Superman and Lois Is a Huge Departure for the Arrowverse, in a Good Way
Meet a real super-dad
After over eighty years in the public eye, it sometimes can feel like Superman is played out. After all, what place is there in our very messy and very cynical world for an idealistic hero all about truth, justice, and the American way when all those things seem like fantasies right now? On-screen, Superman has gone darker and darker, with varied success, and in the more chipper world of the Arrowverse, the mantle of optimism and earnestness has been ably shouldered by his cousin Kara, a.k.a. Supergirl. So what story does that leave for the last son of Krypton?
Despite decades of comics and movies, the story of Superman often comes down to one of two things: origins and early battles. We’ve seen Kal-El crash down to Kansas and meet Lois Lane a dozen times, but we never really get past that. Indeed, most superhero movies and shows seem to end with a wedding or happily ever after of some kind. Superman and Lois breezes through all that in an opening montage (which contains one very cool easter egg) and instead asks: what happens after?
It’s a really intriguing question that I think showrunner Todd Helbing does well digging into in this pilot. What would Clark Kent (Tyler Hoechlin) and Lois Lane (Elizabeth Tulloch) be like as parents? Especially to two very different boys? The answer at first is that they’re … not perfect.
They have demanding jobs, to say the least, and so, no they aren’t there for their family as much as they could or should be. And that takes a toll on the kids. Less so on the golden boy jock Jonathan (Jordan Elsass) than on outcast Jordan (Alex Garfin). How to be better parents, especially to a kid with mental health struggles, is one of the main drivers of the pilot, and that’s something we haven’t seen in a Superman show maybe ever, and certainly not in the Arrowverse.
The CW DC shows have generally been set in cities (or spaceships) and worked with a kind of heightened comic book reality that served the tone of those shows, but Superman and Lois is a departure there as well. Clark and Lois head home to Smallville and end up staying, and that rural, hardscrabble, small-town setting means the series takes more cues from Friday Night Lights than it does from Supergirl most of the time.
I like that. I think it’s really interesting and sets the show apart from anything else in the superhero landscape right now. It’s not a brooding or serious as Batwoman (though the show has become more fun this season thanks to a lead actress that likes being on the show) or the late Arrow, and it’s not as wacky and wild as Legends of Tomorrow. Superman and Lois is just as concerned with the consequences of reverse mortgages for the elderly and small-town economic woes as with Superman preventing a nuclear meltdown. And that’s intriguing.
I think this works in large part because of the cast. As the titular characters, Tyler Hoechlin and Bitsie Tulloch have been already established themselves in various guest star roles and crossovers, but they really get to dig into Clark and Lois here. Hoechlin has the exact kind of radiant goodness that we need for a character like Superman, and Tulloch is believably feisty and sharp as Lois. But the real surprise is Elsass and Garfin as the twins. Especially as Jordan, Garfin brings such deep vulnerability and pathos to the performance that you just wanna hug this poor teen and give him some cookies and therapy.
I’m very interested to see where the show goes from here. I won’t spoil things, but there are some big moments in the pilot that will reverberate throughout the season, and it will be really interesting to see how the series balances the comic book elements with the more intimate family story.
But in a pilot where we get Superman fighting a mysterious armored stranger in space as well as teens talking about depression, it’s actually remarkable that the balancing act works. Let’s hope they can keep it up, because the result is something very new and interesting.
Superman and Lois premieres tonight, 2/23/2021, with a special 90-minute pilot event at 8:00 PM EST on The CW.
(images: Dean Buscher/The CW)
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