I'm not really doing much for LOIS & CLARK, just rewatching the episodes with the boys and then skimming through the script afterwards. I believe that their second podcast will have the deleted scenes for the Pilot as well as "Strange Visitor" and "The Neverending Battle."
The Pilot: So, LOIS & CLARK. The Pilot is, like all pilots, a rough draft for the series to come. In this case, it's a rough draft for Season 1 of the series. As 90s TV goes, it's subject to all the flaws, but it also captures the best assets of the era. Lois and Clark are spectacular TV characters and a joy to welcome into the home on a weekly basis.
Format: Tom and Cory noted that the Pilot wasn't a huge critical success. One of my maxims is to review the story the creator set out to tell, not the one you would like them to tell. L&C was not meant to be a modern day myth of gods and monsters; it wasn't an American version of the Christ saviour. This wasn't SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE -- it was MOONLIGHTING and REMINGTON STEELE mixed with HIS GIRL FRIDAY and WHEN HARRY MET SALLY. It was an attempt to distill the SUPERMAN concept into the romcom and sitcom formats. Try to enjoy LOIS & CLARK as a superhero action series and you'll hate it. See it as the workplace dramedy it was meant to be and you'll at least see it on its own terms.
Lois Lane: With characters, we start with Lois, whom showrunner Deborah Joy Levine fearlessly makes unlikable on numerous counts. She's rude to Clark, dismissive of Perry, selfishly determined to work only with those she doesn't have to credit for her success (Jimmy), prepared to use sexual allure to get an interview with Lex Luthor -- but she's also brave, clever and capable.
She breaks into a space program twice, identifies the motive for the sabotage, listens to a disgraced scientist and pursues the truth. Her lack of respect for her colleagues is balanced by her compassion for the weak and vulnerable, specifically Dr. Platt's wife and the colonists who may be in danger. Teri Hatcher has to be both goofily overemotional and hard-edged without being hateful and she does both well.
Clark Kent: Then we have Clark. Dean Cain is a fantastic Clark. The character is scripted as a straight arrow with an impeccable sense of morality and care for others, but both the script and Cain give Clark little quirks and moments to show he's an eccentric, offbeat, peculiar fellow whose superpowers have given him a truly bizarre perspective on life and humanity.
There's little touches like Clark's super-senses giving him constant awareness of the world around him from runaway buses to homeless people in alleys. There's his fondness for junk food. Cain and Levine truly sell that Clark is such a decent, perfect figure by emphasizing his earnest, intellectual side matched with a benign sense of mischief.
Visual Quality: The Pilot, despite being as bound to soundstages as a Season 5 episode of SLIDERS, is very nicely filmed. There's a terrific sense of physical interplay between all the actors, especially Lois and Clark. Perry White's silly yet commanding presence works well. Michael Landes as Jimmy is a nice foil for Lois. The Daily Planet bullpen is warm and inviting and full of time. The emphasis is really on people and their interactions.
Strong Screenwriting: The true strength of Deborah Joy Levine's scripts is in all the careful character moments: Perry using Jimmy to repair his golf cart, Jimmy grousing about having to write obituaries, Lois admitting to having no personal life, Clark understanding Dr. Platt's technobabble while Lois does not, Lex Luthor's sex life, etc.. Every single character has something in addition to their plot function. A quirk. An obsession. A longing. A failing. A strength. Lex Luthor is evil, but his planning and graciousness in defeat are to be admired, especially in the scene where he congratulates Superman on having kicked Lex's ass out of the space race.
Errors: The script suffers in some areas of implausibility. As Tom and Cory observe, Lois sneaking aboard the spacecraft is ridiculous. Dr. Baines putting Lois, Clark and Jimmy in a convoluted and unsupervised deathtrap is dumb. Clark figures out that Luthor is sabotaging the space program from a few throwaway lines of dialogue that Lois inexplicably misses. Superman effectively divulges his identity to Lex Luthor by revealing he was present for a private conversation between Lex, Clark and Lois, yet Luthor doesn't catch this and won't. These are all silly flaws in most superhero fiction.
Superman: The main problem, although oddly not a dealbreaker, is Superman. Dean Cain's Superman is very poor, but it's one for which Cain cannot be held wholly responsible. Cain's Superman is awkward in every aspect: awkwardly characterized, lit, filmed, directed and the effects are not on his side.
Superman is filmed in medium shots, never emphasizing his build or putting him at the center of a larger scene; the character doesn't dominate the screen. The costume looks okay in the Pilot, but it looks shockingly poor in subsequent episodes (we'll get there).
In contrast to Clark Kent, Superman's dialogue in the script is generic: formal, stilted, detached -- in an effort to differentiate the easygoing, casual Clark, Superman is stiff and rigid on paper. Dean Cain's performance reflects all the weaknesses of the material, reflecting a terrible indecisiveness in his work, especially his overstrained, "All you need to do is LOOK UP." Levine is awesome beyond awesome when crafting banter and characterization, but writing superhero speeches doesn't seem to be in her arsenal.
When Cain is in Clark Kent's clothes, the performance and special effects are perfectly suited; a genial, friendly, welcoming demeanor with a few subtle touches to remind you that this is a superhuman being passing for normal.
When Cain is in Superman's costume, he removes the Clark-isms but doesn't replace them with anything. Cain's Superman is a generic do-gooder falling into all the traps the Clark character so deftly avoids.
The Costume: In addition, the costume doesn't suit Cain. The dark colour and fit of the tights actually conceal his toned, muscled physique; Superman's body is a vaguely defined navy blue that doesn't make Cain stand out. The hairstyle -- basically Clark's but combed back a bit -- is not suited to Cain's features. Longer hair frames his face and softens his look; pushing it back makes his head look oversized to his body.
The Performance: Cain's Superman comes off as Dean Cain in a mismatched costume delivering dialogue he can't get to work. John Shea's easy confidence reduces Cain's Superman to seeming petulant and irritable. Looking at other actors: Christopher Reeve gave his Superman an affable confidence that made him seem trustworthy and he glowed with charisma. Gerard Christopher's Superboy was a commanding god with a sense of humour. Tom Welling's Clark in Superman mode was urgent yet gentle. Brandon Routh's Superman was thoughtful and earnest. All of them contrasted their Superman with an ineffectual, awkward Clark.
Cain doesn't get to do that, so his challenge is tougher than any other actor to take on the role. Cain is playing Clark as competent, charming, capable -- which creates a problem where Clark has Superman's personality and Superman has no personality at all. One solution would be to have Cain play his Superman with all the Clarkisms -- but emphasize the special effects more so that the superhuman Superman would never be compared to the grounded Clark in-universe. That's not an option for a TV budget.
The other solution would be for Dean Cain to drastically alter his performance: play Clark as-is, but give Superman a deeper voice and completely different body language, perhaps that of swaggering boxer, something that comes out of him when he wears the costume. Superman's scene with Lois would have Superman exhibiting concern without romance; his scene with Lex would be Superman delivering accusations with outrage and threat. Or maybe Cain's Superman could be more aloof and unknowable like Routh or Henry Cavill.
Dean Cain: From an acting standpoint, the problem with L&C's Clark/Superman divide is that Dean Cain wasn't there yet as an actor. Christopher Reeve had been acting for 17 years and since he was 9-years-old when he was cast to play Superman. He was a Juilliard-trained actor who saw acting as a calculated, precise art form where unrehearsed naturalism was an illusion to be created.
In contrast, Dean Cain was a former football player turned screenwriter turned actor. Acting was not his lifelong passion, but rather a job he turned to after a knee injury ended his sports career and he was getting more offers to be in commercials than to write screenplays. Cain was certainly a capable actor -- he could memorize dialogue, present his characters' emotions, win the audience's enmity or fondness, perform physical action -- but he was not a skilled, trained, refined master thespian at that point in his life.
Cain could play a great Clark Kent. He could play a great Superman. But to play Clark Kent and Superman as two distinct personas who go unrecognized as the same person despite both identities while interacting with the same four people -- that was just beyond Cain at this point, especially with the script failing to provide the duality.
Giving Cain this impossible job -- a Clark Kent/Superman dual identity with no real differences between the two -- was like having a sewing champion perform brain surgery. To pull this off, Cain needed more help than he was given -- perhaps a mime artist to create two different sets of body language, maybe a voice coach like John Rhys-Davies.
But L&C just suck him in the costume and sent him on camera. And it's a shame, because Cain's Clark is so terrific that all the raw material to be an equally terrific Superman is there, just not mined due to Cain's inexperience and the production's limits. When Superman appears, he's awkward -- I desperately want him offscreen as quickly as possible so we can get back to Clark.
Saving Grace: Oddly, this doesn't destroy LOIS & CLARK -- because ultimately, Superman is at best a cameo role in terms of screentime. The majority of Cain's screentime is as Clark Kent, which means the majority of his performance doesn't suffer. Cain truly was Superman for the 1990s -- he was Clark and he was superb. His chemistry with Teri Hatcher is dynamite -- they are so much fun to see onscreen together, working on stories, conducting interviews, contrasting Clark's idealism and Lois' cynicism.
LOIS & CLARK, to this date, is the most relatable, humanized version of Superman -- and Deborah Joy Levine brilliantly transformed the fantasy-action of SUPERMAN into a workplace dramedy. She is a truly capable screenwriter and a credit to her profession. Naturally, she was fired after the first season.
Cory and Tom talk about how they look forward to reviewing a show with a consistent creative vision and a strong sense of continuity and it's at this point I had to pull the car over to the side of the road and laugh uncontrollably for ten minutes.
But we don't have to worry about any of that for now! Onto Episodes 2 - 3 / 3 - 5 / can someone sort out the numbering here?