We all love a good superhero origin story. Sure, it’s great to see Spider-Man swing from buildings, but it’s what Uncle Ben tells a young Peter Parker that touches us all. We all love seeing Batman kick the Joker’s teeth in, but we are all fascinated by that tragic night in Crime Alley. So it’s no surprise that the first and greatest superhero of all time should have a TV show about what defines him. There is a reason why Clark Kent is the best of us. While Batman may be the ultimate example of physical perfection, Superman is the pinnacle of the goodness of humanity. But fans have always debated: is Superman Clark Kent, or is Clark Kent just a disguise? I have always argued Superman is just a cape. Clark is the hero who wears it. Smallville is the case for my belief in what makes Superman the greatest superhero in the world. The series followed a young Clark Kent’s journey to becoming the savior of humanity. On the flip side, we also saw how one man could never escape his fate of becoming the world’s most heinous criminal. Tragically, two friends who would wind up on opposite sides of good and evil. But have I built up the show into some kind of forgotten masterpiece? Or am I just drunk on kryptonite? Let’s find out in this episode of Gone But Not Forgotten.
Alfred Gough and Miles Millar developed Smallville. Smallville was conceived because WB president Peter Roth had been trying to create a Superboy TV show since 1979. Which is what led him to commission a Superman-origin TV show.
Now I call Bullsh*t on this. You see, a Superboy TV show had already aired in the late 80s and early 90s. I talked about that show in the first episode of Gone But Not Forgotten. I would suggest you check it out if you’re curious.
What is true is that the original idea for a WB superhero show was a pitch from Tim McCanlies that was called Bruce Wayne. This would have been a Batman’s Origin type of TV series. The proposal was shot down since Warner Brothers was trying to develop a new Batman movie, and they didn’t want brand confusion. However, the idea of an origin story caught on, and Roth approached the screenwriting and producing team of Alfred Gough and Miles Millar. The duo had been trying to get a TV series about the Arnold Schwarzenegger film Eraser. But, the project was going nowhere, and they were intrigued by the idea of a Superman origin show. Gough and Millar were not comic fans and were only casually familiar with the character. In an interview on the Inside of You podcast with Michael Rosenbaum, Millar and Gough said that they always wondered why Clark was so good. This question was the central theme of the series. Which is what excited them the most. But, they wanted to keep the show grounded, so they created the “no tights, no flights” rule. Essentially, they wanted to focus on the characters instead of the standard superhero fare.
This was a bit controversial and is still debated among fans on whether this was a mistake or not. I have always been on the fence about how much the source material should affect these projects. Sometimes it’s a good thing to stray a bit from the source material since the adaptations should focus on characters and plots. So sticking too close to the lore can just take away from that. A perfect example of this is Mortal Kombat Annihilation, where the movie is drowned in so many canons that it’s barely a movie. But then you have a movie like Wanted, and the only connection to the comic is the title.
So, finding the right balance is key. But did Smallville find that balance? Before we get to that answer, let’s return to its origins.
Casting the show was essential to its success. The first person cast was Kristen Kreuk, who had not been acting for very long. Her first role was in the teen soap opera Edgemont, and it was during this time that she was cast in the TV movie “Snow White: The Fairest of Them All”. This movie was sent to Alfred Gough and Miles Millar during their search for who would play Lana Lang. They were immediately impressed and said that they knew they had to snatch her up before anyone else could. So she was the first cast on the show. Kreuk did what she could with her role. At first, Lana was an interesting character. Her parents were killed in front of her eyes during the meteor shower. She was portrayed as the perfect girl, the girl next door, the popular cheerleader with a heart of gold. But during the first season, we learn that she is just pretending. Deep down, she is just trying to please everyone; she is trying to live up to what she thinks is what her parents would want her to be. This is why she fell in love with Clark. He saw the real her. Unfortunately, that was pretty much all the character had in the tank. Sadly, after a few seasons, Lana was reduced to being a love interest or, rather, a prize.
John Schneider was cast as Jonathan Kent. This was a brilliant piece of casting, considering he had played the iconic southern bad boy Bo Duke from Dukes of Hazard. It was completely believable that he would be a farmer. Schneider turned down Smallville three times because he said, “I don’t want to be part of what ruined the Superman legacy,” but he changed his mind after reading the script. He loved that Johnathan was not an idiot like other father figures on TV at the time. Schneider played Johnathan as a loving father who would do anything for his son. But he wasn’t perfect. He was overprotective of Clark and hated the Luthors. This was due to making a deal with Lionel Luthor to fake Clark’s adoption. The price was to betray his friends, the Ross family. John said that his son helped shape how he portrayed the relationship between Johnathan and Clark. John Schneider’s son suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome, and he said that raising a child with special needs is a completely different life that many parents don’t experience. He said he brought this awareness in how he saw Johnathan and Clark’s relationship. I enjoyed John Schneider and Tom’s chemistry. You could believe that they were father and son. Some of my favorite scenes of the show are between the two actors.
Annette O’Toole had an interesting casting story. She wasn’t cast as Martha Kent until after the pilot was shot. Originally, actress Cynthia Ettinger was cast to shoot the pilot, but the team felt she was not working. She later said in interviews that they told her she was too young and it wasn’t believable to see her as a mother. O’Toole had just had a show called “The Huntress” that had recently been canceled. This opened her up for Gough and Millar to bring her on the show. Annette is known to many Superman fans as the first actress to portray Lana Lang. O’Toole is a huge Superman fan, so she was thrilled to visit the world of the son of Krypton again. Annette portrayed Martha Kent as a loving mother who was more open-minded than Johnathan, as she was willing not to judge Lex for the baggage of the Luthor name. Annette O’Toole had an interesting take when it came to Martha’s motivation. In the Smallville Season 1 Companion….
“I have the feeling that she didn’t have a mother growing up—they’ve never introduced a mother to her. That’s why being a mother is so important to her—and being the ‘picture book’ kind of mother at that”.
Like John Schneider, I think O’Toole’s Martha Kent has been the best portrayal of that character. No offense to Diane Lane. I think she did a great job, but at least O’Toole’s Martha Kent was never used for one of the stupidest moments in comic book cinema.
Since the show ended, both O’Toole and Schneider have said that many people from the military approach them with gratitude. It turns out many entertainment packages that were sent to the troops overseas had seasons of Smallville. So they have been told that the Kents were like their parents who were there with them during the hard times.
Sam Jones III played Pete Ross. I think Jones got the short end of the stick on the series. He was Clark’s best friend from childhood, but his character was never explored. For the first season, he had less screen time than Chloe Sullivan, who was not even a character from the comics. Sam was frustrated because of his character’s lack of direction. Many fans were, too, and made their feelings known in letters and message boards. So, the decision to have Pete learn Clark’s secret was introduced. Jones thought this would open up a new aspect of his character. Sadly this was handled poorly, it now became a storyline of Pete freaking out over how to keep Clarks secret. It was horrible, and it was the way the character was written out of the show that hurt Jones the most. At the end of Pete’s role in the series, he could no longer handle the burden of Clark’s double life. So, he left Smallville at the end of Season 3. Millar said they handled the exit of Pete Ross’s character poorly. At the time, they hoped to bring Pete Ross back in later seasons. This happened in one of the stupidest episodes of the TV series.
Allison Mack was cast as Chloe Sullivan, an original character for the show. Chloe was the Lois Lane stand-in and love rival to Lana. She got a lot of screen time and, ironically, better storylines than Lana ever did. She even had a web series during the show’s run. It’s eventually revealed that she is Lois Lane’s cousin, and she winds up getting married to Jimmy Olsen. Then, she is possessed by Brainiac and winds up marrying and becoming the mother of Green Arrow’s son. I am not lying. This all actually happened. Since the show ended, Allison Mack has become one of the most famous actors. To everyone’s dismay, it was for all the wrong reasons. Mack became involved with a cult called NXIM, which led to her going to prison for 21 months. This was all chronicled in the HBO award-nominated true crime documentary series The Vow
But, back to the lighter side of things.
Smallville can’t work without Clark Kent so they had to cast the perfect actor for the role. They did a nationwide search. Jessen Ackles was seriously considered for the role. But instead, they decided to go for a relatively unknown actor. Enter Tom Welling.
Tom had originally started out as a model and soon transitioned to acting. He was in a few episodes of Judging Amy and small roles in other shows. Welling turned down the role twice because he felt that the idea sounded silly and was worried about being typecast. Like John Schneider, he was convinced after reading the pilot’s script. Tom Welling brought out the best part of Clark Kent: his innate goodness. He saw the best in people, even Lex. Much of the show had Clark struggling with his destiny. Trying to learn his origins and holding on to his humanity. Welling did a great job of portraying such a struggle. But, the relationship between the two friends kept viewers returning for more. Lex and Clark were tragically destined to be bitter enemies for all time. This is where we see the show’s star, Lex Luthor, played by Michael Rosenbaum.
It’s no secret that Rosenbaum was the breakout star of the show. Most comic fans say that Michael Rosenbaum is the definitive Lex Luthor. I have to agree Gene Hackman was great, but his Lex Luthor was a buffoon obsessed with real estate. Sherman Howard was a great mad scientist, Lex Luthor, Jon Cryer was a great criminal mastermind, and Jesse Eisenberg was…well, that was a choice.
But Michael Rosenbaum just oozed this charisma, intelligence, and surprisingly vulnerability on screen. Like the Silver Age comics, Lex and Clark started out as friends, but slowly that friendship turned into bitterness and hatred. It’s funny because Michael Rosenbaum was the last person to be cast on the show. Not only that, but he bombed at his first audition. He said he didn’t take it seriously, he didn’t learn his lines, and it was a disaster. Like so many other actors on the cast, he thought a Superman TV show would be a joke, But two months later, they called him back to audition again. This time, his agent convinced him this would be a more grounded show, not an over-the-top superhero cheese-fest. So he learned his lines, went in, and said to himself, “If I fail, then I fail”.
Afterward, the network wanted him to meet the producers and audition again. This time, Rosenbaum refused. He told them that if they liked what they saw on the tape, they could hire him, and if they wanted to pass, that was fine. He got the role.
A great aspect of Lex’s life was his relationship with his father, Lionel Luthor. The amazing John Glover played Lionel. John has been working in the entertainment industry for decades. I have been a huge fan ever since he played the Devil on Brimstone. It’s a great show that was canceled too soon, but the best parts of the series were the scenes between John and the lead actor, Peter Horton. But many of you may remember him from classic movies like Gremlins 2 and Scrooged. John is an A-list star who deserves to get some recognition. The man can do comedy and drama. Which is not an easy thing for many actors to do. John played Lionel like a complete bastard. But he wasn’t a cartoonish villain like all the best bad guys. He thought he was the good guy. In Lionel’s twisted mind, he thought his motivations were pure. Lionel Luthor thought that Lex was weak and he needed to mold him. So, instead of compassion, he punished Lex. Lionel Luthor was only supposed to be a guest star, but John was so good they made him a regular. It’s funny how the creators originally tried to get William H Macy to take the role. I just can’t see anyone else as Lionel but John Glover
So, now that we have gone over the characters let’s get on to the show by looking at the infamous pilot. The show’s basic premise is that when Clark arrives on Earth, he’s not alone. Pieces of Krypton have followed him and, in a brilliant bit of writing, obscured his ship. This was great because there was always a plot hole in the comics and films that the government didn’t see the ship crash with current technology. But, the destruction the meteor shower rains on Smallville would lead to an immense irrational guilt. Lana’s parents died, Lex lost his hair, and people were mutated into kryptonite freaks.
This last bit was probably the worst part of the show. The “freak of the week” episodes were the one aspect of Smallville that was always used to put down the series. I get it; these were the early days of the DVR, and streaming was not even something anyone could dream of. Not everyone saw the pilot, so you had to hook people in with a gimmick. But, Jesus, some of those episodes were stupid. I mean, Kryptonite was used for anything. Here are a few examples…
It was used as a smoothie that would make you lose weight and turn into a monster that ate human fat. Side note: It would also turn you into a movie star, but that’s another story.
It would make flowers produce oils to make you invisible. Kryptonite was used to make gasoline for Fast and The Furious drag races. It was used to make gum, which would give you stretchy powers. It was the fountain of youth. It could turn you into a human insect. It just went on and on. Maybe I’m not remembering this correctly, But why didn’t the government investigate and capture kryptonite freaks? I know Luthor Corp did, but did no government official decide to pass by and pick up some rocks? Please let me know if I’m wrong because I don’t remember this being featured on the show.
But even though we had those negative aspects of the series, many things kept me watching. Character relationships were the best part of the show. Clark and Lex’s friendship wasn’t the only one that was explored. Johnathan’s mistrust of Lex because of his father, Martha trying to bring out the light in Lionel, and the Lex/Lionel mind games were some of the standouts. It’s just a shame that for all of the good, there was a lot of bad.
Some storylines just left me scratching my head, like making Lana and Lex a couple. I don’t get why they couldn’t just be friends. Also, am I the only one who thought it was weird that Lex hung out with teenagers? But one of the worst storylines was Chloe and Jimmy Olson’s relationship and eventual marriage/divorce. It ended with Jimmy dying after he saved her from Doomsday……don’t ask. Oh, and get this, it’s revealed that his name is not Jimmy it’s Henry James Olsen, Jimmy is a nickname. The real Jimmy Olsen is his baby brother. I know some of you may have thought that was okay or even good, but I’m sorry, I just thought it was ridiculous. There were also episodes that were blatant rip-offs. Two that come to mind were one that had Clark and the crew getting trapped by a serial killer who used elaborate death traps very similar to the Saw movies. Another that had Clark and his friends getting drunk of magical wine in Vegas was blatantly a rip-off of The Hangover.
This was a common problem with Smallville. Many arcs on the show were dumb, and a lot of these storylines would be resolved very clumsily. I always felt like this was because an idea was introduced without thinking about how they would resolve it. It felt like the writers were saying to each other, “Don’t worry, we’ll fix it in post”. The biggest example was Clark and Lana’s relationship conclusion. The problem was that Lois Lane was introduced in season 4, and Erica Durance just blew everyone away. She played the perfect Lois Lane. She was sarcastic, funny, brave, and a pain in the ass to Clark. Those early episodes were great. Tom Welling and Erica Durance’s chemistry was off the charts. Seeing them slowly go from hating each other to falling in love was a real treat.
The issue is that the show was built on Lana and Clark’s relationship. But, It was always destined to end, and the writers painted themselves in a corner. Instead of slowly having Clark and Lana move on from each other, the writers decided to cram it into one episode. The “brilliant” move was that Lana got superpowers, then to stop a kryptonite bomb, Lana absorbed the kryptonite energy into her body. Because of this, if Clark comes near her, he will die. I’m shocked this is the best they could come up with. It was the equivalent of someone trying to write their homework at the last minute.
Still, some of the cool stuff on the show was the comic book material that was used. It started with the episode “Hour Glass,” where we see a vision of Lex’s future as president. When Impulse is introduced in the episode “Run”, it ends with an awesome race between Clark and Bart. Another great episode was “Aqua,” which introduced Aquaman. Both the Wonder Twins and the Legion of Superheroes showed up in some of my favorite episodes of the entire series. But one of the best episodes was season six, called “Justice,” which introduced the Justice League. It’s sad that Batman, Wonder Woman, and Green Lantern could not be used for various reasons.
Another great aspect of the show was its love for the classic 1978 Superman The Movie. Many of the cast came back for the show. You have Marc McClure, who played Jimmy Olsen in the classic superhero film return as a lost Kryptonian living on Earth. He played Dax-Ur, the Kryptonian creator of Brainiac in season 7. The most famous moment on the show was when the best Superman ever, Christopher Reeve, guest starred on Smallville. He played Dr.Virgil Swan, a scientist who helped Clark learn more about his Kryptonian heritage. This moment was the most talked about moment on television that year. I remember that was all anyone could talk about at the comic book shop back home. Tom Welling said that Reeve was amazing to work with and it was an honor to be in the same room with him. In an episode of his podcast Talkville, he said
You could tell it was a blast to work with him, I mean just look at this PSA Tom and Chris did together.
But the same can’t be said for everyone from the classic film. Margot Kidder guest starred in a few episodes and was supposed to have had a bigger role in the series. There was a rumor that she was supposed to be the main villain of season 4. Sadly we will never know because Kidder was not happy with the producers. When Reeve passed away, they wanted her character to talk about Dr.Swan dying, which she was unhappy about. In an interview with the Superman Home Page on February 8, 2005. Margot said
I thought it was quite exploitative, and I said so, but they (The Producers) didn’t see it that way. I mean, Christopher was my friend, so to go on and do a scene where I announce his death on “Smallville” so that they can get publicity, it just seemed to me to be exploitative, personally. Probably didn’t to other people, and so it just didn’t work. If you’re going to get me to be exploitive, you’re going to have to pay me an awful lot of money. (Laughing).
So her character was killed off-screen. Still, it was nice to see her back in the Superman mythos again, even if it was for a little bit of time. They also used the 1978 Superman score quite a bit in the series, which is always nice to see used.
The show still feels dated at times, though. Mostly due to the music. Creed, Five for Fighting, Papa Roach, and many bands of the time were featured heavily on the show. This was due to marketing; after every episode, you would hear a promo promoting the music featured. One thing you can’t forget about Smallville is the theme song “Save Me” by the now-defunct band Remy Zero. The song will be forever associated with the Superman Legacy. It was even featured on the Arrowverse show Supergirl.
In season 7, Gough and Millar left the series. Although it’s never been explicitly said why they left. Many comments indicate that they always wanted five seasons, but the network wanted to stretch it out as long as possible. Michael Rosenbaum also left that season because he wanted to move on and felt that it wasn’t worth staying once Gough and Millar left. He returned in the finale but said he did it for the fans. Still, even though it was great to see him on the show again, you can tell his appearance was a rush job.
So, at the time, the show was hit or miss. This all changed with Season 10, which steered hard into the comic book content. This season featured many comic book characters being introduced to TV for the first time. Booster Gold and Blue Beetle are two of the most memorable. Season 10 was generally thought to be the best of the series.
But the finale wound up being controversial. Some people hate the ending of the show, and some love it. I think the biggest issue was seeing Clark in the suit. Brian Peterson and Kelly Souders had taken over by this point in the series. We only got to see Clark do the classic opening of his shirt to reveal the S symbol and also a CGI Clark flying in silhouette.
According to an article on Screen Rant published in August 2017
Peterson said: “What we wanted to do all along was show hints at where he [Superman] was going because that is a whole different story that is yet to be told,” Peterson said. “It felt like it gave just enough without starting to tell a whole different story that is left for all the other media.”
So, should Smallville come back, technically, it did. DC Comics released a series of comics called Smallville Season 11, which were published between 2013 and 2016, and during the Crisis of Infinite Earths Arrowverse event, we got to visit Smallville again. The scene with Tom Welling and Jon Cryer was my favorite of the entire event. I especially love this line
But, recently, Welling and Rosenbaum said that an animated Smallville series was being developed. Sadly, Rosenbaum said at a convention that James Gunn shot it down for now. Still, he said he would pursue it in a few years when things settle down at the DCEU. Hopefully, something may change in the future. In the meantime, Rosenbaum and Welling started a podcast called Talkville, where they rewatch the show and tell stories of their experience filming Smallville. It’s not a bad podcast to have playing in the background while you do errands.
Currently, you can see all 10 seasons of Smallville on Hulu. So, I recommend you travel down to that iconic farm to watch those incredible adventures. Just watch out for that perky kryptonite.