'SMALLVILLE' GROWS UP
By STEPHEN LYNCH
January 11, 2009 --
Fire up the Bat Signal, turn on Jimmy Olsen's watch, summon your underwater friends - comic book geeks, it's time to visit "Smallville."
I know, I know. You've been burned before, back when the show was "Dawson's Creek" with kryptonite, when Clark Kent (Tom Welling) whined incessantly about his secret, when Lana Lang was conveniently knocked unconscious every time the young Man of Steel did something mildly interesting.
But in its eighth (yikes) season, Superman lives! Kent, having finally graduated high school at age 28, is doing all the things the Last Son of Krypton is famous for - working at the Daily Planet in Metropolis, flirting with Lois Lane (Erica Durance), leaping tall buildings in a single bound.
"Smallville" started growing up when Michael Rosenbaum, who played the young Lex Luthor, decided to leave the show. Though a standout among the cast, his character had grown stale - especially since the smartest man alive still hadn't figured out farm boy was an alien.
In last season's finale, Luthor finally connects the dots, fighting Clark as the Fortress of Solitude crumbles around them in the Arctic (this year, Lex is officially "missing"
The lack of a main villain allowed the four new executive producers - creators Al Gough and Miles Millar left the show last year - to shake things up.
Clark's become a reporter, and hangs out with guys like Green Arrow and the Martian Manhunter. Luthor's replacement is Tess Mercer (Cassidy Freeman), a little in-joke for Superman fans, as her name is a combination of Miss Teschmacher from the original Christopher Reeve "Superman" film and Mercy Graves, Luthor's bodyguard in the comics. Davis Bloome (Sam Witwer), meanwhile, is Doomsday - the only character to ever kill Superman.
Instead of worrying about whether he can play football or plowing the back 40, Clark is battling kryptonian super-villains such as General Zod and trying to save Chloe Sullivan (the excellent Allison Mack), who has been possessed by the nefarious computer program, Brainiac.
In other words, nerd Christmas!
To be fair, Gough and Millar always had a reverence for the character's legacy. They copied the design of the Fortress straight from the Richard Donner films, and casting old Superman hands such as Reeve, Margot Kidder and Terrence Stamp (Zod in "Superman II," who here plays the voice Jor-El, Clark's father).
Brian Peterson, one of the current executive producers, say the creators have been unfairly criticized on the Internet following this season's success. "They established the foundation - even in the pilot - that we're still playing off," he says.
Still, from a Superman fan's point of view, Peterson benefits from a change of setting ("Smallville" doesn't really take place there anymore) and a hero who acts, well, a little more super.
This Thursday, the show returns from hiatus with "Legion," an episode centered on the Legion of Super-Heroes, who travel back in time from the 30th century to assist Superman. Rather than be a standalone stunt, however, the group plays a big part in the ongoing threat from Doomsday and Chloiac.
Producers might even toss out the famous credo of "Smallville" - "no tights, no flights."
"It's a possibility," Peterson says, "we may bend that rule."
Still, don't expect a wholesale makeover. "Once you break that rule you're in Superman territory, and that's not what the show is about. It's about a boy deciding to become a hero."
He may become a hero fairly soon, however. Peterson isn't sure whether this is the last season of "Smallville" or not, and hints that decision may determine how far down the comic-book path the show goes.
Tom Welling, call your tailor. If eight is enough, we're thinking some red-and-blue tights might be in your future.