Sunday, May 15, 2011

Reflections on the Series Finale of Smallville

Now that the final episode of Smallville has aired, I feel free to chat about it without apprehension of spoiling it for its fans -- but if you still haven't seen it, the CW will air it again next week. 

After ten seasons, the show can rightfully be called a success.  The finale was a bit drawn out, but the last few moments when Clark Kent finally donned the red, yellow, and blue costume and embarked on his destiny as Superman was worth the wait.  It was regretful, however, that most of that footage, while nicely done, was computer-generated rather than actual shots of Tom Welling wearing the cape.  After a decade he's earned it.  But the emotions were still there. 

The end of Smallville, all the "trials" of Clark culminating with his first public "save the world" mission, felt like the end of the Superman chapter that began with the Richard Donner movie in 1978.  Moreso even than Bryan Singer's homage to the Christopher Reeve movies in the seriously flawed Superman Returns, the TV series created by Alfred Gough and Miles Millar does a fine job of paying tribute to many elements of those fan favorite movies.  The use of the memorable John Williams music and the design of the Fortress of Solitude, for example, were just some of the ways that the show recalled those earlier films.  The key element that the early Superman movies and the Smallville series had in common was heart.  This felt like the end of an era as we prepare for the upcoming new movie version by director Zack Snyder.

Despite its critics and its obvious imperfections, the show succeeded because it treated the Superman origin story with respect.  The writers (including Gough, Millar, Tim McCanlies, and many others, with credit given to Superman creators Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel) managed to reimagine the popular comic book story for a new generation while staying true to the foundation of the familiar tale.  Yes, plenty of liberties were taken, but for the most part it stayed faithful where it mattered -- the moral underpinnings of the character.

Smallville's early kryptonite-powered freak of the week premise gave way to a more continuity-based storyline that brought Clark from the rural cornfields of Kansas to the bustling urban Metropolis.  The evolution of the conflict with Lex Luthor (played to perfection by Michael Rosenbaum) was a highlight of the series, more than Clark's romances with Lana Lang and Lois Lane.  While it became disappointingly convoluted toward the end, it still had some outstanding moments and revealed a satisfyingly complex motivation for the Man of Steel's greatest adversary.

The pillars of the cast were the parental figures -- John Schneider as Jonathan Kent, Annette O'Toole as Martha Kent, and John Glover as Lionel Luthor. Their actions (along with the delightful Allison Mack as Chloe Sullivan) were the catalysts for the overall story arc from the beginning righ until the very end. 

I enjoyed seeing Clark learn to use his powers, discover where he came from, realize his potential, and, after temptations, challenges, and some mistakes, develop the "Superman code" that would guide him as Earth's greatest protector.

We saw cameos from Christopher Reeve, Dean Cain, Margot Kidder, and other familiar faces.  We enjoyed storylines with Justice League heroes and Superman villains.  Overall, it was a well produced and nicely executed ten years of programming.  In a long line of Superman-based television series, Smallville deserves to be remembered as one of the best and most consistently entertaining.

No comments: