So long, Smallville
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Tonight, in a special two-hour series finale, “Smallville” ends its improbable, decade-long run on the CW network. As guilty pleasures go, “Smallville” has been one of mine since the very first episode in 2001. Our oldest son Austin had just turned 10, and together we fell into watching “Smallville” as a sort of father-son ritual.
Tonight, we’ll watch the last one together, no doubt throwing out our sarcastic comments about the latest ridiculous plot line or ludicrous bit of dialogue. For whatever it is, “Smallville” is not particularly well written. It panders to The CW’s base of teens and young adults and often wanders into one cliched genre after another as its core audience is alternately annoyed or mystified.
As anyone who’s ever gotten hooked on a TV show knows, though, it’s generally not the story that keeps you coming back; it’s the characters. In fact, I’d say the secret of “Smallville’s” success is in its casting. Over the years, the show runners have foisted the at-times-awful dialogue and risible plot points on a wide array of likeable and talented actors who succeed, most of the time, in elevating things above the morass of pop culture references and cheesy superhero patois. There was former “Dukes of Hazzard” star John Schneider, cast as Clark Kent’s terrestrial father, taking on the grave role of high morality and mentoring; veteran film actress Annette O’Toole as Clark’s nurturing mother Martha; Canadian beauty Kristin Kreuk as Kent’s early love, Lana Lang; Allison Mack as Clark’s brainy and ultra-loyal sidekick Chloe; and, of course, Lois Lane, played by another Canadian, Erica Durance, whose attempts to portray a hotshot newspaper reporter have been endlessly entertaining – if not particularly believable.
Ultimately, though, “Smallville” hung its appeal on Tom Welling as Clark Kent and his nemesis, Lex Luthor, played by Michael Rosenbaum. Welling handles the role of Clark Kent with steady aplomb, a rock of rectitude tormented by the many fateful decisions he must make while those around him try to steer him one way or another. Tall, dark and handsome, Welling is not only the perfect Superman (or “The Blur,” as he’s known in these formative years), he’s gone the Alan Alda route and taken on roles as producer and director along the way. Now 34, it’s tough for Welling to keep playing the “young” Clark Kent – a proto-Superman who still has yet to learn to fly.
Rosenbaum, alas, left the show a few seasons ago, taking with him most of the dramatic tension that drove the shows early years and leaving “Smallville” casting about for replacement villains. The result was an endless succession of silly anti-heroes who came and went as fans of the show kept hoping for a return of Lex. Sure, he’d been killed, but in the world of “Smallville” that meant little. Rosenbaum is, in fact, slated to appear in tonight’s finale, as are a number of characters we haven’t seen much of lately.
“Smallville” juggles the cast from one week to the next, and Austin and I often joke that the absence of a formerly important character is simply a budget calculation on the part of the producers. One character we love to see return is Lex’s father, Lionel Luthor, played with delightfully charming malevolence by veteran character actor John Glover. Playing the oleaginous Luthor paterfamilias as a grasping and morally bankrupt CEO, Glover steals every scene he’s in – an actor thoroughly delighted with his villainous role.
So tonight, we know Lex is back; Lionel, too, as well as Lana, Martha Kent and Chloe and (previously dead) Jonathan Kent. There’s a wedding to take care of between Lois and Clark, as well as whatever unfinished Luthor business arises. (Hmmm … I wonder if the nuptials will be disrupted in any way?) I don’t expect complete closure or satisfaction, but there’s no doubt “Smallville’s” time is up. Austin is in college now, and only through the magic of our crappy Comcast DVR have we been able to keep up on most of this last season. We do have a sort of tacit pact that neither of us will watch the show without the other – it’d just be no fun without our running commentary.
For all of “Smallville’s” camp and unintended comedy, it has been a lot of fun to watch with my son and, yes, a guilty pleasure almost as shameful as getting hooked on a soap. And even if we don’t expect much of the finale, we do have one overriding hope: that Clark will finally, at last, fly – and ditch his silly red leather “S” jacket for a getup more befitting a superhero.
After 10 years of loyal viewing, is that so much to ask?
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