Review by Tim Robins
Warning: Some Spoilers
Superman & Lois is the new series from US broadcaster The CW (CBS & Warner Media) network, which is devoted to exploiting DC characters and has notable success with shows such as Arrow, The Flash and Stargirl. So, although the title Superman & Lois may recall the popular Lois & Clark: The New adventures of Superman (1993-1997) and the setting and characters recall the much loved Smallville (2001-2007), Superman & Lois is a very different animal.
When it comes to showing a panoply of costumed heroes and villains, The CW universe has none of the reticence of previous decades’ TV superhero offerings. One of the pleasures of The Flash, for example, has been seeing the writers using an entire rogues gallery of villains, including Captain Cold, Gorilla Grodd and Killer Shark. Neither are The CW shy of tackling some of DC’s major events, including “Crisis on Infinite Earths” and “Invasion!”, although they sometimes look as if the budget has been overstretched.
Superman & Lois features some of the cast from other shows, notably from Supergirl. Tyler Hoechin reprises his role as Clark Kent/Superman, and Elizabeth Tulloch, whose credits include Grimm and Lost, but don’t hold that against her, again plays Lois Lane.
The key to this show is that Kent and Lois are not the central characters, their family is. And DC already has two other takes on Superman in the forthcoming JLA: Snyder Cut and an as yet untitled offering from the pen of Ta-Nehisi Coates.
Continuity wise, the show is set on a fusion of three CW Multiverse Earths. So Superman & Lois are married with two children, boys, Jonathan (Jordan Elsass) and Jordan (Alex Garfin), who may or may not have their Kryptonian father’s powers (Spoiler alert – one of them certainly has). Jonathan excels at sport, but his brother suffers from social anxiety disorder.
Despite Tyler Hoechin’s square jaw and on-trend stubble, facially he looks incredibly scrawny and gaunt. The stubble just makes him look as if central casting found the actor half-cut in a wine bar at three o’clock in the morning. However, a lot of this is in the way the scenes are shot and the post-production filters being used.
Alex Garfin, meanwhile, is well cast in the role and is so-far the most engaging character as we find him, trying to date, and falling unharmed from a loft in a barn, and sulkily beating up Superman in a computer game. The latter is a meta-textually cute move but begs the question of how much is already known about Superman. I mean, what is the character’s backstory in the game?
For the most part, the story is briskly told. An opening narration voiced by Hoechin briskly fills us in to Superman’s life to date, accompanied by a montage that contains a nice nod to the cover of Action Comics #1. We’re told of his escape from Krypton, arrival on Earth, career move to metropolis, the death of his Father, marriage to Lois Lane, and the birth of the non-identical twins (oddly, considering American nomenclature, the boy Johnathan isn’t named Johnathan Jnr).
The pilot provides only two bouts of super-action, both well executed. One sees Superman extinguish a fire at a nuclear power plant, the other sees him in pitched battle with a mystery villain that certainly kept me guessing: Zod? Luthor? Brainiac? Terra-Man? Or perhaps a combination of two (but not Terra-Man!).
Between these bookends, we see Superman reveal his identity to his sons in an unintentionally amusing moment in which he takes off his glasses before lifting a truck. Have the writers remembered that Kent’s glasses are made from windows in the spaceship that brought Kal-El to Earth and they emit a hypnotic field which, when worn, changes his appearance, as seen in Superman #330 back in 1978?
That might explain why Lana Lang (Emmanuel Chirqui) says at one point “You look exactly as you did in High School”. Really? I know the United States has mature looking teens (just take a look at the defendants on Judge Judy), but Hoechil looks a lot older than his 30-plus years.
Even if the cast don’t exactly have big screen personas, the production values are pretty top notch, and Superman and Lois has the look and feel of a Hollywood movie. At times, even the music (by Dan Romer) recalls Hans Zimmer’s score for Superman: Man of Steel. The direction sends the picture whizzing over farmland, giving a real sense of the Kent farm as a pastoral idyll.
There are one too many establishing shots of the Kent’s mailbox for my liking, as if the audience was just joining the show after an ad break. There are also a few too many moments with Clark and Lois staring from the famous porch – enough to elevate it to a major location.
The plot sees Superman tackling sabotage at a number of nuclear power stations orchestrated by one of his major adversaries. But this takes a back seat to Kent’s developing sense that Smallville is not only where his heart is but where his home should be. Lois Lane takes the decision to move from Metropolis in her stride, which is surprising considering she is hailed (by Clark) as “the most famous journalist in the world” and Kent didn’t bother consulting with her.
A great deal of time is spent setting up family life and the twins’ discovery that their Dad is an alien. Jordan takes the news particularly badly. “All the excuses, all the times you were gone. You lied to us… all the things I’ve been feeling. I was crazy – they put me on pills!” You can expect a lot more of that kind of dialogue as the show progresses.
Superman & Lois really plays to American writers’ strengths. However, even though Doctor Who’s showrunner Chris Chibnal has undoubtedly been influenced by The CW’s deft mix of personal issues, relationship drama and action adventure, it still feels laboured. I think it helps American writers that “emotobabble” is so much of West Coast American culture. Every scene between two characters sounds like a client talking to their psychoanalysis, every family gathering, a chase for group therapy… “We’ll help you through this” and “We’ve got to be honest going forward” and “This family needs Smallville. Characters seem to relate to each other as if supporting themselves through existential crises.
I was left with the impression that Superman & Lois is science fiction written on the edge of a nervous breakdown. I am looking forward to further episodes.
• Lois & Superman is airing on The CW in the United States. No UK broadcaster has yet been announced
• Streaming viewers of Superman & Lois in the US will get additional footage when episodes become available on The CW app and CWTV.com following their broadcast bow. And after the finale, the entire first season of extended episodes will be available on the app and website for free, no login required, until 30 days prior to the start of the next season.
The premiere of Superman & Lois was its most-streamed debut ever, says The CW; by Thursday, the episode had been watched by 3.25 million viewers in Nielsen Live+7 numbers, up 86% from premiere day.
However, not everything is smooth sailing for the drama. Due to pandemic-related production delays, the show will pause after episode five, and return on 18th May. Supergirl, starting its sixth and final season, will take the timeslot starting 30th March.
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