Monday, April 13, 2009


I wanted to jump on the Smallville bandwagon back when it first came out, but only caught it once or twice and never sat through an entire episode. Now they're re-running it on HDNET, in HD, with no commercials. Thanks to the DVR, it makes it extremely convenient to grab two episodes each day. Just the other day I caught the last episode (to date... I think there's a new season comming up), and then they ran the pilot and started it from the beginning.

The general comments that everybody gives is definitely accurate... too "90210". Still, there's more to be said about it.

First of all, the pilot sets up the scenario for the series in a smart way. Baby Superman's ship comes crashing down into a corn field in Smallville, Ohio (or is it Iowa?). But they included one detail that allows them to build a whole show. The first thing you see is Cal-El's ship flying through space, but it is not alone... it is in the midst of a swarm of meteors... apparently rubble from the exploding planet Krypton. As the ship lands, the meteors also crash to earth pelting the town and the surrounding area. They cause general destruction and chaos, including killing poor little Lana Lang's parents on the spot.

The series then picks up about twelve years later, where Lana and Clark are about fifteen years old in high school. By now, the meteor assault is just a local curiosity... just a sign on the edge of town "Smallville Population 50,001... Meteor Capital of the World". But the whole area is now impregnated with deposits of green glowing rocks from space, completely unnoticed by everybody.

So now they are set up with a method to create super villains every episode. All they need to do is have some troubled individual come in contact with the Kryptonite, and let the super powers ensue. Angry Coach of the football team has meteor rocks in his Sauna... obsessed pimple face kid with fascination for bugs captures bugs from woods who were exposed to kryptonite (and gets bitten by his bugs)... football jock falls through Ice into lake w/ meteors under water...

It also gives every episode the traditional Superman plot. Virtually indestructible Superman becomes vulnerable while confronting newly created super villain because there is usually kryponite nearby. This includes Lana Lang's necklace, which keeps as a reminder of her dead parents. So of course poor Clark has a hard time getting close to the object of his affection... at first he thinks it's just nerves when he come near her, but eventually figures it out. The necklace is used as a recurring plot device.

Another cool aspect is that they embrace death. In just about every episode the villain kills somebody... sometimes their own mother. Then each villain dies while fighting Superman. Of course he doesn't just haul off and kill them, but they either use their power too much and burn (freeze, electrocute, etc) themselves, or they get squashed by a falling piece of machinery that wouldn't have been falling if it wasn't for their own dastardly acts. So while Clark is essentially innocent, he is continuously surrounded by and confronted with horrific acts resulting in death.

Other plot points: most episodes Clark discovers some new power like X-Ray vision or Super Breath (but can't fly yet), Lex Luthor is not evil (yet) but is suffering from living in the shadow of overbearing father (why does this plot point come up all over the place? Tom Paris anybody?), eventually other DC characters start poping up (Green Arrow, Matian Manhunter), and there's a big tie in to Zod and other beings from The Phantom Zone. There's also some massive devestation, similar to what they keep narrowly avoiding on Heroes... a whole city gets raized... but that's much later in the show. Right now it's all about High Shcool, meteor mutants, and discovering powers.

I'm also fascinated by the way they construct super villains. It's the same basic technique used in many other programs, like Power Rangers and Sailor Moon. They take some characteristic of the character or the situation and build a villain out of it. Angry coach begins to cause fires when he gets angry, kid who falls through the ice needs to suck heat from his victims... basically, they start with some archetype that they can present visually, and then figure some plot line to inject that into a character. In Power Rangers (et al) they might have somebody laid up with a cold, and then up springs a monster made out of hypedermic needls shooting pills and medicine at their victims.

And finally two points about the 90210 aspects:
First of all, as sickening as it is, they are really good at what they do. The looks that say "I wish you loved me and not her", the "We're just friends" when it really menas "I wish we were more than friends"... typical soap opera stuff, but done PERFECTLY.

And the music... heavily ladened with the emo-pop-rock. You may not like that as a matter of taste or general principle, but it WORKS. They are masters at the back track, swelling to highlight the emotional scene as it fades to commercial. (except no commercials on HDNET!!!)

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