Saturday, March 07, 2009

The Longest Running Superhero TV Show in History Is...


Derided back in 2001 as Kal-El's Creek (or Clark's Creek, or Dawson's Cape), Smallville -- this sturdy re-imagination of the Superboy mythos - has certainly established itself as a real survivor.

After all, Smallville was one of the few network shows to successfully make the jump from the now defunct WB to the CW. It has also survived the competition: a big-budget movie resurrection of its main character in 2006's Superman Returns.

Smallville has even survived -- and flourished -- after the departure of main characters/actors, like Michael Rosenbaum's Lex Luthor and Kristin Kreuk's Lana Lang.

Now renewed for a landmark ninth season, Smallville has lasted an impressive duration, one greater than Batman (1966-1969), Lois and Clark (1992-1996), The Adventures of Superman (1951-1958), or even Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003).

The only bailiwick in which the series hasn't witnessed much good luck is in the creation of a spin-off to replace it. Mercy Reef, the Aquaman re-imagination...sunk without a trace.

In all, this is a surprising turn of events for a superhero TV series that The Washington Post derided as "pandering to the WB''s adolescent audience" and Variety termed "one more semi-soap opera about beautiful teens with self- esteem problems."

And don't forget, the series was even criticized/protested early on for the fact that images in the pilot (of Clark Kent strung up in a Kansas corn field...) reminded some people of the Matt Shepard murder that occurred in October of 1998.

My opinion of Smallville? Well, the ubiquitous Dawson meme simply isn't just happens to be a good (and really easy...) joke. I suspect most of the people who make that particular complaint haven't actually watched the show. At least not lately. Sure, the first season was a weak, "Freak of the Week" circus that seemed more like a (bad) knock-off of The X-Files than Superman.

However, by the third season, the series had established its own identity, and established it well. Which doesn't mean there aren't still some really terrible episodes you have to contend with (particularly one with a vampire sorority, and another with Lana unexpectedly possessed by a 17th century witch...) But these ridiculous moments are often mitigated by great, portentous ones (like the apocalyptic vision of Lex Luthor in the Oval Office, in "Hour Glass.")

It's also difficult to accuse this durable series of disrespecting Superman lore since it has lovingly paid tribute to the actors who made the character and his universe so memorable on film and television (with guest stars including Terence Stamp, Margot Kidder, Dean Cain, the late Christopher Reeve, and Wonder Woman herself, Lynda Carter).

Smallville also creatively incorporates many aspects of the mythos, from Zod and Jor-El to The Fortress of Solitude, to the Phantom Zone, and the larger DC universe (including Cyborg, The Flash, Green Arrow and Aquaman).

I suppose my bottom line is this: I can (usually...) view Smallville without pain and suffering, which I honestly can't say for any iteration of the popular Stargate SG:1, which I find truly cringe-worthy. I'll take Smallville over Stargate any day. I feel the same way about Smallville over Supernatural. Or Ghost Whisperer.

Although that's like being voted the nicest inmate in prison, as I am wont to say.

Regardless, I believe in giving credit where credit is due, and so without snark, I congratulate Smallville for its great success and longevity on network television.

And I can't help but wonder: does this mean my Smallville action figures are actually worth something?

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous3:12 PM

    Smallville is the longest running superhero series of all time... if we don't count The Doctor as a superhero :) of course, he doesn't have any superpowers besides superior intellect and powerful technology, but can't the same be said about Batman?

    (oh, I almost forgot about regeneration! but I've heard that in Grant Morrison run Batman does that too)

    Also, I always wanted to tell you that Supernatural isn't as abysmal you thought it is after watching the first few episodes. Of course, most of first season is at best mediocre, but with time the show evolved into smart, funny, tense supernatural drama with strong continuity and deep characters.

    And yes, I really said "deep characters". Believe me, they aren't cliched anymore - in the course of four seasons they really went through long and painful journey, evolving in surprising buy yet logical ways. I'm pretty sure that when it comes to character development, Supernatural is the best genre show right now.

    It really has a great structure - like X-Files with its mix of standalone and mythology episodes, but done much, much better. The standalones often allude heavily to the overarching storyline or contain seemingly unimportant events that become absolutely essential later on. In short, the line between "standalone" and "mytharc" is often blurred. It's not revolutionary, but writers on this show mastered this technique to perfection.

    Of course, it's still not as good as Buffy, and it borrows many elements from similar genre shows, but it's still one of most smart and entertaining shows airing right now.

    Oh, and I almost forgot to mention that in third season one particalurly skilled writer joined the staff... his name is Ben Edlund. And believe me, his episodes do not disappoint.

    To end my long tirade, I gotta apologize for any language mistakes - my english is still far from excellent. Anyway, I hope I managed to convinced you that is show is worth a second chance.

    PS. The episode in which they get to the mythology stuff is "Scarecrow". The first really excellent one is "Faith". The rest of first season is, as I said, mediocre, with the exception of "Shadow", "Something Wicked" and the ending three.