When the latest DC superhero TV show on the CW, Superman & Lois, was announced, many of us shrugged our shoulders based on the previous quality of superhero shows on that network. While the so-called Arrowverse DC TV shows are usually entertaining, they quickly fell into a worn-out formula that catered to the YA audiences of the CW. These shows were known for humdrum cinematography, average-to-obvious CG effects, a quirky support team for the main character complete with a nerdy IT person who talks too much. and a light tone with angst-driven melodrama.
Adding to the preconception about Superman & Lois was this version of Superman (Tyler Hoechlin) was the same one introduced in Supergirl and many fans complained loudly over how the showrunners intentionally made Superman inferior to Supergirl in her show. This was the last thing the character needed in this day and age where he struggles to stay relevant.
Well, after viewing the pilot episode of Superman & Lois, it is great to discover that the show, so far, has taken a different approach with an emphasis on quality that approaches what one would see on HBO Max and even on film.
The pilot begins with a summary of Superman/Clark Kent’s life from the moment he arrived on Earth as an infant to how he met his future wife, Lois Lane (Bitsie Tuloch) and to the birth and raising of their twin sons, Jon (Jordan Elsass) and Jordan (Alex Garfin). During the pilot, a life-altering event occurs which forces Clark to return with his family to his childhood home in Smallville, Kansas. He and Lois find themselves at a crossroads in their lives and careers as they find out being journalists does not offer career or financial security. Real world problems invade their lives. Throughout the episode, Superman investigates a mysterious villain, while the boys struggle with their sense of identity and finding their way in a changing world.
From the start, the show featured exceptional special effects and cinematography, a more mature tone, and actual characters. Tyler Hoechlin turned in a fine performance as Superman and Clark Kent, who is conflicted with his responsibility to his family versus his life as a superhero who is constantly on call. Even though he is invulnerable, can bend steel with his bare hands and is faster than a speeding bullet, Clark still struggles to relate with his teenage sons. One of them has a social anxiety disorder while the other is an up-and-coming jock. These revelations showcase a more vulnerable and relatable side to the superhero, which is needed since he is criticized often for being a perfect boy scout.
A caveat with the pilot episode of Superman & Lois is that it does feel at times like a CW show, especially when it devotes screentime to the boys. Their moments of teenage angst comes off as an updated version of Smallville complete with the dumb jocks, coy would-be girlfriends and teenage social gatherings that go awry. The partial reveal of the villain’s identity could produce some groans because Superman has a large gallery of villains to pick from that have yet to appear in live action. The episode could have used a bit more humor to liven up the mood. Then again being that the Arrowverse usually goes overboard with humor to the point it detracts from the drama, the more serious tone of Superman & Lois is very welcome.
Another point to be made is that Superman & Lois casts off much of the Arrowverse trappings to the point that it can be argued that it does not take place in the Arrowverse. It takes its inspirations from Man of Steel instead of Supergirl and it shows from the redesign of Superman’s costume to its hand-held photography (it is more brightly lit than Man of Steel, however) to its grittier tone. Be that as it may, Tyler Hoechlin’s take on Clark Kent and Superman is much closer to Christopher Reeve in the early Superman films than Henry Cavill in the recent films. the rest of the cast are also fine in their respective roles.
Also, there is a terrific nod early in the pilot to the Max Fleischer Superman cartoons and even the first cover image of Action Comics #1 where Superman sports an early prototype costume complete with the red trunks. The cinematography during the opening segments/flashbacks contrast nicely with the current setting and helped set this episode apart from the other Arrowverse pilots.
The first episode of Superman & Lois is a welcome surprise in a crowded TV landscape of underwhelming superhero shows. The makers realized that unlike the early Arrowverse shows, it is competing with other shows that raised the bar in terms of production values and writing. It is only the first episode and it remains to be seen if it can maintain this tone. The big test will come with the inevitable crossover episodes with the Arrowverse properties. But based on the pilot, Superman & Lois has taken off to a promising start.
José Soto and Walter L. Stevenson