The Arrow-verse’s Most Grown-Up Show
Remember when comic books, and the movies and TV shows based on them, were considered kids’ stuff? It both feels like a very very long time ago and also alarmingly recently that narratives about heroes in capes and tights were universally looked down upon as immature and insubstantial; the journey from Adam West doing the Batusi to Black Panther getting an Oscar nomination for Best Picture is at times baffling to contemplate, even though many of us witnessed it happening in our lifetimes.
This is all by way of saying that Superman & Lois, the latest addition to the CW’s Arrow-verse, aspires to be more than just a broadcast network’s newest superhero show. In fact, during a recent Television Critics Association panel, executive producer Todd Helbing said that in developing the show, their comparison points were Friday Night Lights and Days of Heaven, which shows in the cinematography and general vibe — and makes the show one of the CW’s most ambitious and surprising series to date.
Stars Tyler Hoechlin and Bitsie Tulloch are not new to the Arrow-verse or their characters — Hoechlin’s iteration of Superman debuted on Supergirl in 2016, while Tulloch made her first appearance as Lois Lane in the 2018 crossover event “Elseworlds.” But following the events of last year’s “Crisis on Infinite Earths,” their reality has been rewritten, most significantly to include not just one but two sons — twins named Jonathan (Jordan Elsass) and Jordan (Alex Garfin). As the show premieres, the boys are now 14 years old and coping as well with the rigors of adolescence as anyone might, which is to say not well, especially given that their father is never home for mysterious reasons.
Without going into spoilers, thanks to a series of very non-super events the Kent-Lane clan find themselves relocating from Metropolis to Smallville, which has fallen on tough times. Overall, dramatically the show is rooted in extremely grounded issues — I saw the pilot weeks ago and I have not stopped thinking once about how a major plot point revolves around reverse mortgages (insert your own Tom Selleck joke here, I’m all out of them). The perilous state of small-town America, the corporatization of even iconic symbols of journalistic integrity like The Daily Planet… this is a show where yes, there are fist-fights in space with a mysterious supervillain, but there’s also a scene where a character mentions how some desperate people in Smallville have taken to manufacturing meth. It’s a lot to take in.
You might be thinking to yourself “this does not sound as fun to watch as DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, a show which just recently featured a climactic battle sequence set to the tune of Sisqo’s ‘Thong Song.’” And you would be correct! But it is interesting to see Greg Berlanti executive produce a show that feels much more like some of his earliest work, including Everwood and Jack & Bobby. And while Superman & Lois might not quite be on the level of a Terrence Malick movie (though I am now thinking about how cool it’d be to see Malick’s take on a space fistfight), its basic aspiration to be more is inspiring.
Hoechlin, Tulloch, and the rest of the supporting cast do their best to sell this tone, and are for the most part successful. The biggest wild card of the show, and one upon which the show’s entire fate may rest, is what’s going on with the twins. Superman & Lois presents itself as a family drama first, and the dynamic between good-hearted popular jock Jonathan and the troubled and moody Jordan has the sort of antagonistic edge that might feel authentic to this age group. But it’s also in danger of feeling tiresome or falling into no shortage of potential cliched traps; how their threads of the story evolve over the course of this first season will be the key to whether or not Superman & Lois really works.
The many shows of the Arrow-verse sometimes face the same dilemma that the MCU does when it comes to creating a shared universe: To what degree is it possible for individual parts of the universe to express some degree of individuality? Prior to now, we’ve seen Black Lightning focus on issues of race from its unique point-of-view, while Legends of Tomorrow leans hard into its own special blend of bonkers-ness. In some ways, the fact that Superman & Lois feels very different from the shows that have come before it is one of its strengths, and its inherent heartfelt sincerity brings with it a lot of promise; promise it may be able to live up to.
Superman & Lois airs Tuesdays on The CW, with episodes streaming on cwtv.com and The CW app.
Could it have something to do with the uncertain nature of the cameos?
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