Warner Bros. // 1993 // 1074 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Jeff Andreasen (Retired) // July 13th, 2005
Fighting for truth, justice, and the American...well, for truth and justice.
Rocketed as a baby from the exploding planet Krypton, Kal-El came to Earth, whose environment gave him fantastic powers! In Metropolis, he poses as Clark Kent, but battles evil the world over as...Superman! In his spare time, he pines away for the beautiful Lois Lane and practices tripping over his own feet.
In the days before John Byrne's 1986 revamp of the character for DC Comics, Superman was practically invincible, hauling entire planets around like a sled dog in the Iditarod, dashing and flying about at light speed, and flexing mental muscle that made Stephen Hawking look like Homer Simpson. Where could this character possibly go after almost 50 years? What was there to interest readers in the god-like alter ego of the biggest wuss this side of Carson Daly? Had Superman run his course?
Enter Byrne, and exit a vast array of Superman's superness. Gone were the earth-moving muscle and the hyper-speed. Perish the super-genius intellect and down with the Fortress of Solitude, now only a little happy place in our hero's noggin where he could retreat from reality and ponder his otherworldly heritage. Monochrome green became the favored hue of Kryptonite, where before there had been so myriad an array of the stuff as to make Crayola hemorrhage at the frustration of having to name all the colors. And portly became Lex Luthor, not the armored, über-scientist foe of godly Superman of the past, but boardroom billionaire opponent Superman couldn't touch. No longer was Lois Lane a ditzy and oblivious schoolgirl, fawning over her unattainable love, but rather a tenacious and savvy go-getter who, while infatuated with Superman, didn't need his help crossing the street.
Byrne brought Superman into the '90s years before they actually hit, and Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, premiering in September 1993, took full advantage of this new version of the hero. Though Deborah Joy LeVine, the executive producer who developed the series for television, intimates throughout the extra features and commentary that many of the ideas for the series were hers, anyone who's perused the pages of Byrne's reboot will have a none-too-subtle déjà vu. In all honesty, though, most of these ideas were tailor-made for a television series, especially a '90s television series with a limited budget.
In the 1950s The Adventures of Superman, starring George Reeves, Superman didn't exactly run into a lot of personal danger. Gangsters blasted away with bullets and bombs that didn't do anything to wipe that smirk off Reeves's face, and the Man of Steel was reduced to saving Jimmy or Lois, or Perry, or Jimmy, Lois, and Perry every other episode. Not a lot has changed as far as the "action" element of the show. Lois & Clark depends heavily on similar plot devices. Lois or Jimmy investigates a story, gets into trouble, and Clark/Superman must save the day. Or a story falls into Clark's lap and he must not only save the day, but do so in such a way as to make the victims of the evil plot made good by the end of the episode.
The Adventures of Superman was also negligent in delving into Superman's origins. There was the pilot episode in 1952 and that was about it. In Lois & Clark, no less than three episodes of the first season are devoted to exploring Clark's heritage and some of the legacy of his true background. In the 1950s show, there was no recurring antagonist against whom the Man of Steel could pit his skills. In Lois & Clark, Lex Luthor is brought on board to bedevil our hero not only with physical danger, but by romancing Lois Lane as well. The cad! And, as in Byrne's 1986 revamp, Luthor in Lois & Clark is a savvy businessman who appears 100 percent legit and praiseworthy to the public, but who harbors megalomaniacal designs on Metropolis, making him an unusual adversary for our hero.
The major new spin put into Lois & Clark that not only separates it from its 1950s predecessor but also from Byrne's comic book reboot, is the Moonlighting aspect of the sexual tension between Lois Lane and Clark Kent. Here are two gorgeous young people whom you know are made for each other, and who play off each other to great effect throughout not only this first season but the entire series, and whom you know will be together, but there's always a question of when. Will it be in the first season? The second? How will it happen? Will it be worth the wait? And, more importantly, will it destroy the series, as consummation of the romance destroyed Moonlighting and Remington Steele? Only time will tell, 'cause it sure didn't happen in the first season. In the pilot episode commentary, head honcho Deborah Joy LeVine points out that she had hoped the romance would remain nebulous until maybe the fifth season of the show. By the start of the second season, LeVine was gone along with all her plans and, at any rate, Lois & Clark only made it through four seasons. So much for the best laid plans...
Introducing the Moonlighting factor was a stroke of genius by LeVine. By the end of The Adventures of Superman's run in the 50s, the characters had progressed no farther along than they had in the first couple of episodes. Sort of like Star Trek. Outside of the icon that was Superman and his amazing friends, there really wasn't much to that series. Think of it as The Untouchables with a super-powered Eliot Ness. Modern audiences would quickly tire of the villain-of-the-week approach that did nothing but update the peril Superman's friends find themselves in each week, and the series' limited budget precluded way-cool supervillain combat week after week. Indeed, most of the "villains" introduced in Lois & Clark hardly measure up to the moniker, but are consistent with the banal rogues gallery encountered in George Reeves's time. Certainly there had to be something more. For the series to catch on, LeVine needed to connect with the audience, and the surest way to do so was via sexual tension between the leads.
Sure, we all know how it's going to wind up, but the fact that Clark Kent, no longer the bumbling, self-conscious klutz for years portrayed in comics and film, could finally be an actual worthy suitor for knockout Lois Lane was intriguing. Here was a Clark Kent many had never seen, not a staid, victimized dolt imprisoned in hideous purple suits and birth control glasses, but an athletic stud in snappy duds and designer specs. As brought to life by Dean Cain (Ripley's Believe It Or Not, The Perfect Husband: The Lacy Peterson Story), the new Clark Kent is the sort of guy every chick swoons over, and Lois has to try not to want. He is a virtuous, moral man with dignity and strength, not the mild-mannered pushover of decades past.
Put him together with Teri Hatcher (Desperate Housewives), fresh from her stint as the perfect body Sidra in Seinfeld, and you have two hot young people whom the target audience wanted to see get together...just as fervently as they wanted to see them kept apart. And the two actors did a fine job of playing off each other during the first season. There are some awkward moments here and there, but by the end of the season their banter is refreshingly genuine and their timing is impeccable. Though neither is in any danger of ever winning any acting silverware, they generally do a fine job in the context of what Lois & Clark is trying to accomplish, especially considering that his biggest role prior to this had been as hunk Rick on Beverly Hills 90210 and hers had been (aside from Seinfeld) as Sylvester Stallone's hot sister in Tango and Cash. Hey, everybody's got to start somewhere.
LeVine made other canny decisions, too. Sporting leads with so little acting chops, it was imperative to surround them with plenty of proven talent. Television veteran John Shea (Mutant X) came aboard to menace Superman and friends as the devilish (and devilishly handsome) Lex Luthor. As performed by longtime television and movie character actors Eddie Jones and K Callan, Superman's adoptive parents Jonathan and Martha Kent provide Clark with the sort of stable and loving home base the Man of Steel could return to for advice or just for some home cooking. They also provide plenty of comic relief, especially Callan, whose "Who me?" looks and gestures are a hoot as she shows off her modern art attempts or makes cracks about Clark's super costume.
Other support is ably given by a slut-ified Tracy Scoggins (Dynasty, Babylon 5) as gossip columnist Cat Grant, Michael Landes (Hart's War, Final Destination 2) as an animated Jimmy Olsen, and by the great Lane Smith (V: The Series, My Cousin Vinny, The Mighty Ducks, to name only a few) as Daily Planet editor-in-chief Perry White. Many of these characters aren't what longtime fans are used to. Cat Grant was born into the Superman universe following Byrne's reboot, and would not have been familiar to longtime fans of the original. Ma and Pa Kent died in the comics (and in the original movie starring Christopher Reeve) during Clark's adolescence, but Byrne felt that they brought more to the table in terms of rounding out Superman's character if they were around, so he gave them a new lease on life. LeVine felt the same way, so here they are. Perry White is as bombastic as in the comics, but there is no sign of his trademark exclamation "Great Caesar's Ghost!," which was excised by LeVine in favor of "Great Shades of Elvis!" Which is better? You be the judge. The Elvis angle was humorous and worked as comic relief from a backup character in the television show, but would probably be a poor fit for the comics.
With this sort of support surrounding them, Dean Cain and Teri Hatcher do a marvelous job selling the audience on the fantasy of Lois & Clark and, quite frankly, I can't imagine watching the show and taking it for what it is and in the mood it is designed to convey without these two in the leads. Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman: The Complete First Season is a wonderful, quirky, and involving show that grows on you with every successive episode. It's great family escapist fantasy and doesn't deserve the trashing that has befallen it ever since Smallville debuted on the WB in 2001. Lois & Clark does just about everything right, from the appropriately heroic score by Jay Gruska to the downright super costume that went through several revisions during the season but always employed the classic deep blue and red and the BIG red S on the chest. Fie upon overrated director Bryan Singer and his decision to go with a microscopic emblem in his upcoming film version of the Man of Steel.
This is, overall, a well-presented collection. True, it comes in a weary gatefold slipcase, and true this is a gatefold more annoying than any I've encountered since The Alien Quadrilogy, with the discs staggered one under another, so to get to disc six, you have to remove disc five, but that's just the packaging. The episodes themselves look fabulous, with rich colors and depth, though none have been remastered. Still, the video seems an improvement over broadcast quality of the day. The audio is generally quite good, though there is some tinniness at times and once or twice the stereo seems to drop out. These problems are more an issue in the pilot episode than the others, however. The complete list is here:
* "Strange Visitor (from Another Planet)"
* "Neverending Battle"
* "I'm Looking Through You"
* "Requiem for a Superhero"
* "I've Got a Crush on You"
* "Smart Kids"
* "The Green, Green Glow of Home"
* "The Man of Steel Bars"
* "Pheromone, My Lovely"
* "Honeymoon in Metropolis"
* "All Shook Up"
* "Illusions of Grandeur"
* "The Ides of Metropolis"
* "The Rival"
* "Fly Hard"
* "Barbarians at the Planet"
* "The House of Luthor"
There is also a commentary track for the pilot episode with director Robert Butler, LeVine, and Dean Cain. Butler doesn't offer much. He seems to be sitting there watching the show and marveling at the great work he did. Every once in a while, LeVine solicits a comment from him, but it's nothing earth-shattering. Dean Cain provides some ass-kissing and funny anecdotes, but Deborah Joy LeVine gives the most interesting and informative commentary throughout, from casting notes (Kevin Sorbo was among the finalists for the role of Clark Kent/Superman) to alternate script ideas, production headaches, and some intriguing anecdotes of her own. It's worth listening to for her contribution alone.
There are also three short featurettes provided. The first, on Disc One, is a presentation made by LeVine at ComicCon in 1993 to introduce the show to actual comic book fans (the ones who profess such loathing of the show today). The footage is all rough stock, so you see all the wires, backdrops, and other bits that would be edited out for the premiere. After suffering through Superman III and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, Superman fans must have viewed this presentation with some skepticism, and it seems appropriate that she feared being ripped a new one by comics freaks. To LeVine's relief, however, the presentation was generally well-received by the geeks.
The second, "Taking Flight: The Visual Effects of Lois & Clark," is only five or six minutes long and is actually amusing with the testimonials as to how great the effects are. I know there is such a thing as loyalty to the work...but come on! The best parts are the wire harness explanations and demonstrations and the part where they show the room that rotates to illustrate Clark walking on the walls and ceiling. It's also humorous to see Dean Cain on wires fly out the window in the pilot and boink into the cityscape backdrop outside the window.
"From Rivals to Romance: The Making of Lois & Clark" is the final special feature, and it includes brief interviews and anecdotes from most of the people involved. It's nice to see they got Teri Hatcher to babble a few words in between takes on Desperate Housewives, and the perpetually (and creepily) grinning John Shea to slather syrup over everyone involved, and even Eddie Jones and K Callan get some screen time. Tracy Scoggins gets one brief moment, but there is no sign of Michael Landes and, most horrendously, not a whisper of Lane Smith. As this collection streeted before his death, it's an unforgivable oversight that Smith was not involved in the production of this collection.
Three brief featurettes and a single commentary track might seem a paucity of extras to die-hards of the series...and they're right! Still, what's here is presented well, and there is genuineness not only to the series itself but also to the attestations of the people interviewed for this set.
This is a tidy set, true, and a good value for the money, but there are some flaws here and there. For one thing, the pilot episode either suffers from a very poor master, or there just wasn't enough attention paid to it when preparing it for this release. For the most part, the video is sumptuous, colorful, and blessed with the same depth as the rest of the episodes, but there are moments when the film looks (and sounds) like it's a used VHS tape that's been watched a thousand times. Some portions of the pilot are so grainy and washed out it's boggling to the mind as to how they "slipped" past the engineers, especially when the rest of the episodes in the collection are of such high quality. This is particularly harmful in shots where special effects are involved.
Speaking of the "special" effects, Lois & Clark didn't have the gigantic budget of even some of the top-rated sitcoms of the day, so these were anything but special. There are some shots of Superman flying about that are almost as convincing as a doll in a kid's hand swooping past a Fisher Price toy garage. The wire work is generally solid and convincing, but the matte shots and bluescreen work are absolutely dreadful. It's a good thing this series wasn't designed to succeed or fail based on the effects!
Where it was designed to succeed was in the character interaction, and there it works, but only because of the work done by Teri Hatcher and Dean Cain as Lois and Clark. When Cain is dolled up in snappy suits and loafers and rambling about town chasing down this story or that, he exudes confidence in manner and performance. Stick him in the red and blue suit and he looks out of his element, self-conscious and timid. When he crosses his arms they're close to his chest and tight, as though he's trying cover up being naked or something. He seldom moves with any grace and the close-ups of him flying show an awkward comfort at best. His speeches as Superman lack the authority expected of the world's greatest superhero, and the character retreats for parental advice and succor far too often. He seems too apprehensive and insecure in the tights in this first season of Lois & Clark, and Cain's youthful appearance throughout the series merely emphasizes that. In the 1978 film version, Christopher Reeve was every inch the MAN of Steel. In Lois & Clark, Dean Cain seems to be working his way toward that sort of maturity.
Up, up, and away! While purists may find Lois & Clark to be the sort of diluted and unbearable tripe that Batman fans feel for Joel Schumacher's flicks, it's an effort that's comparable to the George Reeves series in tone and execution, with the Moonlighting aspect giving it an infectious element that makes less rabid viewers anxious to see what happens next. The comeliness of the leads and the harmlessness of the content make this a collection worthy of repeated family viewings. Throw in the bonus disc provided by Warner Brothers showcasing the fourth season opener of Smallville and you can't go wrong!
It's a bird! It's a plane! It's acquitted on most counts! A dearth of worthwhile extras and the absence of Lane Smith from this set are worthy of a caning, but since we don't do that sort of thing here, Warner Brothers is acquitted...though with notice of our displeasure and a stern warning: do better next time!
Review content copyright © 2005 Jeff Andreasen; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 1074 Minutes
Release Year: 1993
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* "From Rivals to Romance: The Making of Lois & Clark"
* "Taking Flight: The Visual Effects of Lois & Clark"
* Commentary on the Pilot Episode by Dean Cain, Deborah Joy Levine, and Robert Butler
* Original Pilot Presentation by Deborah Joy Levine
* Interviews with Dean Cain and Teri Hatcher
* Lois & Clark Fan Site
* Lois & Clark Fanfic Archive