Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Sayonara, Smallville: "Supergirl"

Incredible but true: This year, The CW's "Smallville" embarks on its tenth and final season, making it not just the longest-running Superman TV show ever but the longest-running comic book TV show ever produced. Bananas, right?

To celebrate its final year, we're teaming up our collective powers of dumb DCU trivia, long experience watching and writing about the show and general obsession with serial TV to bring you "Sayonara, Smallville" – a semi-regular feature where we'll review the most notable episodes of the season whenever we can. Everyone is invited to play along. (Welcome back after NYCC!)

Kiel: I think this may be the first truly awful episode of "Smallville" I've watched in a while. It's like a sobering reminder of why I dropped out to begin with.

Ben: Yeah, this was not a good episode – disappointing, because they started out pretty strong out the gate. And not every single thing about it was bad, but a lot, and generally not in a "so bad it's good" way either.

Kiel: No, it just screamed "TV budget" in the worst way...did you have a particular thing you hated most?

Ben: Well, I think I can somewhat answer that by saying "Smallville" has become a show for better or worse defined by its guest stars/DC cameos. The Fourth World stuff, Hawkman and the Suicide Squad made the first two episodes of the season pretty solid, but Supergirl...well, she's not the best.

Kiel: The one thing I always liked about Laura Vandervoort in this part is the fact that she's so pretty that the perfectly balanced features of her face look kind of unnatural. She really does seem alien to me, which is why she should be a great Supergirl and is someone who works well on the creepy as hell "V" cast, but this episode gave her (and pretty much everyone else on the show) nothing more to do than to A) regurgitate exposition on the big conflict of the season or B) state the metaphorical underpinnings of the season in stark, boring terms. In short: waste of a perfectly odd hot girl.

Ben: Haha. Y'know, the thing I like most about "Smallville" and Vandervoort's take on Supergirl is also the thing that ultimately tends to bug me the most. I kinda enjoy that they reverse the traditional Superman/Supergirl dynamic and have her as the stoic, experienced one trying to mentor Clark, and what you said about Vandervoort's penchant for playing alien and aloof makes her perfect for that. On the other hand, as a guest star, she kind of sucks the energy out of the room. Tom Welling is already pretty square-jawed and serious, so when you pair him with a Green Arrow or Impulse or even just Lois, it's a nice contrast, but with Supergirl, it's like they're just trying to out-grimace each other. In short: She's not fun. When she was part of the regular cast, the rest balanced her out, but when it's just her and Clark as the focal point, it bores me.

Kiel: I so wanted the scene where he tries to fly and falls to be funny!

Ben: That's a good example. They're both way too earnest for anything to be funny

Kiel: That "just listen to the wings of the butterfly and you can fly" shit made me want to bite into my knuckle I was so embarrassed for them. It was just awkward.

And here's my other thing with her: Early in the show, they had a fake Kara show up as sent by Jor-El (played by that chick from "Friday Night Lights" Mel had to escort around Wizard World Texas one year), and that episode was a lot of fun because she was so sinister, and we were learning this idea that Jor-El was kind of an evil fuck...a great twist on the expectation for how Clark becomes Superman. But later, when they brought the "real" Kara and Jor-El to light, they never really found a hook as good as that, so what the story becomes is "Jor-El the passive-aggressive dick and his ineffectual lackey Kara" -- it's like half of that good idea that they squandered on a blow off episode when they never thought they'd actually do that plot, and so all the drama or fun of those concepts is totally lost.

Ben: Was that actually Jor-El in the original Kara episode? I can't remember if he was a trick or not.

Kiel: Neither can I, and that's the problem. They've never found a compelling reason for him to do anything in the show except be unexpectedly evil. So who cares?

Ben: Jor-El on "Smallville" alternately fascinates and confuses me. I am intrigued by the idea that he's this cold counterpoint to Jonathan Kent and not necessarily so much a bad guy as an uncaring father whose a product of the sterile environment that was Krypton. However, like you said, a lot of times his motivation is pretty unclear and they lose that in favor of "he's just a dick." If they were consistent and stuck with "He's hard on Clark and willing to let the ends justify the means because that's just how Kryptonians are" it would be an interesting nature vs nurture deal, but it has gotten muddled. They did a time travel episode last year where young Jor-El came to Earth and was pretty much a decent guy. You should watch if only so you can explain it to me.

Kiel: Ha! I'll look for it! So, yeah...Kara did very little this episode beyond swoop in at the last minute and repel the unnamed Darkseid's murder of cosmic crows with a bracelet she got at Rue 21, which brings me to the next topic of discussion: What the fuck?

Ben: You're going to need to specify your "What the fuck" – There's a lot of ground to cover.

Kiel: I mean, you've got the New Gods – the fucking NEW GODS – and I know you can't do the full blown thing on TV without it looking stupid, but is the best possible way for you to show the greatest evil in the DC Universe a cloud of smokey crows who does something vaguely painful to a dude off camera?

Whenever I think of the New Gods being totally bad ass in man's world, I think of that scene in Morrison's Mister Miracle series where they hold the cell phone up to the girl's ear so she can hear the Anti-Life equation and the black bile that coms out of her eyes, nose and ears completely rewrites her sense of's a totally unnerving scene that makes you feel awful and powerless that can easily be done on TV with a little creative camera work and some cultish, yet PG torture porn acting, and they blew it, man. What a waste.

Ben: Yeah, I mean, I think it was kind of a given that we were sort of waiting with bated breath to see how they'd pull the New Gods off visually and from an FX perspective on a show like this and unfortunately the other shoe dropped this week. Doubly unfortunate because I did get goosebumps from the Darkseid shadow cloud in the season premiere.

I mean look: This is the show where Mr. Mxzyptlk was an exchange student and Brainiac was a college professor who looked like Spike from "Buffy." It's a show where until Green Arrow the identifiers for Flash or Aquaman were the color codes of their t-shirts. It's understandable that fans of the comics in particular would get antsy at being promised Doomsday or Darkseid. But I guess I do understand they can only do so much on network TV. I do agree it would have been nice to go psychological if you don't have the FX budget, but this is also still airing on a network where the biggest audience is tween girls. I guess it's a sign that for as much as Smallville has adapted to become a geek show in its later years as we've discussed, those teen soap opera roots still show. My only hope I guess is they're pinching pennies for a blowout finale where they can do the true Darkseid justice.

Kiel: No yeah, I hope they can make something happen. And in the last few seasons they've had some legit big moments where things have come together in a real bad ass and creative way. I honestly thought the Doomsday episodes I saw had a pretty intimidating monster on screen (the "Death of Jimmy" episode in particular)...but this week the thing that really screamed "you didn't think this through" was "Glorious" Godfrey. That guy was so milquetoast and ineffectual, and he's supposed to be whipping the public into a frenzy against superheroes.

I mean, we live in a world where Glen Beck is on TV every Goddamned day blubbering like a fucking crazy person in front of a chalkboard with a picture of Hitler taped to it, and people take him SERIOUSLY. In response, this show gives us a balding dude who sits around smoking in front of a microphone like some kind of community theater Eric Bogosian. FAIL.

Ben: Haha. I think we're actually going to have our first significant difference of opinion to date in this column here, although your argument there actually changed my mind a bit. What I will say is that the material he was given – which I'll get to in a minute aside, I actually thought the guy who played Godfrey was pretty decent. And I will educate you on him having just looked him up on IMDB.

Kiel: Please do!

Ben: His name is Michael Daingerfield and in addition to straight acting, he also does voiceovers, writes, produces, is a comedian and even an athlete! He was actually already on "Smallville" once back in 2003 as an assassin. But aside from that, he voices The Unicorn on "Iron Man: Armored Adventures," was on that "4400" show you liked and was in the friggin' Catowman movie!

Kiel: CRAZY! But you thought he did well here?

Ben: Yeah, I did like him here, not so much as the rabble rouser he was supposed to be, but I thought he effectively conveyed the possessed-by-Darkseid stuff. I liked his delivery of the creepy lines, like when he's in the limo with his publicist or talking to Lois. He had a good eerie calm and total confidence mixed with disdain. But I also thought he did a nice job of walking the line of being an effective portent of what Clark's up against while holding back enough that we get this is only Darkseif at like 40% tops. I can't imagine it's the easiest thing to be given the direction of "You're the biggest villain in the universe, kinda, but we need you to only be the first and thus weakest manifestation of him" and I did think Mr. Daingerfield did that.

Kiel: The end was much better, I'll give you that. And I will say that the only shot of the whole episode that had a legitimate sense of dread and creepiness was the one where Lois was wrapped up in that strangling mess of curtains at Club Desaad that for some reason reminded me of intestines...but I was still hoping for a little more effort here.

Ben: Right on about that Lois image really being the direction they need to go in with the Apokolips crowd. Hopefully they take a cue from that. I feel like with the bulk of the episode somebody read Final Crisis and missed a lot of the points, only seeing the "Oh, they like bondage" stuff when it came to the evil New Gods. I do not need to see sex fetish Mary Marvel on this show

Kiel: Holy shit, that would be epic in its madness though.

Ben: I wouldn't rule it out. By the way, how did Godfrey, let alone nigh omnipotent god Darkseid, not notice his limo driver and the bondage girl pouring candle wax on him both sounded exactly like Lois Lane, whom he had just had a confrontation with? Neither disguise was that good, and they had to be in that limo at least a little while

Kiel: There were a lot of glaring plot holes this week, even for "Smallville." I mean, the publicist scene where Godfrey goes "once the secret final chapter of my book hits the web tomorrow, it will start the dominos falling on all of humankind as the fear corrupts their souls" and she goes, "you so crazy...get some sleep. Laterz!" was there just to establish that he had a thumb drive in his pocket.

Side convo: how TERRIBLE was that publicist actress????

Ben: Oh she was the pits. As Megan likes to say any time we're watching anything and somebody that bad comes on, "Somebody has a cousin who's a producer..."

Kiel: The other thing that stuck out to me about the New Gods stuff was how Kara and Clark just keep referring to him as "a dark force" or "the darkness" or whatever, and I know that no one who's just watching this show on TV who doesn't read comics will be kept from the big villain's name until later in the show, but the language they used in its place just made the whole exercise sound silly.

Ben: It definitely got both noticeable and tiresome. I was disappointed that they so quickly established Lois (and to a lesser extent Kara) as incorruptible by Darkseid. Having Lois fall under his sway later in the season would have been both unnerving and a significant challenge for Clark in a way a Darkseid-possessed Green Arrow or Hawkman can never be.

Kiel: Well, here's what I was going to say on all that...we've discovered over the past two weeks how the two threads they seem to be building for this season are A) Clark might be corrupted by a dark power that will stop him from becoming the hero he's meant to be and B) the idea that to be a true hero, Clark has to step out without a mask and be accepted by the public. In this episode, we got movement on both those fronts, and not just a little tease of them, but a shit load of heavy-handed dialogue that just wouldn't give up until you knew that the so-called subtext was EXACTLY how the character's felt. Aside from being decidedly non-subtle (which you know I hate), the tactic did make it feel like these threads can't possibly be stretched out for the entire season, you know?

Ben: Yeah, I mean this isn't "Gossip Girl."

Kiel: Do you think they could throw a curveball where those themes don't last more than a five-episode arc or so?

Ben: No, you're right, it's only three episodes in and it definitely feels like we're being beat over the head with exactly what Clark needs to do in order to be a hero. Unfortunately, as appealing and appropriate as it is to have the final season of a long-running show be a parade of guest stars primarily from the run thus far, there's also the danger of the writers feeling like the best way to continue to pay lip service to their super story is to have each of these characters justify being part of the larger arc by kinda giving the same pep talk over and over. Obviously, Smallville has fallen into this trap pretty quickly.

We've got a long way to go, and probably a lot more familiar faces who are going to show up and warn Clark about the dangers of fear and overconfidence, tell him about his potential, encourage him to step into the light, yada yada. Speaking of that last point, is it just me or did the big identity reveal of Green Arrow as Oliver Queen really...not feel like a big deal at all? I'm interested in seeing how it changes his dynamic, but it felt really tacked on,

Kiel: It felt like a $3 version of the end of "Iron Man" is what it fucking felt like. But I mean, setting aside it's general lack of drama (which I'm not blaming on my boy Justin Hartley, because his shirtless Akido routine this week made me fall in love with that big hunk all over again), I was at least encouraged that it felt like they were willing to change some things early in this season...a move for the better if you ask me.

Ben: Yeah, I agree it will lead to interesting things, and Hartley is best-equipped to pull it off, it's just unfortunate it was executed with so little build and finesse. Green Arrow/Ollie is definitely one of the best characters on the show, so I just felt like he deserved better. That said, I'm very intrigued to see the ramifications both for him and on his relationship with Clark.

Kiel: Well, I don't know if you saw the interview with Peterson and Souders my boy Erik Amaya did on CBR today...It's not very spoilery in terms of the whole season, more of a piece on how the 200th episode came together on creative terms with a little behind the scenes stuff on how they're constructing the guest stars for the rest of the year. But the pair play some lip service to making this one a big moment for Clark, so I'm interested to see if it ends up being on of those really good "turning point" episodes of "Smallville" where we get a lot of major story beats all together that help shape a bit of what's going on with the mythology.

Ben: Well hopefully that will be a step back in the right direction. I don't feel like this episode completely derailed things, but certainly it was a hiccup in the momentum they were building. You'll likely see more of the "You need to do this, Clark" stuff next week, but it will be delivered by James Marsters, which can make a pretty big difference. I know Kristen Kreuk will be flashback, which once again will give me the opportunity to wag my finger at her, Michael Rosenbaum and Alison Mack for being too "busy" to drop by the show that made them for such a milestone. You know Sam Jones III would be there in a heartbeat.

Kiel: HA! I do think it's pretty funny that the plot of the episode is a high school reunion and no one that Clark went to high school with will be there. Maybe Whitney the QB will show up!

Ben: He died.


Ben: Off camera. I'm serious

Kiel: Oh shit, it was in Iraq, right?

Ben: Yep.

Kiel: Damn, this show has been on a long time.

Ben: It sure has. I hope the other Ashmore twin who was a freak of the week is on and Clark's like "Jimmy?!"

Kiel: And then JTT pops out, and is like, "No fucking way!" and then giant explosions!

Ben: Hahahaha. Every kid who got shitty powers and Clark put down should just corner him in the parking lot.

Kiel: And ask him if he can get them a guest spot on "Hellcats."

Ben: Fun fact: IMDB tells me that Michael "Gordon Godfrey" Daingerfield was already also on an episode of "Hellcats." Somebody made a good impression...

So wait, was Clark a freshman or sophomore in high school when this show started? Because regardless, what school has six or seven year reunions?

Kiel: I thought of that too, but you can't assault this show with logic, Ben.

Ben: Well, to wrap up, I've got a special guest commentary from TJ Dietsch to close out this week's edition of "Sayonara, Smallville."

Kiel: Oh boy!

Ben: "Oh man, I loved the appearance of some character from the DC Universe the regular public doesn't know about"

Kiel: HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! A brilliant observation as always from Mr. D.

Ben: The best part is this is probably the one week that comment will be a swing and a miss. But eloquent and well-stated nonetheless.


Adam T said...

Clark was a freshman in season one and this is his 5 year reunion, the first class reunion that the show has ever done

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