"Smallville" Season 1: A Retrospective Review
Smallville is a famously long-running television show based on the adolescent years of Superman, the DC Comics hero we all know and love (or hate. Whatever).
The show first aired on WB and was one of many science fiction slash fantasy teen shows of the time, the others being Buffy, Angel, and Roswell. Yes, I watched them all.
I've written articles about my nerdy love of Batman and Spider-man and Catwoman, but I've never written about Superman. I think it's because several of the post-Christopher Reeves films were disappointing and filled me with too much nerd rage to even bother commenting.
But I have always loved the television show Smallville. It came out when I was entering my first or second year of high school (I don't remember which) and I have been watching and rewatching it ever since.
Now let's get one thing clear: as much as I loved Christopher Reeves as a child, Tom Welling will always be my favorite Superman.
And the actors and actresses on Smallville have given me my favorite versions of Lex Luthor, Lionel Luthor, Jimmy Olsen, The Flash, Victor Stone (rest in peace Lee Thompson Young), Green Arrow, Pete Ross, Lana Lang, Lois Lane, Martha Kent and Jonathan Kent as well. The actors on this show were phenomenal and really embodied the essence of the characters for me.
I recently decided to watch the entire series from the first season to the last again and why not write a review about each season as I go? So here it is: my retrospective review of 2001's Smallville.
Let's start with the things I've never liked.
Typical Villain Formula
All in all, I feel Smallville's first season was pretty damn decent. The only negative thing I can say about it is that it was pretty formulaic. Every week, there was a new "meteor freak" for Clark to easily defeat by wopping into a wall and/or making them accidentally kill themselves. This kind of made the show boring and a bit predictable.
Other shows like Buffy had the same problem, where an evil villain showed up for the week and the Scooby Gang had to find a way to defeat it. The show was self-aware and actually started referring to these villains as the Big Bad.
And like Smallville's meteor crash site, the suburb in Buffy was a continuous clusterfuck because it was sitting on a Hellmouth, which constantly spat out twisted things for Buffy to kill.
I'm glad to say that both shows were entertaining to watch, despite this boring and predictable formula that they began with—and despite the fact that both shows had problematic elements, like Smallville's homophobia and Buffy's problem with rape.
No, when I say Smallville was homophobic, I'm not talking about Lana lightheartedly teasing Clark that he was gay in the first episode. I'm talking about "meteor freak" Tina Greer's (Lizzy Caplan) sexuality as a lesbian being presented as one of many disturbing elements of her personality. Her being gay on top of being a psycho stalker was supposed to make us creeped out by her. It was . . . really homophobic.
I get that being gay is disturbing to straight people. After all, I'm a lesbian and I find men pretty gross as I'm incapable of feeling sexual attraction for them. I've been saying "Boys are icky" for thirty years now.
But I don't write stories that present heterosexuality as disturbing and something that only psycho stalkers engage in. Tina Greer was written this way. She was basically a psycho lesbian trope, and because the media does have an impact on reality, it's hurtful, not to mention dangerous, to depict lesbians in this light.
Sometimes I wonder where this trope even came from. Lesbians are a tiny percentage of the population. Very few lesbians are crazy stalker assholes, while men constantly rape, stalk, harass, abuse, denigrate, kidnap, assault women and have been for . . . .Well, since the dawn of all f*cking time.
Men literally oppress women on a daily basis while attacking us every time we point it out, but somehow, this ridiculous lesbian trope exists that paints us all as predators and stalkers. In reality, we are usually the ones being preyed upon and stalked.
No. I'm not sorry for acknowledging reality, and precious men who get their feelings hurt by my doing so will be ignored and their comments cheerfully deleted.
Now on to the things I loved about Season 1.
I actually hate the diversity bullsh*t that's taken the world by storm. We don't need diverse books and movies. We need diverse writers and filmmakers who will naturally include representation for "minorities" (ugh, hate that word, too) rather than forcing trashy tokens and quota fillers.
That said, I was always impressed by how Smallville included people who weren't white without making some kind of big issue (virtue signaling) or being racist about it or whatever.
I remember one of the things that made me start watching Smallville was the fact that Lana Lang was actually Asian. To be perfectly honest, it always bugged the hell out of me that the Lana in the comics was a green-eyed, red-haired white girl.
I wasn't frothing-at-the-mouth angry or anything (I was like, 10, when I learned about Lana Lang's existence). I was confused. I mean . . . her name is Lang. They couldn't have thought of another L name for their stupid alliteration?
So when half-Chinese Kristin Kreuk showed up, I thought that was cool. Because finally, Lana Lang's name would make sense!
Unfortunately, Lana's parents on the show weren't Asian but white so . . . Her being Asian made no sense in that context. And that was annoying.
I always wondered why they didn't make Henry Small Asian or something. He was her real father. That would have worked out, as her racial background would have made some sense.
I mean . . . they might as well have given Pete Ross a white family and never acknowledged it. Same thing.
That was another thing: they made Pete Ross black!
Sam Jones III played Pete Ross on Smallville, and looking back now, it's shocking that there weren't droves of angry white fans b*tching and moaning that their fantasy of an all-white world has been disrupted (because that's what usually happens).
What's hilarious (and a bit ironic) is that it would have made sense for Pete Ross to be white in this scenario given that Smallville is constantly teased as a small hick town in the middle of nowhere. And yet, Pete being black wasn't strange or "unrealistic" or whatever excuse racists usually come up with to exclude black people because Pete Ross being white had nothing whatsoever to do with him as a character. It wasn't integral to his character growth or background that he be white.
I'm not saying that we should insert black people to fill quotas. I'm saying that Pete being black didn't somehow take away from the narrative (as racists will claim). Also, I never got the feeling he was black just to appeal to black people or to virtue signal. Sam Jones III got the role because he was a good actor. That's it.
And indeed, I loved him as Pete. I was always very interested in the dynamic between him and Clark and Chloe.
Because in true supporting character fashion, Pete made Clark and Chloe more interesting. He made them more fully three-dimensional and human.
I loved Pete's friendship with Clark and wanted to see him become more competive with Lex Luthor (Micheal Rosenbaum) for Clark's attention. Unfortunately, this slot was filled by (sigh) Lana and we were subjected to a love triangle between her and Clark and Lex Luthor for eight years . . . Again - sigh.
How disappointing that Sam Jones III left the show. Which brings me to something else that I loved.
Strong Female Characters
Pete was in love with Chloe, yet she ignored his affections while constantly abusing Clark for not loving her back. The way Chloe treats both Pete and Clark makes her look like the ultimate entitled creepy hypocrite that she is (the phrase "female incel" comes to mind).
That said, I don't hate Chloe or anything. I actually thought she was really well-written, and in later seasons, she became one of my favorite characters.
There's an episode in Season 1 where Clark learns that Chloe's mother abandoned her when she was young. As a result, she has low self-esteem and doesn't think she is worthy of love. Instead of dealing with her issues, she takes it out on Clark and lashes out at him because in her mind he's just someone else who owes her love and won't give it to her.
In reality, Clark didn't owe Chloe a damn thing. And it takes her years to realize this because she's a teenage girl.
I loved how strongly Chloe was written. She was flawed and interesting and had an entire backstory. And unlike Lana, she did not need to become a Warrior Princess Trope to be strong.
Chloe is a phenomenal character and one of the best things to come out of this show (because she was made up entirely for the show and didn't exist in the comics, something the show acknowledges in a neat episode in later seasons).
That said, is anyone else still shocked that Allison Mack was a cultist? I mean, s*x trafficking is common in Hollywood, but damn.
I always felt Lana was written really well too despite her Strong Female Character tropey-ness (and maybe a small part of me is still in love with Kristin Kreuk).
Lana has a life outside of Clark and Lex Luthor (her two love interests). Her life doesn't revolve around them. She even has moments where she and Chloe talk about something other than Clark! (Though sadly enough, they are always talking about some other male—Lana's father, Chloe's father, the guy who's playing them against each other . . . etc . . . )
Fans (rightfully) hate Lana because she 1) treats Clark like crap and 2) is evil.
That's right. Lana was a villain the entire f*cking time, but because we're forced to view her through the Clark filter, it was hard to fans to pin a finger on exactly why we hated her.
But the hints are dropped throughout the first season. After stealing customers for the Talon from a competing coffee house, Lana admits to Clark that she enjoys being devious.
She also emotionally abuses Clark by constantly stamping her foot and demanding to know his secret—even though she has no right because the two of them are not married and are not in a relationship. In fact, she's in a relationship with another guy but spends it emotionally cheating on him with both Clark and Lex Luthor.
Yeah. There were some serious vibes between Lana and Lex during Season 1 that I always noticed and felt disgusted by, largely because Lex is a grown-ass man while Lana is supposed to be a teenage girl. And yet, he keeps lurking in the background, staring at her a*s, reciting poetry to her.
It's all very gross.
Lana even calls Lex out in the Season 1 episode "Nicodemus" where a flower makes her share her true feelings. The real Lana likes wearing dark colors, wants to bang both Lex and Clark, and likes skinny dipping.
Lana is a dark person who likes older men because she's mad at her adopted father for being dead and is mad at her real father for being a dick.
I wonder where she got it from?
Anyway. Lana is a well written character. That doesn't mean she's a likeable person, though. It just means she's three dimensional.
Lana is a villain.
It's just a shame the show never took that anywhere interesting. It would have been great had she stayed with Lex and been evil rather than being wishy washy and going back and forth with Clark—one of the major, major flaws of the entire show.
I always thought Annette O'Toole was amazing as Martha Kent. She was beautiful, she was brave, she was smart. She wanted more from life than to be a domestic slave and at one point in Season 2, she gets a job to pursue her own interests.
In fact, we learn that Martha gave up her own dreams and pursuits to settle down on a farm and be a housewife, which is why her father hates Jonathan Kent (John Schneider).
There's nothing wrong with choosing to be a housewife, which is what Martha did. But there was also nothing wrong with her wanting to pursue a life outside the farm. Jonathan makes her feel guilty about it (even though he tries not to) and you can't help but begin to think Martha's father was right about him, that he would selfishly hold this brilliant and beautiful woman back from being all that she could be.
Sadly, in later seasons, Martha doesn't fulfill her potential, even after Jonathan's death. So maybe it wasn't Jonathan after all but Martha holding herself back.
Martha was a woman torn between wanting to be out there in the world and wanting to be a mother and a wife. She wanted it all and somehow managed to have it all.
That's actually pretty amazing for a female character.
Last but not least, the finale of Season 1 seemed to be a precursor for all the crap I would hate about the show, such as Lana being a passive aggressive asshole about Clarks' secret, which she was not entitled to know.
After this moment, everything Clark does becomes about and revolves around Lana, no matter how much she mistreats him like a juvenile asshole. The dark storm seemed to be a forewarning, an omen of the evil version of Lana to come.
Stay tuned for my Season 2 review and thanks for reading.