It’s been a long time since we’ve had a proper Superman TV series. Sure, there was Smallville, but it was only in that show’s closing episodes that Tom Welling finally donned the blue and red, so it barely counts. No, we have to go all the way back to 1993 for the last show to feature all those classic Supes tropes, from flowing capes to heat vision to Perry White slamming his fist on a desk.
The CW’s latest entry in the now-seven show-strong Arrowverse shares a near-title with that ABC series, though Lois & Clark trips off the tongue somewhat easier than the clunky Superman & Lois. But where that gleefully campy classic refashioned Superman as a Hallmark movie dream date, this latest Super-series defines itself by its sincerity and old-world optimism.
Though it nods to the present day (The Daily Planet, once a muscular force for good in the world of journalism, has been stripped bare by its new owner Morgan Edge, while Smallville is now the kind of decimated rust belt town that powered Trump’s rise), its unironic, earnest tone feels like it’s been beamed in from another decade.
Whereas Zack Snyder’s movies forever struggled to find a way of making their Man of Steel relevant in the 21st century, this series, developed by Arrowverse titans Greg Berlanti and Todd Helbing, posits the question: what if Superman’s greatest challenge wasn’t defeating Lex Luthor or Brainiac, but simply how to be a good father?
It’s one thing to put on a klutzy mask for your work colleagues, but something else entirely to pretend to your teenage twins that you’re an unremarkable, milquetoast parent, 24/7. "Dad can’t put up a Christmas tree without falling off the ladder," scoffs Jonathan, the quarterback brother who Lois and Clark quietly think may have inherited his pa’s powers. They’re not looking at all at poor Jordan (why, we wonder, didn’t the Arrowverse bigwigs name the brothers Joe and Jerry, after Superman’s famously ill-treated creators?) whose social anxiety and all-round geekiness make him more Jimmy Olsen than Kal-El.
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It’s all misdirection, of course – it’s not the strapping, square-jawed Jonathan who was born with the Krypton gene, but his introverted, sports-hating twin. The brothers uncover their dad’s real identity by discovering the ship that brought him to Earth all those years ago hidden beneath the Kent farm. While the series slightly fluffs their reaction to this reality-rocking revelation (one foot-stamping burst of 'why didn’t you tell us?!' before they’re off partying like nothing’s happened), it’s fun to see Jordan’s goggle-eyed reactions to his father’s secret life, including being taken to the Fortress of Solitude and being introduced to his Kryptonian gramps (or rather a fuzzy AI version of him).
If all this sounds terribly homespun and grounded, then, well, it mostly is. Although the series sits in the same universe as Legends Of Tomorrow and The Flash, Superman & Lois wears its fantasy clothes more lightly. It could prove a little too cute for some fans, while those that have been tempted in by its folksy naturalism may find the scenes where it goes full Snyder a bit of a turn off.
Where Superman & Lois surprises is that the B-plot – which involves a mysterious, metal-clad big bad sabotaging nuclear power plants – would, in any other superhero series, be the headline act. But it’s the seemingly smaller stakes drama of Smallville being targeted by the same man who asset stripped The Daily Planet that’s the primary focus of these early episodes. And that storyline, as yet anyway, doesn’t require Clark to scoot to the nearest phone box.
Of course, it’s been five years since Tyler Hoechlin first debuted as the Man of Steel in sister series Supergirl, so this has been a long time coming. He may lack Christopher Reeve’s boyish twinkle, but there’s a warm, Golden Age Hollywood quality about him that’s perfect for Clark. Get the tone wrong, and Superman can come across as cheesy and anachronous, but Hoechlin manages to nail the character’s decency and virtuousness without it becoming too cornball.
If the series has a failing, it’s that it sometimes struggles to reconcile its generally measured pace and grounded tone with those high-octane, CGI-blitzed moments. It’s kinda like getting a blast of Blink 182 in the middle of a Norah Jones number. Hopefully, as the series goes on, it’ll manage to marry those disparate plotlines a bit more, because at the moment it feels like those scenes with metal suit man belong to a totally different series.After nearly 84 years and 60 years after the first Superman telly show, Superman & Lois has managed what seemed almost almost impossible, to find a new and invigorating context for DC’s most iconic superhero.
It’s still got a terrible title though.
Superman and Lois airs on BBC One on Saturday nights, and the entire series is available as a box set on BBC iPlayer after the first episode debuts on Saturday 4th December.