Monday, August 15, 2011

Smallville Season 1

Well, as I promised earlier, faithful viewers, it's time for me to post my thoughts on the first season of Smallville. Before I start I just want to say that I don't think the rest of my reviews will be like this, in the sense that I'm not going to wait until I finish a season and then post my thoughts on the season as a whole. No, instead I'll probably watch episodes as I normally do, and if I think one is spectacularly good or spectacularly bad, I'll post my thoughts on that individual episode. I suppose there's always the possibility of me doing an end-of-season review on top of all that, but let's not get ahead of ourselves. Anyway, the only reason why I'm doing an end-of-season review as my first post rather than commenting on a specific episode is because I actually finished watching Season 1 of Saturday, and I think that if I'm going to write about individual episodes my thoughts should be fresh rather than a couple of days old. That being said, however, I'm going to be focusing on three scenes episodes that were the highlight of the season for me.


Oh, and before I start I'd better make it very clear that this post contains SPOILERS.

I'll be honest with you, when I finished watching the first two episodes of Smallville I was pretty disappointed. The pilot was okay, I guess, but I think that if I'd been one of the executives who had the power to give it either the green or the red light, I'd have been a bit hesitant to comission it. I probably would have in the end, but that wouldn't have been because of the quality of the first episode, it'd have been because I'm a Superman fangirl at heart and I would have lived in the hope that it would fulfil some potential, because whilst the first episode is pretty lacklustre, it undoubtedly contains a lot of potential, if anything else in the form of Tom Welling, Michael Rosenbaum and Kristin Kreuk alone. If I'd done that, though, and then sat down to watch episode two, Metamorphosis, I'd have put my head in my hands and started to lament about the massive mistake I'd made. What an awful episode. I didn't find it particularly exciting or engaging (well, tell a lie, I liked the bit where Clark was flying in his dreams, and the bit where he woke up to find himself floating above the bed), and even though the episode was leading up to the big crescendo in the form of the confrontation between the weird bug boy and Clark at the end, a) it was over before it started, and b) it wasn't all that impressive anyway.

So, summarily, I wasn't impressed and was beginning to wonder if I'd wasted my money buying the whole boxset. But then, thankfully, the quality stepped up a notch. Hothead was undoubtedly a step in the right direction and by the time I finished watching episode four, X-Ray, in which Clark struggles to come to terms with a newly-developed power of his, I was hooked, and thankfully the rest of the season managed to maintain that kind of quality, and even raised the bar at times.

Now, there are three scenes in particular which stand out as being the best of the season for me.  The first of them occurs about half-way through the episode which, in my opinion, is by far the best episode of the season. I'll happily admit that I love me a good prophecy, and Hourglass was full to the brim with prophecies! In it, Clark befriends an old woman who has the ability to see the future, and let's just say that that ability, coupled with the audience's knowledge of what Clark will one day become, makes for a damn fine episode. Naturally, my favourite scene in this episode was the scene that occurs around the half-way mark, where Clark and Cassandra are talking about his destiny.

Cassandra: We both know you're not like other people.
Clark: Sure, I am.
Cassandra: No, Clark, I've seen you...before we ever met. More than once, I've touched people, and I've seen such pain and despair and -- but then you were there, and the pain was gone. I think that's your destiny, Clark -- to help people, to save them from fear and darkness.
Clark: How?
Cassandra: That's for you to figure out. You can fear the future, or you can embrace it. The choice is yours. 
Gah!!! How amazing is that! It brings it all down to the message that all good stories feature at some point (be it Harry Potter, Doctor Who, etc.): you always have a choice. It's our choices who define who we are, and that is especially the case with Clark. Honestly, I can't tell you how much I love that episode. And the bit at the end, where just before she dies Cassandra sees what Lex can/will become... that's just amazing. I actually found it pretty scary. But I was pleased that I was scared. I'll get on to this later but I always felt that Gene Hackman's overly comical Lex Luthor was a weakpoint in the original Superman films. Admittedly, Kevin Spacey hit the nail on the head in his performance as Lex in Superman Returns, but, let's face it, it was a far from great film and so it was a case of too little too late. So seeing that scary vision into the future was extremely liberating because it finally felt as if the potential for a truly evil, despotic arch-nemesis of Superman was being done justice on screen. In that respect, Smallville's already doing a lot better than the original films. But, as I said, I'll say more on Michael Rosenbaum's portrayal of Lex Luthor later. The only other coherent(ish) thing I can say about that episode and that scene is: wow. Oh, and I loved the fact that for Lex's scenes in the Oval Office they filmed on the set of The West Wing. It's two of my favourite TV shows rolled into one - what more could I possibly ask for?!

Now, the second of the scenes which stood out for me came in an episode which I'd say was certainly in the top 5 episodes of the season. The episode I'm talking about is called Stray and it's in this episode that Clark finds a friend - well, more of a little brother than anything - with whom he can really relate, primarily because, like Clark, this kid has a power that he has to hide from the rest of the world. Now, I'll be honest with you, the kind of stories that I enjoy the most are the stories that are about characters, as opposed to stories which seem to have characters merely to serve the plot (which is why I think Russell T Davies's Doctor Who is ten million times better than Steven Moffat's awful attempt at it, but that's a whole different story), and that's largely why Stray stood out for me. It was, despite all the stuff about the evil step-parents, essentially a story about two lonely young kids finding someone in whom they can confide, and who can make them a little less lonely, and I think that's just beautiful.
Now, on to the scene I was talking about in the first place, which happens right at the end of the episode. Let me tell you this, I'm a real sucka for music being used to enhance emotions (I don't get why people complain that music hinders enjoyment - it doesn't! It's marvellous!), and even though in an ideal world John Williams would write the music for every decent TV show out there, I'm happy to settle for pop music to be used in his stead. And let me tell you, the music they chose for the final scene of Stray was just PERFECT!! Why, I hear you ask? Well, faithful viewer, it's because the song they used was Five for Fighting's Superman. I've loved that song for absolutely ages now, but to hear it in a show about Superman himself (albeit before he was Superman) just blew my mind. It's quite a sad song, actually, which makes it all the more fitting for Smallville, because whilst I wouldn't classify Smallville as a 'sad' show per se, it does show all the insecurities Clark has about his powers, and demonstrates how having all these powers and the ability to save lives doesn't make life easy. In fact if anything it merely complicates it. So that's what the show's about. But it's also what the song's about. And that's why the two go together so perfectly.

And so we come on to the third and final scene that I want to talk about. And the scene I picked is one that literally felt like poetry in motion. At the end of Crush, after being dreadfully ill for the majority of the series, Whitney's dad finally succumbs to his illness and passes away. The final scene depicts Whitney's family and friends standing and mourning in the rain at the funeral service, and it's all extremely heartfelt and emotional. But what gets me - nay, what really kills me - is the look that Clark and Lana share at the end.

Now, I admit, before watching Smallville I knew next to nothing about all the stuff that happened while Clark was growing up. I'd only heard of Lana Lang cos I had a quick look at the Smallville Wikipedia page before I bought the boxset, and the only other exposure I'd had to life in Smallville was that 30 minutes or so in the first Superman film (I know it also features in the third film but I don't think I've seen that one all the way through). Therefore when I found out that Lana was Clark's love interest in these pre-Superman years (and bear in mind this was before I started watching the show), I thought I wouldn't like her very much at all. I mean, I may not be the biggest fan of Margot Kidder's portrayal of Lois in the films, but Superman and Lois just go together. There's no other competition. Romeo and Juliet, Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy, Superman and Lois - some things are just meant to be. So basically I started watching the show with a degree of trepidation. But do you know what? That wasn't necessary at all because I absolutely love Lana. Sure, I guess you could argue that she's a bit too sweet, but I'm not of that opinion. I think she's written with exactly the right amount of warmth and kindness, and Kristin Kreuk plays her wonderfully. Obviously Lois hasn't even been introduced to the show yet, but I guess because of my exposure to the films in my heart I'm a Clark/Lois fan, so with that in my mind I'm actually rather surprised at how much I buy into the Clark/Lana relationship (although I think part of it stems from the fact that I don't like the idea of Clark/Chloe at all!). Some of the moments they share together in the series are genuinely beautiful, and the scene at the end of Crush captures everything that's wonderful about them. Like I said earlier, the Clark/Lana relationship will never be the relationship that everyone remembers or associaties with the Superman franchise for obvious reasons, but despite that, that scene manages to establish with astonishing clarity just how special those two are to each other, and how even though we as the audience know they're never going to end up together (in the long run, at least), you can't detract from the relationship they have. Just... the look that they give each other - it says so much! 

Again, the music is another thing that makes the scene so perfect. Time After Time is undoubtedly a good song, but I was never a fan of it because the original by Cyndi Lauper always seemed a bit too fast and upbeat in comparison to the tone of the lyrics, and the John Barrowman cover... well, the less said about it the better. I'd never heard the Eva Cassidy version before (I know, I know - shame on me!) and hearing it for the first time whilst watching that scene... it blew me away, it really did. She has such a beautiful voice, and there's a sort of sadness to the song (which is only exacerbated by the sadness that comes with the knowledge of Eva Cassidy's untimely death) which goes with the scene so well.  And, above anything else, the lyrics are perfect, too.
If you're lost you can look and you will find me,
Time after time.
If you fall I will catch you, I will be waiting,
Time after time. 
Because that just sums up their relationship. Clark'll always be there for her. And when you think about it, those few lines sum up exactly what Superman is all about, which just adds to the power and beauty of the scene. And that third picture, the wide shot of Clark with the angel in the background, speaks volumes, doesn't it? I'm going to go down an almost unbearably cheesey route here, but that's what Clark/Superman is to people - an angel. And he certainly is to Lana. Just beautiful in every single way.

And that, faithful viewer, is the end of my rave about my favourite three scenes of Season 1! I did say that I was going to talk a little bit about Lex, though, and that's what I'm going to do now. 

Michael Rosenbaum, eh? Let me just say this. WHAT. A. PERFECT. PIECE. OF. CASTING.



As I mentioned above, before I'd only ever viewed Lex Luthor as a comic creation who I never really took seriously, and I certainly never viewed him as a significant threat to Superman. At least in Superman II he was sidelined as the main villain thanks to Terence Stamp's somewhat more threatening General Zod. Kevin Spacey was a damn scary Luthor at times, but as fantastic an actor as he is he didn't quite do enough to make up for the Hackman Luthor. So when I sat down to watch Smallville I wasn't expecting much of Lex the character. In fact, when I first saw Michael Rosenbaum as Lex I was horrified! His head wasn't the right shape! But how stupid I was, because in the space of one season he's cemented his place as the definitive Lex Luthor in my mind. Yes, in one season he undid all those years of my childhood where I associated Gene Hackman with Lex - and I'm so glad he did. Because, swear to God, he's bloody brilliant in that role. He's exactly the right mixture of charming, cunning, intelligent, sinister and, at times, a little bit scary. His performance has actually redeemed the character of Lex Luthor for me. Gone are the days where I think of him as a bit of wimp; now I think of him as a genuine threat. Then again, I think another reason why I think that is because in Smallville Lex has a lot of influence over Clark, which makes Clark more vulnerable, whereas in the films you never really get the impression that Lex has anything on Superman, apart from in the first film where he pulled out that Kryptonite necklace. So, all I can say is: Michael Rosenbaum, I bow down to you! I'm presuming that over the next nine seasons we're going to see Lex descend more and more into the role of enemy rather than friend, and I think that if Michael Rosenbaum keeps up this performance, I'm going to be in for a real treat.

It feels like this entry is coming to a natural close now, but I feel I just can't end this post without saying something about the fantastic, beautiful and talented Tom Welling. He's the perfect choice for Clark Kent. He's the right build, seems to have a perfect understanding of what is needed to play Clark and, above, anything else, he just feels right for the role, and that's not always the case with leading actors so I don't think that's something that should go unappreciated. He's just so loveable as Clark, and you really do understand what he's going through when you watch him on screen. He's not Chrisopher Reeve, but unlike Brandon Routh in Superman Returns, he was never supposed to be. This isn't Superman, this is Smallville, and therefore Tom Welling is quite rightly putting his own stamp on the character. For me (and countless others), Christopher Reeve will always always always be Superman, and to some extent will always be the definitive bumbling adult Clark Kent. But at the same time, Tom Welling is now the definitive young Clark Kent. Now, admittedly there isn't exactly a lot of competition, but the point still stands: before, when someone would say "Clark Kent" to me I'd automatically think of Christopher Reeve. But now if someone says that name, two faces appear in my mind, the adult one and the teenage one - Christopher Reeve and Tom Welling. I think the real test will come in the later years of the show, where Clark won't be a teenager anymore but the Clark Kent more similar to the one I'm familiar with from the films; the Clark who works in the Daily Planet and who knows people like Lois and Jimmy. But that's still a long way off for me, and in the mean time I'm just going to sit back and enjoy Tom Welling's wonderful performance.

And I think there's only one more thing I wanted to say. In fact, I was talking about this online just the other day. What makes Smallville different from most other shows is that you actually already know all the major plot points. You know Jonathan Kent is going to die at some stage. You know Clark and Lana will never walk off happily into the sunset (permanently at least) because Clark (or at least Superman) is ultimately destined for Lois. You know Clark isn't going to be stuck in Smallville all his life. You know who he's eventually going to be. In fact, I've actually already seen the final scene of the show (I stumbled across it on YouTube before I decided to start watching the show)! But do you know what? That doesn't matter at all. Because Smallville is about how Superman became Superman. It has the ability to explore the kind of stuff that the films simply didn't have time to. It explores what it means to be Superman. And I love that kind of stuff. And that's what makes the show so great.

And that, faithful viewer, is where I'm going to wrap things up for now. I really enjoyed writing that, and I hope you enjoyed reading it. I can't express how excited I am to watch Season 2, but it still hasn't arrived in the post, even though it was sent out ages ago. I'm incredibly annoyed about that. Coping without Smallville over the past few days has been so tough! I suppose I could always watch it online, but I guess I'm weird in that I don't really approve of watching stuff online. Well, I think approve is the wrong word, but you know what I mean. I don't watch stuff online in the same way that I always pay for my music. Besides, when possible I prefer to watch things on the telly, and you can only really do that with a DVD, so that's another reason why watching online isn't preferable. Needless to say, however, hopefully Season 2 will turn up soon. If it doesn't, I'll cry, haha! In fact, knowing my luck Season 3 will come in the post tomorrow but Season 2 won't turn up until the week where I have to start doing work experience. Typical, eh?

Anyway, regardless of whenever it turns up, I'm looking forward to both watching Season 2 and writing about it.

Best wishes!


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