Saturday, May 23, 2009

Finishing Up The Season: Smallville

“Smallville” has the unique distinction for me as the longest-running show that I’ve been watching live since its pilot episode aired. The first two seasons were great, and I gave up on it after the fifth year when three seasons in a row had been devastatingly awful. The sixth season, which I later caught up on during summer repeats, represented a major reboot of the show, not perfect by any means, but definitely a step in the right direction. It’s hard to believe that this most recent year was the eighth season, though it’s refreshing that the show focused on improving itself and met with mediocre to good success.

The most shocking and gratifying aspect of season eight was the transformation of Lois Lane. For her first few years on the show, Erica Durance was the most obnoxious actress ever and her character was impossible to endure. Yet something happened this season. Her budding romance with Clark had always been forced, coming off as some desperate attempt to instill nostalgia among diehard Superman comic fans. This season, at the same time Clark was growing up and getting a real job, Lois scaled back a little and showed her softer side instead of just her army brat karate-skilled side. The chemistry between Clark and Lois (as well as Welling and Durance, for that matter) was appropriately awkward but equally touching.

New characters provided a real boost to this season. The departure of Lex and Lana was immediately forgotten and swept under the rug by the introduction of Tess and Davis, both of whom were fascinating and worked so well to enhance the preexisting characters (I’m thinking specifically of Oliver and Chloe, respectively). Tess made for a great semi-villain and the same certainly goes for Davis. Both Cassidy Freeman and Sam Witwer did a great job of conveying their often questionable and morally ambiguous decisions. The return of Justin Hartley as Oliver was another wise choice, since he was the main reason season six bounced back from three bad years. Teaming Oliver up with Clark, Chloe, and all the other superheroes wandering around Kansas was cool too.

The focus this season on Clark as Superman, or rather the “Red-Blue Blur,” was a great theme for the series. Welling’s Clark has always been a bit too boyish, and it’s about time he grew up, pulled himself together, and started trying to be a superhero. His concurrent battle with Doomsday provided a nice backdrop and subplot for the season. “Smallville” no longer felt aimless this year, and while some episodes and plotlines (most things involving Jimmy, overlong monologue speeches by Chloe, the murder of Lex Luthor) fell flat, this season was light-years ahead of anything the show had achieved recently. It’s nice to know that “Smallville” is headed somewhere, and even though Clark and Lois aren’t together yet, and she doesn’t know his secret, there’s still progress being made on an almost episodic basis. That’s something that definitely couldn’t be said about the show up to this point – every episode felt like it took a step backward. Fortunately, that’s no longer the case.

The finale was a good episode where Doomsday was finally dealt with in a manner that wasn’t too far-fetched, and a character that didn’t turn out too well and had become a nuisance (Jimmy) was written out without much to-do or uncalled-for trumpeting. While all the pink and purple swirling around Tess is getting a bit tiring, the upcoming ninth season should have somewhere interesting to go, exploring Clark’s heritage and superheroic identity. The episode that really defined this season, and far outdid any episode since the show’s second season premiere, was the mid-season cliffhanger, “Bride.” I had meant to devote a post to it back in December, but I never got to a chance. “Bride” was a fantastic combination of all the elements that make “Smallville” great, focusing on two true romances (Chloe and Jimmy, Clark and Lois), introducing a new major villain in a way that didn’t seem forced (Doomsday), bringing back a character in dramatic style (Lana), utilizing cool techniques to frame its events (flashbacks, video camera footage), and ending on a shocking, suspenseful note. Episodes like that make me glad that I stuck with this show, because, more than anything else, this series has come through for me every once in a while, and I feel like my investment in this show has been worthwhile. It’s nowhere near the regular quality that it used to be, but when my pick for Worst Actress one year turns into a Best Actress contender the next, I think I’m starting to get close to satisfied. Ninth season; I’m in.

Season finale: B
Season grade: B
Season MVP: Justin Hartley/Sam Witwer

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