The CW’s ‘Superman & Lois’ Updates the Man of Steel With a Touch of Domestic Life
Superheroes define myth itself in popular culture. No other comic book character captures that essence to the level of Superman. The CW’s “Superman and Lois” combines the sense of awe that tends to accompany the Man of Steel’s world with the trappings of modern domestic life. That may sound like an odd combination, but in a surprisingly entertaining popcorn sort of way it works. What also gives this new series a boost is that the production values reach higher than what you usually get in what is known as the Arrowverse, which is DC’s CW slate of shows including “Arrow,” “The Flash” and “Supergirl.” Now the titan in blue tights faces threats all too familiar to viewers: Getting fired and raising teenagers.
After opening with a recap of classic Superman lore, including how his infant vessel crashed into the Smallville, Kansas farm of Ma and Pa Kent, the show jumps right into the present. Supe’s alter ego, journalist Clark Kent (Tyler Hoechlin) is now married to star reporter Lois Lane (Elizabeth Tulloch). They used to work at the Daily Planet together, but Clark’s been fired. The Metropolis newspaper has been purchased by a shady billionaire, Morgan Edge, but Lois laments it’s just part of digital media wiping out the old print industry. Clark and Lois are also parents to two teenage sons, jock Jonathan (Jordan Elsass) and Jordan (Alex Garfin), who has social anxiety disorder. When Clark’s mother passes away back in Smallville, the family make a trip to attend the funeral and put her affairs in order. The place has changed a lot since Clark left. Old flame Lana Lang (Emmanuelle Chriqui) now does real estate and is married to a firefighter. But her daughter, Sarah (Inde Navarrette), reconnects with Jordan in a mutual outcast way. But as Clark and Lois try to figure out next steps, a big threat arises when a mysterious figure begins targeting nuclear reactor sites, leaving an explicit message for Superman but using his real, Kryptonian name, Kal-El.
“Superman and Lois” opens with a cinematic spirit, clocking its series premiere at feature film length. Yet it’s not a slow show and has a sense for wide images. While Superman’s costume looks lifted from 2013’s “Man of Steel,” it never gets as dark as that Zack Snyder interpretation. The visual style owes more to the much discarded 2005 “Superman Returns,” especially in how Smallville has an alluring palette of constant twilights and vast farmlands that always seem to have an autumn glow. Some shots are near tributes to that film, including one of Superman floating above Earth, contemplating space and the entire moment. Much of the framing is in wide angles and the characters always look like they inhabit a much bigger world beyond them. The music by Dan Romer forgoes the network’s usual taste for quick techno scores, providing instead a shimmering, epic orchestral background for the images. Wait, this is a CW show? Indeed, but recall that this is the network’s second interpretation of this story, following “Smallville,” the hit series from the early aughts covering Clark Kent’s high school years. Both shows belong to different narratives, but somehow they get the whole Superman mythos a little better than some of the recent movies.
Yet the CW is still somehow the CW, and “Superman and Lois” is still packed with plenty of YA theatrics and woke sensibilities. Clark and Lois don’t just have to worry about maniacal villains, they also fret about the future of their sons. Jonathan wants to play football, but what if the fact that he’s already going for quarterback as a freshman hints that he inherited Clark’s powers and what to do about Jordan, who seems detached and angry? Clark may be Superman, but the world can’t know about it, so it does create a problem when the Daily Planet lets him go. These story touches lead to some scenes that border on hilarious, as when Lois’s military dad rushes to let Clark know the mysterious villain is targeting another nuclear power plant. Lois sternly reminds Clark that even though there’s a nuclear threat brewing, he has other priorities at home right now. Among those priorities is figuring out why the mysterious Morgan Edge wants to buy the Kent farm. Another major challenge comes when Jonathan and Jordan sneak into the family barn and uncover the spaceship that brought Clark to Earth all those years ago, demanding answers in a scene that culminates in a rather grandiose moment with Clark lifting a truck into the air.
But can we really slam this show for making Superman relatable to the common, struggling American? Comic books have always been pop reflections of the times (remember Captain America punching Hitler). If Clark Kent were real he probably would have to adapt to the digital revolution’s impact on journalism. Kids are dealing more openly now with depression and anxiety issues. Sarah confesses to Jordan she once drank all her mom’s pills, and her firefighter father constantly answers calls to burning meth labs. This is no longer the world of the teens in “Smallville,” who blasted grunge music and pulled off cruel pranks that included hanging classmates like scarecrows in a cornfield. Even Lana’s husband, Kyle (Erik Valdez), talks like the voice of disgruntled Middle America. He wonders why Smallville natives like Clark left to find nice careers and never came back to contribute to the community. And if Morgan Edge brings jobs to town, what’s the problem? There are some more recognizable moments of teenage angst, however. Jordan kisses the wrong girl and when her boyfriend picks a fight, he and Jonathan tag team in a moment that hints one of them did inherit dad’s super traits.
Rest assured this is still a Superman show. “Superman and Lois” has plenty of big action scenes bordering on pure extravaganza. Superman puts out a nuclear reactor in meltdown with a massive iceberg he lifts out of the sea. Later he gets into a battle in space with a foe who seems to know his full history before plunging a blade of Kryptonite into his shoulder. He can still plow through concrete walls and at the very least, leap across a cornfield. Tyler Hoechlin fits nicely into the character, capturing that sense of straight-arrowed goodness that always distinguished Superman from moodier comrades like Batman. At the same time he’s the face of professional, post-Great Recession suburban America. We can also commend a CW show about an alien in blue tights somehow having more logic and believability than the high schoolers of “Riverdale.” Is this a masterpiece? Not at all. But as popcorn TV it has moments that fly quite well.
“Superman & Lois” premieres Feb. 23 and airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET on The CW.