Thursday, July 10, 2008

Supermonth: Lois and Clark Liveblogging

I've been meaning to start this for a few days now, but I wasn't quite sure where to start. My plan is, every couple of days, to "liveblog" the premiere of one of the various Superman series, some of the films, and possibly some key episodes along the way. So, to kick things off, I'm going to blog and review one of the very few of these premieres that I actually watched when it first aired: the first episode of "Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman." Follow along at home!
  • 0:00 - I like the way the title sequence proceeds, running the credits in front of the S-shield. It gives the premiere more of a cinematic feeling, and it doesn't present any spoilers the way that running a normal "scene montage" theme song opening might.
  • 1:20 - We begin with very little indication of when this is taking place. It's obviously in Metropolis, but the 1950s taxi makes one wonder where everything is going. Are they going to recap Clark's rocket landing? If so, why is Metropolis involved?
    I'm not actually asking, but I imagine that might have been the purpose for the first-time viewer.
  • 1:40 - The bearded guy who got out of the cab is entering the Daily Planet offices, treating us to a wide-angle shot of the newsroom. My initial reaction was that this would result in some kind of bomb/shooting threat early on, which conflicted with my fuzzy memories of watching this show years and years ago.
  • 2:00 - But it quickly becomes clear that the bearded guy is Lois in disguise. Jimmy recognizes her (from behind, wearing a ski cap) and helps her take off the fake beard and moustache, which calls into question why, if his observational skills are so keen, he can't figure out who Superman is. Lois, of course, had been undercover for a story about a car theft ring.
  • 2:55 - Perry enters, with his southern-fried accent. I remember that bothering me a little as a kid (especially as he got Flanderized into an overpowering Elvis obsession over the seasons). He demonstrates a sense of humor, Lois demonstrates competence and independence, and the Planet staff demonstrates a sort of camaraderie that we don't see much in adaptations (or even in the comics).
  • 3:27 - Jimmy is clever and ambitious, Perry wants him to write obituaries. I remember this being a big change in how Jimmy is portrayed in popular media; most of the time he's a kid, a cub reporter. Here, he's still young, but obviously older than we usually see him, and significantly more confident and competent. Still, brash and ambitious enough to get into plenty of trouble.
  • 4: 30 - We get our first look at Dean Cain's Clark Kent, literally fresh off the bus, carrying a beat-up old suitcase with his initials in chipping, tarnished gold on the side.
  • 4:44 - This is one of the two scenes I remember from the premiere the first time it aired--Clark stopping the bus with his bare hand, saving a string of clich├ęd pedestrians that included a mom with a stroller and two nuns (good thing he wasn't trying to get rid of a bomb). Naturally, in the hustle and bustle of Metropolis life, only one woman notices Clark's amazing feat. I've always liked the image of his handprint pressed into the bus's bumper.
  • 5:45 - A homeless-looking guy with a package wrapped in brown paper rushes to Lois's desk talking about things going to explode. You know, if you're trying to alert reporters about urgent news, this is not the way to do it.
  • 7:08 - Cat Grant sounds a bit like a drag queen. I'm not sure why they decided to go "sleazy prostitute" with her character for this show, but I seem to recall that Morrison did the same over in All-Star Superman.
  • 9:49 - Clark's interview is interrupted by Jimmy, then Lois. Perry makes an effort to introduce Clark to the latter, but she's clearly more interested in talking about her lead. It's a suitably awkward way to bring the characters together, and to set Clark up as a bit of a doormat.
  • 10:37 - Clark being rejected at his interview is an often-repeated theme in retellings of the Superman origin, but not one that generally gets much notice.
  • 10:55 - Ma and Pa are introduced. I remember always liking Callan and Jones as the Kents, and I'm glad this incarnation decided to keep them alive. In fact, I think this is the first TV series to do so, following the post-CoIE status quo.
  • 12:15 - The first flying sequence. Clark lazily (and rigidly) rises up off his bed to fix a flickering lightbulb. The effect comes across as more than a bit stiff.
  • 12:53 - And now he's pacing on the walls. It's a good image, although the effect is a bit obvious, thanks to Cain's movements.
  • 13:42 - Lois enters her apartment with a large brown bag of groceries (I'm on alert for oranges!) and calls out for Lucy. I didn't remember that Lucy was living with Lois in this series. How long did this last?
  • 14:34 - Some really heavy-handed exposition there, with Lucy explaining to Lois about her relationship problems. "You've gotta stop scaring them off, Lois. You've gotta stop being so smart all the time, so intense!"
  • 14:51 - "Lois, I just want you to meet a super guy." Oh, bad.
  • 15:52 - And Lois is crying in bed, watching a tape of a soap opera. Because what every strong, independent woman wants is a cookie-cutter romance. Maybe it's not quite that bad, but they've spent the whole episode showing how strong and capable Lois is, and now she starts bawling at hammy actors saying stuff like this: "Tonight, my body is yours. But my heart, my heart beats only for one man." Either it's undermining, or it's trying to demonstrate that the strength is a front to hide the troubled, lonely person inside. Either way, it's a bit of a crock.
  • 17:15 - We get to see some covert demonstrations of X-Ray and Heat vision. The former looks pretty good (though it'll be hard to top the MRI-vision of "Superman Returns"), the latter not so much.
  • 18:18 - Clark's a theatre fan. If I thought this would come up later in the episode, it'd be Chekhov's Chekhov.
  • 19:07 - Wow, that's an old-school laptop. Clark sets it smoking with some super-speed typing. And naturally, he gets the job after turning the story in.
  • 20:18 - Some pretty bad effects on a space shuttle fire. I mean, maybe I'm being a bit harsh on the '90s, but it's very '90s.
  • 21:13 - Good ol' fast-talking Lois. That seems to be a recurring trope in media adaptations of the character.
  • 23:18 - "Space Station Prometheus"...it's probably just a coincidence, or a similar thematic allusion, but I like how often Prometheus turns up in Superman stories.
  • 26:30 - And now Drag Queen Cat is dressed like Elektra. Or possibly someone in a roller derby.
  • 28:30 - Lois asks Clark out, Clark plays coy. I like how well-dressed Clark is in this; again, it's taking a cue from the comics at the time, where Clark's awkward nerdiness was downplayed.
  • 30:15 - We get a decent flying sequence that's ruined a bit by too much flourish, and then an obvious green-screen that's ruined by a bad super-speed effect.
  • 33:15 - Wow, mentioning that they don't know if Clark can "have a family" this early on? That's really cutting to the chase. I remember that being a major plot point in the last season or so, but I didn't realize they'd bring it up yet.
  • 33:56 - Jimmy lists some of Lex's biographies--"Rags to Riches," "The Self-Made Billionaire"--so it looks like they're going with the Suicide Slum foster kid origin for Lex, another post-Crisis innovation (as far as I know) and one that I wish survived a bit more than the "Smallville" version that's been creeping in since "Birthright."
  • 34:09 - John Shea's Lex Luthor. Not one of my favorite versions of the character; I can't recall him ever really seeming threatening.
  • 34:34 - Lois says "Lex Luthor" and there's a crash of lightning and thunder. I guess it does sound a bit like "Frau Blucher."
  • 35:00 - Seeing Lois gets a rise out of Clark. Literally. A nice, clever little character bit.
  • 35:39 - I've never really liked the "Lex loves Lois" trope. It was a major plot point in "Ending Battle," and I thought it felt shoehorned-in then, too.
  • 37:08 - Clark takes a bit of a trip around Lex's weapons room. The scene reminds me of a similar one in the 1989 Batman flick. I like that Lex compares himself to Alexander the Great. Nice showcase of his ego and megalomania.
  • 30:49 - I don't know, I guess I just like Lex better when he's slick and malevolent, not so much when he's just smarmy.
  • 39:48 - Surprisingly good hologram effect.
  • 41:25 - Someone in a turban sends a cobra in to kill Lex, but Indiana Luthor stares it down. It slithers away, and apparently the snake charmer works for Luthor, and this has been planned? It doesn't make an awful lot of sense, unless Lex is trying to prove to his servants what a badass he is. Or gets a thrill out of near-death situations. Not sure exactly what kind of character development they're going for with that bit.
  • 43:55 - I think Cat Grant took her hairstyle from Ron Perlman, circa "Beauty and the Beast."
  • 45:29 - Maybe John Shea just reminds me too much of Don Adams. It's something in the voice and inflection.
  • 48:00 - Would an actual meal from China include Fortune Cookies? Lois is right, though--it wasn't a fortune, and I don't like "aphorism cookies" either.
  • 50:55 - I like Clark's feelings of helplessness at being unable to prevent their informant's death. It's a nice setup to eventually putting on the costume. I'm glad they're going for a slow build-up to the superheroics, doing the "covert guardian angel" thing. It seems that decompression wasn't invented in 2000.
  • 51:21 - Beefcake!
  • 54:51 - "The Congress of Nations." The '60s Batman movie had the "United World," and Doctor Who's UNIT had to recently change their name from "United Nations Intelligence Taskforce" to "UNified Intelligence Taskforce." Why can't TV shows use the United Nations?
  • 59:59 - Oh great, Clark's a stalker in this too. Then again, when Lex Luthor is taking Lois home, it's probably best to be worried. Still, floating outside her window to eavesdrop? A little creepy, Clark.
  • 1:02:02 - There's a neat thematic thing going on here. Perry's expressing some skepticism ("Let me get this straight") about Lois and Clark's story that the Prometheus station is being sabotaged and that the rocket will explode, based on their interview with Samuel Platt (the informant who died earlier), "a man who was banned from the scientific community." Ignoring, of course, that the scientific community isn't in the habit of banning people, there's a nice parallel between this and Jor-El's predictions about Krypton. An unbelievable story about an impending explosion, a respected scientist scoffed and kicked out of the scientific community, and such. It's not blatant enough that I can say it's definitely intentional, but it's neat to think about.
    It's also nice to see Perry playing it safe; any real editor would be worried about libel in that kind of situation, and asking for "hard facts" is totally warranted.
  • 1:04:33 - I somehow can't see Lex Luthor wearing a rugby shirt. Particularly the sort of red-and-blue number that would have been in Clark's closet on "Smallville."
    Look at me, talking about "Smallville" in the past tense. Wishful thinking, I guess.
  • 1:06:05 - Lois just beat up a reject goon from a a Chuck Norris flick.
  • 1:08:20 - Perry follows Clark into the Storage Closet, interrupting his jump out of the window. An awkward conversation follows, in which this exchange occurs:
    Perry: Um. Well, I guess I'd better be getting back.
    Clark: Yes sir.
    Perry: When are you coming...out of the closet?
    Clark: Soon, sir. Very soon.
    Well, I guarantee there's a joke I didn't get in 1993.
  • 1:09:10 - Strangely, Clark's more intimidating with his underwear on the outside of his pants.
  • 1:16:17- And we come to the other scene I remember from this episode's first airing, the costume tryout montage, set to Bonnie Tyler's immortal classic, "Holding Out for a Hero." Strangely enough, I'm pretty sure I've had a soft spot for this song since before this episode aired.
  • 1:16:20 - I actually like some of these costumes. It would have been neat, though, if some of them had been copies or sly shout-out versions of other established heroes. Sure, it would have been campy, but trying on a red and yellow-lightning-bolt costume and saying it's "too flashy" or a red-and-gold one with a short white cape that's "too cheesy" would have made for a fun scene. There's one that looks a bit like a Captain America costume, but I'm not sure it's intentional.
  • 1:17:43 - Oh my god, that Superman costume has nipples! No, wait, it's just tight. They used the "S shield came from Krypton in the rocket" bit, which has grown on me in the last several years. They never really attach it to the costume though. It just kind of shows up there. Maybe it's iron-on.
  • 1:20:11 - And Lois is stowing away on the space shuttle. It's actually really neat how many elements this story takes from the '80s and '90s Superman comics. It's clear that they made that a specific effort.
  • 1:21:00 - At least Clark used a door on his way out.
  • 1:22:24 - I like Superman's little hop through the door of the space shuttle. It's reminiscent of how George Reeves would jump into the scene to make it look like he was landing. It's nice and dynamic, if ever so slightly goofy.
  • 1:23:30 - "I'm...a friend." I love that this line has become so emblematic of Superman's introduction. Was "Superman: The Movie" its first use?
  • 1:25:05 - Superman's cape is sure doing a lot of flapping about in space.
  • 1:25:34 - Perry: "I still don't believe it--a man who flies." Nice callback to the movie tagline.
  • 1:25:51 - The first "Great Shades of Elvis" utterance. Superman carrying Lois in through the window is a decent effect, but his "I'll be around" line falls way flat.
  • 1:27:23 - Superman gets a name, and makes his first confrontation with Lex Luthor. The gray mock turtleneck is the first thing Lex has worn in this episode that really looks like something he'd wear. With the possible exception of the tuxedo--but even that seemed a bit off.
  • 1:29:12 - "By the way, if you need to find me, all you have to do is look up," quips Superman, in a nice callback to Lex's earlier comments about taking the high ground and liking that everyone in the city had to look up to him.
And that's the end of it. I'll admit, Dean Cain wasn't quite as good in this as I remembered him being, but it's also the first episode. His Clark is actually pretty good, but his Superman frequently came off flat, and there's not much effort to make the two characters distinct. One of the great things about Christopher Reeve, Brandon Routh, even Bud Collyer, is the effort they put physically and vocally into making Clark and Superman distinct. It takes that extra step to sell the secret identity, and this doesn't have that. Consequently, the "how can no one notice it's the same guy" complaint is particularly salient here.

The show has a distinct '90s feel, which is unsurprising, but it also feels a lot like the comics of the era. I like that, largely because I like the '90s Superman comics, but your mileage may vary.

They made some interesting casting and character decisions. Making Jimmy older and more wise-ass than naive kid was a good choice; making Cat Grant into a cougar, not so much. Perry works well here, and Ma and Pa Kent are great. Lex Luthor's a bit of a misstep; he's too much the playboy, not enough the mastermind or the ruthless businessman. Even when he's just killed his hapless lover, he doesn't feel menacing or even frighteningly aloof. He's just...bland.

And then there's Teri Hatcher, who's one of the best Lois Lanes we've ever had. A damn sight better than Margot Kidder, this Lois really set the stage for Dana Delany in the animated series, and even Erica Durance in "Smallville." Kate Bosworth would do well to steal a bit of this Lois's fiery personality for the next Superman flick, and that's coming from someone who didn't mind her performance in "Superman Returns."

The plot felt like it was "Man of Steel" #1 as written by Brian Michael Bendis. It didn't have the same sense of humor, per se, but it was structured in a similar fashion to the first few issues of "Ultimate Spider-Man," particularly with the extended Clark/Lois plotline. The show made a good choice to start in Metropolis rather than Smallville (or on Krypton), and that sets it apart from most adaptations. It also sets the mood for the show, which is trying to be more of a "Moonlighting"-style urban romance/comedy/drama than the typical superhero show.

Overall, it holds up a lot better than I expected. The effects are nothing to write home about, even in the '90s, but everything else is pretty spot-on. I think I may have to continue watching this even after Supermonth is over. I fully expected that my fond memories of the show were the result of rose-colored nostalgia glasses and an easily-impressed childhood, but the show actually works pretty well.

I may, however, stop watching before we get to the frog-eating clone Lois years. No amount of nostalgia can make me think that was good.

3 comments:

LurkerWithout said...

"clone Lois eating frogs"

I don't remember that at all. Weird. Me I'd stop before having to see Howie Mendell as a 5th Dimensional Imp whose name I'm not going to try and spell...

Will Staples said...

Personally I never had much of an attachment to Lois and Clark due to being too young at the time to get into it, but I still think Dean Cain looked the part better than any actor before or after.

Reagan said...

"1:08:20"

I never got that one either!! Crazy insane!

Just wanted to say that I love this blog - which isn't at all stalkerish. I've been reading it for a couple weeks now and I find it very refreshing.