Smallville Series Review

Smallville Series Review

Smallville Series Review

Taking a look back at Smallville in full - was the sum of all its parts worth the foibles along the way?



[A retrospective review examining the final result of all 10 seasons of Smallville]


The standard formula for serialized television shows is quite simple: introduce the characters, mix them with the plot, hope the audience connects to both, then take the viewers on a ride where you explore these two facets until it runs itself dry. Rarely does a show conceptualize itself around mostly all of that having already taken place. When the idea of Smallville was put forward, it seemed ridiculous and counterproductive. How do you create a show and build it around characters we know inside and out just to lead us to a point everyone knows is coming? Somehow, Smallville was able to pull that off.

The show is not without its detractors (many of whom will be seen in the comments section below), as there have been hiccups along the way – some small, others not so much – yet it was able to sustain itself. Considering just how many negatives the series has had going against it, it still managed to stick around for an impressive ten years and end on its own free will. This is even more noteworthy when you think about the typical reigns of most sci-fi shows. Even those that have a heavily devoted fan base such as Firefly don't seem to last more than one or two seasons. Smallville, despite all the criticism myself and others have given it over the years, marched forward and finished the job.

Seeing as how it has just ended, I wanted to break down what I considered to be the needles in the haystack of the Kent farm and what other aspects were nothing but a blemish on the Superman saga. You are forewarned: there will be some diatribes…naturally.

CHARACTERS


There are basically two distinctions I can make when it comes to characters on Smallville: if they're a long-term role, they frequently hit it, and if they're a temporary character, it's frequently a miss.



CLARK KENT


He may have whined a bit too much (ok, he did) but when I think of Clark Kent/Kal-El, I think of someone who is noble, naive, likable but kind of boring, and a bit annoying when it comes to the boy scout mentality. Clark isn't Logan or Bruce Wayne where he gets away with playing "the bad ass". Clark isn't Spider-Man or Deadpool, cracking jokes and being silly. Clark is a guy who has a ton of responsibility on his shoulders and is consistently selling himself short because if he had a bigger ego, all Hell would break loose and he'd probably become his worst enemy. This Clark Kent was exhibited on the show very well by Tom Welling. He's a bit of a wooden actor, but that was ok, seeing as how Clark himself isn't exactly the type of character that is full of energy and going through dramatic mood swings all the time. He's so lacking in charisma that it's almost charismatic itself. In the middle of the series, there's a lot of stalling in growth, but I think the first and last seasons have been very good when it comes to showing him become THE man. This finale put him exactly where he needed to be.



LOIS LANE


Depending on your point of view, Lois either showed up a bit late or a bit early in the series. I tend to side with the group that says a bit early, seeing as how at first, there wasn't exactly a whole lot for her to do other than play second-fiddle to Lana. When push came to shove, however, I think they hit the nail on the head with the characterization. Erica Durance and the creative team behind the show put together what I think is the best portrayal of the Lois Lane character outside of possibly the one from Bruce Timm's Superman: The Animated Series. She's stern, bitchy, a bad speller, and she balances Clark out very well (and vice versa). By this finale, it doesn't feel to me like the pairing of Lois and Clark is shoehorned. It works. Many real-life couples are like this. Over the course of the show, Clark goes from a wide-eyed dreamer with his head in the clouds (unfortunately not literally since the show had so many budget concerns with flying) and settles down a bit into realism. He has to mature and get past his idealism's of Lana to be able to handle a relationship with someone like Lois, and Lois has to mature enough beyond her fantasies to be able to handle a relationship with someone like Clark. I really have nothing bad to say about Smallville's version of Lois Lane.



CHLOE SULLIVAN


If this were real life, I probably would be completely in love with Chloe Sullivan. The character is smart, capable, nice, and very devoted, plus Allison Mack herself is cute so that's not bad either, am I right? In terms of the show, I'm not as fond of her. Most of the time, Chloe seems to be a blank puzzle piece that the writers plug in wherever they have a hole and then change her according to that requirement. Season to season her role changes and they all felt too jarring to be a logical progression. She's the bright little optimist until they decide to make her the depressed pragmatist. She's the curious but somewhat aloof Lois Lane spin off until she's changed to the super-intelligent Brainiac subordinate. She has powers, she doesn't have powers, she hates people with powers, she runs a society helping people with powers. For many seasons, I wished the character would be killed off, and I'm not exactly the biggest fan of what they chose to do with her in the finale, but I suppose for people that are just familiar with the show and nothing more, it serves them fine.



LANA LANG


For what it's worth, I think fans blame Kristin Kreuk for the poor management of her character more than the writers, producers, and the network, which isn't quite fair. An actor can only give suggestions and do the best they can with what they're given. They cannot decide whether or not to shove their own character down the throat of the audience. That's the responsibility of those others listed above – a responsibility that was abused. Lana from the comics was never interesting to me so most of the changes they made, I accepted. One of my absolute biggest criticisms of the show was that it would frequently focus more on Lana than anyone or anything else. It didn't matter if it was a run of the mill bad episode where she and Clark argue over nothing and the story doesn't progress in the slightest bit or if it was one of the stupid gimmick episodes that they desperately added to try to convince you that Lana gaining powers will somehow make her more tolerable, the character just became tiresome. When it became Smallville: The Story of Lana Lang featuring Clark Kent, I couldn't take her anymore. Once her character left, it was like a breath of fresh air, which is a shame considering how at first, I actually liked the Lana character.



LEX LUTHOR


Say hello to the only live-action portrayal of Lex Luthor that can be taken seriously and actually considered a viable threat to Superman. From the first minute the character is introduced to the audience, he's Lex, and the show never really wavers on that. Virtually everyone, even those incredibly opposed to the show, seems to agree that Michael Rosenbaum's Lex Luthor is one of the high points of the series.



TESS MERCER


At first, it was painfully obvious that she was nothing more than "the female Lex", and if she had continued down that ersatz replacement path, it no doubt would have steadily annoyed me time and time again. When they eventually injected some substance into Tess, I found myself rather enjoying her place in the series – and not just because I could get lost in Cassidy Freeman's sinfully beautiful eyes for days. She has the best qualities of Tessmacher and Mercy Graves without becoming redundant.



OLIVER QUEEN


Though I wish Oliver Queen was a bit more like Oliver Queen from the comics, within the context of the show, Ollie became one of my favorite characters. I still maintain to this day that it would have been much better if they were able to use Bruce Wayne in this role instead, seeing as how much of Oliver on Smallville is just Bruce with less intelligence and more cockiness, but those legal problems destroyed that potential. Nonetheless, I still support what they did with the character, especially when you view the series through the context of a "what if" canon, similar to a one-shot Elseworlds issue (that just happened to go on for many, many issues).



JONATHAN AND MARTHA KENT


These two filled the roles well when it comes to the parents that set Clark up to become who he'll eventually become. I do have my gripes, though, particularly with the direction they took Martha Kent in the later seasons. As an excuse to thrust another "strong female character" into the mix, they left the realm of plausibility and tried so very hard to make us think of her not just as a housewife but as some sort of all-knowing figure. Martha, to me, is a source of motherly love and the inspiration of the compassion that Superman has – not someone that can just pick up the job of a Senator as if she's doing a mundane task. Martha in the Smallville series went from being a shoulder to cry on and an anchor to them insulting our intelligence by making her the old woman that can orchestrate complex sabotage missions and infiltrate highly trained infrastructures with extremely dangerous people. Jonathan had the luxury of being killed off before they could go down the road of having him topple fifth-column organizations and win fist fights against extra-dimensional warlords. Since he was able to stay a good hearted, dirt under the fingernails man, he got the better of the two in terms of not becoming a joke, but the first few seasons of Martha were spot on. Clark's the byproduct of a normal upbringing by his sometimes excruciatingly bland parents, not the end result of a super-spy mother, so outside of those situations, I think they passed the test.

OTHERS


John Glover's Lionel Luthor was, like Lex, one of my favorite parts of the series as his character was instrumental in showing not only HOW Lex could turn into an evil villain but WHY, yet he was just different enough to separate the two characters and not simply be "Lex Luthor 1.0". Lionel Luthor provided some much needed glue to hold the series together. The Smallville version of Pete Ross is something that I both support and dislike at the same time. I think the change in ethnicity really helped the character and Pete served his purpose, but the character quickly grew stale and I'm thankful they wrote him out of the series when they did. Their handling of many members of the Justice League is about 50/50 as well, with many little details to praise (I loved the idea of the fake I.D.s for Impulse) but some big problems to berate (the fact that Aquaman, Black Canary, and Cyborg were essentially worthless). They had many very fun and interesting takes on certain characters like Toyman...but they also had the horrible Davis Bloom and Henry James Olsen fiasco's.

PLOT


Clark Kent learns of his origins and goes through the trials and tribulations in order to become the Superman from the comics we're all aware of. Mission accomplished. The problem when it comes to story lines was that they frequently stalled. If you count all the scenes that are devoted to side stories that go nowhere (or end up pointless in the long run) and remove all that from the show, you can probably eliminate two entire seasons worth of screen time. Many of these episodes were the ones targeting the fans of Gossip Girl and other CW-style shows, devoting 40 minutes to the idea that one of our characters is flirting with whatever model was cast as a supporting character this week. Much of the criticism of the show spawned out of a combination of these episodes and budgetary concerns. The lack of money to fund action sequences meant every season would build up to a big fight which would end up less grandiose than it should have been. Case in point – Doomsday, one of the most physically powerful enemies – and how he was written out of the show with about three minutes of a few punches and a tackle between normal everyday Clark and a guy in a costume so fake looking you'd prefer the CGI from Ang Lee's Hulk. There were the good examples, though. I feel that Brainiac and Zod, though a bit overused considering how virtually no time was given to foes like Metallo and Parasite, were done rather well. If the show was nothing but action, it would have been criticized for not having enough story, which is something that I think Smallville had some great examples of getting a lot out of a little. "Sneeze" comes to mind as a sample of taking a simple idea (Clark learning about his super-breath) and making a whole episode out of it where it's actually enjoyable despite sounding boring. When the focus was there, they pulled out some great stuff, and I think this past season exhibits that as they not only had to get the series to the end point but they didn't have to hit those bumps along the way just to drag it out.

THE RIDE


Were the bumps along the ride tolerable? All in all, I think so. Like anything, there are many things I would have personally done differently, but as a friend was asking me earlier if I thought it was worth the time to watch the series, I had to answer yes.

ASSESSMENT


In the grand scheme of things, despite the flaws, I think you have to say that Smallville has been a success. Not only was it able to withstand the crash of the WB network, the debilitating writer's strike of 07-08 which killed dozens of shows, and the sheer time frame itself, but it outlasted other similar shows, many of which received higher praise during their runs. It's hard to argue that it isn't one of the main reasons the CW network even exists and even though it was never a powerhouse in the ratings, it still was able to entertain enough people to meet the necessary requirements for such a long time. Perhaps most important of all, Smallville was able to keep the Superman story alive and introduce new fans to the world of comics by proxy, allowing Kal-El to stay relevant within pop culture. If you run it through a sieve in the future, you might be surprised to find just how many little influences to the Superman saga the show is responsible for. For all that, I think Smallville can be looked at as having been a worthwhile experience, and I'm glad that I was able to partake in it.

Thank you to those that have read my first article here. I look forward to posting more. Be sure to check out my other projects and websites and follow me on Facebook and Twitter.


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