Every Summer for the past few years, I have watched Smallville starting with season 1 and working my way up to the point that I’m ready for the release of the previous season on DVD. Then, it’s a rush leading up to the new season premiere. This Summer is no different, with the exception that I am finally getting my thoughts online.
Now, we’re talking roughly 130 episodes of Smallville which translates into about 97 hours of television (thank goodness for no commercials on DVD.) Most likely the format will be one disc at a time for the next few weeks. Today, however, it’s just the first two episodes of the series. The Pilot and Metamorphisis. So without further ado, let the Summer of Smallville begin…
While I’m not going into an in depth summary of the episodes, there will be spoilers, so…if you’ve never watched Smallville, and you are planning to….AND you don’t want to be spoiled, tread carefully.
The pilot episode of Smallville was written by the creators, Alfred Gough and Miles Millar. David Nutter Directed.Leading up to the premiere of the series, we know the main rule of the show…no flights, no tights. As the show opens with a shot from the other side of the moon, we realize immediately that this is a television show that has no idea that it’s a television show. The creators of Smallville write, direct, and produce as if they’re making a movie. Which brings us to the special effects of the show. While the digital work is not the best of ILM or WETA, it is significantly better that what was being offered on television in 2001. At this point many of the “special effects” were set gags used to do things practically. In this case, your stunt people and stunt coordinators come in. The big stunt of the show is Clark getting knocked off the bridge by Lex’s porche. If that’s not an actual person flying off of that bridge, it’s one of the best dummies I’ve ever seen. What you get in that moment is a shot that holds up so well that it is used in the credits for a couple of years to come. Granted a few beats are missed…I’m looking in the direction of a red truck driving out of view into smoke and a sound effect to let us know that Jonathan and Martha wrecked. But that’s so easily overlooked because of all the great wrecks to come in the series.
Storywise, the pilot does everything it needs to do and more for this show. We are introduced to all the primary characters in the teaser in so that we get a bit of origin. Lex as a child being caught in the meteor blast, Lana watching her parents die, and Clark walking up to a wrecked Jonathan and Martha. Then, we are introduced to the characters again as the show gets going by seeing Clark beat the bus that he missed to school, Lana as the typical cheerleader (for now), and Lex as the son who is banished to Smallville by his father to prove himself.
The supporting cast is introduced nicely as well. Pete as the loyal best friend. Chloe as the quirky, pushy reporter friend. Jonathan and Martha as the protective yet wise and understanding parents. Then there’s John Glover’s Lionel Luthor. As one of two new characters introduced into the Superman myth by this show, Lionel makes the bigger splash early on. The most defining moment of who Lionel is takes place with no words, just a facial expression. As Lionel finds Lex in the corn field after the first meteor strike, his face shifts from concern to disgust. In that moment, we immediately begin to hate Lionel Luthor…and we should.
The meeting of Clark and Lex is not only a plot device to cause the two to bump into each other (no pun intended…seriously), but the wreck will define Clark and Lex’s relationship for years to come and Lex’s view of the wreck will evolve into the very thing that causes the relationship to ultimately crumble in season 5.
The pilot also introduces us to one other character that will play a role in the first season, Lana’s boyfriend Whitney. The writers do a decent job of showing that Whitney isn’t all bad as he seems like genuinely nice guy around Lana, and he doesn’t purposely treat Clark badly…at first.
The stage is set for the Freak of the Week villian that we will see in every episode during the first season, and we learn that weird things have been happening in Smallville since the meteor shower.
Overall, the pilot still stands up as an enjoyable episode of television six years later. It’s really fun and interesting to watch knowing the direction things will take. The creators did an outstanding job of casting everyone from Tom Welling as Clark to Eric Johnson as Whitney. And who woulda thunk it? John Schneider as Jonathan Kent. When I first saw this, I scratched my head…within one episode though, I knew that he was the man for the job.
Don’t be deceived though, Smallville isn’t Smallville without a certain dose of cheesiness. Examples:
1. John Schneider’s delivery of “What’ve you got there son?” Seems right out of an episode of the Brady Bunch.
2. Clark’s daydreaming…I feel like this is an idea that they may have wanted to run throughout the show but thankfully abandoned.
3. Kristin Kreuk’s voice. It just grated my nerves. Love Kristin, think she’s great…but her line delivery could be bothersome.
4. Clark’s “Don’t you die on me.” As he’s trying to revive Lex.
5. Smallest group of cheering teens I’ve ever seen leave a school about midway through the show.
However, these moments are outweighed by the writing and cool foreshadowing moments:
1. Teen drama is captured practically perfectly. The relationship stuff and Whitney’s desire to get out of Smallville.
2. The great shot used to promote the show, Clark hanging on a post with an “S” painted on his chest.
3. Clark and Jonathan’s relationship. It’s the relationship every guy wish he had with his dad.
4. Cool line referencing the future: “So what are you Clark, man or super-man?”
5. Clark: “I’m the Fort Knox of secrets.” This line defines Clark and Lana’s relationship for the years to come.
6. Cool line referencing the future: “Do you believe a man can fly?”
7. Clark’s feeling responsible for the things caused by the meteors.
8. Clark’s response to Jeremy, the meteor freak, after Jeremy tells him, “I have a gift, a purpose, a destiny.”: “So do I.” Cue the Superman theme.
Through the pilot we are not only introduced to the characters, but Superman fans and non-fans alike are given reasons to invest in the characters. Whether it’s the Clark and Lana relationship, the Clark and Lex friendship, or the desire to see Clark become the man he will one day be, the show strikes the right note on so many different levels. Then we get…
This episode was written again by the creators Gough and Millar and was directed by Michael Watkins and Philip Scgriccia.This episode gives us a couple of firsts. This episode is the first to have the great intro music by Remy Zero. Let’s face it. “Save Me” was meant to be the lead in for a Superman show. The second we’ll discuss in a moment. Metamorphisis is a great compliment to the pilot. In fact, it picks up right where the pilot left off. Because of this, there is more information that the casual viewer is introduced to.
The show opens after the teaser and opening credits with flying shot over Smallville and into Lana’s window where she is sleeping. We see that it is Clark floating over her bed. She looks at Clark, tells him that it’s all his fault, and goes back to sleep. This jars Clark awake. To steal a line from Bill Murray in Ghostbusters, he is sleeping above the sheets…three FEET above the sheets. He immediately crashes into his bed. So, this is the first time we get to see Clark flying in any way.
Another first we get is later in the episode when Clark saves his dad from falling onto a big piece of farm equipment. This is the first time we see superspeed from Clark’s point of view. The Matrix-like “bullet time” effect would become a standard for Smallville. In fact, though this type of shot has it’s origin in The Matrix, Smallville made the effect all it’s own.
The other first we get is Clark’s reaction to Kryptonite. I know we saw it in the pilot, but as Clark is standing in the field testing it out, we see what it actually does to him physically.
Is there anything that doesn’t work in this episode?
Sure, Jonathan Kent carrying a tiny little fire extinguisher as if it’s going to do anything about a fire caused by an exploding truck is a little silly. I didn’t too much enjoy the portrayal of Greg’s mom. And just because Greg’s a bug boy doesn’t mean he has to spout bug facts in nearly every scene. And yes, I don’t like Lana’s voice. (You will see this point made by me until season 4.)
Again, these are just things that get on my nerves or, in the case of the tiny fire extinguisher, make me laugh at a point when I’m not supposed to.
What works well though, works well on so many levels.
First, there are the great moments:
– Clark driving a nail like it’s a thumb tack.
– Great use of ham in Greg’s shower scene.
– When Clark tells Lana of the loft, “My dad calls it my fortress of solitude.” Both fathers would give him this gift. Granted Jor-El kinda one ups Jonathan…but what are you gonna do?
– The moment after Greg attacks Jonathan and Clrak when Clark explains to his dad what he thinks happened. When Jonathan expresses doubts about Clark’s theories, Martha says, “This coming from a man whose been hiding a spaceship in his storm cellar for 12 years.” The look and timing of the look that Jonathan gives is perfect comedy.
– Clark’s fear of heights introduced by Pete. This comes into play spectacularly in Season 2.
– Clark saving Whitney after their confrontation and later not using the necklace to win Lana over show what makes him a hero. He is a good guy. Period. Even without his powers, Clark would be a great guy. The shot of him walking the lonely road home is one of those great defining moments.
Overall, this is a great compliment to the pilot, At this point, viewers were completely invested in Clark winning Lana over. Whitney redeemed himself and became one of the more well written characters on the show from this point on. His ups and downs during the first season really make me miss any similar characters in seasons to follow. Jason comes close, but because of his completely evil turn in the end, he falls short. And who trusted Adam Knight? I don’t see any hands….but I am getting way ahead of us.With these first two episodes, the audience is introduced to Clark’s physical strengths and weaknesses and one of the strongest casts on TV to that point .Micheal Rosenbaums Lex is played perfectly as the older friend. He also does a great job of not being evil, just a bit edgy.
John Schneider delivers his fatherly advice with such sincerity that it doesn’t come off as cheesy as it should. The fact that the writer’s show his vulnerablility at being unable have all the answers for Clark make him that much more accessible.
Kristin played Lana with a gentility and subtle strength that is only fully realized by her arcs in Season 3 – 6.
In these first two episodes, we only get small glimpses of the invaluable part that Chloe will play in the life of Clark. But, we do begin to see that she has feelings for Clark feeding into the teen drama for the non-Superman fans. We do learn that Allison Mack can deliver plot exposition like no one else. This is a skill that she uses throughout the life of the show.
And Pete…We miss you so Pete. Pete grounds everything with Chloe, Clark, and himself in reality. His priorities are every teenager’s priorities.Annette O’Toole….Her Martha Kent is perfect. She shares her husbands fears and dreams for Clark, but it is all tempered with a mother’s love. And she pulls it off wonderfully.A great start to what becomes a great show.What strikes me most is how well these episodes, and, in truth, the entire first season hold up compared to where we are now in the hiatus between seasons six and seven. This is the third summer I’ve gone through these DVD’s, and the show is as enjoyable now as it was when it first aired. One of the things that make it so enjoyable is the anticipation of knowing what’s coming and seeing even the smallest seeds planted to bring us to the point we are now at in the story.If you’re not into the show, use this summer to catch up. If you love the show, let me tell you, have yourself a summer of Smallville…you won’t regret it.
The rest of the reviews won’t be this long. The format will most likely shift as I find out what works best for the blog.