Lois & Clark & Chris & Ronnie: “Whine, Whine, Whine”/”And The Answer Is…”
Chris: So, I watched the first two seasons of Smallville, which was at least two seasons too many. My recollection is that it’s few virtues (John Glover, the idea that Young Lex Luthor would spend large portions of his day trying to get Young Clark Kent laid, John Glover) were far outweighed by its many glaring flaws (almost everything else) (wait, Anette O’Toole is good too). That show is really Ronnie’s account and I don’t want to step on his toes, I only bring it up because it’s season finale time again here at Lois and Clark and Chris and Ronnie and watching the first episode we’re covering today I was reminded of the other thing Smallville was good at, closing strong. Smallville would plunk along in its dopey way for twenty odd episodes, embarrassing itself and chucking out random references to other DC properties, but then as the clock was winding down, it would shift gears and become competent and exciting. Suddenly you start thinking maybe this poky show about a slow-witted teenage god and his vapid buddies might be going somewhere and you decide to give the next season a shot only to discover the same nonsense. I think I know where they got that trick from because L&C’s season two penultimate episode “Whine, Whine, Whine” is really entertaining.
The episode opening with Lois and Clark on a date at a fair of some kind (you know how the center of major cities are always shutting down for fairs?) and Clark having to dash off to save someone again, much to Lois’s mounting fury. This time the man of steel rescues a guitar player who was too busy tuning his instrument to notice that he was about to be crushed by a giant speaker. Instead of being grateful, the loutish guitarist is infuriated that Superman manhandled him and proceeds to sue him for battery. Meanwhile, DEA beefcake Dan Bongino keeps trying to slide into the vacuum left by Clark’s sudden departures and capitalize on Lois’s mounting frustration and she’s starting to wonder if maybe there’s something to all the sweet nothing Dan is whispering. Superman is feeling the heat from this lawsuit and Clark is feeling the heat from Lois and all of a sudden he’s wondering why he’s taking the time to live a double life at all. And at the moment, neither identity is feeling particularly rewarding.
This is the kind of attention you can receive if you’re Brisco County Jr.
This is frankly perfect. The idea of someone suing Superman for damages sustained during a rescue and him actually showing up in court to face the charge is exactly the kind of wooly-headed nonsense this show should be churning out on a weekly basis. It reminds me of the first episode of the old Batman show where Riddler tried to defeat Batman by ruining his reputation. First, he tricked the dynamic duo into going to go to a club. Then, while Batman was busy dancing the Batusi, Riddler got Robin drunk on spiked milk, put him behind the wheel of the Batmobile and sicced the fuzz on him. How can you trust the caped crusader to keep the streets crime free when he can’t even keep the boy wonder from day drinking and driving? We’ve talked before about how the budget and general FX realities of 1995 prohibited the makers of L&C from producing anything even resembling action on any kind of scale, and as a result, the Superman plots that work best tend to lean into those limitations. Him having to battle a bullshit nuisance lawsuit from an ungrateful rescuee(?) is both a charming throwback to Silver Age stories where Superman couldn’t actually hit anyone, and a very 90’s concept. Plus, it seems we’ve seen the last of Agent Bongino. Maybe this show is finally going somewhere.
Ronnie: Like “Individual Responsibility”, “Whine, Whine, Whine” seems to be another high concept that belongs in a 60s Marvel comic or a thinkpiece in a respected magazine. So Superman inadvertently breaks a limey’s hand, and he explains he needs both his hands for his no doubt godawful music. So much for British politeness. This snowballs into a situation where because of the overly litigious nature of our society (surprised there’s no reference to the McDonalds hot coffee lawsuit, though Lois & Clark rarely intersects with “pop culture”), Superman is forbidden from helping anyone. But this episode is really more about Lois weighing her man options, and I like it because finally it feels like the weight of the series thus far has been felt. What I mean is that we’ve reached a logical point at which Lois is sick of Clark flying off in the middle of dates, conversations, heart-to-hearts. The show could go one of two ways: either Lois deals with it and things reset every week, or she begins to strain under the situation. I appreciate the writers chose the latter. It’s organic, I think, that it would take Lois only a few botched dates for her to get sick of the routine. Any longer and you risk her looking like a doofus.
Lois is reading a real book, described as “Prompted by her late mother’s few personal belongings and her own undying curiosity about her never-known father, twenty-seven-year-old Miriam Gould travels to Parmenter, Maine, where mayhem and mystery form a prologue to discovery.” Scintillating!
In another indication we’ve got a good one on our hands, Ma and Pa Kent appear in the middle of the night to help Clark solve his dilemma of being two people and constantly lying to Lois. Ma broaches the subject of telling Lois; it seems like a better prospect than just moving in the middle of the night. As these columns have indicated, I’m a big fan of the Kents and what their function in the show’s storytelling is. Like usual, they gently consult their son on what to do with his life. It’s such a change from the Reeve movies and the Gold/Silver Age of Superman being a double/1.5 orphan and it’s my preference, though that may be having grown up with living parents being the configuration. Anyway, Superman basically berates a woman into representing him in court and he stops a bomb that coincidentally proves the Brit is a scammer who just wants money out of this ordeal. There’s a whole thread of Lois convincing the guy’s wife he’s a loser who only cares about himself but really it’s an afterthought. There’s so much packed into the episode it falls by the wayside.
The more I write about it the more I like it, really. There’s a real “school’s out for summer” vibe to “Whine, Whine, Whine”; that they’re just marking time until the finale so might as well get weird with it. We’ll get to it in the Odds & Ends but there’s a staggering amount of cameos and stunt casting that cannot be anything but fun larks. There’s a recurring nature show hosted by Martin Mull that everyone watches and seems to have some relationship to what’s going on in the episode but is still too opaque for me. The character’s name is Marlin Pfinch-Lupus. How great is that? I really thought he’d be a plot point. like everyone was watching him because he was mind controlling them. Nope. Just another varnish to this weird ass hour of television.
Chris: While it was supremely weird, it was also a solidly constructed episode of television too. Like, Lois is mad with both the men in her life for having secrets, and while we know Clark’s secret, it’s in this episode that we learn that Agent Bongino is after Bill Church Jr. for some drug thing. Lois is trailing Dan and gets wind of the investigation but Bill gets wise to both of their snooping and decides to eighty six them both by smuggling a bomb into the courthouse where Superman is on trial. He knows they’ll both be there and it will look more like an anti-Superman attack than a targeted Intergang assasination. I don’t need a lot of thought behind my silly superhero television, but it’s nice when someone takes the trouble to put a little work in. Instead of everything feeling haphazard and rushed like in “Individual Responsibility”, there’s a smooth internal logic that carries the characters forward and provides a solid foundation for all the ridiculous shit to bounce off. That was a big part of my issue with the L&C contemporaries, the Schumacher’s Bat movies: it wasn’t that they were silly and irreverent, it’s that they were sloppy and careless. You can get away with a lot of bullshit if you take the trouble to nail down the essentials.
Guy Perry Masons Superman into admitting he starred in God’s Not Dead.
So yeah, the other big news of the episode is that Lois finally ditches the zero (Bondino) in order to get with the hero (Clark), I guess for good this time? I feel like we’ve walked up to this point a couple of times before this season, including last week’s episode which ended with them kissing and baby talking to each other. But this one feels more concrete, and not just because we’re one episode away from the season finale. Lois accepting Clarks flightiness (high five emoji) as something she’s prepared to live with is pretty much the last hurdle for their relationship to clear. I guess Clark also decides to try and be more open with Lois some? But, really, that doesn’t matter, this has always been a show about Clark chasing Lois and her fighting off her feelings for him. There was never any actual competition for his attention the way there was for hers, that’s just the nature of the relationship. I certainly hope this is finally it. I watched the first two seasons of L&C when it first aired, and I have a vague recollection of what happens next, but beyond that it’s a mystery. But like I said, this feels like a status change and that Lois and Clark will be a couple from now on. One more episode to go first though.
Ronnie: I admit I’ve been “cheating” by looking at Wikipedia so I have a general idea of what is going to happen, but it really is about the execution of the ideas and not the ideas themselves. For instance, the Wikipedia entry for this episode does not begin to unpack the strangeness within it. Like what does the title refer to? Is it about the British guy whose first instinct is to sue anyone who looks at him cross? Is it about Lois who expects a minimum of transparency and openness from the men in her life? Superman himself for telling his parents his dilemma about living a double life? Lois & Clark is multifaceted, you see, so every title has multiple interpretations that show just how deep the writers are when putting pen to paper/finger to keyboard/whatever.
Not from Tim & Eric, surprisingly.
Something else to ponder: this is Scardino’s last episode. Ever. Arguably Mayson Drake got a better sendoff by virtue of being blown up. I don’t really know what the resolution to the character even is. He got outed as impersonating as FDA agent in order to make a sting as a DEA agent… so? It’d be better had he actually been an FDA agent and for some reason Lois finds that job unmasculine and unworthy of her affections. “There’s no imposing FDA agent, except for Chu from Chew, and that won’t be out for another 15 years!” Look, I’m not saying Scardino was a “good character” or “someone I liked” or even “someone with a clear niche to fill in the supporting cast”. But he deserved slightly more than the kiss off that this represents. RIP Spaghetti Scardino. You were a bad love interest, rival and plot mover. May you rot in Italian Hell.
Odds & Ends
-For charity, Perry White dresses in drag as Madame Velofsky the fortune teller. This is the peril of having no female cast members; if this were Season 1 it could be Cat Grant in that getup, you know.
-What Lois sees in Clark: he’s “nice”, he’s “kind” and he’s “patient”
-This episode is rotten with stunt casting. In addition to Bruce Campbell reprising, the limey’s slimy lawyer is played by the doctor from Se7en and Martin Mull hosts a nature show everyone in the episode is drawn toward watching. Adam West hosts a trashy tabloid show; his character’s name is Jerry even. Frank Gorshin, TV’s The Riddler, plays a lawyer, as does Nixon speechwriter Ben Stein.
-Bruce Campbell plans on writing a book about his imprisonment and exoneration, titled Why This Is The Greatest Country on Earth.
Chris: So the second season finale of Lois and Clark “And the Answer Is…” is not as good as the previous week’s “Whine, Whine, Whine”. And while that’s disappointing because you always want a season to go out on a high note, it’s not exactly surprising because “Whine” was an especially entertaining episode of L&C and its screwball appeal would be difficult to sustain for even the best of television shows. And as we keep saying, Lois & Clark doesn’t come anywhere near qualifying as The Best of Television. That said, “And the Answer Is…” is a solid, better than average episode of L&C that manages to move the general plot forward in some ways while also stubbornly refusing to budge an inch on others. It’s an odd title though, as this episode ends on a cliffhanger question that audiences would have to wait at least three months to find out the answer to.
“And the Answer Is” picks up with Lois and Clark still in the perpetual cycle of her being enraged by his dashing off suddenly at inopportune moments and then getting over it just as quickly only to go through the whole thing again later. For his part, Clark actually seems set on finally revealing his secret to Lois, but keeps getting interrupted by the demands of Big City Reporter Life. To make matters worse, some fiend has deduced his secret and is threatening to expose him to the world if he doesn’t meet his nefarius demands. So Clark’s usual unreliable absentmindedness is further compounded by anxiety about how to negotiate this new more personal threat, a threat that becomes even more personal when the mysterious villain kidnaps the Kents and threatens to murder them if Clark doesn’t capitulate. This is the rare episode of Lois & Clark that manages to wring some legitimate tension out of its scenario. And, to his credit, Dean Cain does a good job conveying the sweaty panic of a man who feels the walls closing in.
“We’ll be the most transparent couple since Doris Day and Rock Hudson!”
What’s less satisfying is the refusal on the show’s part to let the protagonists have a settled moment between the two of them. The her being angry and him flailing and then feeling guilty plot has been going on for much too long and I fear they’re going to drag it out even longer. I’m not saying they need to instantly segway into the married couple portrayed today, but it would be nice for them to have some kind of stability for a while. I mean, in the comics they managed to have a functioning relationship and get engaged before he revealed himself to her. There’s a lot of ground to cover between strangers and husband and wife is what I’m saying. It’s funny, my memory of watching the show in real time back in the 90’s was that I only watched the first two seasons and to the point where Lois learns of his identity. Well, here we are at the end of the second season, and Lois is still in the dark. So either I watched it longer than I thought, or I just made up a solution to satisfy myself and moved the fuck on with my life.
Ronnie: Last season’s finale was Lex Luthor’s life of crime unraveling and him jumping off a building while Clark did jack shit. It goes without saying it’d be tough to top that so I’m glad “And The Answer Is…” doesn’t really try. What we’ve got is an episodic plotline mashed together with the romantic subplot reaching a plateau of sorts. That plateau is Clark asking Lois to marry him. Admittedly I’ve never gotten far enough in courtship to have firsthand experience, but doesn’t this seem a little sudden? They’ve gone on maybe 3 or 4 dates, that they’ve known each other for longer notwithstanding. I guess shit moved faster in the go go 90s. Anyway, otherwise a familiar superhero plot crops up and the plot is somebody knows Superman’s secret identity and wants to blackmail him with the knowledge. The guy is played by the gymnast who falls because of Kramer’s kidney stone screams. That classic character, yeah. Admittedly there’s a clever hook to the plot in that he gains the knowledge from Tempus’ diary. As always I appreciate a degree of continuity with this show because it suggests our week to week examination does have some value and it’s not just a bunch of bullshit thrown at the wall.
The thing I like about the Tempus’ diary hook is you’ll recall H.G. Wells wiped Lois and Clark’s minds of the adventure, so it’s as though it never happened. So Superman is being screwed over by an artifact of an episode he doesn’t remember being a participant in, and I found that funny. Also funny: how the blackmailer notes the diary predicts every major event of the last two centuries but he doesn’t pull a Back to the Future 2 and use it to his advantage like his father did. Sure, he’s got Superman at his beck and call, but why not both is what I’m asking. Asking Superman to steal 20 million in uncut diamonds at the behest of Tony Jay seems like small potatoes. (I do like that their partnership again relies on the procurement of kryptonite, signaling it’s a finite resource whose ownership matters.) I spent most of this episode thinking what an odd pull the diary was, because it’s not like the H.G. Wells episode alluded to it, and Mayzik the blackmailer comes into possession of it because it was among his dad’s stuff. Was his dad the descendant of an asylum doctor or something? It’s odd.
Fortunately (?), the show’s ratings trended upwards, with 15-20 million seeing each episode and Lois & Clark ultimately reaching 58th place for the season. For context, this situated the show between Due South and Sister, Sister, both of which were also renewed. More people watched Lois & Clark than Season 6 of The Simpsons. Think about it.
Things quickly go awry as Ma and Pa Kent, always welcome, are involved in a kidnapping and I have to say I don’t appreciate it when the Kents are in on the A-plot action. It seems incongruous to their usual role of sounding board to their son. Asking them what to do about someone finding out Superman’s identity is good stuff whereas them being in distress is just cheap emotional manipulation. Fortunately they’ve only been put in danger sparingly on the show, but already it’s beginning to stretch my limit. Lois’ material this week doesn’t work for me much either; I’m tired of the misunderstanding followed by emotional freakout. Who is she, Sklyar White? But seriously folks. The blackmail plot reaches a crescendo when Mayzik goes “body for a body” with Lois and the Kents. Over the course of it Lois realizes Superman’s secret identity because he and Clark touch her face the same way. It’s like how they teased MJ could deduce Spider-Man’s identity via lips at the end of Spider-Man.
Chris: The timeline of Lois and Clark’s actual relationship is tricky because on the one hand they’ve been on like, three dates tops, and most of them have been interrupted. On the other hand, they’ve spent virtually every day together for the last two years or so and clearly have a deep well of understanding and affection for one another. From a strictly modern perspective (and L&C is supposed to be modern, they almost saw Pearl Jam) to propose to someone without, you know, having an explicitly romantic and sexual relationship is weird. From a more classic conservative perspective (this is a TV show about Superman, the squarest man of all time) it tracks pretty well with courting. It’s just another example of how Lois & Clark is trying to ride a razor thin line between silly and emotional and between hip and tradition. It’s a week to week question if an episode manages to pull it off.
“Sometimes Jimmy, sometimes I think last year you were older, taller and vastly more Italian. How weird, huh?”
What made this episode (mostly) work for me though was how the show and Cain have worked to demonstrate Clark’s escalating discomfort with deceiving Lois. L&C wisely chose to ignore the “Lois tries to prove and Clark and Superman are the same person and he gaslights/laughs at her” trope that simultaneously made Lois look like an idiot and Clark look like an asshole. Instead, they’ve focused the tension on when Clark chooses to reveal himself to Lois while understanding that the longer they’re together and the more he trusts her, the more he’s deceiving her and the more he’s abusing her trust in him. It’s a paradox that tortures Clark and that Cain handles really well. He’s less successful when Superman has to freeze Lois in order to simulate her death and bring her back to life in a scene that’s so reminiscent of The Abyss that the producers better put another check to Cameron in the mail, just to be sure. The scene requires Cain to do Ed Harris level acting, and that’s… that’s just not going to happen. It’s weird, the Tempus episode is a mash-up of Back to the Future and this one, which involves Tempus, is basically BttF2 + The Abyss. Are there not many movies everyone can agree to all watch together on the TV/VCR combo in the writers’ room?
And so here we are, at the end of the second season, and as a result halfway done the entire show. My hope was that the new showrunners, writers and now seasoned cast would bring a little more stability and consistency to L&C, and I think they kind of did? But it came at the cost of some of the show’s strength and idiosyncrasies. I’ve probably enjoyed more episodes from season two than season one, and there were less clearly bad episodes (I’m looking at you love potion!) and pointless characters (RIP Cat), but the show was also blander and straighter. I think we both agree that “The Phoenix” is far and away the best episode they’ve done so far, and that’s because it brought John Shea’s Lex Luthor. Shea was so good and so fun that he made even the dumbest episodes worth checking out. Like, remember when he stared down that venomous cobra in his living room? Or when he was skeet shooting off the terrace of his high rise? Season Two had a bunch of stand-out guest stars and episodes. I particularly liked seeing Peter Boyle answer the age-old question of What If Your Grandpa Was the Head Of An International Crime Syndicate, Sherman Hemlsey Attempts To Ruin Christmas With Evil Plush Rats, and Dickhead Takes Superman to Court. But it lacked the unifying quality of Shea’s Luthor. As dumb as his plots often were, he always seemed to be having a good time.
A more fitting end for Tony Jay would be DYING OF OLD AGE. He looks like he’s 80!
To that point, I kind of miss a lot of the other weird choices from the first season. Remember how the cold opens were often random escapades that didn’t have anything to do with anything? Remember when Clark would inexplicably run into 90’s sports figures like Bo Jackson or Phil Mickleson and use his god-like abilities to make them feel small and insignificant? Remember the smart kids with the pet pig? Lois & Clark was so wild and unmoored in that first season that it felt like anything could happen at any moment. It was usually pretty lame, but there were moments of genuine strangeness that I really enjoyed. And they still haven’t figured out how to make Jimmy 2.0 work, he’s just a downgrade however you look at him. Hell, I’d rather they just promoted the street rat/wisenheimer Jack to Jimmy and the new Jack could have been, I dunno, like a furby with an earring or something. And don’t get me started on how Cat was replaced with literally nothing.
So I guess what we’re left with is a better run, slightly less interesting show that’s about the same level of entertaining. This is just what it is, right? A kind of limping B- that holds your interest just long enough to annoy you that it’s not better. I honestly wish I didn’t kinda like it, because then I could stop watching, but I do like it, so I’m gonna keep watching. So let’s see what’s next.
Ronnie: B-/C+ is about where I’m at. B- when compared to other superhero shows and C+ when compared to, like, good shows. The thing with the show is that I don’t know if it’s capable of getting better. Like, it’d have to completely retool everything to markedly improve, and improvements would have to come with a higher budget as well, or at least a crew that is better at hiding the flaws in the SFX. As we’ve discussed before, Lois & Clark is part adventure show and part romantic comedy, with the former focused upon in this season. Yet I think they did a better job with the romantic comedy aspects, in large part due to Cain and Hatcher having undeniable chemistry. The escalation of Lois losing her shit over being constantly ditched via flimsy excuse after flimsy excuse was believable and not drawn out too long.
Yet I don’t think the focus on action was to the show’s enrichment or even especially noticeable at times. There was an uptick in comic book villains and comic book plots, yes, but they were still filtered through the cheap “realistic” aesthetic of the show. Think of the first few seasons of Smallville and how Mr. Mxyzptlk would be reimagined as a college exchange student who was using his powers to rig football games. At best Lois & Clark was willing to go wacky, which is still short of the batshit lunacy and heightened realism of a Silver Age story. A lot of the episodes feel as though John Byrne’s Superman run was on a budget. I also think that Intergang is a poor substitute for Lex Luthor. They drive storylines well enough, but there’s a noticeable John Shea-sized hole in the proceedings. Compare him to Agent Spaghetti and you’ll see what I mean.
There’s still enough absurd whimsy and weirdness to make this worth seeing, if only as a curio for Superman fans looking for an interpretation that foregrounds the then-recent John Byrne revamp of the character. Pound for pound this is certainly less obnoxious than Smallville, its closest relative. So for that reason I am tentatively looking forward to Season 3. Before we tackle that, though, we’re going to take a sojourn that is a look at the late 80s show Superboy. Now there’s a show not lacking in absurd whimsy. Here’s a taste:
The only context I’ll provide is this screenshot shows Clark Kent, Lex Luthor and a male companion.
Odds & Ends
-Superman tries to use his vision to identify a guy by fingerprint. He also uses super smelling, so get ready to watch Dean Cain overtly sniff his way to a clue. It’s close enough to him doing the nose wiggle from Bewitched.
-I like how Clark has to take off his glasses to use his super vision. The lenses aren’t made of lead, buddy.
-”It’s like we’re supporting characters in a TV show that’s only about them.” “It’s like all we do is advance their plots.” Perry and Jimmy become dangerously self-aware.
-Tony Jay dying from “feeling the effects of poisoning after being told you’ve been poisoned” is pretty daft, agreed? Agreed.