Friday, September 28, 2007

“Lex, redemption doesn’t suit you” – Smallville

First of all – two new regular cast members? One of whom we’ve never even seen before? Unheard of! John Glover and Erica Durance both had a whole season as recurring guests before they were promoted, but apparently the producers have enough faith in Laura Vandervoort (aka Supergirl) that they’re happy to stick her up there straight off the bat. Aaron Ashmore was more expected, but still a great addition. Also notable is the welcome disappearance of Annette O’Toole. Amusingly, her character’s absence wasn’t even given a passing mention this week, which I hope isn’t setting a precedent – although O’Toole was pointless as a regular, her character could work well on a recurring basis, with Clark popping in on her every now and then.

Anyway, onto the season opener. It’s called ‘Bizarro’, suitably enough, as it is more than a little strange. Most Smallville premieres are packed to the brim with action, plenty of fights and even more plot backtracking, as the writers desperately attempt to restore the status quo (lest they risk offending viewers by daring to change anything). While ‘Bizarro’ half-heartedly ticks all these boxes, it’s also the most daring opener Smallville has ever attempted. A genuine attempt is being made to take the characters somewhere new and different. Clark, grieving at the apparent death of Lana, reveals in a monologue – that’s right, a monologue – that she was the only thing keeping him in Smallville. Lex’s similarly intense grief leads him to turn himself in to the police, hoping to prove that he didn’t kill his wife. Even Chloe is much less cheery than usual, even before she finds out about Lana. Last season she brought Lois back to life with her newfound meteor ability, but died herself as a result. That twist doesn’t last long (like, one ad break), but once alive Chloe angrily brushes off Clark's questioning about what happened to her. Writers Kelly Souders and Brian Peterson should be commended for dealing with their character’s grief and anger this week, rather than only getting to it after all the action was done and dusted.

Unfortunately, Smallville doesn’t do grief or anger especially well. Most of the happenings – everyone reacting to Lana’s death, Clark’s (brief) anguish to Chloe’s death, and his wondering at whether he’s any better than Bizarro – simply don't work, either because they are so obviously temporary or because we really don’t care. Michael Rosenbaum just about redeems his tired lines with a terrific performance; he’s probably the best actor in the ensemble, and continues to sell Lex’s overriding love for Lana. Tom Welling is the worst actor of the ensemble, but even he doesn’t do too badly with what Clark is given. His aforementioned monologue could have been far more cringeworthy than it ends up.

Anyway, we don’t expect much depth from Smallville. Mostly we’re more interested in entertainment, something ‘Bizarro’ ultimately fails to deliver. The initial sense of excitement wears off quickly, replaced by disappointment at the terrible handling. Welling has tried to play evil before, and failed; here he does no better, lending Bizarro zero menace with his lazy effort (grinning and swaggering about does not a good villain make). The eventual defeat of Bizarro – a big ol’ punch – is so laughable that I couldn’t believe that was really the end of him. The Martin Manhunter (Phil Morris) is again underused, despite his potential as a Giles-type mentor figure.

Most disappointingly, the character shifts presented lose their legitimacy with the final reveal that Lana is alive and well in Shanghai. Now, I never thought it a possibility that Lana would actually be dead, but ‘Bizarro’ gave me a brief glimpse at the kind of stories which, had she really died, could have been pursued. And I liked them! I enjoyed this momentary sight of what Smallville might be like if it actually dared to change itself. Ah well. That doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy the light pleasure that it continues to provide, starting with the first proper appearance of Supergirl next week.

1 comment:

Carrie said...

I could write a dissertation on what a missed opportunity this series has been as a whole to have an interesting, evolving, emotionally resonant young Superman tale. Despite all my gripes, however, I've still stuck around for every single episode so I must be getting entertained somehow.

When they cut to Shanghai, I said "Oh, fuck" out loud because I knew that's where we would find Lana. I knew she would be back but I could really have gone about six episodes not knowing where she was at all.

I didn't mind Bizarro Clark because I always enjoy when Tom Welling gets to act against type because he usually seems to enjoy himself a lot more than when he is Standard Issue Clark. Did anyone else besides me think "What is the town going to drink?" when he evaporated all of the water from the dam?

Overall, an interesting episode but not an exciting one. Next week I'm sure we'll be back to Smallville as we know it.