As you can probably tell by the date, I ignored Superman & Lois when it premiered last month. A few years ago, I officially gave up on the Arrowverse outside of Arrow and The Flash. It wasn’t just that the formerly fun franchise had devolved into overbearing identity politics and woke hectoring, although that was one of the driving forces. The shows were beginning to dip in quality all around; they’d regurgitate the same storylines over and over (“I am [insert superhero here] no more!”), drown themselves in useless new characters that were often duplicates of existing fan favorites (Curtis, Chester, Nate), and lose sight of the very things that made them special in the first place (what possessed the Legends of Tomorrow crew to destroy the team dynamic they’d spent a season perfecting is beyond me). The big two gave me just enough to keep coming back, but I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t relieved to have my watchlist reduced to one.
When Superman & Lois was announced, I wrote it off immediately. I’d seen and liked Tyler Hoechlin as Superman when he turned up on Supergirl, but he existed to be torn down so his cousin could look better, be it by getting defeated by her in combat or telling her how much better than him she was at every opportunity. And Elizabeth Tulloch’s Lois Lane turned the strong, confident character into a whiner with a victim complex, complaining about being paid less than Clark while telling the man she’s supposed to love that Supergirl is his superior, giggling away as she checked his privilege. I couldn’t take a whole series dedicated to clapping back at the Man of Steel. But then, people whose judgment I trust started telling me how much they loved it, so I finally relented and gave it a chance.
And it’s good.
Superman & Lois isn’t an origin story; it whizzes through the familiar plot points in five minutes during the pilot episode. It catches up with the pair after they’ve gotten married and had twin boys named Jonathan and Jordan (after Clark’s adopted and biological fathers, Jonathan Kent and Jor-El). As teenagers, Jonathan is happy and well-adjusted, while Jordan suffers from social anxiety disorder and shuts himself in from the rest of the world. When Martha Kent passes away, and Clark takes his family to Smallville for the funeral, the boys discover the ship that brought their father to Earth as a baby and, ultimately, that their dad is Superman. Wanting to balance fatherhood with saving the world, Clark and Lois decide to move the family from Metropolis to Smallville, allowing the kids to have a normal life while Clark can fly off to be a hero. But a simple change of scenery isn’t the cure-all he’d hoped it would be, and choosing between family and duty is a difficult decision he must make anew every day.
That’s the setup, and it’s a great one. Instead of retelling the familiar story of Clark arriving in Metropolis, meeting Lois, becoming a hero, running afoul of Lex Luthor, and all the expected beats, Superman & Lois tells a different chapter in Superman’s life, one where he faces a new challenge that dwarfs any world-ending threat he’s faced. In this structure, the show demonstrates how well it understands Superman, particularly how to make him vulnerable. His greatest weakness is not Kryptonite or magic, but in the uselessness of his powers when faced with a tragedy that can’t be physically fought. Superman can stop a nuclear power plant from exploding or punch an alien monster into space, but how does he fix disappointing his son? How does he comfort a boy reeling from his first breakup? How does he choose between helping Lois win a vote at a town hall meeting and stopping a mad scientist from destroying a park? He doesn’t know, and neither would we if it was us in that situation, and it’s there that the series finds Superman’s humanity.
In Jonathan and Jordy, Superman & Lois takes a peek at Clark’s teenage years, revealing some of the realities of being a kid growing up with powers. Early on, Jordan discovers that he has some of his dad’s abilities, albeit on a much smaller scale due to his Earthling DNA. As a result, Jordan experiences the fear, frustration, and isolation Clark went through at his age. Jordan struggles to balance his strength with his desire to fit in at school, in being responsible with his powers instead of locking them away. But as Jordan excels, Jonathan is limited, the former superstar having to take a step back as his brother reaches his potential. The ties between Jonathan and Clark are subtler than Jordan’s, but they’re just as poignant; Jonathan is the one who sacrifices and who feels the weight of helping others at his own expense. And Clark, in turn, has to stretch his understanding of what it means to be a dad, rolling with each new hurdle a teen faces and figuring out how best to help his boys.
But as much as Jonathan and Jordan need Clark, the world needs Superman, and the voice of that need is Lois’ father, General Sam Lane. He reminds Clark that parenting is not his sole purpose, and maybe it shouldn’t be his priority either. And part of what makes Superman & Lois so fascinating is that he isn’t necessarily wrong; when Clark is busy trying to be father of the year, bad things happen to good people, and maybe Superman could have prevented them. There’s a great scene where Sam shows Clark how Metropolis has been deteriorating since he moved to Smallville; the criminal element has noticed that Superman isn’t around as much, and suddenly Intergang is on the rise, and the high-tech prisons housing the most dangerous supervillains don’t seem so secure anymore. This raises some important philosophical questions, like whether a man’s greatest duty is to his family or society, and what is the standard for choosing one over the other? The burdens of family and heroism are felt every day, and the choice isn’t always obvious.
Fortunately, Tyler Hoechlin presents a Superman that gladly carries that burden. He’s phenomenal as the world’s premier superhero, capturing Clark’s earnestness and decency without making him corny or unbelievable. There’s strength in his morality, and when Superman is fighting bad guys, Hoechlin convincingly thrashes them. Even in his dad moments, he can be fun and silly without sliding into self-parody. (This is a satisfying turn of events since Hoechlin’s most famous role was as a child struggling with a flawed father in one of my favorite movies, Road to Perdition.) Elizabeth Tulloch, on the other hand, is… fine. She certainly isn’t bad, but she never quite captures the spark Lois has in most other versions. In a way, it’s understandable; she’s a mom now, and parenting is a bigger shift for a fireball like Lois Lane than it is for wholesome farm boy Clark Kent. Part of it may also be that, despite the title, Superman is very much the focus of Superman & Lois. Lois has her own storylines, and she has some good moments, but they feel like subplots. That may change as the series moves along; her investigations into corporate corruption are becoming more important, and they tie into Superman’s battles. But so far, Lois is more a supporting role than the co-lead.
The rest of the cast is a mixed bag. Alex Garfin and Jordan Elsass bring out Jordan and Jonathan’s range of teenage emotions well, and I like that each looks his part, but those parts look the opposite of how the boys are adjusting to their new lives. Garfin’s Jordan wears black, keeps to himself, and has mangy hair, appearing every bit the city boy, while Elsass is the perfect image of the small-town jock champion; in reality, each is at home in the other’s natural habitat. It’s a clever twist that allows for a new perspective on what could have been rote teen drama. I’m also glad to see Dylan Walsh as Sam Lane; he’s an actor I always liked (though I couldn’t make it through one season of Nip/Tuck; it’s a well-made show, but you feel like you need to take a shower after every episode). He gives Sam a necessary crassness when goading Clark into action, but there’s a twinge of humanity he long ago buried that shines through in brief bursts. Beneath his honor and duty lies regret, and you get the sense that while he wants Clark to make the same decision he once did, Sam envies his son-in-law’s commitment to his family. However, Emmanuelle Chiriqui’s Lana Lang is dull, as is her surly husband, played by Erik Valdez. I understand why they’re around – their deteriorating marriage is a contrast to the family Lois and Clark maintain and serves as a metaphor for the decay of Smallville. But time spent with them can’t help but feel like time taken away from the leads.
On the villain front, Superman & Lois has a few irons in the fire. The most obvious is Morgan Edge, the wealthy industrialist who bought most of Metropolis and now has his sights set on Smallville. At the moment, he’s more Lois’ nemesis than Superman’s, but considering some of the reveals in the last couple of episodes, that will likely change soon. He is rather weak as a heavy, though, and the character never pops in a way that makes him seem threatening. Better is the guy in the robotic suit who has a couple of punch-ups with Superman in the first two episodes. The reveal of his name raises more questions than answers, and clues have been steadily falling about what he wants and why. There’s some excellent potential for this character, but so far, his tangles with Superman have felt a bit repetitive. And finally, some people with powers comparable to Superman have been turning up in Smallville, and they’re connected to Edge. Again, the clues are coming in drips and drabs, and I like how it’s playing out; it reminds me of The Flash’s early seasons, where a mystery was built little by little. Based on episode 4, “Haywire,” the series is making room for villains of the week, too, in the form of some lesser comic book baddies. It’s nothing spectacular yet, but there’s time to unleash the full threat these guys represent.
And, as it stands, I’m ready to give them all the time they need. Superman & Lois has impressed me so far, not just for its quality, but because it’s avoided the woke nonsense that’s crippled its Arrowverse forebears. That could change at any moment; The Flash managed to keep itself pure for three whole seasons before the monster finally came for it. There are a couple of moments where I was afraid it would go in that direction; there’s a suggestion that Daily Planet reporters “keep their politics to themselves,” and Sam Lane’s dedication to his military career is called “toxic.” These could be innocent, or they could be Greg Berlanti taking a shot here and there so his nerves don’t explode from suppressing his activist instincts. But I’m choosing to be hopeful because, after these five episodes, I want the show to be great.
Superman & Lois is the show that represents everything the Arrowverse once was and should have been all along. It’s fun, exciting, and refreshingly human. So far, it’s devoid of politics, and it strives to be a show for everyone, just like its hero. And that’s the key: this show loves Superman, and it understands him like increasingly fewer people seem to nowadays. Whether it holds on for the long haul or falls to woke lecturing, for now, we’ve got a winner, and it turns out that saving the Arrowverse looks like a job for Superman.