Being an avid enthusiast of television at large, I watch TV of a variety of genres, qualities, tones, obscurities, etc. This is why I can only afford to add so many new shows to my viewing schedule each season, and why I have little techniques like the three episode test to help me decide which shows to give a chance to and which to ignore for the foreseeable future. Of course these methods aren’t foolproof and some shows can be difficult to evaluate early on, while others don’t come into their stride until later on.

 

Of course some shows that were once amazing can also crash and burn pretty hard, and it can be difficult to gauge how much your loyalty to the show is worth in terms of time, but that’s an issue you another day.

 

Seriously, why is everyone in season 5 slinging dick jokes and bullets like it's not big deal?

The most recent culprit on my list of shows to turn sour. Chuck used to be my favorite currently airing show.

I bring this up now because of one show in particular: Smallville. I have been watching Smallville in syndication now for at least a month and a half. I remember starting to watch this show in high school, well before its dynamic changed (and when it changed, it changed HARD). A friend of mine was a big fan of Superboy, and I still am a big fan of super powers, so a live action television series about super powers was reason enough for me to start watching.

 

The show started as the origins of Superman, focusing on a teenage Clark Kent, still living with his parents, attending high school and just beginning to learn about his powers. Like many supernaturally-themed shows before it, Smallville began as a monster of the week show. Someone in, around or tangentially related to his high school would find some Kryptonite from the meteor shower that brought Clark to Earth, they would develop super powers of some kind and Clark would have to stop them before they killed their ex or something ridiculous.

 

In the beginning it was deliberately kept ambiguous as to what Superman continuity the series would be following. I was no expert, most of my knowledge of Superman coming from the animated series that ran along side the Batman animated series, but luckily my friend had a more comprehensive knowledge on the subject. Eventually they gradually started to drop some hints about the bigger Superman picture and through much discussion my friend and I determined they weren’t following any Superman continuity at all, but rather making things up as they went along.

 

This would eventually become a very significant decision for the series, but the problem was that the transition was slow and rough. In case you haven’t watched a lot of supernatural television dramas, it’s pretty standard for them to develop from the episodic monster of the week style into a more serialized story arc over the course of its run. At the point that Smallville made this transition, they made some choices that seemed questionable to someone who already had expectations based on existing Superman material.

 

They even had the Wonder Twins on at one point, and they weren't completely lame!

Admit it, even though you can tell from just this image that the addition of the Justice League characters is unnecessary and campy it's still pretty awesome.

 

They began by adding superhero encounters to the monster of the week rotation, introducing Smallville versions of The Flash and Aquaman among others. Clark then meets a young Lois Lane (who’s the cousin of his best friend from high school for some reason) when he moves to Metropolis for college. Then several of the regular characters from his high school were phased out, including his chief love interest (Lana Lang) and his arch nemesis (Lex Luthor). They suddenly changed almost everything about the show, and it felt sudden.

Though the fact that this show launched a young Leonardo DiCaprio's career still boggles my mind a bit.

No, not THOSE growing pains! Not everything has to be about Alan Thicke, you know!

 

This was the point I stopped watching the show, when I was in college. I was busy with classes and trying to get out and be social (if the abundance of TV watching hadn’t tipped you off, I’m naturally a bit of a recluse), and I didn’t have time to watch all the shows I had been watching. Smallville fell by the wayside because it seemed like it had forgotten what it was and was scrambling to get new viewers by abruptly injecting more familiar Superman elements into the story. Instead, as it turns out, the show was figuring out what it wanted to be all along, and was simply experiencing some growing pains.

 

You see, the show was finally realizing the way to properly emphasize that premise of theirs. Smallville started as the ORIGINS of Superman, but now it was becoming the origins of SUPERMAN! They started dropping more tongue-in cheek references to existing Superman continuity, without being a slave to it, they introduced more and more familiar Superman and Justice League characters (Green Arrow is one of the main cast for goodness sake), and started to build a story about sacrifice, justice and what it means to be a hero. It also took a deeper look than I’ve ever seen at the struggle Clark Kent has fitting in on Earth, and knowing about his origins but not having anyone who truly understands the struggle.

 

The chief thing I’ve realized since giving this unique series a second chance is that Smallville, with its roots as a super-powered teen drama, combined emotional elements with the superhero source material it had been courting all along to give a really humanizing look at an indestructible alien in a strange land. I’m so used to seeing Superman as an annoyingly flawless and righteous entity that actually feels pretty alien when his origins suggest that he’s been assimilated into human culture. I think by starting with high school as a back drop for one of the most powerful and well-recognized fictional characters of all time, we see his struggle to keep being normal in the most socially complicated and defining time in the lives of most humans, we get to see both the alien and human sides of his personality, along with the struggle for the two to coexist.

 

The other thing I really like about Smallville’s take on the Man of Steel is that his powers and his ideals sort of make him the foregone conclusion for choice as leader of Earth’s defenders, but Smallville’s Clark Kent doesn’t see it that way. People who come from or can see the future occasionally appear, and though their individual motives vary, they almost all tell Clark he’s destined to be a symbol of hope and the chief protector for the entire world. Rather than just saying, “yeah I guess I’m pretty much the most powerful creature in existence, so that sounds right”, he has a genuine human response of, “I mean I know I’ve been saving the world for years but that’s a lot of responsibility…I’m not so sure I can do it”. Having various sources tell him about what he’s meant to become and watching him struggle with those major issues on top of his struggle to fit in really humanize this infamous alien.

 

It lead to some silly things involving Doomsday, Zod and Darkside to fill the gap, which definitively proved that Smallville is its own story,

I kind of wish Lex had stuck around to be the final villain of the series, but that wasn't the fault of the writers,

The way the series transitions from his first discovery of his powers to his final destiny as Earth’s greatest hero gives the character a lot more depth than I’ve ever personally seen, and makes his gradual journey from Clark Kent to the mysterious “Blur” to Superman as we know him a lot more meaningful and significant. As it turns out, the very thing that made me stop watching the series in the first place is the thing I probably most appreciate from the series. It’s also much easier to accept Smallville as its own continuity seeing how far things have come since the beginning, and that eradicates the other big problem I had struggled with while originally watching the series.

 

My bottom line after having watched most of this series (between my experience in high school and having watched the final few seasons recently in syndication) is that this series took some chances, shied away from expectations and ended up creating a much more interesting product as a result. It makes me wish that I had stuck with the series all along and reminds me, as I hope it reminds you, that some things in life are worth a second chance. This is without a doubt my favorite Superman continuity, and while it has plenty of flaws, it creates a really interesting, unique and even refreshing view of a familiar character.

 

If you have any interest in Superman or even just this series after reading this entry, I urge you to check it out for yourself. It’s probably not for everyone but I certainly enjoy it. It works on many levels and there are plenty of superpowers!

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