Why you should be watching Superman and Lois
Ivan Radford | On 05, Dec 2021
Do-do-do-do-do-daaaa, do-do-daa… The theme tune, of course, for Lois & Clark: The New Adventures, the definitive version of the Man of Steel on the small screen – until now. After appearing multiple times as Superman in The CW’s Supergirl, Tyler Hoechlin now gets his own solo series as Kal-El and the result is the kind of superhero series that makes you feel like we haven’t faced an onslaught of comic book blockbusters for the past 20 years.
Hoechlin has had years of steeping into the Man of Steel’s shoes, so he comes to screen fully formed here, as comfortable in the red and blue suit as he is charmingly awkward behind Clark Kent’s glasses. He plays Supes as a calm and warm presence, which means that when he does choose to wield his strength, it comes with an intimidating sense of necessity. And he’s grounded enough to carry a sense of humour to match his modesty.
But Superman and Lois’ strength lies in the fact that, like Lois & Clark before it, the programme doesn’t just give us Superman on his own: the focus here is very much on him and hardened journalist Lois Lane (Elizabeth Tulloch) as a couple and, moreover, as a family. A swift opening montage gives us all the essential origins details recapped, before we catch up with the pair as they return to Smallville in the wake of Martha Kent’s death. Just as they shoulder the grief of that loss, they also come back to Clark’s childhood home with the weight of years of superheroics on their backs – we don’t need to see Superman fighting giant CGI aliens every episode, as he’s already done that, just as we don’t need to see him and Lois going through the will-she-won’t-she-realise dance.
Rather, the series’ strength lies in the way it focuses on the other challenge that they must face: the fact that, while the world needs Superman, Clark’s family also need him as a husband and father. With not one but two sons to raise, he and Lois have to navigate the countless issues and complexities facing young people today.
All those problems – fitting in, peer pressure, self-image, self-esteem, identity, integrity, understanding, acceptance – are amplified in surprising ways through the lens of Superman’s abilities. Not only is there the question of whether they should know who he is (something that’s resolved very soon in the first episode, complete with a lovely callback to the original Superman movie) but there’s also the matter of whether either of them will inherit his abilities. For Jonathan (Jordan Elsass), it would reinforce his success on the football team and burgeoning confidence. For Jordan (Alex Garfin), it would offer a validation to counter his more anxious, insecure perception of himself.
The more their roles in the family and school twist and turn in unexpected ways, the more questions of strength, masculinity and expectations arise, and Elsass, Garfin and Hoechlin have a fantastic dynamic that lets them all shine – while also not taking attention away from Tulloch’s Lois, whose ability to bang their heads together and call out mistakes is as ruthless as you’d expect from such a tenacious investigative reporter.
Lane’s professional life is the driver for much of the narrative, which involves the mysterious threat posed by Morgan Edge (a name familiar to comic book fans), who is buying up land in Smallville – and has the support of fire chief Kyle (Erik Valdez), the husband of Clark’s first love, Lana Lang-Cushing (Emmanuelle Chriqui), who may or may have her own plotting afoot. (Their daughter, Sarah – Inde Navarrette – also has a fledgling romantic connection with Jordan.)
Superman, meanwhile, is faced with the challenge of a new, metal-suited opponent, whose surname recalls echoes of other incarnations of the Man of Steel. All this is just enough for the programme to serve up some pleasingly cinematic action – the show is the cousin of The CW’s Supergirl in more ways than one – including one jaw-dropping sequence involving water and a nuclear reactor.
But showrunner Todd Helbing knows to keep his feet on the ground, and each burst of action ties consciously into the thorny web of relationships that unfolds around Superman and Lois, not least of all Dylan Walsh as Lois’ disapproving father, General Lane, who still has suspicion lingering underneath the surface. The result is an often-spectacular adventure that expands the lore of Superman in unexpected new directions, but still has the time to debate ethical dilemmas such as whether Superman should use his super-hearing to listen to his sons at school to make sure they’re OK (spoiler: he shouldn’t). By keeping things rooted in Clark’s imperfect abilities as a parent attempting to do the right thing, Superman and Lois refreshingly lets the Man of Steel above all be human – and that makes Hoechlin’s Caped Crusader not only the definitive small screen Superman, but possibly the definitive modern Superman full stop.
Superman and Lois is available on BBC iPlayer until January 2023