Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman - The Complete First Season Review
Ever since Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel launched Superman in Action Comics, he’s been a considerable force in pop-culture. A being from the stars, with extraordinary powers, he’s been a durable American icon - appearing in just about every form of the media possible. From those wonderful Fleischer cartoons (still the best screen incarnation, in some fan’s eyes), to Bryan Singer’s up-coming Superman Returns, the character has stood the test of time. Therefore, it’s only natural for writers to add new ideas to the mix. Over the decades, Clark Kent/Superman (or “Kal-El of Krypton”) has gone through many permutations; even if his basic characteristics stay the same. The same goes for the love of his life, Lois Lane. Yet there’s still an opportunity to delve deeper into these characters.
Television producer Deborah Joy LeVine tried to add a fresh slant to her version of the comic - a 90s TV show that proved popular with old and news fans alike (yet alienated readers of the source material). Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman tells you everything you need to know in the title - the Daily Planet reporters are the main focus here; the ‘Man of Steel’ is almost an afterthought. Taking its cues from DC Comics’ oeuvre, and Richard Donner’s treasured Superman motion picture, the ABC show attempted to represent the character in a new light. He’s Clark Kent first, Big Blue second. In that respect, the producers were able to show the blossoming relationship between Kent and Lane in significant detail. In fact, their hi-jinks form the backbone of every episode, with only the odd glimpse of Superman in costume.
Unlike the 1978 classic, the show doesn’t begin on Krypton. Instead, we’re thrown straight into the city of Metropolis, where Lois Lane (Teri Hatcher) begins another day at the Daily Planet newspaper. An ambitious, head-strong reporter, Lois doesn’t count on bagging a partner in the form of mild-mannered farm boy Clark Kent (Dean Cain). According to her, this “hack from Smallville” will never be her partner, but editor Perry White (Lane Smith) insists that they work together, regardless. After working hard to get his job, and falling into Lois’ good graces, Clark decides to use his powers to help those in Metropolis. Of course, this means assuming a secret identity. A trip back to his hometown, sees Clark consulting his Earth parents Jonathan and Martha Kent (Eddie Jones and K. Callan, respectively), who attempt to give their “son” some support. The result? A red and blue costume; ideal for fighting criminals in the big city. Therefore, Superman is born, and a romance with Lois begins. But will she develop feelings for Clark too?
In most respects, Lois & Clark plays like Moonlighting crossed with the Superman formula. From the get-go, there’s a clear sexual tension to their scenes, even if the bossy Lois is slow to take Clark under her wing. Their friendship is born out of competition - each seek the biggest stories in Metropolis, but they must put aside their differences to uncover the truth. There’s nothing terribly original about this naturally, but the DC universe gives the “buddy” conventions a big dose of fun. The love triangle-aspect of their relationship is also interesting, if a little old-hat these days (Spider-Man did it to better effect). Clark loves Lois, but Lois loves Superman; causing plenty of complications. Sometimes it seems like Miss. Lane is growing attached to Mr. Kent, only for his alter-ego to arrive and sweep her off her feet…literally. This “will they, won’t they?” element is a staple of modern television, but if it’s drawn-out for too long, it can become tiresome. In most respects, a show can lose it’s way when the characters finally make it happen - Moonlighting suffered such a fate, and it later killed off this show too.
Yet, the first season of Lois & Clark is a great deal of fun in this area, thanks largely to another member of the cast, who completes the tumultuous love triangle. That would be Supes' legendary foe Lex Luthor (John Shea). Abandoning Gene Hackman’s overly-comedic portrayal, Shea brings a dark and sinister Luthor to the screen; a billionaire who is willing to destroy Metropolis just to satisfy his desire for power. While LeVine and the writers took plenty of liberties with the source material (like the current show Smallville), he is closer to the Luthor of the comic book, than the one rendered by Richard Donner. That said, it’s still difficult for me to accept Luthor with a full head of hair - if Micheal Rosenbaum can go through the trouble on a weekly basis, why couldn’t Shea? But the actor is good in the role, and suitably slimy, especially when he tries to make a move on Lois. There’s also a great dynamic between Luthor and Superman. From the “Pilot” onward, Clark/Superman is aware of Luthor’s villainy, but the citizens of Metropolis consider him to be a saint. This plotline travels throughout the 21 episodes included here, but has a very disappointing pay-off. Perhaps the producers were scared to take their focus off Lois and Clark…
The stories are the weakest aspect of the show, by far. They would get worse over its four-year run, but they were always rocky. Despite being a superhero series, Superman rarely gets a powerful villain to face, and they are usually petty thieves or deranged scientists. And in most cases, the villain is another puppet for Lex. The cases encountered by our intrepid reporters can grate on occasion; enlivened by a few fun episodes (especially the story concerning an invisibility suit, or the military investigation into Superman). But apart from the romance, there isn’t much here for genre buffs. But a few highlights appear, which mostly focus on building the Superman mythology. "Neverending Battle" is a great episode, in which Luthor puts his new-found foe through the ringer, in a bid to find his weakness. “Foundling” is also pretty important, since it reunites Clark with his deceased Kryptonian father Jor-El (David Warner). Finally, I recommend “The Man of Steel Bars”, which sees Metropolis blaming Superman for a winter heat wave. But it’s the cast that holds this hot potato together. If it wasn’t for their charisma, Lois and Clark would collapse like a deck of cards.
Cain has always got a bad rep for some reason, and while his performance in the costume is often cheesy, he’s a perfect fit for Clark. He’s easy to like, with a warm persona, and plenty of charm. Yet, he doesn‘t carry off the heroic role quite as well - he’s a million miles away from Christopher Reeve (or Tom Welling for that matter), but Cain is a likeable presence, and he has sufficient chemistry with Hatcher. The latter delivers one of the finest portrayals of Lois to date, and might even be better than Margot Kidder. She nails every aspect of Miss. Lane - her strength of character, her ambition, and the pain that she keeps well hidden. She embodied the character completely. But the supporting players don’t slouch either. Lane Smith (who passed away recently) is easily the finest actor to portray Perry White, and provides most of the comedy. Same goes for Michael Landes, as geek pin-up Jimmy Olsen. While the actor is fun in the role, he was ultimately too cool for Clark’s sidekick, and was replaced by Justin Whalin as Season Two began. But it’s Cain and Hatcher who make the show work, allowing viewers to ignore the many notable flaws.
Today, the special effects look very poor indeed, dating the show somewhat. Shots of Superman taking to the skies were obviously achieved with green screens, yet there is good use of wires too. It often pulled me out of the experience, but considering the age of the material, it was forgivable. Filmed on 35mm, with some wonderful production design (especially the Daily Planet), Lois and Clark still manages to keep our eyes engaged. Yet, it’s the daring mixture of action, comedy, drama and romance that keeps our attention. The New Adventures of Superman may restrict its hero to the background, but its entertainment value remains. The first season is recommended to any fan of the title characters…
With Bryan Singer currently shooting Superman Returns, interest in DC’s legendary hero is once again on the rise (even more so, after Singer’s bravura presentation at the San Diego Comic Con, this past weekend). Therefore, the release of Lois and Clark seems timely; 12 years after it first aired, but at the best moment. As you’d expect, it’s a nicely-packaged effort by Warner, who spread the entire first season across six discs. But is it worth swooping by your local video store?
The Look and Sound
He may be the “Man of Steel”, but he’s looking a little rusty here. The 21 episodes are presented in their original full-frame (1.33:1) versions, and they are really starting to show their age. Lois and Clark was shot on film, and like any feature, the show has succumbed to the usual problems encountered by celluloid properties. For most of the season, the colours are dull and seemingly washed-out, and there’s persistent grain and print flecks. Yet, the show is still very watchable. Detail is fair, if not consistent, and the image is largely free from DVD-related problems. In fact, the quality seems to get better as the show goes on (and the pilot episode is stronger), yet it’s still very disappointing. A re-mastering job was clearly needed, but I’ll take what I can get.
Like most television shows, we only get a stereo soundtrack, which seems to fit Lois and Clark well; despite the lack of surround activity. The dialogue and sound effects are clear, and distortion-free (a surprise, considering the poor video transfer), but it won’t blow anyone away. The tracks are satisfactory; transferring that memorable theme music with care. The audio-quality is exactly what you’d expect, so fans should be pleased. It would take Superman’s keen hearing to notice any serious deficiencies - so one shouldn’t complain…
Warner haven’t produced a stacked set of extras here, but for an ageing show, it’s a commendable package; with features located on discs 1 and 6. They begin with:
The Original Pilot Presentation
Introduced by show producer Deborah Joy LeVine, this is the 20-minute presentation given to the San Diego Comic Con in 1992 (talk about history repeating itself). She seemed to fare better than Singer, with fewer pedantic questions; but the footage is taken directly from the episode, so this is probably a watch-once deal. She explains the pressures she felt in bringing the characters to the screen, and what she wanted to achieve with the show. The footage is notable for the fact that it’s unfinished (watch out for the strings!), giving this some historical value…
Audio Commentary on “Pilot”, by Dean Cain, LeVine and director Robert Butler
An amusing and informative discussion, and the only commentary in this set. Therefore, the contributors treat it as an overview of the season as a whole, while spilling plenty of interesting facts about the episode in question. Cain is probably the most interesting speaker - he has affection for the role and the show; reflecting on the challenging shoot, and his thoughts on playing Clark Kent/Superman. Unfortunately, there isn’t enough of him, and LeVine and Butler are left to go into technical areas, including chitter-chatter about the special effects. There’s also the expected comments on Cain and Hatcher’s on-screen chemistry, and why Michael Landes was asked to leave the show (they say he looked too much like Cain, but we know the real reason). Fans should enjoy this.
"From Rivals to Romance: The Making of Lois & Clark"
A 25-minute documentary, that covers most of the areas you’d expect, and thankfully, includes interviews with both Cain and Teri Hatcher. Both seem happy to talk about the series, and how the show was developed. LeVine and Superman scribe Mike Carlin also offer their two cents, in this fun - but short - making of. Nevertheless, it’s a fitting retrospective on the series.
"Taking Flight: The Visual Effects of Lois & Clark"
The title gives it away - this is a short featurette on the special effects in Lois and Clark. The same contributors highlight the challenges they faced (especially in making us believe a man could fly), with before-and-after footage of the effects being achieved. There are a few amusing comments to be found here…
The remaining extra, is a free DVD; part of Warner’s “50 Year Celebration” of quality telly. Only this time, the inclusion makes sense. On the disc (which is in limited supply), you’ll find a bonus Smallville episode - the Season 4 premiere “Crusade”. This was the instalment that introduced Lois Lane (Erica Durance) to the series for the first time. It’s a brilliant opening to a very rocky season, which I’m planning to review on its release in September. Until then, this is a nice appetiser, and a thoughtful end to the Lois and Clark set…
The Bottom Line
While Richard Donner’s Superman remains the Man of Steel’s finest hour (at least until Singer silences that fan-boy moaning), the escapades in Lois and Clark are a fun addition to the legend’s mantle. Subsequent seasons saw a lull in quality, but the first series is still an enjoyable, if dated, concoction. Fans will be well-served by Warner’s box set - problems with the video aside, this is still worth buying for those who appreciated the show on its first run.
Last updated: 19/04/2018 08:27:06