Judge Maurice Cobbs promises that you will not read any term as insipid as "Clana," "Chlark," or—God help us—"Clois" in this review. Unless he's exposed to red kryptonite.
Our reviews of Smallville: The Complete First Season (published November 24th, 2003), Smallville: The Complete Second Season (published June 9th, 2004), Smallville: The Complete Third Season (published December 15th, 2004), Smallville: The Complete Fifth Season (published October 16th, 2006), Smallville: The Complete Sixth Season (published October 3rd, 2007), Smallville: The Complete Sixth Season (HD DVD) (published October 24th, 2007), Smallville: The Complete Seventh Season (Blu-Ray) (published September 26th, 2008), Smallville: The Complete Eighth Season (Blu-Ray) (published September 3rd, 2009), Smallville: The Complete Ninth Season (Blu-Ray) (published September 7th, 2010), and Smallville: The Complete Tenth Season (Blu-ray) (published December 22nd, 2011) are also available.
"Wow. Superhero and journalist. What are the odds?"—Chloe Sullivan
It happened with Buffy…so why shouldn't it have happened with Smallville as well?
Oh, the fourth season. By that point, the fans who've been there from the beginning are so familiar with the characters that the writers start looking for extreme ways to shake things up to keep interest in the show strong. For our favorite vampire-slaying vixen, it meant moving on to college, and a new boyfriend, and…you know…that thing with Willow. It wasn't bad stuff (not all of it), but it quickly became clear that the glory days were over, that the magic that made the show was slowly beginning to fade away.
Which brings me to Smallville, the show that once could seemingly do no wrong with its very Marvel Universe take on DC Comics' flagship character. Has Smallville finally managed to make that ineluctable shark jump in the dreaded fourth season? Do the addition of Lois Lane and a lack of daring on the part of the show's creative staff add up to the weakest season of Smallville yet? And when Chloe, Lana, and Lois go skinny-dipping, do you think they ever…keep their clothes dry? Let's get down to brass tacks.
Facts of the Case
The WB's popular fantasy/ soap opera about the formative years of the Man of Steel continues into its fourth season. Clark Kent (Tom Welling) must not only grapple with the run-of-the-mill strangeness of navigating high school, dealing with girls, and generally being a teenager, he must also learn to control powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men, his birthright as the last survivor of a doomed planet. The events of the Season Three finale bring new women into Clark's life: the young Lois Lane (Erica Durance), in town to solve the murder of her cousin, Chloe Sullivan (Allison Mack); and Alicia Baker (Sarah Carter), a girl with the power of teleportation and the hots for Ma Kent's blue-eyed boy. Lana Lang (Kristin Kreuk) travels to Paris and becomes involved in a romance, and maybe something more sinister. Lex Luthor (Michael Rosenbaum) assumes control of Luthorcorp while his father sits in prison. And as more of Clark's Kryptonian heritage comes into focus, Jonathan and Martha Kent (John Schneider and Annette O'Toole) do their best to protect their adoptive son.
This six-disc boxed set, as advertised, contains the entire fourth season:
I'll admit it: When I heard that they were bringing Lois Lane into the Smallville cast of characters, I wasn't happy. At all. It's too soon, I grumbled; Lois has no place in Clark Kent's teenage years. If they wanted to bring another cute little WB starlet in to complicate Clark's life, there were plenty of other characters from the mythos that they could have used: Lori Lemaris, or Sally Selwyn…heck, I wouldn't have minded if Lyla Lerrol had shown up at some point (maybe played by that really cute Veronica Mars chick). But Lois? It's wrong…wrong, wrong, wrong! And you know what? I still feel that way.
No matter how much I like Erica Durance in the part. There's no denying it: Durance makes a damn good Lois Lane. I like watching her as Lois; she's a good actress. I particularly liked the bit in the episode "Recruit," in which she drinks some Metropolis University frat boys under the table, Marion Ravenwood style. She brings all the essential qualities of a good Lois Lane to the screen: She's smart, tough, sexy, pushy, slightly obnoxious…but why the hell is she in Smallville? The answer, of course, goes back to the end of Season Three and the events surrounding the supposed death of Lois's cousin, Chloe Sullivan. As I'm sure you know, Chloe was presumed dead after being caught in a terrific explosion; Lois comes to Smallville to solve her murder and, like the man who came to dinner, she stays. She's enrolled in Smallville High because she didn't have enough high school credits to get into Metropolis U. Are you kidding me?
It's pretty simple math: If you have Chloe, you don't need Lois. If you're keeping Lois, why keep Chloe too? It doesn't make sense. Worse, it seems to indicate the creeping onset of Xanderitis: a condition in which a teen soap opera starts becoming bloated with characters that begin to outlive their usefulness but that the writers, for whatever reason, are reluctant to get rid of. I mean, no offense to Nicholas Brendan, but how much of a waste of screen time was Xander for, like, four seasons of Buffy? I'd thought that Smallville would avoid that—after all, they got rid of Whitney (Eric Johnson) after he'd outlived his usefulness—but maybe I was wrong.
Okay. Stop, take a step back, relax. It's a soap opera. Wildly improbable storylines and mind-bending coincidences are its stock in trade. Even more so in Smallville, since there are meteor rocks that give people powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men. And the show is so much fun, there's no point in being pedantic about details like when Lois is supposed to enter Clark's life. To be fair, Lois isn't a constant presence in this season; but the character is in danger of developing Anya-itis (which is when a character introduced for a specific storyline stays around far longer than they should)—she winds up living with the Kents toward the middle of the season. Yikes; going into Season Four of Smallville, we already have two Xanders—we didn't need an Anya as well. The writers seem to have less and less of an idea of what to do with poor Pete Ross (Sam Jones III), who starts spending more and more time in the background (in the comics, Pete eventually marries Lana—like that'll happen on the show). Lionel Luthor has overstayed his welcome as well, and unless they come up with something really compelling to do with the character in Season Five, I'll stick by my assertion that he should have died from the gamy liver, so as not to suck screen time away from characters who could make better use of it.
Anyas and Xanders aside, this season starts out strong, but it starts slipping in the middle, with only a few notable episodes toward the end; I get the impression that the writers were kind of treading water, keeping the characters in a holding pattern until they could graduate everybody and move on to the college years. I won't give you a blow-by-blow rundown on this season and ruin everything for you, because most of the fun of watching a soap like this is getting riled up by the dozens of little surprises each episode, but there are some significant highlights in this season. Lex Luthor continues his subtle slide to the dark side, as his friendship with Clark is stretched to the breaking point and beyond, and his relationship with his devious and manipulative father (John Glover, Batman and Robin) takes an unexpected turn when one of Lionel's schemes has an unintended and completely flabbergasting aftereffect. Lana finds a new boyfriend in Paris, Jason Teague (Jensen Ackles, previously of Dark Angel), who follows Lana back to Smallville to be with her, against the wishes of his mysterious mother Genevieve (the eternally beautiful Jane Seymour, Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman), who seems to have a hidden agenda for the two lovers that equals anything that Lionel ever dreamed up for Lex. ("You should get together with my father and write a parenting book," quips the young billionaire, "I bet it would be a best-seller.") Clark gets hooked up with a girl of his own, who has super-powers of her own, but she turns out to be kinda nuts—in other words, he finally has a typical teenage relationship.
This season seems to be the "identity crisis" season, if you will, with assorted body switches and possessions and alter egos and lost memories and rediscovered memories and hidden agendas and altered personalities. What's up with Jor-El, anyway? For that matter, what's up with Lionel? What exactly is Lex up to? Did Clark just display the super-power I think he did? Does Lana have secret powers of her own? What's her boyfriend hiding? Are those meteors heading right for Smallville? Why do all the girls wear those really scary and uncomfortable-looking boots with the really sharp toes? How could Lex Luthor and Lois Lane spend all that time hanging out with Clark in Smallville and later never figure out the whole Superman connection without being abysmally stupid? And why in the name of Rao did Nic Cage name his kid Kal-El? Almost all of these questions are answered in Season Four, and you may see Lana in a different light when all is said and done.
Speaking of Lana, she attracts the usual number of super-powered lunatics who want to do her bodily harm for one reason or another; I'd think that the poor girl would have developed some sort of complex by now, or have been reduced to a cringing neurotic, they way she seems to draw freaks and psychos. In Paris, a mysterious happening at a mysterious tomb has mysterious consequences down the line—is that a Kryptonian symbol tattooed on her back? Chloe learns a big secret; Martha runs the Talon; and we're treated to a parade of DC Comics characters and special guest stars, including Bart Allen (Kyle Gallner, Veronica Mars);, Lois's father, General Sam Lane (Michael Ironside, Starship Troopers) and her sister Lucy (Peyton List); and a pretty lame Mr. Mxyzptlk (Trent Ford, The West Wing) reimagined here as "Mikhail Mxyzptlk," an exchange student not from Zrfff, but from the Balkans. Jeez—what's next? A five-year-old Jimmy Olsen? Former Lois Lane Margot Kidder drops in for a scene with Annette O'Toole, her costar from Superman III, and Supergirl director Jeannot Szwarc helms the episode "Spell." There's also a heady mix of swapped bodies, spirits returning from the dead, weird meteor-driven powers, red K, black K, and good old green K—plus the continued beyond-the-stars-and-the-grave influence of Clark's biological father, Jor-El (Terence Stamp, Superman II), who increases his demands that Clark accept his "Kryptonian destiny."
The episodes are presented in a widescreen format, giving the show a rather cinematic feel, even though the picture is not all that it could be; it's always faintly grainy, but you'll only notice it if you're really looking. The Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo is adequate, but nothing spectacular—you can certainly hear all of the pop singles that the WB crams into this show nice and clearly, which is probably all that they really care about in the final analysis, so it serves its purpose.
As usual, Warner Bros. serves up a delicious selection of special features in this set. Scattered throughout the set are various deleted scenes from assorted episodes; these are actually pretty meaty, expanding on the stories in interesting ways, and it would have been nice of Warner Bros. to provide an option for inserting these scenes into the places they were meant to go. There are also commentaries on three episodes: "Crusade," "Transference," and "Spell." These are all fun and informative, offering insight on the characters from the actors, and a glimpse of what might have been when discarded ideas are discussed. Finally, there are two documentaries for your enjoyment. "Being Lois Lane" offers up a brief history of everybody's favorite lady reporter, with observations from the first Lois, Noel Neill, who played Lois not only in the Superman serials but also opposite George Reeves on The Adventures of Superman, and had a cameo as Lois Lane's mother in Richard Donner's Superman. Also present are Margot Kidder, who portrayed Lois in the four Christopher Reeve Superman movies; Dana Delaney, voice of Lois Lane on Bruce Timm and Paul Dini's animated Superman, and Smallville's own Erica Durance. The other featurette, "Behind Closed Doors: Inside the Writer's Room," gives a behind-the-scenes look at the process of writing an episode of the series—in this case, the episode "Forever." The featurettes are rather short, but interesting nevertheless. You can access even more special features through a DVD-Rom internet link. Unfortunately, there's no new edition of "The Chloe Chronicles," nor are there any bloopers.
Actually, the special feature that jazzed me the most was a bonus DVD, which featured an episode of The Flash, starring John Wesley Shipp and Amanda Pays. It wasn't even that strong an episode, but just having a taste of The Flash on DVD set all my geek cylinders running on full. And sure enough, it's been announced that a season set of The Flash is forthcoming. Fanboys of the world, rejoice!
Season Four isn't the best season of Smallville, but I must admit that the appearance of Lois Lane injected some much-needed energy into the series. Season Five has already started; here's hoping that the creative team will have the wisdom to tidy up the cast a bit by disposing of characters that have outlived their usefulness.
Somebody saaaaaaaaaaaaaave me…don't care how ya do it…
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Commentary by Erica Durance and Annette O'Toole and Executive Producers Alfred Gough, Miles Millar, and Ken Horton on "Crusade"
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