SMALLVILLE: Ed Gross' Pre-"Finale" Thoughts on the Show
As I begin to write these words, it’s literally five hours before Clark Kent should be donning the Superman costume for the first and only time, and taking flight to the John Williams theme as Smallville fades to black forever, closing this particular decade-long chapter in the history of the Man of Steel.
I feel the excitement of anticipation and a touch of sadness over the fact that after 10 years it’s all coming to an end. Simultaneously, I’m actually okay with it – a fact that should NOT be perceived as my looking negatively upon the show. Instead, it just feels like the natural order of things; a reality that I and generations of Superman fans have been confronted with, dealt with and moved beyond time after time over the years.
I remember 10 years ago, in the summer of 2001 and the months before everything changed for America, when I first heard about Smallville. At the time I’d known director David Nutter for a number of years and heard that he was directing the pilot for this new WB series. After interviewing him about it, I asked if he could put me in touch with the show’s creators and almost immediately I was communicating with Al Gough, which in turn led to one of the very first interviews he ever gave on the show.
There are a number of things about that conversation that still resonate with me. One was Al’s description of the show as “the trials of Clark Kent,” the second was the now clichéd beyond words “no tights, no flights” phrase, and my near-outrage over the notion that the show would be a Superman series WITHOUT Superman. Seriously, I tried to reason with Al (as though I had even a modicum of influence), just how much mileage did he really think he was going to get out of a show like that?
Ten years later, I guess I’ve gotten the answer to that particular question.
Right from the outset and the meteor shower that brought baby Kal-El to present-day Smallville, and the connections made between Clark and Lana Lang and, especially, the relationship between he and future enemy Lex Luthor, it was obvious that Smallville was going to be presenting its own take on the Superman mythos. And that was okay, because many of the changes that were made absolutely worked, managing to go a long way in deepening characters that had been around for, at that point, about 60 years. Teen angst was successfully mixed with powerful mythological moments and it was a formula that generally worked.
Which is not to say that the show was perfect. Far from it. Smallville had an incredibly annoying habit of introducing major character revelations or events… and oftentimes refusing to follow up on them. The Clark/Lana relationship probably got tired a season or two before it finally ended, the writers and production teams were WAY too happy to have characters thrown across rooms only to smash into and obliterate a hapless piece of furniture that happened to get in their way (it happened so often, you could turn it into a drinking game), and there was way too much filler in seasons that should have been laser-focused on a particular theme or plot element – this year being a perfect example of that.
At the same time, Smallville accomplished SO much to keep the Superman mythos alive and oftentimes reinvigorated. It made the character relevant and not only to American television viewers, but international ones as well. It served as the gatekeeper to the character and, in fact, next to the radio drama that had vocally cast Bud Collyer in the dual roles of Clark Kent and Superman, it is the longest incarnation of Superman in the character’s history. And the fact that there IS so much anticipation stands as proof of how significant the show was, and the place it holds in people’s hearts.
At the outset I noted that I was at peace with the show ending. Throughout my life, it’s been pretty common place for one chapter of the Man of Steel’s adventures to close while paving the way for a new one to begin. I grew up in the 1960s with reruns of the George Reeves ‘50s TV show The Adventures of Superman, which impacted me so much that every Halloween of my childhood I dressed up as Supes (usually in a costume that was emblazoned along the lower torso with the words, “This costume will not let you fly”). In the late ‘60s CBS began airing cartoons featuring the character, which eventually was combined with his aquatic buddy in The Superman/Aquaman Hour of Adventure. While I pretty much skipped over 1973’s Superfriends (even my love for Superman couldn’t get me to stomach more than a couple of episodes), my world was rocked by Christopher Reeve’s portrayal of the character in 1978’s Superman: The Movie. That chapter of the character’s history ended with 1987’s Superman IV, but began anew with the syndicated TV series The Adventures of Superboy, which ultimately led to Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, Superman: The Animated Series and eventually Superman Returns, with Smallville falling in between the latter two.
And now, with the chapter of Superman known as Smallville ending, and actor Henry Cavill getting ready to suit up for Zack Snyder’s Superman: Man of Steel, a new chapter is about to begin. For a character whose critics have claimed is boring, an unidentifiable true-blue boy scout and irrelevant, he’s hardly ever been more than a short flight away in all of these decades, and someone that generation after generation has continued to embrace.
I wish I could express how much this character, created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster over two decades before I was born, has meant to me throughout my life. And the satisfaction I’ve felt over the past 10 years knowing that for 22 hours a season I would be brought back into that character’s world; enveloped by the security of his red cape, whether it was visible or not.
Smallville, I thank you for helping to keep the dream -- and the child within me -- alive.
May 13, 2011
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