I like Superman. I like Tyler Hoechlin’s Superman. And yet, I was concerned going into the pilot of Superman & Lois, the latest entry in the nearly decade-old Arrowverse library of shows. Family stuff? Leaving Metropolis? I want to see Superman fight Metallo! Lex Luthor! Brainiac! Yeah, those were all concerns going in, but coming out of the episode I’m finding myself… pleased. This is a strong start. One of the strongest starts in the Arrowverse. Spoilers follow for Superman and Lois Season 1, Episode 1, “Pilot.”
The opening moments of a pilot should set the tone for the show, and Superman and Lois nails it hard. We know Superman’s story just as well as we know Batman’s, and telling us the story–the crash, childhood, etc.–doesn’t add anything new to the character. The opener glosses over these, getting us from Smallville to Metropolis in less than a minute. And then, Superman catches a flying car in mid-air, saving a kid from certain death. The man in a bright blue suit with red underwear lowers a bright green PT Cruiser to the ground in a shot straight from Action Comics #1. It’s vivid, hypersaturated, and gorgeous. Superman gently lowers the car to the ground, and we know that this is a Superman who cares first for people.
He strides over to the kid he saved to give him back his hat, and we see that he’s not wearing the suit we’ve watched him wear for his appearances on Supergirl and the Crisis crossover, but rather the classic Max Fleischer-inspired suit with the inflated S against a black badge.
“Cool costume!” the kid says.
“Thanks! My mom made it for me!” Superman replies, grinning.
Superman is cool because he’s a dork. He can say the corniest stuff, and you believe it because it’s Superman saying it. I don’t have a lot of good things to say about 2017’s Justice League theatrical cut, but one of the things I did like was that Superman started to smile more and say some of those Boy Scout-type lines that helped turn him into a worldwide symbol of freedom and hope.
The New Adventures of Lois & Clark
Then we meet Clark as he meets Lois. Tyler Hoechlin and Elizabeth Tulloch have great chemistry, and its apparent immediately. Tulloch was underutilized in the crossover episodes, but she has a lot more to do in the pilot–as you’d expect–and they’re really good together. Hoechlin is perhaps the best at the Clark/Superman dichotomy since Christopher Reeve. He’s believable as the dopey, awkward farmboy Clark in a way that Henry Cavill never really is–he’s a great Superman but not really convincing as Clark–and that Brandon Routh never really got the chance to be after Superman Returns.
Tulloch fits the archetypical image of Lois Lane in my head really well, too, especially at the point she’s at in her life. She’s a reporter with probably 20 years of experience under her belt, and it shows. She’s confident, caring, and supportive, but also feels like her own person apart from Clark and Superman.
Man Can Fly
The effects throughout the episode are some of the best on the CW so far, too. Of course, this applies to the pilot specifically, and this is one of the many plates the network will have to keep spinning. The trip from Arrow, a show that just needed CGI arrows, to one that makes you believe a man can fly is a long one.
There are also lots of neat little details that the writers seem to have thought of. Tyler Hoechlin is 33, and Elizabeth Tulloch is 40. There’s just enough difference that you can barely tell. If these two actors had a pair of 15 year old twins together, he would’ve been just barely 18. But Lana Lang–she’s here, too!–comments on how Clark never seems to age. Over and over we’ve seen Superman outlive his loved ones in the comics, and this is a little touch that suggests that the creators have had this idea on their minds for a while. Maybe it’s a happy accident, but it helps make the illusion that much more full.
My biggest concern about Superman and Lois is the very premise of the show. The family of four moves back to Smallville, and the teenagers that grew up on Metropolis will have to adjust to small town life. The show solves the first problem quickly by reminding us that Supes can get back to Metropolis in a New York minute, leaving plenty of room for the city to be a character in the show. The second problem is the bigger one: teenagers.
This is a CW show, and CW shows have a reputation for being about dramatic teenagers. Truth be told, they’re really about dramatic young adults most of the time. But it’s an earned reputation. At first, I hated Jonathan and Jordan Kent. A jock and a nerd with typical Jock and Nerd stereotypes. But the show works hard to improve them even through this first adventure. Jonathan cares more than he lets on, and Jordan has earned his anxiety and the show points it out when Jordan finds out his father’s true origins. His parents have been literally lying to him for his entire life, and for the right reasons, but they were still lies, and suddenly this teenager is feeling incredibly gaslit, as I think anyone would.
But it’s not just about angst. It seems like the show is about growth. Jordan is more assertive than he initially lets on, and develops his first powers. He has a lot to adjust to. By the end of the episode, the brothers are more interesting than they were at the beginning, which is saying a lot for a single television episode.
Superman is Human
Again, the writers and network have to make good on this. If this turns from Superman and Lois to Jonathan & Jordan, it’ll be a huge disappointment, but that doesn’t seem to be where it’s going right now. The thing about Superman is that, on his own, he’s kind of boring. It’s hard to write a whole show about just Superman, because with the exception of sharp green rocks, you can’t do much aside from make him sweat. His weakness isn’t Kryptonite, but rather his humanity. Clark loves being human. He loves living among people and protecting them. He has the biggest heart on Earth. The show is about how complicated his life has become as he’s retained that grasp on humanity. Marriage complicates life. Kids complicate life. Aging complicates life, even if Superman isn’t the one doing the aging.
If the writers keep a hold of this idea, that Clark’s humanity’s both the source of Superman’s strength and his most volatile weakness, it could make for a really good Superman show.
The legend of the Doomslayer?!
My biggest disappointment with the pilot comes toward the end when Superman comes face to helmet with an enemy that has been stalking and hassling him. The enemy is a bit of a surprise considering the flattening of the multiverse, but is interesting nonetheless. But the enemy shows up first in a suit of super-strong armor that looks, no question, like the armor from the most recent DOOM video games. I love DOOM. It’s one of my favorite games. But the Doomslayer’s armor is boring even in the context of DOOM. It’s boring here, too. At the same time, his identity is exciting, and it makes me curious about the story to come.
What we have so far is really good. The Superman and Lois pilot is arguably the best pilot of all the Arrowverse shows. In 90 minutes (minus commercials), the show managed to set a bright, positive tone for the show, sell me on Clark and Lois, temporarily assuage my worries about the Kent Kids, impress me with visual effects, and get me stoked for the next episode. I’m in.
Superman and Lois airs on The CW on Tuesdays at 8 PM CST.