In 2001, The WB Network aired the pilot episode of Smallville, a TV series that set out to explore the teenage years of Clark Kent before he took up the mantle of Earth’s greatest superhero. The show started off innocuously enough, following the Buffy template by substituting the “demon/vampire of the week” with a “Kryptonite Freak of the week” (usually teenagers at Smallville high with a mutation caused years earlier by the kryptonite meteor shower that occurred during baby Kal-El’s crash-landing). Later, once Clark began to learn of his Kryptonian heritage, the series managed to escape its “Clark and the Scooby Gang solve mysteries” formula and developed into a fairly compelling show.
Then came the endless pining over Lana, copious amounts of “Peach Pit”-esque teen drama at The Talon coffee house, the tedious back-and-forth Lex/Clark interactions, Chloe’s magical laptop/cellphone (which allowed her to access government satellites and open any security door), the loss of the terrific John Schneider as Pa Kent, the move to college, the repeated “T&A” episodes where the female cast members became possessed or brainwashed by mystical artifacts and were compelled to act and dress like complete sluts, the addition of various members of the “Justice League” (dudes in multi-colored hoodies), the departure of Michael Rosenbaum as the show’s long-time primary antagonist, and yet another transition to the offices of the Daily Planet in Metropolis.
Yet despite these glaring flaws, Smallville inexplicably endured — maintaining a small, but loyal following who wouldn’t be dissuaded, hungrily devouring their weekly fix of gooey Kryptonian cheese for a good five seasons longer than this show had any right to run. Somewhere around the 8th or 9th season (I stopped watching regularly somewhere in the college years) Smallville decided to start jamming its runtime with oodles of DC Comics characters in an effort to stay fresh and appease fanboys longing for the show to break it’s hallowed “no tights, no flights” rule. Over the past few seasons, the show has seen iterations of Zatanna, The Flash, Aquaman, Green Arrow, Cyborg, Martian Manhunter, Doomsday, Braniac, Zod, Booster Gold, Silver Banshee, Blue Beetle, Hawkman, Star Girl, Dr. Fate, Supergirl, Bizarro, Black Canary, and yes, even Krypto the Superdog. Ten long years and oodles of DC comic cameos later, Smallville is finally –perhaps mercifully — over.
The two-hour finale encapsulates everything that is wrong with the series — endless 90210 / Dawson’s Creek-influenced angst, introspection, and navel gazing; weak action scenes; cheesy special effects; anticlimactic resolutions to crises; wooden delivery of stilted dialog; and nonsensical, overly convoluted plot threads. We are treated to the juxtaposition of Lois and Clark’s impending nuptials with the imminent destruction of Earth by the planet Apokolips, which is hurtling through space on a direct collision course in order to extinguish all life. Yes, that’s right, Smallville turned the entire planet of Apokolips, with its long and storied history in the pages of DC Comics, into nothing more than a giant projectile thrown at the Earth like a kid chucking a rock at a rusty old car window.
What made things even worse was the trademark Smallville feet-dragging, “dramatic build-up to a short and disappointing climax”routine. I don’t know, maybe it’s just me, but if I was Clark and I saw a gigantic, flame-spewing death world blotting out the sun and causing massive earthquakes, I would immediately stop everything, throw on the Superman costume, fly up to Apokolips, and start punching things. However, since this is Smallville, Clark felt the need to stand around looking angsty in the Daily Planet office listening to the radio with dozens of terrified people, investigate a cell-phone video message left by Tess (Lex’s sister…or his clone…or something equally dumb), share a nauseatingly long and talky goodbye with Lois, fly to the ruins of the Luthor mansion for an even longer and more pointless conversation with a resurrected Lex Luthor, and have a lame, anti-climactic fight with Darkseid (in the body of Lionel Luthor, Lex’s father…don’t even ask).
Finally, after all of that nonsense, we are treated to a scene where Clark goes into some kind of Kryptonian dream-state and sees old clips from the show’s history in some crystals, talks to the ghost of John Schneider, and is then given the blue and red tights by the disembodied voice of Jor-El. This long-awaited, iconic moment that fans had been waiting ten years for falls completely flat, and sadly, is even somewhat laughable. The classic duds turn out to be a leftover costume from Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns, and Tom Welling — who repeatedly stated that he would never put on the costume –holds true to his word, as we only see close-ups of his head. All full-body shots are rendered in CGI that’s on par with a Syfy Channel original movie. Clark, now revealed to the world as Superman, rescues Air Force One (in a callback to the original 1978 Donner film), and in a hugely un-satisfying moment, simply pushes Apokolips back into space with no resistance. Now, with a limited TV budget, obviously we weren’t going to be treated to epic fight scenes of Superman battling hordes of Darkseid’s Para-Demons, his son Kalibak, or even the Female Furies, but for the Master of the Omega Effect and Lord of the Anti-Life Equation to put up absolutely no fight whatsoever is simply weak.
The Smallville finale actually does end on a high note, but that’s probably due to the soaring, classic John Williams Superman music that underscores the show’s last five minutes more than anything else. In this sequence, we are treated to a flash-forward seven years in the future where Perry White is Editor-in-Chief of the Daily Planet, Jimmy Olsen is snapping photos, Lois is hunting down stories, and Clark is a mild-mannered reporter waiting to leap into action to save the world as the Man of Steel. The final image of the series sees Welling running towards the camera, and pulling his shirt open to reveal the iconic “S” shield as John Williams epic score swells up. It’s a moment that goes a long way to make one forget about the terrible missteps this once-promising series took…but it doesn’t go far enough.