‘Superman & Lois’
Jerry Seinfeld had an early-career routine about the 1950s TV show “The Adventures of Superman” and how George Reeves as the Man of Steel would stand with hands on hips and not even flinch when a villain opened fire — but when the bad guy hurled his emptied-out weapon at Superman, the big guy would duck.*
In that same vein, I always wondered why the various iterations of TV and movie Supermen through the decades almost always looked like bodybuilders. After all, Superman didn’t get his strength and superpowers from hitting the gym; wouldn’t it make it easier for him to blend in as “Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter” if he wasn’t all bulked up? With that in mind, kudos to the new CW series “Superman & Lois” for casting Tyler Hoechlin as Clark Kent/Superman, for while Hoechlin certainly looks to be in shape, he’s built more like a smallish punt returner than an outside linebacker.
Then again, Superman is still fooling people by donning glasses to mask his secret identity, so some things never change.
Premiering Tuesday with a 90-minute pilot, “Superman & Lois” is a spinoff of the CW series “Supergirl” (entering its sixth and final season) and exists in the DC Comics TV-based “Arrowverse,” and if you can keep track of all the superhero universes and multi-verses and reboot-verses and spinoff-a-verses out there, then YOUR superpower must be the ability to fit more than 24 hours into a day, so congratulations. One of the positives about this newish world created by Greg Berlanti and Todd Helbing (“The Flash”) is if you have even a first-few-paragraphs-of-Wikipedia grasp on Superman’s origins story, it’s easy to slide right into this series and go with the storylines, whether it be the domestic drama within the Kent household or the latest existential threat from some megalomaniacal villain with a booming mechanical voice and powers far greater than those of Superman.
Hoechlin and Elizabeth Tulloch have a natural and warm chemistry as Clark and Lois (they’ve guest-starred in these roles more than a half-dozen times in other DC shows on The CW), who have been married for a decade and a half, are working journalists in the sprawling city of Metropolis and have twin 14-year-old-sons: the popular and outgoing Jonathan (Jordan Elsass), who has just been named starting QB of the high school football team as a freshman, and Jordan (Alex Garfin), who has social anxiety disorder and spends his time holed up in his room, cranking up the punk rock and playing video games. (“You make a pretty good Superman,” says Clark as his son plays a game. “Superman’s boring,” responds Jordan; he’s playing the villain.)
Clark has a kind of Phil Dunphy dad-as-friend thing going with the boys (especially Jonathan), whereas Lois has to do most of the heavy parental lifting, what with Clark’s other job requiring him to don the cape and fly off to God knows where in the middle of the night to save the world. When a family tragedy (that almost never happens in early superhero stories, cough-cough) calls for the Kent family to return home to Smallville, we find this once idyllic slice of the American Dream has fallen on hard times, with farms in foreclosure and a wave of crystal meth addictions poisoning the town. The wonderful actress Emmanuelle Chriqui is Clark’s former high school flame Lana Lang, who is basically the Mr. Potter of the town as the loan officer delivering the grim news to home- and landowners and offering super-shady deals, while Erik Valdez plays Lana’s old-school husband Kyle, who is the town’s fire chief and clearly resents these city slickers the Kents, especially Clark. You can tell Kyle just wants to sock Clark in the jaw, which probably wouldn’t end well for Kyle’s hand.
The Kent boys, bright as they seem to be, have never discovered their father’s true identity until the pilot, when it appears Jonathan has a latent superpower thing developing and they confront their parents. Clark/Superman dramatically takes off the spectacles, lifts a pickup truck over his head and floats upward, which seems like overkill, as either the lifting of the truck OR the flying would have made the point. Suffice to say the lads are flummoxed by this development.
At least in these early stages, “Superman & Lois” is far more compelling as a domestic soap opera than a superhero adventure. Advance apologies for the #SuperHeroDadJoke, but we see that even if your dad is Superman it doesn’t mean he’s always super, man.
*That actually happened in a 1952 episode of “The Adventures of Superman” titled “The Mind Machine.”