Just as it is for most AU students, “free time” is not a term I’m too familiar with. A favoured free time activity for me used to be reading, but after years of obligatory textbook reading I seem to have lost that enjoyment. It’s downright difficult to even sit down with a novel anymore, and instead of being able to devour a complete book in one sitting, I find it very hard to concentrate. Watching television is another free time activity AU students don’t have much time for. At convocation “relax and watch TV” was a popular choice in answer to the question “what will you do now that you have graduated.”
Ironically, during the past few years, I’ve watched more television as a free time activity than anything else. I think its because I can watch TV and do other things at the same time. Come to think of it, I rarely sit down and actually watch TV – I’m always multi-tasking. I have a mini black & white that I keep in the kitchen to watch the news while I prepare meals. I often do schoolwork, organize bills, or sort laundry in the living room while watching television. If there is a show I really want to see, I tape it and watch it later so I can save time by fast-forwarding commercials, usually with a textbook in hand at the same time.
What kinds of things do I watch? I enjoy movies but don’t tend to watch them much because they take too long. I’m a big fan of satire, cartoon satire like The Simpsons or South Park, Family Guy or The Oblongs; and I try to always catch Mad TV, Saturday Night Live and Royal Canadian Air Farce. The history channel is a favourite, as are biographies. I watch sitcoms such as Friends and Just Shoot Me, mostly because they are ubiquitous on late night television and do not require my full attention. That 70’s Show is an engaging comedy and a great trip back into my teen years. I also enjoy the oldies re-runs, especially the original Star Trek, Bewitched, the Lucy Show.
I have no interest in reality-TV shows like Survivor, Joe Millionaire, Big Brother, etc. – although I tend to get the gist of what is going on by reading updates and catching pieces when channel surfing. And I do not watch prime time drama, with one exception.
About a year and a half ago, I happened into the living room when my daughter was watching a new program called Smallville. I had noticed some of the media hype on the program, and assumed it was some kind of re-done attempt at Superman. As a youngster, I loved Superman comics. In fact, I loved comics in general – and had an extensive collection. Superheros were my preference – Superman, Green Lantern, The Fantastic Four, Supergirl, Wonder Woman, X-Men, Spiderman, Batman; and like everyone else on the planet I had a huge collection of Archie comics too (in fact we still maintain a stack in the “reading” room down the hall!).
As a Superman fan, I knew every aspect of the Kal-El/Clark Kent story; his history on Krypton, and his relationships with people on earth – the Kents, Lana Lang, Lois Lane, Lex Luthor, etc. When the first Superman movie came out, I eagerly went to see it, but was disappointed. Christopher Reeve fit the role of Superman, and the movie was great fun, but it just did not seem to re-create the legendary comic book superhero I had envisioned and was not true to the original philosophy. The intent seemed to be almost farcical, an attempt to place Superman’s values into a modern world of nuclear war that just didn’t quite make the mark. I didn’t like the Superman TV series either, although I thoroughly enjoyed Batman (Zap! Pow! Holy Birthday Cake, Batman!)
I was always disappointed with Superman in the comics when he left Lana Lang behind and instead pursued a relationship with Lois Lane. I don’t recall the comics ever really explaining why Lana Lang left the picture, but I know I always felt strongly that she was the right one for Superman, not Lois. The final straw for me was when Superman became intimate with Lois Lane in Superman IV – that; along with the producers’ incomprehensible decision to make Superman susceptible to water rather than kryptonite, ensured that I would not watch another Superman movie – a decision made easy by the fact that no more were made!
The Smallville hype sounded to me like just more of the same. Superman growing up, learning about the man he is destined to become, all placed in a modern setting. Sounded like just another attempt to re-visit the superhero legend, another Superman knock-off movie. Was I wrong! That evening, I sat down with my daughter and watched the show for the first time. I don’t recall which episode it was, but I was hooked within the first few minutes. Smallville is a brilliant piece of work, not just for Superman fans, but for anyone who enjoys unusual and well-written television drama.
The series takes us into the life of a young man who is just in the process of learning about who he is, testing his powers while developing relationships with all the key players in his life both current and future. Casting is inspired. Everyone in Smallville has been affected by the mysterious meteor shower that brought Kal-El to earth in different, yet eminently believable, ways. Lana Lang, portrayed by Vancouver’s stunningly beautiful Kristin Kreuk, perfectly portrays Clark Kent’s first love, the young girl next door who has lost her family in the meteor shower. She is independent and strong, loving Clark Kent, yet understanding that he has many complex layers.
Clark is portrayed by Tom Welling, another highly talented actor who makes you believe he IS Superman. He struggles with his need to be an ordinary teenager, yet blessed with extraordinary abilities; trying to live by the moral tenets the Kents have instilled in him, yet knowing his heritage and destiny is outside this planet. Michael Rosenbaum’s Lex Luthor is exactly who we would have expected Lex to be as a teenager – superrich, struggling to become more powerful than his psychologically manipulative father, bearing deep psychological scars of his own due to the meteor shower and his resulting hair loss. His relationship with Clark Kent is often tense, fraught with misunderstandings and mistrust – yet they have a very deep bond that makes you realize they are opposite sides of the same coin in many ways. He’s also incredibly hot!
While I find these three actors to be the most compelling on screen, the supporting cast is no less capable. John Glover plays a slightly creepy Lionel Luther, who we are both drawn to and repelled at the same time. John Schneider, as Jonathan Kent, is a loving, caring father who helps his most unusual adopted son cope with his abilities and still maintain his sense of moral rightness. I’m not a huge Alison Mack fan, but she is great as Chloe Sullivan, the over-curious high school newspaper editor and alternate Clark Kent love interest. Edmonton makes a contribution in the person of Eric Johnson, who plays Whitney – the quarterback who always interfered with the relationship between Lana and Clark during high school in the comics. Of all the characters, probably the only one I’m not fond of is Annette O’Toole. I did not like her portrayal of Lana Lang in Superman III, and in her role as Martha Kent, for me she is the least believable and interesting of the characters in Smallville.
The show itself is a fascinating foray into what Superman’s life must have been like as a teenager, and it brings the story alive – making you believe that Superman really could have existed. Unlike the movies, where we were given disjointed attempts at maintaining the Superman legend, Smallville stays true to the “facts,” and presents them in a way that takes you back into the pages of the original comic book and draws you into the angst that Kal-El must have dealt with growing up as someone “different” adopted into an alien environment. At the same time it is a story of a small town where unusual people have unusual experiences and find very human ways of coping.
Smallville introduces all the different people who will be part of Clark’s future as well as the past (Perry White appeared in last week’s episode and I’m suspicious that Chloe Sullivan may become re-invented as Lois Lane). Episodes are often based on events surrounding the influence of the meteor shower on other people – young people like Clark, Lana and Lex, who have been endowed with strange and unpredictable powers and effects from the kryptonite. Some of the victims respond positively, others become twisted. Each episode gives us another tantalizing little bit of information about the relationship between Clark and Lex – where Lex turned to evil and things started to go bad; as well as the relationship between Clark and Lana – why they eventually don’t end up together.
Throughout each episode we are treated to a wonderful musical soundtrack, beginning and ending with the haunting theme song “Save Me” by Remy Zero; and including music by R.E.M., Metallica, Papa Roach, Weezer, Third Eye Blind, and Coldplay, just to mention a few. Some of the tunes are classics, some of them are originals, most of them are unusual versions of well-known songs, such as, “Walking in Memphis” by Lonestar, “Time After Time” by Eva Cassidy and my personal favourite, “Don’t Dream its Over” by Sixpence None the Richer.
For a Superman fan this show is an absolute treat, but it’s an excellent watch for anyone regardless of whether you ever read the comic book or not. I’ve been frustrated recently because our local ITV Channel 7 had dropped the series, so we missed many episodes during the last season. KTLA and WPIX carry the series on Sunday and Wednesday. To my surprise, a few weeks ago I was pleased to discover that Access TV is now showing new episodes of Smallville Monday nights – as part of an Athabasca University Communications Studies course!
Knowing that Athabasca University considers the series valuable enough to include in a course helps to alleviate any of the guilt I may feel at dropping my schoolwork for an hour a week to watch the latest episode. But I’d do it anyway – and I’d encourage anyone who has not had the opportunity to watch it to do so. It helps if you have a background in Superman comics, but its not necessary. I see by the clock that its now 5 PM on Sunday, Smallville on WPIX is calling me!!
Debbie is a native Edmontonian, and a single parent with four daughters. She has worked as a professional musician for most of her life, and has enjoyed a rich variety of life experiences – with many more to come! Debbie is working towards an eventual doctorate in psychology, and currently serves as the president of the Athabasca University Students Union.