May 16, 2021

Superman & Lois and Viewers Like Me

The following will contain spoilers from the first 6 episodes of Superman & Lois. 

After only the first episode of the spring freshman show Superman and Lois had aired, The CW announced the show was renewed for a second season. Whether it was the high viewership ratings, what the producers had seen in the dailies, or just the network's historic success with DC franchise shows, I can't say. (The network has shown itself to be eager to renew.) But what I can say is that the pilot episode of this show was good. Not great, not the best I've ever seen, but compelling. 

I do not read or collect comic books, but Superman is my favorite superhero. I was a faithful viewer of two past television iterations of the character and his story: Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (1993-1997), and Smallville (2001-2011). Plus, I'm one of what I'm sure is a relatively small subset of people who own a copy of the soundtrack to the short-lived Broadway musical It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's Superman. So it was with this casual fandom and the memory of a handful of Superman movies as reference that I arrived at Superman & Lois. 

Promotional poster for Superman & Lois

Like Smallville, Superman & Lois is set in the town of Clark Kent’s childhood. But this is not the story of his adolescence; here, Clark (Tyler Hoechlin) and Lois (Elizabeth Tulloch) have returned to his hometown following Martha Kent's death to tend the family farm and raise their twin teenage sons. It's an untried premise for the character, at least on television. A big question hanging over the pilot is whether his boys - Jonathan and Jordan - will inherit Clark's super-abilities. (One does.) Clark must also strive for that unreachable work-life balance, made more difficult since his work is, well, saving the world. The series finds Lois in her classic reporter job, but not at the Daily Planet. Clark was laid off and Lois unceremoniously quit after wealthy business tycoon Morgan Edge bought the paper. She soon finds herself at the Smallville Gazette, with Edge as the primary target of her investigative journalism. 

Image of a desolate looking Kent Farm from Superman & Lois
The Kent Farm in Superman and Lois
Source: Arrowverse Fandom
The world of Superman & Lois is full of dark colors, muddy boots, and moody high schoolers. Even when the sun shines, the landscape of Smallville seems desolate. The single hallway we see at Smallville high is dimly lit. Even a scene set at the town's Harvest Festival is subdued; there is no blinking neon midway. The dark tone is also metaphorical. The town is economically depressed. Folks are out of work, we're told. And they've come to see wealthy business tycoon Morgan Edge and his plan to retrofit local mines as their way out. 

Superhero stories have been getting progressively darker in tone throughout my lifetime. I like humor, and I prefer the bright colors and wisecracking villains of earlier shows about Superman. But the era of "camp" in superhero media is long gone, and dark, satirical takes like The Boys are the future. So it comes as no surprise that Superman & Lois would look for that angle. The show proffers itself even darker storyline options with the introduction of a villain from an alternate universe: one "Captain Luthor." He seems to come from a timeline where Superman is evil and vindictive, more like The Boys' "Homelander." Consequently, this Luthor turns all his villainous energy toward our Earth-Prime Superman, building an armored suit and attacking power stations to lure the hero and learn how he operates. Between the otherworldly Luthor and earth-bound Edge, the foes of this show seem indomitable. Little room is left for quirky villains like a "Prankster" or a "Toyman." 

Because I have not watched other DC shows in the current CW lineup (with the exception of a few early episodes of Supergirl), I don't have a frame of reference for the villains or lore of this series. After it became clear that alternate realities/universes will play a significant role in the story, I had to look up whether the "Crisis on Infinite Earths" crossover was something I needed to know to understand Superman & Lois. Morgan Edge (who is a DC character, but not one with which I'm familiar) seemed at first to fill the Lex Luthor role in this series, but then the pilot ends with the reveal of Captain Luthor. 

All this left me wondering who this show was made for, and indeed, was it made for a viewer like me? Can I watch this series independent of the rest of the Arrowverse? Will I be constantly wondering what connections I might be missing? Superman is my favorite superhero because he is unreservedly good. He is not brooding or mercurial. He stands for truth and justice, and he always has. I think Hoechlin is actually very good casting, which is a stroke of luck since he was originally cast in the role in Supergirl. Hoechlin exudes the boy scout energy necessary for the character. Can I watch a dark take on my favorite bright superhero? Do I in actuality know too much, and not too little, about Superman to enjoy this show? 

The CW would not have renewed Superman & Lois if the network didn't believe it would have an audience. And I have been captivated enough to be a part of that audience for half a dozen episodes. But will I stick around through Season 2? When it returns this week, I'll tune in, and I guess I'll find out.