Tuesday, December 25, 2012

DVD Review: Smallville Season 1, The Pilot

Somebody, save me. No, not really. I was in the public library the other day looking at the DVDs and saw that the Smallville season 1 collection was available. That's kind of unusual. Almost none of the Smallville DVDs are on the shelves for very long and in fact, season 1 was the only season of Smallville there. On a whim, and because I have only seen each season once, I decided to check out the first season of Smallville from the library. Figured it would be entertaining holiday fare, since I took a few days off for Christmas.

I remember the first time I saw the pilot episode. I had no idea what to expect. Well, scratch that. I had an idea of what to expect. I was just wrong. For one thing, I didn't expect a meteor shower of kryptonite. I didn't expect Lana's parents to be blown to bits. And who the heck is Aunt Nell?

I thought casting John Schneider and Annette O'Toole as Jonathan and Martha Kent was brilliant but unexpected (a young Ma and Pa Kent). I didn't realize just how much of a divergent trajectory Smallville would take from previous Superman canon. Actually, I wouldn't realize that for quite some time and eventually, it would get to be a real problem, but in the pilot episode, it worked out well.

Smallville has always been an uneven series. Some episodes just rocked while others were total dogs. So far, I'm about halfway through the first season and some of them are just ridiculous. It's amazing how kryptonite gives individual "meteor freaks" abilities that go so well with their personalities and personal problems (a fat girl who suddenly loses weight but has to eat a ton of fat to keep from starving?).

In the pilot, Clark already has powers but they're not fully developed. This was a real boon, since the audience can experience Clark's evolution toward becoming Superman along with him, which is the point of the series. He's fast, he's strong, he's durable, but that's about all he's got in the pilot. Oh, and he's very charming in a shy sort of way. Having achieved his abilities slowly and having been raised by parents who are caring and strong, Clark has been given the perfect platform for not abusing what he's got while at the same time, struggling to be popular in high school like any other 15 year old boy (I had some trouble picturing Welling and a number of the other "students" as that young, though).

Nobody knows what kryptonite is. They do know about meteor rock, but only Chloe suspects that the stuff has anything to do with the weirdness that's been happening in and around Smallville for the past twelve years or so. Meteor freaks would be the main catalyst in the first season, providing Clark with most of the foes he would battle. Most of them aren't bad people, just human beings whose bodies have been involuntarily changed and mutated by radiation exposure. The annoying thing about these freaks though is how they just disappear after Clark beats them. Sure, some die, but others are just (supposedly) taken away by the authorities. I think that's explained in subsequent seasons, but never entirely to my satisfaction.

These are super-powered metahumans, many who know that Clark is "special" himself. No one ever tells the cops, "Oh, by the way, the kid who stopped me has a punch like a crashing jet plane and can move about as fast?"

Lex Luthor.

More than any other character in the pilot and first season, he stands out as the somewhat dangerous but loyal big brother Clark never had. While driven by his own conflicts with his father Lionel (wonderfully played by John Glover), Lex is positively affected, not just by having Clark save his life, but by who Clark is. For most of Lex's life, he's been influenced by people who were primarily interested in power and manipulating others. Clark, super powers or no, is a truly transparent (except for his secrets), authentic human being (well, he looks human) who doesn't want anything from Lex except just to be friends.

Lex does everything he can do to help Clark and his family, though his methods definitely come from the "dark side" of being a Luthor, his intentions at this point are good. Lex's behavior shows us that he loves his friends (and as far as we know, Clark is his only friend) and hates his enemies. He's a great guy to have in your corner, but never, ever cross him or he'll find a way to get you.

Chloe Sullivan.

I hadn't realized just how annoying she was in the beginning. She's bitchy, and cranky, and sarcastic, and geez, would somebody shut her up. Quick to judge, slow to forgive, opinionated, and kind of full of herself. In some ways, she's like Lex in that she doesn't care who she hurts to get what she wants, which in her case, is the next "wall of weird" story. Unlike Lex, she's not calculating about it and in fact, she is rather careless, pursuing the goal without seeing the consequences. She matures as the show continues, but as I recall, by the series ending, she was still a little cold-hearted and goal driven.

In the beginning, she's a bright but unpopular person. Her hair always looks like a small explosion has scattered it at odd angles. She's the ugly duckling who is jealous of Clark's attention to Lana's beautiful swan. At one point in the first season, she calls the school paper her identity and in another episode, she refers to her laptop as her life. At age 15, Chloe is only as good and as interesting as what she writes about, which is probably why she goes after the unusual stories, rather than sticking to typical school activities. She's a proto-Lois Lane and is displaced by Lois in season four and afterward, which is why she has to develop other skill sets to stay interesting as a character. But in season 1, the writers of Smallville seemed to think Clark needed to play off of a Lois-type character from the very beginning.

Lana Lang.

Cute. Not as superficial as she seems for a cheerleader. Like most kids, she's trying to find out who she is and where she's going, which is another big point of the first season, since that's Clark's quest in spades. Having her parents die in the meteor shower when she was three mirrors Clark's own mystery, not having known his birth parents at all or even what planet they were from. Lana at least has Nell to fill in the blanks, along with pictures, diaries, and other documentation. Clark has a spaceship that, as of the middle of the first season, he's seen only once (as the series progresses, we get to see tons and tons of Kryptonian stuff and people and it finally gets rather oppressive how much we learn about a planet that blew up a long time ago). And of course, Lana has to wear that pesky little kryptonite necklace which disappears at odd times allowing her and Clark to actually have a conversation while standing closer than five feet apart. By the middle of season 1, Clark is weaning her from wearing it, which makes developing a friendship that includes more than phone calls and email easier to film.

Whitney Fordman.

He's not as big a pain as I remember him. Most of the time, he's actually a nice guy, for a jock with limited internal resources. He's authentically devoted to Lana, insecure enough to be jealous of Clark, worried about his future, and struggling with his father's heart disease (something Clark will have to deal with in his own Dad as time goes on). He's actually an OK guy and I can see why Lana likes him. On the other hand, Lana is smart enough to outgrow Whitney in a few years which is why it's a good thing he's eventually killed off. Oh, and that makes room for Clark to move in and hook up with her...until Lois shows up by season four.

Pete Ross.

Every guy needs a buddy and Pete is Clark's. Besides Lana and Clark's parents, Pete is one of the few people that comes from the silver age comic books. Of course, back in the 1960s, Pete is tall and blond and white...kind of like how Whitney looks. Of course, this is the early 21st century and in real life, even Smallville has a diverse population. I also didn't realize how well actor Sam Jones III was built. We expect the occasional beefcake shot of Clark in the boys locker room, but I noted Pete looking really buff himself.

Truth be told, Pete is really Chloe's buddy more than Clark's. In the pilot, Pete and Chloe bet whether or not Clark makes it to the bus stop in time to get his ride to school, and again whether or not Clark will stumble and act like a buffoon when he gets anywhere near Lana. Chloe and Pete are most often the two people you see actually working on stories for the Torch (Smallville High's school paper) and just as friends, they go to the homecoming dance together (neither being popular enough to score their own dates). Pete joins the football team to increase his popularity, which is natural, but you never get an impression that he's there to do much more than back up Clark and Chloe.


The whole "shipper" emphasis of Smallville wasn't in full swing in season 1 since the audience is still trying to figure out who people are supposed to be. We do see the beginnings, though. Whitney and Lana are dating, but Clark is totally pining for Lana. Somewhere inside, Lana realizes this but it doesn't come to fruition this early in the game. Lex, for his part, sees all this and repeatedly tries to set up situations where Clark and Lana are together. Chloe has a "thing" for Clark, but it's not so overpowering that she doesn't have interests in another guy (such as womanizing student Sean Kelvin, played by Michael Coristine in the episode Cool). Eventually, this will develop into a "shipper" issue of Clark/Lana vs. Clark/Chloe, but we aren't there yet.

And thankfully, that's all of the "shipper" drama we get to see in season 1. At this point, there's still a strong teenage angst thread running through the series, which I'm sure is present to satisfy the demands of its target audience, but for me, Smallville season 1 is mainly about watching Clark discover who he is as the future "Man of Steel."


I particularly like the pilot episode of Smallville and a number of developments in Clark as a person and a "superhero" in season 1. It's "good clean fun," so to speak. I'm even thinking of getting season 2 after I'm done with this set of disks.

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