If you are a die-hard Superman fan, the first five minutes of Superman and Lois offers everything you could want. A quick run-through of the series’ take on moments we all already know, it still has a couple of warm surprises. There’s a new moment of young Clark discovering his powers — original and yet completely in character. And that homage to Action Comics #1: there’s Superman (Tyler Hoechlin) lifting a vintage automobile that looks familiar, and so does his suit. He’s wearing (for the moment) a costume straight out of the Fleischer Brothers’ animated cartoons of the early 1940s. (His mom made it.)
Just like in the comics, Clark meets Lois. She makes off-hand references to other Daily Planet staff members. Fast forward to him revealing his identity, them getting married, and then… what this show is about finally takes hold. It’s going to be its own thing, and if you like your Superman trapped in amber (or crystal, if you prefer), fighting a never-ending battle in a timeless space, then Superman and Lois may not be your cup of tea. Especially since somewhere along the line, he loses his trunks.
It’s not Man of Steel, though occasionally the tinting seems to match. At the very least, series creators Greg Berlanti and Todd Helbing understand that you can’t just say the S stands for Hope. You have to actually have a hopeful tone. So this does, somewhat, but after some severe downturns. And I’m not talking about having to raise twin boys — a twist added to Hoechlin’s Superman reality by last year’s “Crisis on Infinite Earths.”
Though unseen, Jack Kirby creation Morgan Edge looms large as an antagonist, first as buying out the Daily Planet and then (perhaps) unknowingly messing with Superman’s hometown of Smallville. In short order, Ma Kent (Michelle Scarabelli) makes a too-brief appearance before the inevitable happens. The Planet suffers layoffs, but Lois (Elizabeth Tulloch) survives them. After all, she is the most famous reporter in the world, according to Clark’s narration.
Just as Superman investigates a series of nuclear power plant “accidents” with Lois’ father, General Sam Lane (Dylan Walsh), Clark can’t seem to focus on parenting his 14-year-old sons, Jonathan (Jordan Elsass) and Jordan (Alex Garfin). And Martha’s last words to her son were “come home.”
It’s a full circle for the CW, with one of its cornerstone shows having been Smallville. Though nobody talks about how Lois will still work for the Planet from Kansas — but come on, the Pandemic has taught us remote work is possible — it’s time for the next generation of Kents to work on the family farm. If they can just keep that spaceship hidden from the boys…
This isn’t the first time that Superman has found himself in this situation. Currently in comics, he has one child, Jonathan, who has been aged up to being a late teenaged Superboy. In the 1960s, an Imaginary Story showed him with twins, in a situation similar to what develops in the pilot. (No spoilers, but also not hard to see coming.) Berlanti and Helbing have given it a current spin, with Jordan suffering from Social Anxiety Disorder, and if nothing else, I’m hopeful to see a tasteful and helpful handling of teen mental health issues as the series moves forward. It could do a lot of good.
Though Hoechlin doesn’t bear much of a resemblance to Christopher Reeve, he has the spirit in both Clark and Superman. It’s a little harder to buy that the glasses work as a disguise, but his attitude certainly does. Dialogue does reference that he looks younger than the rest of the adult cast playing his peers, but we can assume Kryptonians age a little more slowly or at least stay youthful looking longer. He’s matched by Tulloch, who bears a passing resemblance to Margot Kidder but has a much stronger and more personal grasp on Lois. You’ll believe a man fell in love with one hell of a reporter — and that she makes one protective and concerned mother.
There’s still more to play out, and the rest of the cast should get better developed. There’s more than one running villain, and as he’s meant to be a mystery under his mask, Wolé Parks can only play generically threatening. The twins should be fleshed out a little more, but the potentially interesting dynamic is between Super-son-in-law and his military father-in-law. Walsh plays Sam Lane as grateful that Superman’s around, but still concerned that being Superman means a pain for family life. And Sam Lane would know.
Overall, giving us a version of Superman in a stage of life we’ve never seen on screen was the only way the CW Arrowverse could make it work. Hoechlin has guested on Supergirl and a few Arrowverse crossovers, but his cousin Kara had swooped in and adapted several classic story arcs. The producers have done the right thing and made this more of a family drama along the lines of Black Lightning, also keyed in to contemporary concerns. If you don’t think a MAGA hat or five (or an Arrowverse equivalent) won’t show up in Smallville, then you don’t have the Edge. We’ve just never seen Superman as the fumbling patriarch — and the fumbling is only because Great Rao, parenting is hard. Even for a superman.
Let’s give this an S rating — and yes, that stands for Hope that its quality keeps going up… in the… you get the picture.