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‘Superman & Lois:’ when the world needs hope

Editor’s Note: this review contains spoilers

If there was ever a time that the world needed a show like “Superman & Lois,” that time is now. Afterall, the core essence of Superman is hope, even if the people in charge of DC films seem to continually forget that. Despite its surprising darkness, “Superman & Lois” honors that part of both of its title characters. In an effort to fix the so-called “Superman problem,” teleplay writer and showrunner Todd Helbing and episode director Lee Toland Krieger create a new conflict that can’t be solved with superpowers. They make Superman a father.

In the pilot episode of “Superman & Lois,” Clark Kent (Tyler Hoechlin) is going through a rough patch. While his career as Superman is going steady, he finds himself estranged from his twin teenage sons. Jonathan (Jordan Elsass) is athletic and popular, exactly what you would expect from Superman’s son. On the other hand, Jordan (Alex Garfin) is quiet and has social anxiety disorder. Meanwhile, Lois Lane (Elizabeth Tulloch) has become increasingly suspicious of the new Daily Planet Owner, Morgan Edge (Adam Rayner). When Clark’s mother dies, and the family returns to Smallville, events quickly spiral out of control and leads to the twin climaxes of the episode: Superman’s fight with a mysterious masked figure (Wolé Parks), who somehow knows everything about him, and the reveal that Jordan is the one who inherited his father’s powers, not Jonathan like Lois and Clark both suspected. Faced with monumental changes, the two super parents decide to relocate to Smallville permanently.

This show is noticeably darker, both in tone and overall color, than any of the other CW shows. In some cases, it seems like the show actually prefers the family drama that comes with raising two polar opposite siblings to the superhero fight scenes. This isn’t a criticism; superhero shows only work if there is something other than people in spandex punching each other to give the punches meaning. Still, it is surprising how compelling the human drama is; the relationship between Jonathan and Jordan is a personal favorite of mine. They have a lived-in, brotherly dynamic, giving each other grief one moment and then proving how much they care about each other the next. The fact that the show has only given one of its Super Sons powers promises to create more drama between them, although it seems like a fair assumption that Jonathan will eventually develop powers of his own.

Still, this focus on family drama shouldn’t put off any fans of Superman who are still angry about “Man of Steel.” Yes, this show does have angst, but Superman angsting over the human side of his life isn’t anything new. Some of the best Superman comic book storylines put Clark through the ringer. It is clear that Helbing and Kriege care about Superman. The pilot opens with a four minute montage catching unaware viewers up with Superman’s origin. This sequence is chock-full of references, including a scene where Superman, dressed in a costume that resembles the one from the original Fleischer cartoons from the 1940s, saves a child from a green car, directly referencing the cover art of “Action Comics #1.” The introductory sequence, which culminates in Clark’s relationship with Lois and the birth of their children, acts as a preventative palate cleanser, as if Helbing and Krieger are telling the audience, “We know this episode gets dark, but we promise, this Superman is still a beacon of hope.”

Something that particularly strikes me about this show is how much of a spiritual successor to “Smallville” it is. Various sets seem to be reused and several shots were mimicked. However, it is also very much about Smallville as it is now, not as it was when Clark was growing up. While the Smallville of the early 2000s might have been a vibrant small country town, the Smallville of the 2020s is dying. This is evidenced by the desaturated shots of abandoned farms and closed up shops. “Superman & Lois” might be in a rare position to try to bridge the culture gap that has formed in America. Clark and Lois are undeniably liberal characters, but as a farm boy and an army brat, they come from more typically conservative roots. That is definitely a lot of pressure to put on a show that is airing on the CW, but I do think that it is up for the challenge.

“Superman & Lois” has the makings of a potentially great show. I really love the choice to let Jordan, the awkward, nerdy brother, be the first to get powers. The fact that Jordan explicitly has Social Anxiety Disorder is a huge step for mental illness representation in media, and I already can’t wait to see where the writers take his storyline. Lois isn’t given much to do this episode, but there are several interesting plot lines involving the Daily Planet’s new owner  that are sure to be explored in future episodes. With “Superman & Lois” looking toward the future to an extent that few comic book projects are willing or able to do, I am confident that this show will deliver a version of Superman and family who will finally bring the Man of Steel back to the symbol of hope he is truly meant to be. 

“Superman & Lois” airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. EST on the CW. It is also free to stream on the CW app the next day.

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