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Monday, September 11, 2006

Review: Smallville Season One

One of the best things about the TV format for a series is that you can really take your time to explore the subject. In this particular case, it's the development of Clark Kent into our favorite Superman.

What I really enjoy about this series is that the writers really make use of the audience's meta-knowledge, while perverting other expectations. For instance, the series introduces Lex Luthor not as the arch-nemesis of Clark Kent, but as his best friend. In one of the episodes, they talk about their friendship, and Clark wonders if they'll ever have a falling out. Luthor says, "Clark, our friendship will be the stuff of legends." In a few other places, the girls in the show tell Clark that "red looks good on you." References to "putting on a uniform and saving the world" abound.

The setup is really well done, as we Clark starts the series with limited powers. Superspeed, strength, but no X-ray vision or Heat-vision or Superbreath. He can't fly, so the show's writers can challenge him with more than just kryptonite. Being the place where Clark landed in his space-ship, Smallville is full of meteorites, so the fact that it's common is quite believable. We get to watch Clark develop his powers and his reactions to them. I really enjoy the depiction of X-ray vision, by the way.

There's a romantic triangle setup between Clark, Lana, and Chloe. Chloe is the spunky female reporter that the viewers clearly are supposed to root for (though despite her perceptive nature, she doesn't realize how special Clark really is) --- she gets into trouble, but rather than wait passively for someone to rescue her, she always takes the proactive approach. Lana, on the other hand, is always the damsel in distress, but of course, she's the one that Clark has his eye on (and as long time fans of Superman we all know that Lana eventually finds out Clark's secret identity, even though we don't know how). The triangle doesn't quite dominate the show, which is nice --- it's good to show Clark having concerns other than his romantic life.

The special effects are really great. I'm very impressed that this is a TV show at all. There's none of the cheesy stuff that's part of early Buffy (my benchmark for good TV shows), and a lot of breath-takingly good scenes.

I do have a number of nits to pick about the show: as with all high school shows, it seems like everyone in high school is really pretty or otherwise good looking. Would it really hurt to have a few plain looking extras? Sure, it's Smallville, and everything's supposed to be larger than life, but too many shows are just overdoing it. Too many times, the show feels a lot like the wierd event of the week that characterizes the first season of Buffy. Given that Smallville happened much later than Buffy, there's no excuse. I hope later seasons improve on this.

The season does end with an obligatory cliff-hanger. All in all, though, a faithful interpretation of the Superman mythos that earns its stripes in spectacular fashion. Highly recommended.

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