Culture Television

‘Smallville’ From Clark Kent to Superman

“Smallville” is a fun TV show that follows a high school Clark Kent as he grows up to fulfill his destiny and save the world.

Photo: WBTV

“Smallville” is essentially a coming-of-age story about an adopted alien from Krypton, Clark Kent, growing up in cornfield town Smallville, Kansas, to later becoming a rising star reporter at the “Daily Planet” and prequel to Superman. It’s an entertaining TV show worthy of binge watching; yours truly will attest. The series is mainly about relationships, i.e. people drama; though weekly Kryptonited mutants add supernatural thrills in its first few seasons, and later the stakes are upped with the advent of extraterrestrial threats.

Clark Kent is a young man with a great destiny to fulfill, it is repeatedly inculcated. The general opinion is that he was sent to Earth in order to protect good and abolish evil. However honorable and virtuous that may be, his moral high ground outlook, shaped by the wisdom of his parents in a farmhouse where “business” is a dirty word, can at times make him appear as self-righteous and censorious as a Victorian monk. On the rare occasion when he does behave untowardly, his uninhibited conduct is blamed on red kryptonite; effectively capable of turning a sober puritan into a wild libertine. His lack of imperfections aside, Clark Kent is a decent guy and a hero with pretty awesome superpowers: super strength, super speed, invulnerability, X-ray vision, heat vision, etc.

The other characters in “Smallville” can be sorted into three groups: those that pedestal Clark Kent as a savior; those that keep him grounded; and those that want to expose him. It is not uncommon for a character to change sides according to the circumstance. For example, Chloe Sullivan, gatekeeper of the “wall of weird” and Clark’s best friend, has played on all sides. She investigates him on and off in the early seasons; first out of curiosity, then because she is upset with him, and the third time under duress. However, once she realizes his powers and true origin, she understands the significance and henceforth protects Clark’s secret at all cost. Chloe is his trusted sidekick and constant throughout the ten seasons of “Smallville”; the Sancho Panza to Clark’s Don Quixote.

Lana Lang is Clark’s high school crush. There is a “will they, won’t they, they have, no more, perhaps again,” drama that is dragged on for (too) many seasons. Suffice it to say here, lots of longing glances and wistful smiles are exchanged, and brooding countenances assumed during private moments of pining. Ultimately, it’s no secret who Clark Kent (aka Superman) ends up with in the end, it is known; so the “Clana” thing just serves as a very extended distraction with complicating results. The love triangle aside, like most personalities on the show that start out pure of heart, Lana has a “good girl gone bad” story arc; from a sweet, cheerleading damsel in distress she stumbles into a web of deceit and thence evolves into a dangerous woman with revenge listed on her agenda.

When Clark is finally (sort of) over Lana Lang, the next woman to usurp her place in his heart is Lois Lane; a headstrong woman with the audacity of an Amazonian queen. She retorts as readily as a pirate swears; looks for signs of trouble and runs towards it; dresses up in elaborate disguises to infiltrate closed doors; and extricates herself from difficult situations with kicks and choice words. In many ways, unexpectedly but very welcomed, Lois Lane is the show’s primary and reliable supplier of comic relief. Also, she loves teasing Clark and nicknames him “Smallville.”

Given Clark Kent’s overt moral perfection, it is thus understandable why the audience might sometimes find themselves annoyed and react by rooting for the sinners, i.e. the villains of the show. The Luthor family is first rate in this category. The father in particular, Lionel Luthor, is a King Cobra in Armani. As ruthless as a Roman Dominus, a blackguard with a silver tongue, he is the founder and architect of LuthorCorp; a biotechnology conglomerate engaged in the shadiest of cutting-edge research. His son and heir is Lex Luthor, a poker face baddie; cool on the outside, cruel within. Relationship wise, theirs is that of a shark and a crocodile forced together in the same tank. Regardless, the father and son duo do share one passion in common: a mutal obsession of solving the mystery of Clark Kent.

The Clark Kent and Lex Luthor relationship story unfolds not unlike the legendary alliance between Julius Caesar and Pompey Magnus. The two young men start out as good friends; Clark saves Lex’s life after the latter’s car runs off a bridge and plummets into the river. Nevertheless, the necessity for keeping secrets prevents them from ever becoming confidants, and the lies told to hide those secrets ultimately erodes their trust in one another; slowly and painfully turning what was once brotherly love into mutual enmity.

Tess Mercer is last of the main characters to enter the “Smallville” world. She is a highly accomplished individual; studying marine biology at Harvard before becoming Lex Luthor’s protégée and then acting CEO of LuthorCorp. A red siren with Louis Vuitton tastes and mean aikido moves, her piercing glances embodies the phrase “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” French actress and femme fatale expert Eva Green would approve.

Among the most memorable “Smallville” episodes, “Noir” (Season 6, Episode 20) is one of the standouts; a personal favorite. In summary: someone gets shot at the “Daily Planet.” Chloe’s love interest, photographer Jimmy Olsen is knocked unconscious while going through pictures of the crime scene. He has a dream, it’s in black and white, and set in the 1940s. A film noir version of “Smallville” ensues; wherein Jimmy is a reporter, Chloe a sassy secretary, Clark a mystery man, Lois a saucy singer, Lex a powerful man, and Lana the dame to kill for.

Although supposed to take place in Kansas, most of “Smallville” is actually shot in British Columbia, Canada; thus explaining why Metropolis (Superman’s Gotham City) looks more Vancouver than Wichita. The sets are reasonably well done, albeit sometimes to a stereotypical degree: the Kent house is always warm, the Luthor Mansion cold, etc.

As with most coming-of-age stories, “Harry Potter” and the likes, “Smallville” matures with age; turning from a corny white chocolate to a balanced milk chocolate to a complicated dark chocolate during its ten-year run. Overall it’s an enjoyable TV series to watch; fun, engaging, and not entirely predictable. The actors look the part and act well, delivering some very good lines and together make the world they inhabit a believable one. The writers throw in some great twists along the way too; e.g. who is the Red Queen? Anyway, all of this is to say that “Smallville” is indeed worth the 153 hours of your life required to finish the show.

As a side note, “Smallville” kind of reminds me of the original “Star Wars” movies; in the sense that a good and pure young man gifted with rare powers, Luke Skywalker, is raised by simple guardians on a remote moisture farm, and has a great destiny to fulfill. Sound familiar?

By Boripat Lebel

Boripat Lebel is a research coordinator at the Unit for Social and Environmental Research at Chiang Mai University. He authored the eBook “A Vomit of Diamonds.” Boripat can also be found on LinkedIn .