Lois & Clark & Chris & Ronnie: “We Have A Lot To Talk About”/”Ordinary People”
Chris: Welcome back, my friends, to the show that never ends, or doesn’t end for two more seasons anyway. It’s time again for Lois and Clark and Chris and Ronnie, the often imitated but never duplicated series dedicated to providing the finest Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman analysis 2022 has to offer. We’re back after a brief detour into the land of late 80’s syndication and a vision of the future with a look at both the Superboy series and Smallville and oh my God does L&C look like prestige television in comparison to that dreck. Season Two concluded with Clark getting down on one knee in the rain to propose to Lois and fading to credits before she can answer. Season Three opens by replaying that scene and then letting it play out past the fade point to her saying “who’s asking, Clark or Superman?”. HOLY SHIT! SMASH TO OPENING CREDITS! GO CHANGE YOUR YOUR BIG BOY PANTS DURING THE COMMERCIALS BECAUSE EVERYTHING IS DIFFERENT NOW! Actually, it’s really not, it’s pretty much the same show it was in season two, equal parts interesting and irritating.
I am, by nature, an optimist, so let’s start with the good. I liked that Lois figured out who Clark was instead of him revealing himself to her. Lois is a smart person and giving her the active role of unmasker is a nice way of reinforcing that as well as continuing in the series long project of making Lois a more well developed and driven character. In the comics, Clark reveals himself to Lois, making him the active person and relegating Lois to passive observer. Lois figuring it out makes her stronger, and that’s always better. The one thing that disappointed me about Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 is how they don’t let MJ figure out Pete’s identity the way she did in the comics, the ditzy party-girl that everyone overlooks being the smartest person in the room is a device that I always have time for. And speaking of that I also really liked Jessica Collins as Mindy Church, Bill Church’s seemingly bubbleheaded new wife who double crosses both Bill and Bill Jr. in a caper that sends the father and son to jail and puts her in charge of Intergang. Collins does a great job as the dizzy dame that’s more than she appears. I’m looking forward to seeing more of her in the future.
“I ate all your bees.”
What I was less thrilled with was Lois’s inevitable anger at Clark for “deceiving” her for the last two years. That’s the kind of bullshit roadblock that exists only to stall moving the romance further and inadvertently makes Lois look like an asshole. Look, I understand how discovering that your best friend/potential fiancé has some massive secret that they’ve been keeping from you could be upsetting. But if that secret is that the person is secretly the most famous and powerful person in the history of the planet, I’d like to think I’d cut them some slack. If Lois had even an ounce of humanity, she’d realize how careful Clark would have had to have been with his secret identity and put any hurt feelings she had aside for the moment. I’m not saying she should have automatically married him, or that his double life shouldn’t give her pause, but her being angry comes off as narcissistic and petulant. I don’t like to get too into the psychology of the characters on this show, what with it being a cartoon based on a ridiculous impossible premise. But at the same time, if you want me to invest in the relationships of the cartoon, you need to do a better job making them act in sympathetic ways. With that in mind, I also want to say that I really liked the scene between Lois and Martha where they talk about Clark’s dilemma and how tricky things are for him. But the Kents are kind of your account, so I figured this would be a good way to hand things over to you.
Ronnie: This episode was kinda cruddy. It’s two aspects, yeah? The first is Lois learning Clark’s secret, which is basically her realizing Clark and Superman both touched her face in the same way, and the fallout from that. This is the weaker part of the episode because we have Lois upset with Clark and everyone knows it’s a temporary roadblock to them becoming a couple. Now, of course this could be done in a compelling fashion. It’s not. A little background for Season 3: originally the pair were to be married this season, but the producers decided to push it back. As a result, DC Comics had to push back their Lois & Clark wedding, because they wanted some cross-promotion and synergy going on, like how Stan Lee married Spider-Man and MJ in the newspaper strip and the comics followed suit. (Then a fat Cuban aborted the marriage in order to reclaim his youth and deal with his mommy issues, but that’s neither here nor there.) Ultimately, this led to DC killing Superman for a time, ergo Death of Superman happened and had a wild effect on the comics industry and pop culture at large. Now, did Lois & Clark delay the wedding so the two would know each other better or so there could be more stories mined from the engagement period of their courtship? No, they ended up doing an amnesia plot, which I’m itching to get to for this column.
Lois acting hurt that Clark kept his identity secret from her is a variation on the first time she found out, that H.G. Wells episode, and it’s less petulant but still pretty annoying. Again, I don’t expect her to be immediately understanding, but it shouldn’t take a Kents pep talk to get her to see the light. Lois is not an idiot and much of the plot treats her as one. It might be necessary from a plot standpoint, but that doesn’t mean I want to see it. That said, I agree with you that the Lois/Martha scene was great. It takes a lot to make Superman seem vulnerable and human considering his powers, but this scene really makes you feel for how he’s had to conduct himself for such a long time.
If he hucked the engagement ring from space to Earth, would it kill a bunch of people? I say go for it.
The other half of “We’ve Got A Lot To Talk About” concerns the inner workings of Intergang. Peter Boyle is back and actually has scenes with his son Bruce Campbell this time. Boyle has had a change of heart and wants to reform his organization like Homer with the Stonecutters. In effect he institutes a private Guardian Angels force to stem crime in Metropolis. Boyle plays it with great ambiguity; is he sincere? Did he go crazy? Is he faking it as part of a larger scheme? Keeping you guessing is a good path to take in such a predictable show. Bruce Campbell is always a delight and he’s given ample opportunity to chew the scenery. I agree with you that the twist with the ditz trophy wife is interesting. Is it fucked that in a Superman show I have more interest in how Intergang’s politics shake out? Possibly.
Chris: So I’m gonna be a little pedantic here and clarify that while what you said about L&C causing DC to postpone the wedding indefinitely and led to the Death of Superman was absolutely true, the timeline is a little different than what you have. Superman died in the comics in 1992 (hence this year’s sure-to–be-stupid anniversary stories that I will buy) and the third season of L&C ran from 1995 to 96, well after Clark had returned. The 92-93 era of Superman was supposed to be devoted to the buildup and aftermath of Lois and Clark’s wedding, but the TV show was greenlit and they had to stall for years. YEARS, Ronnie. Years. So he dies, and super abruptly I might add, at the hands of a new villain with no personality and no backstory, he just pops out of the ground and starts wrecking shit until Superman beats him to death (or is he?). Then he’s dead and there’s the Reign of the Supermen until he comes back in a big event that involves the destruction of Green Lantern’s home Coast City and triggers him into spiraling into madness and villainy (and being actually interesting for once).
Clash of the acting titans.
After Superman returns there’s a whole bunch of stories about his body freaking out and him being unable to control his powers, he turns into a Hulk-esque brute for a minute and does something terrible that I can’t remember in space and after he reverts to normal he’s put on space-trial for his space-crimes and on and on. It’s all actually pretty well done and, as you alluded to, led to a lot of new characters and status-quos that were maintained for a long time. Basically, without L&C causing the Super-Creators to kill time there wouldn’t be a Steel, a Kon-El, or Cyborg Superman. Coast City wouldn’t have been leveled, Hal Jordan wouldn’t have become (temporarily) interesting, the Guardians wouldn’t have been (temporarily) wiped out, and there wouldn’t have been a Kyle Rayner. Hal turning heel also led to the first DC attempt to straighten out their post Crisis continuity with Zero Hour, so, yeah, like you said, it was a wild time. I guess what we’re saying is, if you’re a comics fan, Lois & Clark has a significantly richer legacy than you may have thought.
Back to the show though, I think I liked this one more than you. I obviously agree that Lois’s anger at Clark is contrived and lazy, but otherwise I think there’s a lot to recommend this episode. Most of the episode is devoted to Campbell, Boyle and Jessica Collins literally and figuratively screwing each other, and they’re all having a lot of fun. Boyle is dreamy and detached, and I loved how Campbell is, like, incredulous that Boyle might be actually going straight. Church Jr is annoyed at how his father seems to have gone soft, he’s offended, and disgusted, but more than anything he just can’t believe it. Campbell plays most of his scenes with a kind of slack jawed, distracted detachment, like he’s trying to figure out a math problem in his head. And Collins as Mindy is great playing a smart woman pretending to be dumb and saying the right things at the right time in order for the two dopes she’s scamming to hang themselves.
Ronnie: You could probably talk me into thinking this show was at least passable if not for the albatross of Lois and Clark yipp yipp yipping at each other. “Contrived and lazy” is an elegant way of putting it; I’d say it’s detrimental to me watching the show, because my mind wandered to more scintillating topics such as “will there ever be a boy who swims faster than a shark”. I also think season premieres are representative of something, a sort of thesis statement for the year. This is what we aim to do, this is what we’re doing. I’m at a loss for what this season is going to represent besides doing away with the annoying subplot of Lois getting pissed every time Clark has to come up with a bullshit excuse to leave before saying or doing something of consequence.
So begins the lengthy courtship process for our two heroes, and like I said it lasts a season and involves a switcheroo that reminds me of the time Teri Bauer on 24 got amnesia because the writers couldn’t plot out anything more compelling than that. I think we’ll have a better idea of where the season goes with next episode, when we have our first “regular” episode shorn of the confines of Lois not knowing about Clark’s dual identity. How will it affect their partnership? How will the plotting compensate for this new wrinkle? In short, this episode is a bridge and not a very good one, but it had to happen.
That’s not a bomb, that’s a beer keg with some wires glued to it!
Odds & Ends
-This marks the first time Gotham City has been mentioned on the series. See, it’s this kind of scraps that qualified as fan service back in the day. It’s shit like this and Batman quipping “this is why Superman works alone” in Batman & Robin.
-Bruce Campbell would later go on to play Pizza Poppa in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.
Chris: There’s a kind of hopeless quality to watching a show like Lois & Clark years after it’s finished and trying to figure out if it’s any good or not because so much of the show is about the tension between the two characters and the audience’s investment in that tension. We know that Lois and Clark aren’t going to break up and see other people again, we know they’re not going to put their differences aside and fall into each other’s arms either. Lois & Clark is a show that’s famous for stretching the will-they-won’t-they tension as far as it could possibly go and then a little farther until everyone got sick of being fucked around and stopped watching. Because we know that, the central tension of the show is essentially neutered because we’re not breathlessly waiting for the moment they get together. I guess when I was a kid watching the show I must have thought that any given episode could have ended with the two of them getting together? That’s a pretty stupid thing to think, but I was a pretty stupid kid. Either way, to watch L&C now is to let go of any hope of arriving anywhere and try and enjoy the ride.
You’d think a place called “Love Fortress” would be on the up and up.
If the rest of the series is like season premiere “We Have a Lot to Talk About” the ride is gonna be bumpy and unsatisfying. On the other hand, if it’s like the second episode “Ordinary People” I think I’d be okay. “Ordinary People” is basically about how L&C are each worried about how the other’s habit of disappearing into their work gives them a consistent excuse to not have to be present in their relationship. As I said before, it’s stupid for Lois to be angry at Clark from keeping his dual identity a secret from her. But it absolutely makes sense that she would worry that his responsibilities as Superman would constantly overshadow her needs as a wife. Similarly, it’s completely understandable that Clark would fear that Lois’s obsessive desire to break a story at any cost would give her a convenient excuse to duck him any time things got uncomfortable. That they would attempt a kind of rehearsal honeymoon on a tropical island where Clark promises not to use his powers and Lois promises to, uh, not report the news I guess, is a fun way to explore their anxieties. It doesn’t really resolve anything, but it’s different from the standard Lois Gets Huffy at Clark for being Unavailable roadblock they’ve rolled out so many times before.
There’s more to the plot of course, involving a sinister plan by Legendary 80’s Sleaze-Ball/Isuzu Pitchman David Leisure as a Hugh Hefner surrogate who runs a skin mag and is stuck in the medical box Captain Pike wore in the two part Star Trek episode “The Cage.” Leisure is pissed at Lois because she wrote a nasty article about him and is obsessed with Superman because he wants to transplant his head onto the Man of Steel’s body. He’s behind Lois and Clark’s trip to the island and has designs on kidnapping Lois to lure Superman so he can kill her and steal his body. Obviously it’s absurd, but it’s a lot of fun, mostly because Leisure is a master of greasy un-earned self confidence. He’s like a low rent Steve Martin impersonator who comes to parties and plays one of Martin’s sleazy grifter characters who gets hit on the head and wakes up thinking he’s the real thing. But the heart of the episode is the work Cain and Hatcher do together. I have no idea what their working relationship was like (though it was rumored to be stormy!) but the two have undeniable chemistry together on screen. More than any other iteration of Lois and Clark that I can think of, these two versions seem to really like each other and enjoy spending time in one another’s company. “Ordinary People” gives Hatcher and Cain a lot of time to just be together, and it’s a pleasure to watch. They don’t have to get married if the rest of the season is them hanging out.
A clever reference to Damon Wayans’ “Head Detective” character from In Living Color, no doubt.
Ronnie: I liked this one more. I’ve had trouble discerning what I like about Lois & Clark–for the most part it’s Goldilocks and the Three Bears and episodes are “too [something]”. But I’ve realized that the show is best when it leans into absurdity. Episodes such as H.G. Wells time traveling absurd, that kind of thing. This episode doesn’t quite go that far, but it’s still a weird one. Titled “Ordinary People”, this one is anything but ordinary. For one thing, it’s got a guy in a Captain Pike machine who needs Superman’s body–let’s just be honest, he needs it for fucking. Imagine Larry Flynt was nothing but a head. Nope, not even a dingus. So he needs a body, and what better body than Superman’s. Do you think Superman’s dick is bigger underneath a yellow sun? Maybe under a red sun he’s a regular Terrence Howard. Look, man, Lois & Clark opened the door to this kind of discussion. The episode doesn’t skimp on grisly details; Lois is called to a scene of headless corpses who were last seen at Spencer Spencer’s residence–that’s the Pike guy.
Unfortunately, we’ve still got “relationship bullshit” to contend with, starting by Lois and Clark having a protracted discussion (laden with obvious subtext) with Perry about how they’re not “permanent partners” on stories and continuing with a tropical vacation in which they both decide to behave like, uh, ordinary people. This is obviously less compelling so I’m going to go back to the craziness that surrounds Spencer Spencer. He has an alcoholic doctor who sounds like a bad Ricardo Montalban impression, a nurse who mostly speaks German for some reason, and a big guy who handles him like the deaf guy did Martin Short in that underrated episode of Arrested Development. Any one of these characters would be enough, but all of them make for a wonderful time. David Leisure, Spencer Spencer’s portrayer, especially chews up the scenery as only someone who can only act with his head can.
Chris: Here’s a fun fact, David Leisure was on a show called Empty Nest back in the late 80s and early 90s; he played the main character’s horny neighbor Charley (David Leisure characters are always horny. Always. Even when he’s selling Isuzus on television over the course of a fifteen year ad campaign.). Empty Nest was a spin-off from the Golden Girls focusing on the Girls’ neighbor, a doctor played by Richard Mulligan. Empty Nest was successful enough to warrant a spin-off of its own, Nurses, about the lives of the nurses at the hospital Mulligan’s doctor worked at. Nurses starred (among other people) Carlos Lacamara, as a doctor who worked with the titular nurses and was maybe dating one of them or something I can’t remember. The point is, in “Ordinary People”, Leisure’s character has a doctor who’s played by Lacamara, making L&C an inadvertent GGTU (Golden Girls Television Universe) reunion. I’m sure if Twitter had been a thing in 1995, it would have been all anyone could talk about.
The tiger actually mauled Teri Hatcher during filming. For the rest of the series Lois is played by Hatcher’s twin sister Sheri.
Ronnie, I’m glad you liked the zany shenanigans, I did too. But I really didn’t mind the relationship bullshit this week, it felt less stale than in recent episodes. Like I said above, we both know they’re not getting married this season, and I think the refusal to name what Lois and Clark are doing together is silly at best. But a plot like this, which is basically just “Lois and Clark take a trip together” is basically just a date, like on Seinfeld when Jerry takes Vanessa to the little bed and breakfast in “The Stock Tip”. The fact that they’re not officially engaged or even dating doesn’t really distract from the fact that the episode is about two people trying to see if they can live together. And at the end of the episode they don’t blow up at each other, or get amnesia or go back in time to erase the whole thing so it never happened They went on a trip and enjoyed each other’s company, that’s a date just as much as going back to someone’s apartment to get your hat, or taking someone to dinner because you lost a bet that Dustin Hoffman was in Star Wars.
Ronnie: Can we talk about how Clark definitely killed three people at the end of this episode? It’s not uncommon for villains to die on television, but usually it’s situations in which they’re dispatched by other villains (see Tony Jay in his last episode) or hoist by their own petard somehow. Anyway, the situation is some nitrogen has been let out into the room for surgical purposes. Clark uses his breath to freeze the nitrogen and by virtue of that freeze Spencer Spencer, Nazi nurse and Ricardo Montalban. Two goons fire bullets at Clark and they naturally ricochet off him, shattering the three frozen people. When Lois asks him what happened to Spencer Spencer, Clark says “he’s a broken man”. Come on! That’s a fucking James Bond line. He is the guy who murders people and cracks jokes, not Superman. I know this is all in stupid fun, but it did bother me a bit to see Superman so obviously go against his vow of killing people. Talk about a situation even less ambiguous than the one at the end of Batman Begins.
If I could put that painting in my living room I would.
But you can’t say Spencer Spencer didn’t deserve it, because one of the wrinkles of his plan involves making Lois his sex slave. “Sex slavery” is a pretty big garnish to put in your show that’s arguably for children and families. That’s what I like about this episode–I mean not the sex slavery aspect, but the fact that the tone is all over the place. You’ve got the title pair bickering about being a normal couple while a guy tries to steal Superman’s body because apparently underneath his Captain Pike machine he looks like David Cross in that Titanica sketch in Mr. Show. It may not be the most coherent hour of Lois & Clark, but I’m glad I saw it.
Next time on Lois & Clark & Chris & Ronnie: Lois gets abducted by aliens and Lois is set up as a human sacrifice. Wow, lot of interesting things happening to Teri Hatcher, huh?
Odds & Ends
-”Love Fortress” is a definite choice for a name for a nightclub slash skin magazine.
-”I make Quasimodo look like a Rockette for cryin’ out loud!” – Spencer Spencer is tough on himself.
-“My mother was always depressed. My sister wouldn’t come out of her room. My father only related to cyborgs” – Lois explains her family life was shitty in comparison to Clark’s.
-“Keep your eye on the candelabra” is a line that should be in more television.