like a show that’s figuring itself out (first season) or reinventing itself on the fly (season two) and more like one that’s settled into what it is and assumes that its audience does too.  Stan Lee used to say that every comic was somebody’s first ever, meaning you do your best every time because you always want to make a good first impression; but that also means you can never stray too far from your core, and you can’t expect the reader to bring any outside knowledge to provide context for what they’re seeing. TV was like that for a long time too, every episode had to be self contained and self explanatory because who knows how many people saw the episode before or were going to stick around for the next one. In season three, Lois and Clark seems to have finally shed that tension, and is dedicating itself to stories that presume its audience remembers what happened months or years earlier. I think that’s a good thing. Now they just need to make the episodes, you know, good.

Ronnie: How about how “Chip off the Old Clark” is a nonsensical title? It’s a play on ‘chip off the old block’ but ‘Clark’ doesn’t rhyme with ‘block’, nor are they synonyms for each other or anything. Stupid title for a stupid episode. Let’s talk about the whole stealing nuclear codes plot and that it’s completely irrelevant to the main issue of the episode. Too much time is devoted to it to call it tacked on, and yet… Like, why is the guy helping Leigh-Anne sue for child support part of the nuclear strike scheme, why does the plan hinge on a volatile child, why does what is meant to be stand-ins for Yugoslavia have nukes. It doesn’t add anything to the show except for the dubious feature of Dave Coulier in old woman makeup.


Hey, it’s affordable Wilford Brimley!

While it’s a fine continuity nod that keeps the universe of the show from being too cluttered, the lightning strike explanation is a little deflating. At this point, you know, I would like more fantastical elements that aren’t entirely the result of Superman. I know it’s a Superman program and not a DC Comics program, but Lois & Clark seemed to recognize in fits and starts a larger fucked up world, such as time traveling H.G. Wells, Metallo, that one episode that cured death, and others. While I would not like to see this become wall to wall elbow nudging like the later seasons of Smallville, some more crazy nonsense that isn’t derived from Superman’s powerset would be cool. Fuck it, make the kid a Daxamite! Right? That’s something, isn’t it?

Chris: Yeah, no, the whole episode’s a big mess. I often have trouble remembering the plots of L&C episodes once they’ve concluded but this was a particularly tough one to recall because there’s no spine holding the whole thing together. It’s like how in Seinfeld once you remember one characters plot you remember them all because they dovetail or cross over with one another at various points of the episode, oh yeah, George is dating the fugitive who runs into Elaine’s bald boyfriend and the cops think he’s George because all bald men look alike and none of the main characters are there to clear it up because they’re at Little Jerry Seinfeld’s cockfight which is run by the bodega guy (and L&C alum!) who won’t take Jerry’s bad check down.  I’m not expecting L&C to be that tight, but there needs to be some overlap between plot points and the same guy who’s behind the assassination attempt is also the lawyer in the custody case for some reason just doesn’t cut it.


Cut! It! Out!

That’s why I said I want more of this, but better. I want the show to not have to devote so much time to explaining everything every episode. I want to feel like the actions of one adventure have consequences that are felt down the line. I also want the show to use the time they save by not reestablishing the status quo every week to do actually interesting things that deepen it a little. Maybe give Perry an actual plot, he used to get those, or flesh out either Lois or Clarks relationships with some other people. Remember the psychic who lived next door? What happened to her? Or that underworld snitch who’s always eating, how’s he holding up? Does he have diabetes yet? That’s an avenue the show could explore. I’m glad that we got to see a villain come back, but it’s also odd that they reintroduced one from three years earlier and barely contextualized him at all. I said earlier that Lois & Clark feels like it’s settled into what kind of show it is, but that show could still use some tuning up.

Odds & Ends

-This episode is over 46 minutes long. Imagine such a length for a network show in 2022.
-Headline: “Flybaby needs Superdad”.
-Director of the episode was also responsible for the great “X-Cops” episode of The X-Files.

Leave a Reply


Next ArticleDeliver The Profile Kino Korner: Urban Legends: Final Cut