Saturday, July 27, 2013

Series Rewatch: Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman S1E1 "Pilot"

It's been years since I watched this. I was a little leery. I remember mostly that it was over the top and cartoonish and I wasn't sure how it would hold up two decades down the line. And actually it was better than I expected. It was definitely still over the top and cartoonish, but I think that may actually have been WHY it still works. I've noticed that when you watch a show that's this old that one of the things that makes it seem dated is that the clothes are weird and the cars are weird and the technology is dated.

But here's the thing...a lot of what was going on here was so very stylized--Lois's clothes are very much evocative of the 40s and tend to be very fitted (I know that the hallmark of horrible early 90s fashion is that everyone wore everything approximately 9 sizes too large)--so you're less likely to be distracted. But at the time I was SO distracted. Distracted by how adorable I thought Dean Cain was and how I planned to marry him. Distracted by the perfection of Lois's ultra-shiny dark brown bob. Distracted by the (what I found to be at the time) witty dialogue.

As far as a pilot episode, it hit most of the marks. It set a tone for the series as a whole which they pretty much stuck to for the run. It's feature length so there's a lot of time to get a lot of information in there. But in actuality, there's not a lot to put out there. It's entertaining and fun, but the plot, as tended to be true of the show as a whole, was slightly silly. There are two things happening. The first is the human story. Specifically, Clark Kent arriving in Metropolis and trying to get a job at The Daily Planet while trying to decide what he's going to do about his powers. And here's the reason watching it FEELS silly: As much as Perry White hems and haws and turns Clark down at the initial interview, we, as a society,are so aware of the Superman mythos, that it's impossible for us to TRULY suspend our disbelief to the point that we actually have any kind of question about whether or not Clark will eventually work as a reporter at The Daily Planet. Just like he can dither about whether he's going to use his powers to help people and how he can make that a reality, but we are being completely disingenuous if we act like we don't know that before the end of the episode he's going to put on that red and blue suit and get down to the business of superheroing. Likewise, the whole action hero plot involves the crack investigative team of Lane and Kent trying to figure out who's sabotaging The Space Program's Space Research Station so they can replace the Program's station with their own for profit. Which...I guess could be suspenseful. If they hadn't mentioned Lex Luthor approximately ten thousand times in the course of the episode. (And then meeting him face to face for the first time at a party during a thunderstorm where there are huge crashes of thunder at opportune and suspenseful moments.) It's Superman, for Pete's sake. If there's bad-guying to be done, then Luthor is your man.

But this sounds like all complaints and really, I found it to be enjoyable. It moved. There was no lolly-gagging through useless scenes and it did seem at least somewhat in on the joke of revealing to us a bunch of stuff we obviously already know. The people in it are very, very pretty and not half-bad actors. It was clever enough (although not as clever as it would be later). K Callan and Eddie Jones as Martha and Jonathan Kent and Lane Smith as Perry White pretty much own ever scene they're in, outshining the younger crowd (although that may have to do with the fact that the nature of those characters gives them much better raw material with which to work.)

Good: The pretty. The willingness to commit to the ridiculous. It's very shiny to look at. The entire scene where Martha designs and makes the Superman costume (it's a montage set to "Holding Out for a Hero"). The tongue in cheek references to whether or not people are going to be fooled by the glasses. Gratuitous shirtless Dean Cain scene. Teri Hatcher's bob.

Bad: Some truly poor acting from the bit part crowd. The plot is evocative of the series...the more pedestrian episodes of the series, that is. It's not dreadful, but it's not a great moment in television. The jaw-droppingly 1993 nature of the special effects.

Ugly: Dean Cain's proto mullet when he's Clark.

OMGWTFBBQ Guest Star: This episode is filled with actors in guest spots who are the kind of actors you recognize as familiar but don't quite know why. Television Without Pity always called them, "Hey! It's that guy!" The one who was truly recognizable to me was Persis Khambatta who was Lieutenant Ilia (hot, bald alien chick) in Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

Overall Grade: I want to give it an A for effort, but really I hand it a solid B. Good enough that it could compel one to watch more episodes. Not in the Pilot Hall of Fame.

In which my television curse continues full throttle...

It's a long-running joke amongst my friends that I am a curse on television shows. If there's a new show that I see advertised and I think to myself, "Hey, that shoe looks really good. I'm gonna watch it." and then I watch it from the beginning, said show will be canceled after one season (maybe, two). I have killed Homefront, Pushing Daisies, Mr. Sunshine and most sadly (at least to me) Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. There are others. It's traumatic for me to discuss it at length.

And that is why I'm issuing an apology. Because y'all...I have killed Bunheads. It was saucy and sassy and it starred Sutton Foster and it was about ballet. Sometimes there were production numbers. It delighted the hell out of me for 18 episodes and then it was in this weird limbo place where ABC Family was trying to decide whether to cancel or renew and after keeping everyone waiting for the better part of the summer, they cancel it. (Actually, this shouldn't surprise me. Disney is doing their level-best to kill my soul this summer.)

I'm dead inside. I got that show. That show got ME. And now 'tis but a memory.

Partying like it's...1993

Last night, I started thinking how I haven't done a "re-watch" in a while. I mean, a legit start to finish on a show. I watch old shows all the time. I have an almost embarrassingly huge collection of television shows on DVD. Plus a few more newer ones on iTunes. And amongst those I have a few go-to episodes that I tend to watch over and over again. So what I actually decided to do was watch TWO things. It's weird, The X-Files has been EVERYWHERE on my social media for the last week and change because this fall is the 20th anniversary of its premiere and it was featured at Comic-Con. And I was really thinking about 20 years ago, because last weekend was also my high school 20th reunion. I didn't go to it, but I've REALLY been remembering 20 years ago because of it. As I walked to the shelves with the TV DVDs for some reason my eye was drawn to Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. And I realized that is ALSO premiered 20 years ago (or thereabouts) and that it was, in fact, the OTHER show that I watched on Sunday nights in college. So, I'm going to watch both. It's an interesting juxtaposition. They were both huge nerd draws. The X-Files still very much is, I think. Lois & Clark ran for four seasons and a total of 87 episodes. It was fairly light-hearted and embraced the comic-y side of the Superman mythos. And by that I mean the old school comic-y side. It was almost cartoonish in moments and had a pretty loyal following although it was never a ratings boom. Even at its very most serious it wasn't particularly deep. Even though it dealt with a subject that was so ingrained in the public consciousness, it took it from a completely different angle. What I loved about it was that that the guiding premise (and I'm going to quote Clark Kent on the show here) was "Clark is who I am. Superman is what I do." Which was a sharp contrast to the Superman films that I had watched as a kid. Because it focused on Clark, I think it was a great way to shine a light on other characters--if it's always Superman, it's always Superman and the Big Bad--specifically, in this case, Clark and his relationship with his parents was so cute and fun and depth-filled. I have a hands-down favorite episode, "Tempus Fugitive" from the second season (which is probably the best season as well) and having so clear a favorite episode is weird for me. Sadly the show was never able to produce great ratings (although Teri Hatcher became one of the first internet phenomenons because of it. And being a smoking hot babe). It ended on a cliffhanger and then didn't get picked up for a fifth season. The X-Files was different. It was a phenomenon. It was HUGE. It ran for 9 seasons and a total of 202 episodes plus two feature films and two spin-off series. So many aspects--"I Want to Believe", "The Truth is out there.", the theme song, the characters themselves--became so hugely iconic (I can name off the top of my head it being explicitly referenced by both Bones and Castle) that it's sometimes hard to remember a time when it and references to it weren't a part of our cultural vernacular. Filmed for the first four seasons in dank, rainy Vancouver, it couldn't possibly be any visually different from L&C and while there were any number of stand-alone/Monster of the Week episodes that were just plain funny, they were also sophisticated and even if verging on the silly, very, very clever. The episodes that weren't the "comedy" episodes were dark. ALL of the mytharc episodes were dark and the stand-alones that were dark were freakishly dark and sometimes absolutely terrifying. Like L&C, it was part of the first wave of internet fandom although rather than a picture of Teri Hatcher rolling around scantily clad and wrapped in a Superman cape, with The X-Files it as EVERYTHING. Message boards full of speculation and episode discussion and fanfiction. This is a fandom who created the idea and terms of "shipping" and "shippers", for God's sake. The last two seasons were shaky--mainly because David Duchovny was absent from about half the episodes of the 8th season and all but the final episode of the 9th season--but they finished with at least a respectable amount of closure and enough ongoing interest for there to be a second movie and continued speculation about a third. I've watched both pilots. My thoughts to follow.