Forget about the particulars of how this series may or may not be building on the Supergirl foundation, and the question of whether Supergirl: Season 5 would have given us a more direct bridge to Superman & Lois had the season not been cut short by the pandemic. What matters is that Hoechlin and Tulloch finally have a place where they can make these characters their own. It’s been obvious since Hoechlin debuted as Kal-El back in the Supergirl: Season 2 premiere that he has the right presence and demeanor to be the Man of Steel. And Tulloch has shown promise in her limited Arrowverse appearances. But neither actor has appeared in Supergirl as often as they really deserve. This spinoff is, if nothing else, a chance for The CW to finally make up for lost time.
Superman & Lois: “Pilot” Gallery
Fittingly, that includes giving both characters a proper, long overdue introduction. The pilot initially takes a step back to briefly trace the course of their shared history together. We get new takes on iconic moments like Kal-El’s space pod crashing in Smallville, Lois and Clark’s first meeting, Superman’s debut in Metropolis, and numerous other victories and defeats along the way. Again, you don’t need to be familiar with these particular incarnations of the characters to be utterly charmed by this montage. It allows the series to set a clear tone for itself right off the bat – one that borrows liberally from the Christopher Reeve era but mixed with the down-to-earth feel of early Smallville and the earnest humor of The Flash. Hoechlin and Tulloch immediately click together in a way they were never quite allowed to do in their sporadic Supergirl appearances.
The series may share a bit of Flash’s DNA, but it’s striking just how little Superman & Lois feels like “another Arrowverse spinoff.” It abandons a lot of the tired tropes that have really started to become grating in shows like Batwoman. There’s no backup team of snarky, attractive tech dorks ready to pitch in, just Clark’s gruff father-in-law, General Sam Lane (Dylan Walsh). It helps that Lois and Clark are themselves established veterans, long past the usual romantic and professional struggles facing the Barry Allens and Kara Danverses of the Arrowverse. Even the look and feel of the world is different, thanks in large part to the rural Smallville setting and the fact that much of the series is shot in Surrey rather than Vancouver. That gives the show a more warmly lit and spacious quality.
That all being said, this is The CW, and there’s always a quota of handsome, brooding teens that need to be filled. Superman & Lois stands apart from all other versions of the Superman mythos in that it features this Dynamic Duo trying to raise twin teenage sons. The idea of Lois and Clark being parents isn’t entirely new, as Jon Kent has become a mainstay of the Superman comics since 2015. But in this case, there are both Jon (Jordan Elsass) and Jordan (Alexander Garfin) rounding out Superman’s nuclear family. As the trailer reveals, there’s just one problem – neither son is immediately aware their father is the most powerful and beloved superhero in the world.There’s a lot that could go wrong with this particular wrinkle, but the twin sons’ angle works well enough at this early stage. It allows the show to become a sort of reverse Smallville, with Clark himself now acting as the mentor to sons just beginning to come to terms with their true places in the world. Elsass and Garfin make strong first impressions in the premiere. While initially, they seem pigeon-holed into opposing roles – Jon as the popular jock and Jordan as the brainy, awkward loner – by the end the characters and performances gain enough depth to shake free of those shackles. In general, this episode succeeds in painting most of its main cast with fairly nuanced strokes. That’s especially true for Erik Valdez’s Kyle Cushing, husband to Clark’s old flame Lana Lang (Emmanuelle Chriqui). Early on he comes across as a stereotypical small-town guy who’s jealous of the fancy city slicker who used to date his wife, but Kyle pretty quickly develops new layers and even becomes downright likable. For a show as concerned with reflecting the bleak social and economic realities facing families in 2021, Kyle winds up becoming a very necessary counterpoint to the Kent/Lane family.
It’s fortunate the characters themselves avoid devolving into stereotypes and tropes, because the actual plot of the premiere episode is disappointingly straightforward. It’s tasked with establishing the series’ status quo above all else, and viewers will probably see most of the plot twists and reveals coming a mile away. There is a new enemy in the form of The Stranger (Wolé Parks), an armored Superman hater who pops up whenever the episode needs some action to break up the family drama. The predictable plot is a bit of a letdown, but this is a pilot episode, after all. And to be fair, the scenes with The Stranger do have their benefits. For one thing, the quality of the visual effects in these scenes is better than average for the Arrowverse. That’s encouraging, given that past Arrowverse crossovers have never done a great job depicting the Man of Steel in action. Though it remains to be seen if that standard will continue beyond the pilot, on which The CW clearly spent a good deal of money.
The other benefit of this new villain is that The Stranger does become a more compelling figure once more information is revealed about their background and motivations. Much like how those early Harrison Wells stingers really set the tone for The Flash: Season 1, what we learn about The Stranger is enough to give a much better sense of what this series is truly about and how the family angle will intertwine with the superhuman side of Clark’s life.