By: Alyssa Saunders
Somebody save me! After five years of being off the air (and five years of my complaining about its lack of streaming presence), Smallville has finally been added to Hulu. The story about Clark Kent in his formative years, before he became Superman, captivated audiences with its superhero element while also dealing with the issues all teenagers, even superpowered ones, have to face. All ten seasons are available for watching, and while some seasons are definitely better than others, the show still holds up well. But if you’re not watching for nostalgia alone, what’s so interesting about this little show that could? Here are five reasons Smallville is your next binge watch. (Mild spoilers for anyone who hasn’t seen the show.)
1. It ushered in a new era of superhero TV shows.
Before Smallville, superhero shows tended to lean more towards camp and silliness. If anything, the best superhero shows at this point were animated, like Batman: The Animated Series. With its ability to fill in the blanks of who would become a supervillain or a superhero, Smallville was able to balance the abstract with the serious. In the first few seasons, Clark mostly deals with kryptonite-affected “freaks”, who would form a monster of the week element that proved useful in the beginning. But the show grew in DC mythos once Clark left Smallville and moved to Metropolis. Throughout its ten seasons and 218 episodes, Clark Kent’s growing sense of responsibility and morality were fun to watch, and the people he encountered who helped him become Superman (for better or worse) were just as interesting to see. Now we see shows leaning more towards the origin stories of their characters to flesh out their motivations. Because of Smallville, CW’s current DC lineup of Arrow, The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow and Supergirl all have a home, and are usually pretty fun to watch. Gotham has its flaws but it follows a similar formula, showing us the evolution of Bruce Wayne from spoiled kid to badass of the night. And even Marvel was inspired to step into the ring, with X-Men inspired Legion on the way- and currently dominates Netflix with its Defenders series like Daredevil and Luke Cage. Smallville was the first superhero show of the new millennium, and we can thank it for our current crop of super men and women.
2. The show handled a lot of teen issues and millennial concerns.
CW gets some flack for being a network suited specifically for teenagers and young adults, and Smallville was no different. It featured impossibly pretty people in a high school/adolescent setting that to the naked eye resembled The O.C or 90210 more than a gritty adult drama. But to its credit, the show didn’t flinch when it came down to handling real life issues. The meteor shower that brings Clark to Earth also kills several people and irreparably changes the fabric of the town- and, as Clark himself notes, the people he has to fight on a weekly basis are changed because of him. Smallville came out only a month after 9/11, and it didn’t gloss over that fact, with minor character Whitney heading off to (and dying in) war. In addition, the show dealt with adoption, being an outcast, unrequited love, eating disorders, obsession, the death of parents, child abuse, the betrayal of friends… the list goes on. As Clark got older, he started to wonder where his place was on his adopted homeworld, and even though he was bulletproof, he wasn’t impervious to feeling lost and powerless. Some issues were handled better than others (remember Tina from the first two seasons? Her obsessive love for Lana and subsequent death was… problematic, and indicative of the “Bury Your Gays” trope). But overall, Smallville is a great example of a teen show that was able to believably explore young adult problems. Those young adults just happened to be shapeshifters and telekinetics.
3. Lex Luthor’s character evolution was amazing to watch.
Tom Welling’s Clark was always enjoyable, but if you’re getting into the series for the first time, the real treat is Michael Rosenbaum’s version of Lex Luthor. Ignore the other live action versions of Lex (Gene Hackman was fun but fairly one dimensional, Kevin Spacey was pretty good but was bogged down by a problematic script, and Jesse Eisenberg was… Well, you’ll have to see that one to believe it). This Lex genuinely wants to do good things with his wealth and be a decent person, but his destiny, like Clark’s, is unavoidable. Lex’s obsession with Clark begins in the pilot when he hits Clark with his car and sends them both flying into a river, where Clark ironically starts his superhero career by saving his future nemesis. This sets up their relationship for the rest of the series, as Luthor becomes intrigued by his accident and his savior, and we see flashes of his deviousness and willingness to do whatever it takes to get what he wants. Lex and Clark begin as friends, with the former seeing the latter as a younger brother he can protect and help, but by the end of season 7, Lex has gone full villain and stripped Clark of his powers. He’s absent for seasons 8 and 9 but returns to his former glory in the series finale, becoming the nefarious Luthor we love to hate. It’s here that we realize what Samuel L. Jackson’s character in Unbreakable knew- in order for a superhero to rise and triumph, he must have a villain to constantly struggle against, and Lex Luthor finally shrugs off his attempts to be good and revels in being bad. Here’s a clip from the series finale that perfectly encapsulates their relationship.
4. The show featured plenty of up and coming actors that would later become famous in their own right.
- Tyler Posey (Season 6, episode 9) The soon to be teen wolf played a Mexican immigrant that gets attacked by a guy who can suck people into the ground.
- Lizzy Caplan (Season 1, episode 4, Season 2, episode 11) She played the aforementioned Tina and went on to play Janis in Mean Girls and Virginia in Masters of Sex.
- Adam Brody (Season 1, episode 19) Before he was Seth in The O.C., he was Justin, using his mind to kill people and avenge himself.
- Paul Wesley (Season 2, episode 15) and Ian Somerholder (Season 3, 6 episodes) The Salvatore brothers from The Vampire Diaries had their own guest spots, with Paul playing Lucas Luthor, Lex’s long lost brother, and Ian played Adam Knight, Lana’s creepy love interest in season 3.
- Jensen Ackles (Season 4) He was Lana’s boyfriend and the high school football coach who eventually turned out to be- surprise, surprise- not what he seemed. I was never a huge fan of his storyline or the character, but he eventually left the show to pursue other opportunities, like, oh I don’t know, a little show called Supernatural? He plays Dean Winchester, and that show, beloved in its own right, is now in its 12th(!) season.
- Amy Adams (Season 1, episode 7) She went from playing a girl who used meteor rocks to get skinny and eat people to being an Oscar-nominated actress. Kryptonite does wonders indeed!
5. Two words: Chloe Sullivan.
Look, young female characters in Smallville are, for the most part, sex objects. The depiction of Lana Lang as a love interest for, like, everyone in the town was a bit weird, and she was constantly being passed around like a football, with barely a thought for herself. In later seasons she developed a bigger backbone but I’m surprised she wasn’t fridged. Lois Lane was a very strong character but even her introduction was a little flawed- we see her drive to find the truth about her cousin, but she is reduced to (understandably) ogling at Clark’s naked body. This is not the case with Chloe Sullivan (Allison Mack), Lois’ cousin. From the get-go Chloe is seen as a passionate and driven reporter who has dedicated herself to finding out more about the mysterious elements in the town. Unlike Lana, she is an equal partner in the exploits of Clark and her friends, and uses her various contacts to help her in times of need. Her relationship with Clark is initially a several-seasons-long crush on him, but they evolve into adult friends who realize they need each other for balance and protection. She even develops powers of her own, in addition to her intelligence, and uses them to assist superheroes. Chloe isn’t a superhero, and she isn’t just silent, sexy arm candy, making her a rarity in this universe (other than Amanda Waller). Allison Mack’s portrayal of the character was always a highlight of the story, and she vary rarely felt annoying or grating.
Are you excited to watch Smallville?