The Man of Steel returns to the small screen in Superman & Lois, the latest superhero show from the CW network, which aired its premiere episode this week. With a great cast, stunning production design and a refreshingly original set-up, it looks set to be one of the genre TV highlights of the year. Matthew Turner takes off his glasses.
Given that Supergirl is about to begin its final season, the timing couldn’t be more perfect for the launch of the CW network’s new Superman show. Actors Tyler Hoechlin and Elizabeth Tulloch have been playing Superman and Lois in guest spots in the Arrowverse (the collective name for the CW’s superhero shows) since 2016 and 2018 respectively, so it makes total sense that they would eventually get their own show.
And with the pilot episode getting off to a flying start, Superman & Lois has the potential to be both the CW’s best show to date and maybe even the best screen version of the Man of Steel since Christopher Reeve himself.
Happily, showrunners/creators Greg Berlanti and Todd Helbing have positioned Superman & Lois as a stand-alone show, so you don’t have to worry about catching up on all their previous Arrowverse appearances.
To that end, the show begins with an inspired and enjoyable montage sequence that catches you fully up to date with the characters, from Superman’s arrival on Earth and being raised by the Kents to his first meeting with Lois in his alter ego as Clark Kent and their subsequent marriage, after he revealed his secret identity.
So far, so familiar, except that Lois gave birth to twin sons, Jordan and Jonathan, who are now teenagers, still unaware that their dad is Superman.
After that super-efficient montage, the pilot episode does a terrific job of both establishing a new status quo – Clark, Lois and the kids relocate to Smallville after the death of Martha Kent – and introducing a number of potentially exciting plotlines, from a super-powered, armour-clad villain who knows Superman’s secrets (tantalisingly named as “Captain Luthor” in the cliffhanger) to the pervasive threat of Morgan Edge (a comics villain previously introduced in Supergirl but recast and repurposed here), a billionaire who appears to be buying up vast chunks of Smallville.
Then there’s the family drama, which the show manages to make surprisingly relatable, given that it’s about superheroes. From Clark losing his job at the Daily Planet (in a round of all too familiar media lay-offs) to worries over the raising of their teenage sons to grief at the loss of Martha, there’s a lot of powerfully emotional material in the pilot episode.
Helbing and Berlanti also take the smart decision not to mess around with weeks of Jordan and Jonathan not knowing the truth about their father – the sequence of events whereby they learn the truth is nicely handled and leads to the episode’s best scene, where Clark reveals who he is by – yes! – taking off his glasses. (And lifting a truck above his head, just in case that wasn’t enough).
This being a CW show, there’s also plenty of teen drama, with a terrific dynamic established between awkward, depressed Jordan (who’s recently been diagnosed with anxiety disorder) and peppy, optimistic Jonathan (who’s excelling at school, especially on the football field). Their discovery also raises the question of whether one or both of them have super powers, something else that the show decides to answer straight away, freeing up some exciting storytelling possibilities for the rest of the season.
A crucial element that sets Superman & Lois apart from the other Arrowverse shows (at least so far) is the tone, which is altogether more sombre and considered, while still retaining enough light-heartedness for moments of warm character humour.
It also looks different, almost as if it was made for the big screen, something that’s underlined by the use of a 16:9 widescreen aspect ratio. It remains to be seen if that level of care and attention in the production design and special effects will last throughout the rest of the series, but it makes for a very promising start.
Similarly, the show has been cast to perfection. Hoechlin has already proved himself a terrific Clark Kent/Superman in his previous appearances – he has the demeanour down perfectly, with more than a little of Christopher Reeve’s relaxed, calming quality in there too.
Tulloch, by contrast, has had less opportunity to make Lois her own, but she has strong chemistry with Hoechlin and it will be interesting to see her character develop over the course of the series – the Morgan Edge plot, in particular, seems tailor-made for Lois’ investigative abilities.
The kids have been cast brilliantly too – both Alexander Garfin (as Jordan) and Jordan Elsass (as Jonathan) are immediately likeable characters with an engaging and believable rapport. It’s safe to assume they’ll be getting their fare share of screen time throughout the series and on the strength of the pilot episode, that’s something to celebrate.
There’s also some strong support elsewhere in the cast too, not least from Dylan Walsh as Lois’ military father, General Lane, and Emmanuelle Chriqui as Clark’s former girlfriend Lana Lang, now married to grouchy fireman Kyle Cushing (Erik Valdez) with a troubled teenage daughter (Inde Navarrette as Sarah) who quickly becomes a potential love interest for Jordan.
The show’s use of General Lane is especially intriguing – usually he’s close to an antagonist for Superman, but here he’s an immediate ally – he even has a special machine to summon Superman, like Jimmy Olsen’s watch.
In terms of gifts for comics fans (and Superman fans in general), there are multiple nods to all manner of other Superman sources, from subtle recreations of classic comics covers to echoes or outright steals of some of the best movie moments, most notably lifting the truck above his head (which he first did as a baby in Superman: The Movie) to dumping a frozen lake on a nuclear reactor, just like in Superman III. There are some lovely little touches too, such as a notes in the kitchen that read “Doctor Donner” and “Call Siegel and Shuster”.
Speaking of the comics, it’s genuinely exciting that the show is doing something entirely original – although Jonathan has a comics counterpart (dating back to 2015), Jordan is an entirely new character, created specially for the show, meaning that the entire family dynamic is unprecedented in previous Superman comics lore.
Similarly, although Captain Luthor is obviously related to Lex in some way, he doesn’t appear to have a direct comics counterpart, which allows the show a lot of potentially exciting dramatic license.
In short, the hour-long pilot delivers powerful emotion (try getting through Martha’s death without a sniffle or two), note-perfect performances, pulse-pounding action sequences and a number of intriguing plotlines.
There’s also a confidence and a refreshing originality in the storytelling that’s extremely promising. Basically, we’re fully on board and we can’t wait to see what’s in store for the rest of the season. To borrow a catchphrase from previous TV Superman George Reeves, “Up, up and awaaaaay!”
Showrunners/Creators: Todd Helbing, Greg Berlanti
Director: Lee Toland Krieger
Cast: Tyler Hoechlin, Elizabeth Tulloch, Jordan Elsass, Alex Garfin, Erik Valdez, Inde Navarrette, Wolé Parks, Adam Rayner, Dylan Walsh, Emmanuelle Chriqui
Superman & Lois is showing every Wednesday on the CW in the States, awaiting a UK broadcaster.