Smallville – The Pilot
When Smallville debuted in 2001, I was not interested in watching it. I wasn’t overly excited about Superman, I didn’t like that he was a teenager, and no outfit? What was the point!?
Then a few years went by, and I became friends with a gentleman by the name of Alex. Alex was pivotal in getting me to try TV shows I’d missed out on in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, by convincing me they weren’t lame. Shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Smallville.
I can’t remember exactly, but either Alex sent me the first season of Smallville on DVD, or I bought it at CD Warehouse used. I bought several of the seasons at CD Warehouse and it’s been a good eighteen years, so my memory isn’t quite as good as it once was. But I do recall popping in the first disc with very low expectations and when the show ended, I found myself grinning and thinking this was the best version of Superman I had ever seen.
The DVD sets cost somewhere around $30 when bought used, and I could only afford one a month, but within five months I was completely caught up on Smallville and looking forward to season five or six. Then, something happened… I think I may have moved, gotten a new job, and life got complicated and I just stopped watching. It was always on my list to go back and finish it up, but I never did.
With my passion for Superman rejuvenated this year, I decided to take a trip back to Smallville to see how it holds up and if it’s something I’d like to re-watch/finish.
I loaded up a copy of the pilot on my iPad and gave it a shot, three episodes later I was just as blown away as I was the first time I watched it.
While Smallville may feature some dated graphics (this was TV CGI from 2001 after all) the storytelling and acting are phenomenal. I LOVE Superman and Lois, but Smallville is so good! It’s got that monster of the week storytelling that I love, combined with the long form storytelling and you can tell the showrunners had no problem taking their time. The Clark/Lex dynamic gets off to an incredibly strong start and just seeing them on the screen together makes the show worth watching.
The show does dip into the high school stereotypes, but stereotypes are stereotypes for a reason, right? Seeing Clark being forced to sit on the sidelines, instead of being the most popular kid in school is relatable and difficult to watch, especially considering all that he is made of. But he’s balanced by his two incredible parents portrayed by John Schneider (The Dukes of Hazzard) and Annette O’Toole (Superman III, 48 Hours). Their loving, strong, empathetic relationship with Clark is so inspiring, I literally had some self-therapy breakthrough the night after watching the show. I’m not kidding, when I took the way Schneider’s portrayal of Jonathan Kent and applied to a difficult situation from my youth and suddenly, I felt freed from 30 years of shame. I saw the way a father should behave and that was extremely therapeutic.
Tom Welling, who plays Clark, doesn’t enter my mind as Superman all that often, but seeing him as a normal teenager just trying to navigate high school speaks to his ability to channel all of those confusing teenage emotions. His unrequited love, his desire to not be bullied, his strength through his dorky friends, and so forth make for a great character and it setups the relationships we known Superman to have in his later years.
Michael Rosenbaum, who plays Lex Luthor, is equally as brilliant. He’s confident, yet damaged. You can tell there is a good person inside who has had it beaten out of him by an abusive parent. He is narcissistic out of survival and the polar opposite of Clark, yet they both see elements in each other to admire. Lex with Clark’s goodness and Clark with Lex’s success and popularity. They each have the element the other desires, at least at this point in their lives.
It’s always hard to talk about people who’ve done bad things, but I’d be a missed if I didn’t mention how incredible Allison Mack is as Chloe. I remember the first time I watched the show, she seemed to steal scenes, and this time I around she continues to do a lot with very little screentime. I hate that the actress doesn’t represent the same values as the character, but hopefully she can find some peace and understanding once her time in prison is over.
Smallville’s soundtrack, like all late 90’s/early 2000’s WB shows, is wonderful. It’s filled with some Top 40 hits, but some indie music that seems to hit all the right emotional cues. As much as I enjoyed the music in Dawson’s Creek, Charmed, and Buffy, Smallville might have done it best. The ending scene of the first episode features Everything by Lifehouse and its just so incredibly fitting that I was almost in awe at the song placement.
I never imagined Smallville would continue to amaze me twenty-two years after its debut. I mean, let’s be honest, it’s a WB show, they weren’t known for being prestige TV. But Smallville does an amazing job at presenting itself as a grounded superhero show and the backdrop of the small town undergoing changes is relatable. The cast is well defined and the show is positive, hopeful, yet honest, the way Superman should be. I look forward to continuing my Smallville journey.