Monday, May 9, 2011

Sayonara, Smallville: "Booster"

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?

We've been off as it's been off, but 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.

Kiel: Booster!

Ben: I gotta be honest, I didn't think Booster was the cat's pajamas quite the way a lot of other people seem to think it was from reaction I've been reading. I thought it was a solid episode and there were aspects I liked – Booster himself in particular, who I don't think could have been better – but it certainly didn't strike me as one of the best ever or even this season. And I'm still a bit thrown that it got the placement it did so late in the season from a story perspective. From a business and fandom perspective, I get that Geoff as writer, Welling as director and Booster/Beetle as guest stars are all draws, but it really took things off course as far as contuining that final march. To me this episode belonged back in January maybe.

Kiel: It's odd. I think that there are two ways to look at this episode: as the annual "Geoff Johns introduces a DC character" ep or as a part of the bigger Season 10 mythology. I thought it worked as the best example of the former category but a way weaker one of the latter, but I'm not sure how I felt about it overall.

I DO think that the "Let's nerd up Clark stuff" was done all right and fit well enough for this time in the season, but even though it was tied to the Booster stuff, that stuff made it seem really secondary. Maybe that was the problem? That the stuff that should have taken prescedence didn't?

Ben: Well, the other problem there was that it was really a retread of what was already more or less dealt with a few episode back in Masquerade. Clark already realized he needed the secret identity and started working at it there, but flip ahead to Booster and he's back pushing against Lois and struggling to be nerdy Clark like that episode never happened. I've read that was in part because Booster was originally slotted for earlier in the season and they moved it for whatever reason, but it still messed with the chronology for me and threw off the episode. Like you said, standalone it's a very different episode than when you try and reconcile it with the rest of the season.

Kiel: Well, let's look at the stand alone elements first then, and we can move on to bigger issues later: like I said, I thought this was the best Geoff episode yet. It's no real fault of his own, but I really think Geoff's reliance on the classic dialogue nods and other tropes from the comics has made for some super awkward on screen moments. The "Long Live The Legion" thing in particular was super lame. But Booster as a character is meant to be that corny and off-putting (owning it while he goes, but still), so this one had a much more natural feel to it overall. And duder did a great job with both halves of Booster – the crazy showboat and the tortured fallen superstar – which went a long way to carrying the crazier moments.

Ben: I'll both agree and disagree with you. And on pretty much the same grounds I've been going on. It was a strong single episode in the sense that he nailed the character of Booster Gold. If this were a backdoor pilot for a Booster Gold series coming next fall, I'd sign up.

However…Despite whatever criticisms you may have of the Legion and/or JSA episodes, I don't think you can deny as part of the serialized story that is Smallville and Clark Kent's journey to being Superman, both were far more important better integrated into the bigger picture.

I guess what I'm saying is this late in the game I'm looking for some advancement in Clark's character and build towards the final act in every episode. In both the Legion and JSA episodes, Clark learned important lessons and you could see him inching towards Superman. Here he was pretty much just a guest star in a pitch for The Booster Gold Show (featuring Blue Beetle) recycling through a subplot on his secret identity he already went through a few weeks earlier. Again, if you remove the episode from the rest of the series, it plays stronger. If you look at it as part of the whole, I don't think it is in fact Geoff's greatest contribution to the show. And also once again, had this episode aired in late January or something, I'd be far more forgiving.

Kiel: Sure, and I agree that this last less to do with the here and now of the show, but I think my negatives on "Smallville" far more often have to do with the moment to moment performances in each episode than I do the big mythological stuff, so that's where I fall in my early criticisms.

I will say though...not to just take the word of the creative talent of the show, but I did speak to Eric Martsolf, the actor playing Booster, and aside from being a real nice guy who seemed to really put in his homework for the character, he made the argument for why Booster was in at this point in the show: to be the guy who shows Clark Kent what showmanship can offer to being a hero. I think that case makes sense even though Booster has no historical place in Superman's development. Not sure they really nailed that point in the actual ep, but still...interesting idea. I think that some folks who know zip about the comics may have been way more likely to go along here than folks like us.

Ben: But did you walk away from the episode feeling like Clark learned any sort of lesson from Booster? I'm not saying that was not what they were going for, but did you feel like it came across?

Kiel: I feel like that seed was planted...

Ben: I felt like Booster learned a lesson from Clark, which was a nice moment and if anything actually showed he can be inspirational rather than the way we're always told he can be, but as far as the showmanship bit, I would never have gotten that had you not just said anything.

Kiel: If Clark comes out by the end of the series wearing the suit and having to "play" hero in front of the public, I think they can complete that thread. But if they don't honestly follow up on that idea by series end, big dropped ball.

Ben: Well, agree to disagree. I did not see that.

Kiel: Totally fair.

Ben: I think the thing we can agree on is that Eric Martsolf was absolutely brilliant as Booster. They could not have cast better. And Geoff wrote the hell out of that character. Something about Booster Gold really seems to motivate Geoff to step up his game, whether it's in comics or here. Maybe it's because he's nowhere near an A-list character and he goes the extra mile to make him not just entertaining but have some depth. Mission accomplished on thats score. Again: I'd watch a Booster Gold series starring Eric Martsolf in a heartbeat.

Kiel: Me too! I even asked him in the interview whether he'd be in for that very reason.

Kiel: I will say on the other hand that Jaime Reyes got short-shrift here through what I assume was mostly a timing issue.

Ben: That was kinda where I was going to go from there: I think just how well Booster came off as written and performed could maybe make you overlook where the episode was lacking in other areas on initial viewing. When the big shiny thing up front looks awesome, you don't necessarily notice the other stuff.

Jaime and Blue Beetle were both misses for me. The Jaime character certainly didn't resemble the kid from the comics, which shouldn't be requisite, but I'd much rather have seen him than the pushover teenager cliche. I also didn't really understand the bigger Blue Beetle plot, as far as why Beetle went after Booster aside from they needed a big fight scene.

Kiel: Yeah, I feel like they had to go with the "out of his depth nerd" because what else can you fit in as the third plotline of the episode. And again, I may just be more willing to chalk this up on episode-to-episode basis, but I just figured the Beetle's "Threat Assesment" mode targeted Booster's tech first.

The plot point thing that bothered me...well, I guess there were two of them: 1 - I never understood or saw what it was that made Jaime the person who could survive the Scarab when supposed super bad ass corporate type Dan Garret got killed.

2 - Speaking of which, I don't need Dan Garret and Ted Kord shoe-horned in to every Blue Beetle story forever after this, really. They did it in "Batman: The Brave & The Bold" too, and I think it just drags the good things about the Jaime character down

Ben: On the first hole, I got nothing. On the second, I didn't really mind it because they were non-factors. Garret didn't appear and Kord was just a means to an ends plot advancement character. Both were winks to the geek crowd, but I'm sure non-comics fans didn't bat an eyelash (I was watching with one and know she certainly didn't). Those are the Easter eggs I expect and appreciate from a Geoff-written episode. I'd also argue their inclusion had nothing to do with dragging the Jaime character down here so much as the fact that this was not Jaime did.

Kiel: Well, I think when you spend a lot of time (or relatively a lot of time compared to Jaime's on screen moments) establishing this corporate background and this failed lab test and stuff, you've got less time to build up something original about Jaime.

Ben: True.

Kiel: I guess what I'm saying is that in general, it seems very important for DC to present a Blue Beetle that incorporates all this weird comic book past than it is to present a stand alone teen hero...not exclusively, mind you. But that feeling is there for me, and it bothers a wee bit.

Ben: Do you feel at the end of the day like including Blue Beetle at all was a mistake? Could this have been a stronger episode with Clark and Booster against a freak of the week? Or at the very least, was Beetle unnecessary? Like, for every hardcore fan who loved that these characters were paired, do you think there were more casual viewers who just wanted more Booster or am I overthinking it?

Kiel: Yeah, I think so. I mean, the beetle stuff allowed to get Lois in the episode, which is a requisite when the other 3/5ths of the regular cast are out of commission, but I think there could have been another way to get her involved.

Ben: You could have had Lois simply from the angle that Booster wanted her to interview him though

Kiel: You are right there. HOWEVER…I don't think that including the Beetle hurt the Booster story very much at all, so really what we're arguing here is that they put in a plotline for fans that was handicapped from the start.

Ben: Yeah, I didn't so much feel like we needed more Booster as, like you just said, his story was fine. I don't know what I would have done with the extra time and space freed up from dropping Beetle. Ultimately it probably didn't hurt things for anybody but us as people who don't follow the comics likely just saw Beetle as a freak of the week anyhow. More than anything you probably had some people like us who felt like Blue Beetle was not done justice. So again, it's just a matter of who the audience is.

Kiel: For sure, and when presented with more exposure for established characters versus weird one offs, I'll go with the comics guys all the way.

Ben: Good point. It's certainly more fun to see a Blue Beetle I didn't love than some guy who got generic armor.

Ben: I'd assume that was the last we will see of Cat Grant on this show. How did you feel like she finished up?

Kiel: Aside from my stupid crush (which was in full effect during the Booster-ette scene), I'm honestly surprised they stuck with this character long enough to give her a full arc of sorts. I thought for sure she was going to be a one-off. And really, not a bad little story all things considered.

Ben: I thought Cat Grant was used well. Every time we needed to see the POV of the average Smallville Universe jane who didn't necessarily think The Blur was all that, we got her. If anything, her conversion to Blur fan at the end may have been the most significant moment as that bigger arc I keep nagging on. It is pretty hilarious how many times he had to save her for her not to hate him though. She was a funny little character.

Kiel: For sure. The only other thing that pops into my head to wrap is whether Tom W pulls off nerdy Clark...I think he does!

Ben: Tom Welling is brilliant as nerdy Clark. One of this series' great crimes--and there are many--is that we won't get to see more of him as nerdy Clark.

Kiel: I know they're pushin the character back towards the pre-Crisis "Clark is the mask" version, and we can argue the specific merits of that idea on another day (and I will hit on it a bit in another "Smallville Week" post), but yeah...overall it's an element that works well for this universe and for that actor. It's a real shame that they won't be able to do more with that, and I think a failing of the producers that they didn't push him into full out Superman earlier in the show.

Ben: The idea that after a decade as publicly visible dreamy hunk Clark Kent anybody is not going to recognize him as Superman of course remains ridiculous, but it's a necessary conceit of the show that you just gotta hold your tongue on.

Kiel: Todd MacFarlane once said to me "Why does that happen? Because it's Spawn and he's in a comic book." Same idea.

Ben: We should have him on to talk "Smallville" this week. I would love to see a Todd McFarlane-written episode of "Smallville."

Kiel: I'm sure Todd's opinions on this show would be INSANE and totally entertaining. Still, I think we'll have to hit big later this week in what we want to see in the finale in terms of what has and hasn't been on the show yet. But that's all for now.

Ben: Heck, that's a whole other post to go along with my "Characters We Never Saw": "Creators Who Should Have Written Smallville." Overall, I want to couch my commentary for Booster with the fact that I did actually like this episode and in particular though Booster himself was one of the best guest stars in terms of being both true to his comics version and plain awesome.

Kiel: Agree! I think people who read this column will think we hated this episode, but it completely passes my "Final run of episodes should feel awesome" litmus test.

Ben: I also thought--and didn't really get to go into this – that another benefit of having Geoff write this episode was that he knows perfectly how to portray the heroism and inspirational qualities of Clark Kent/Superman, seen perfectly in his final pep talk to Booster, which was something that fit nicely in this run of final episodes.

Kiel: Yeah, Geoff is the all-time master at externalizing the one sentence metaphor pitch for any superhero, and since Superman is the greatest superhero that's no shocker.

Ben: Well, again, I'm not sure I'd put it in my "awesome" column as there was still too much I just didn't dig--Blue Beetle wasn't great, the plot driving the action didn't work, the Clark secret identity stuff was a retread--but I did enjoy it far more than may be evident from here as it is always of course easier to criticize than praise. Again, were this episode placed earlier in the season, I think I'd have been easier on it. But even so, it had a lot going for it that I'm underselling because I need to counter your starstruck bias after getting to interview Eric Martsolf. Who, by the way, could also easily play Justin Hartley's older brother on anything

Kiel: Yeah, they got that soap actor pretty boy gene that science has been trying to distill for years.

Ben: I wish science good luck with that.


Mark W said...

"It's no real fault of his own, but I really think Geoff's reliance on the classic dialogue nods and other tropes from the comics has made for some super awkward on screen moments."

How is that not his fault?

KP said...

What I mean is that Geoff uses a very successful strategy of putting in clear and identifiable pieces of comic book lore. Most of them come off really great, but the one area that doesn't read through is dialogue because so much comic book dialogue just wasn't written to be read out loud by actors.

If he did the same thing without the dialogue nods, I think that fans would be a little put off by it, so you're kind of damned if you do, damned if you don't. In that way, I don't blame him for being consistent overall even when I think the results are sometimes kind of meh.

Jason Kerouac said...

I have to agree with Kiel re: the overall purpose of Booster's appearance. He's the spectacle, the master of showmanship, and that's the one thing in Smallville that Clark's missing. They even have that little pow wow where Booster tells Clark to be more "super."

The episode had its faults, largely the handling of Blue Beetle, but I believe its placement in the overall progression of the series was spot on, really. I just wish they'd spent the entire season nurturing the "nerd Clark" persona. His scene with Ted Kord was one of the greatest in the series' run.

Ben Morse said...

Just because Booster gave Clark a one-liner about being more Super doesn't mean he was convincing or it had any impact on Clark. Or at least if it did they didn't convey it.

It was fine for a stunt episode, but I still don't buy it as being a particularly crucial chapter of the larger tapestry.

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