Thursday, May 20, 2010

Still A Long Way From "Super" - A Look at the SMALLVILLE Season Finale

So much to talk about - I'm backtracked on the blog and overrun with pressing topics, so let's not waste time here. All I know is, what a crazy week for all of us TV nerds. Seriously. 24 and Lost are ending. The network Upfronts reveal a new crop of contenders set to hit the airwaves next fall. Fringe - maybe the best show on TV for the last several months - has its sure-to-be-epic season finale tonight. And on top of all that, we're already in the midst of Summer Movie Season. I've been chomping at the bit to write up my reviews of ROBIN HOOD and MACGRUBER, and I promise, I'll have those soon.

But first, let me get to some TV STUFF before it gets too stale. Honestly, I was so pumped to write about 24 and Lost this week that I typed up those reviews as soon as possible. Doing that meant I didn't quite get to some other big shows and finales, so, here we go. For this post, I'll shine the spotlight on this past Friday's big season finale of Smallville, but, stay tuned for thoughts on Fringe, The Office, and more.

SMALLVILLE - Season Finale Review:

- This past season of Smallville seemed to rejuvinate the show's fanbase to some degree, and hey, that's cool. But personally, I felt like it was a season with a few huge highpoints, but that, in general, just felt worn out and tired. And that's what makes Smallville SUCH a frustrating show for many longtime fans like me. It features some of the most iconic, durable characters EVER in popular fiction. The potential for great stories and epic adventures is practically limitless. And every so often, an episode of Smallville comes along that reminds us just how great this show COULD be, if only the writers would take the initiative and ditch the series' played-out conventions for some truly exciting storytelling. A few months ago, comics writer Geoff Johns came onboard for a special, two-part episode and did just that. In one fell swoop, he showed us the kind of show that Smallville could be in the right hands. It was a great moment for the show - John's episode had a real magic to it that few other shows could ever be capable of. Quickly afterwords though, Smallville fell back into its usual routines. Smallville's characters are fun enough that the show is almost always watchable and entertaining, but the show is also one of the most formulaic on television. Given how much narrative freedom a fantasy show like this should have, it's amazing and frustrating how often Smallville resorts to the same old cliches. There's arguments and brooding about secret ID's and mixed messages and lack of communicaiton. There's people getting knocked unconcious just as Clark zooms in to save the day. There's endless conversations between morally gray antagonists that don't really go anywhere. There's endless emo-riffic, set-to-music scenes of Clark staring off into the distance at his family farm. Smallville is always at its best when it tries something different, and yet, so many times, it's the same old crap we've seen many times over. And this ninth season finale, despite having some entertaining moments, fell into that category. It didn't really feel special or epic, and that's a shame, because back in the day few shows did season finales like Smallville. Instead, this was a run-of-the-mill capper to a season's worth of run-of-the-mill storylines.

Zod and his Kandorian army served as the Big Bad's for this entire season, but they were never all that exciting or menacing. Think about it - what did Zod actually DO this season? The one time he and his army actually seemed badass was in the flashforward episode in which Clark glimpsed an apocalyptic future in which Zod had taken over earth. That episode did a nice job of raising the stakes, but there was never much follow-through. In the finale, when we were finally, after months of buildup, getting to the point where the Kandorians were actually threatening the earth, their actions were pretty underwhelming, to say the least. They burnt their symbol into some pyramids, flew around semi-menacingly, and that was about it. I mean, this is an ARMY of super-powered soldiers intent on taking over the world. Their first strikes should have been epic and devastating. There should have been panic in the streets, and a true heroic force should have been needed to take them down. Instead, we got glimpses of the proto-Justice League via satellite communications with Clark, and a final showdown that was not exactly big and climactic. Okay, it was more satisfying than last season's very un-epic throwdown with Doomsday, but still. Clark basically teleported Zod and his goons off of earth, and then, before he got pulled in along with them, stabbed himself with depowering blue kryptonite so he could remain on earth. In and of itself, it wasn't a terrible way to resolve the Zod plotline, but this is a story that has been built up for THE ENTIRE SEASON. A little more chaos and conflict would have been nice. But hey, I give Callium Blue credit -- as annoying as Zod got, and as many times as he was forced to say "Kneel Before Zod" (to the point where one of the all-time badass catchphrases actually became annoying as hell!) -- he still gave it his best and was clearly doing what he could to create a credible threat in Zod.

Meanwhile, there was the ongoing Clark/Lois/Blur love triangle. I like the chemistry between Tom Welling and Erica Durance on the show, and Lois is, in general, a much more fun character than Lana ever was. That said, I mostly hate this whole storyline. Not only is is just pretty absurd in general, but it's far too similar to the conflict that Clark had with Lana for so many years. I talked about Smallville's bag o' cliches up top, but good lord, how many times has Smallville framed its storylines around the whole "are you keeping secrets from me?" thing. Enough already! The fact that Clark just let Lois walk away and take a reporting assignment in Africa was just groan-worthy. I mean, come on! Smallville always thinks it can drag out its storylines for years at a time. But the reality is, I have no desire to watch Clark and Lois go back-and-forth every week and ultimately end up back at square one. It makes no sense at this point, and it just comes off as lame. Even cheesier was the Blur's kiss with Lois. Ugh. I hate The Blur, aka the man who can hide his identity from his girlfriend by standing under shadowy awnings at just the right angle. Hopefully, the show can just kick things off with Lois and Clark fully aware of each other's big secrets and on good terms next season. And hopefully, NO MORE BLUR.

Interestingly, the episode kicked off with a prolonged glimpse of the future thanks to Dr. Fate's helmet. In the sequence, set in 2013, we see a version of Superman's classic coming-out party from the comics, in which he saves a plane from crashing and reveals himself to the world. It was sort of cool, but again, just a tease. At the least, I hope that next season, even if Clark isn't Superman, he starts to act like Superman. No more brooding, no more stoicism, no more emo-ness. For once, can't we get Clark finally be inspirational, heroic, proactive, and a man of action? And can we get some writing that thinks of better ways for him to hide his identity other than conveniently magical shadows and/or people being knocked unconcious as soon as he arrives on the scene?

In a lot of ways, I admire Smallville. I admire the fact that it's lasted this long, despite never getting a ton of hype from the mainstream press. I admire the fact that it's a fun show that has, despite its faults, increasingly embraced its superhero-fantasy roots and brought a lot of fun concepts from the pages of DC Comics onto the small screen. A lot of times I'll say that I've stuck with Smallville more because I'm a Superman fan than because I truly love the show. But you know what? There is a certain spark to Smallville that keeps me coming back. I mean, look, I don't think that the last few "big" storylines - Doomsday, Zod, etc. - have been handled exceedingly well. But they were ambitious, at least. And this finale hinted at even bigger things to come. Darkseid? Parademons? Apokolips? Maybe. And man, I'd be curious to see how Smallville attempts to handle Jack Kirby's epic Fourth World storylines. You've got to be a bit skeptical at this point, but still, it will be really interesting to see where Smallville goes from here. They introduced the blue and red suit in this ep - we didn't even see it, but we know it's there. The seeds are planted for greatness. The question is: will the show raise the bar? I mean, look, I'd take this season any day over the godawful "Lana Lang has become a witch" storylines of years gone by. I guess you could say that Smallville has settled into a quality level of solid-yet-unspectacular storytelling as of late, with its fair share of mediocre concepts (hello, Blur) dragging down the good stuff. But hey, Season 10 is the final season. I'd love it if this little-show-that-could went from only-okay to truly "super" before all is said and done.

My Grade: B-

No comments:

Post a Comment