Lois & Clark Season One
I finished my rewatch of Lois & Clark season one in HD and wanted to jot down some thoughts. I had watched the first three episodes back when I wrote about the costumes and watched the rest over the last two weeks. The one big thing they get right is the chemistry between our titular couple. Every step of the way I believed them together and even when they were forced into silly situations they played off each other really well. I love Teri Hatcher as Lois. She’s real and she’s spectacular.
The show follows a similar format to the Adventures of Superman from 40 years prior—plus a big focus on the main relationship. There is some mystery or crime that needs to be solved. Lois, Clark, and Jimmy investigate. They get direction and leadership from Perry White—Lane Smith is so good in this. At the end Superman comes to save the day with some miraculous feat. There are some cleverly solved mysteries and even the more over-the-top scenarios have believable detective work. I wasn’t really rolling my eyes at the plots like I do for some of those early Superboy episodes. We get several cold opens with a silly sports scene showing Clark use his powers, including a very 90s Bo Jackson cameo for a basketball game. Focusing less on Superman and more on Lois & Clark helps them work with the 90s effects and television budget. Also a benefit considering the decisions they made for this HD master.
The show typically looks great in HD, but there is one major issue. Any scene where special effects are used stays in standard definition. Since the show was shot on film I assume the effects were done on video and therefore there is no way to show them in higher quality without redoing them. When the Star Trek shows were remastered in HD they redid the effects, but I don’t think this show has an audience big enough for Warners to want to spend that money. It’s disappointing and at times distracting. Since it’s the entire shot that doesn’t get remastered you know Clark is about to do something with his powers the minute we switch to standard def. One thing that really stood out was the waving cape in the credits. In the intro credits it’s in standard def along with the rest of the super-feats. But in the end credits it’s in HD. There is an interesting texture there that I could never notice on television, VHS, or DVD before. It still bothers me that the shield isn’t all yellow, but the texture is kinda neat.
John Shea’s performance is filled with over-the-top gravitas that I really enjoyed. The show does a great job keeping him involved with everything in the background. He’s a real threat to Clark and Superman. His characterization is heavily based on the post-crisis DJT-style Lex Luthor running in the comics at the time. I loved him always being around. He’s more than just the bad guy of the week, he’s a major supporting character.
Panic in the Sky
Back when the Adventures of Superman DVDs came out in 2006 I remember watching “Panic in the Sky” and realizing the Lois & Clark episode “All Shook Up” was based on it. I also loved the early 90s comics storyline that borrowed the title. Would someone without their memories make similar decisions is an interesting question to be explored. Would Clark still be Superman and want to save people if he couldn’t remember anything? I rewatched the original after watching this episode and it was surprising how much they had in common. In 26 minutes Adventures has Superman flying to stop the meteor, returning to earth without his memory, regaining his memory, and flying back to completely destroy the meteor. The extra run time Lois & Clark gets allows for an advancement of the romance. Without knowing Clark has to hide his identity and not knowing what his relationship is with Lois lets him make decisions he may not have otherwise made. Another fun AoS connection: this is the first episode to feature Inspector Henderson who was a major character in the old show.
Next day addendum—I completely forgot that Superboy did this as well. “Superboy-Lost” from season three has him deflecting a comet, losing his memory, spending sometime in the everglades, and then deflecting the comet fully saving the day. I watched this episode for the first time last year so you’d think I’d have it fresh in my head. Apologies for the error.
Another thing these shows like to do is allow their characters to play against type. “Pheromone, My Lovely” is a riff on Star Trek’s “The Naked Time” where characters lose their inhibitions. Great chance to let Teri Hatcher go wild and the same as “Panic in the Sky” push along the relationship. We also get the silly characters playing prohibition era gangsters in black and white in the Die Hard inspired “Fly Hard”.
A big opportunity Superman shows get to play with this is with a Bizarro (and post Smallville Red Kryptonite). Lois & Clark gets their Bizarro in “Vatman”. He’s not called Bizarro and he doesn’t get the white skin or backwards speech, but he has the same origin as the post-crisis Bizarro. Created by Lex to have his own Superman he is ultimately a failed copy that helps Superman. They do say his behavior is bizarre at one point. I was surprised at how similar the episode of the animated series “Identity Crisis” was to this. You feel bad for Bizarro and our Vatman dupe. Despite being raised by Luthor they want to do the right thing. The episode also has a small throw back to Superman IV with the duplicate being created with a lock of Clark’s hair stolen by Luthor. The bar scene also reminded me of the bar in Superman III, but that could just be my head looking to make connections.
Speaking of connections the doctor that helps Luthor create the clone is played by Michael McKean who later returned to Superman playing Perry White on Smallville.
Speaking of guest stars, Lois & Clark has a ton of them. Not all of them are David St. Hubbins. Almost every episode had me jumping to IMDb to see what else the guest star had done. Character actors that were all decently well known at the time. When watching “Panic at the Sky” with the commentary track Jimmy Olsen actor Jack Larson mentions the guest stars in that episode were well known television and film actors of the time as well. I feel like the current TV shows don’t do this as much. Not many great character actors around getting cool roles. Many of the guest stars on Smallville ended up doing other CW shows (Jensen Ackles), becoming bigger movie stars (Amy Adams), or were Superman alumn (too many to mention). We even get James Earl Jones in the final episode! Of course I would be remiss if I forgot to mention Phyllis Coates, television’s first Lois Lane, showing up in the finale as Lois’ mother Ellen.
Ellen isn’t the only parent to show up. We also get a radically different version of Sam Lane. Rather than the general Lane we are used to this Sam Lane is a sports doctor working with boxers. The real parental stars of the show are the Kents. One of my favorite post-crisis changes is the adult Clark having the Kents around. Clark doesn’t need to be inspired by the death of his father to be a hero, his living parents inspire him plenty! K. Callan and Eddie Jones are great in their roles. This Martha was a huge inspiration on the Birthright comics released years later. Very hip and modern. The loving family also continues on to Smallville even though we do lose Jonathan in episode 100.
It wouldn’t be a 90s television show without some sexism, although I’m legitimately surprised at how much better it holds up in this department than Smallville. Both season five of Smallville and this season of Lois & Clark feature an episode where Lois goes under cover at a gentleman’s club. Erica and Teri both get a chance to kick some ass, but the Smallville episode is all about the T&A. Not a huge surprise from The CW (technically the final season on The WB) considering the pitch for their Riverdale show is “Archie, but with sex.” Cat Grant’s character is generally treated terribly by everyone—except Clark notably. Lois is mostly really well written, with very few instances where she devolves into stereotypes. Maybe because the showrunner for this season was a woman: Deborah Joy LeVine.
Couple of quick notes on the two-part finale.
The staff at the Planet talk about organizing their labor. Wonder what our right-wing nut thought about that at the time. It’s all about billionaires shutting down the free press.
Clark’s scream in the arctic after losing Lois was kind of weak. This guy is no Christopher Reeve I think we’ll all agree.
The first scene of the final episode with Lex in VR pretending to be Superman, complete with a LEX emblem was hilarious. Truly how he saw himself at that moment. Brings it right around to Zuckerberg’s metaverse nonsense. Where is Jesse Eisenberg when you need him?
Clark gets a nice heat vision shave, also inspired by the post-crisis comics of the time and later referenced in the animated series.
The finale ends with what might be my least favorite moment of the season. Clark lies to Lois and tells her he doesn’t have feelings for her. It seems like he is doing this because he thinks she doesn’t feel the same way about him and he wants to be able to continue to work with her, but it’s a bad decision. I really get the vibe that the producers wanted to milk the “will they, won’t they” as long as they could so to answer that would upset their status quo too much. They had come so far in their relationship and were so close only to have it snatched away from us at the last second.
For season two we lose the Deborah Joy LeVine as the showrunner and Michael Landes as Jimmy, plus the characters of Cat Grant and Jack. I haven’t watched this show since the DVD release in 2006. It’s been great to revisit. I still remember watching the pilot that first Sunday night all the way back in 1993.