While Superman & Lois flies its red-caped mass onto our screens, it’s easy to forget the shows that paved the way for its existence. And no, I’m not just talking about Smallville or the previous Arrowverse shows. At this point, the influence those shows have on modern superhero television goes without saying. No, I’m talking about something else entirely. Come with me, if you will, back to the ’90s. Mullets were in. Wearing denim jackets and jeans together was socially acceptable. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air introduced a little-known actor called Will Smith to the masses. Oh, and there was also a new Superman show primarily targeted towards a female audience – and it had Susan Meyer from Desperate Housewives in it!
Superman for the Ladies
When you look at the audiences for superhero movies and TV shows nowadays, it’s hardly mind-blowing to think women are among their number. USA Today reported in 2015 that Arrowverse show Supergirl had women make up almost half the show’s viewership. The lowest female viewing percentage for the Arrowverse shows was 40% for the Flash. Therefore, it’s clear that women like a good bit of superhero action in the same vein as us dudes.
But this is the 21st century. If we rewind our clocks to the early ’90s, female audiences didn’t really make up a great deal of superhero media viewership. Thus, Warner Bros. Television hired TV writer Deborah Joy Levine to create a Superman show that did. But the question remained – what would draw female audiences to see a show about Superman of all things?
The answer, it turns out, was relationships. “This originally began as a Tuesday or Wednesday show for 10 p.m., so relationship, relationship, relationship was the important thing,” said President of Warner Bros. Television Leslie Moonves in a September 1994 Los Angeles Times piece. And given one of the core recurring elements of the Superman comics is the Man of Steel’s relationship with Lois Lane, the work was already done for Levine at that point. After extensively researching the character via her brother’s comic book collection, Levine further fleshed out the world of Lois & Clark until it became the show we know and love today.
The Super-Banter of Lois & Clark
Lois & Clark differed from previous Superman movies and TV shows for centering around the thing in its very title – Lois and Clark. In the show’s first season, more time is spent on Lois Lane and Clark Kent’s relationship than it is on Superman’s ‘new’ adventures. In the pilot, the two reporters are paired together by Daily Planet editor-in-chief Perry White and the chemistry is set in stone from the start. This is aided by the commendable performances of Dean Cain and Teri Hatcher, who play Clark/Superman and Lois Lane respectively.
While the show’s villains and evil schemes were often cheesy and contrived, the relatively grounded budding relationship between Lois and Clark helped steer the ship towards success. The pair would often bicker and banter with one another during their investigations, Clark’s idealistic optimism acting as a clever foil for Lois’ world-weary cynicism. And yet, even as they do so, the pair develop a trust for one another as partners and friends – and eventually lovers (as if that were a surprise).
Despite the obvious ending to their relationship, for the show’s first two seasons, much of the appeal lay in the ‘Will They, Won’t They?” scenario often loved and liberally employed by TV Dramas. The hook was the Lois-Clark-Superman love triangle. Lois was in love with Superman, much to the detriment of Clark, who only created the Superman persona as a means of helping people without compromising his personal life. Much of Clark’s turmoil lies in the fact that he is in love with Lois, but she only sees him as a friend while she loves his later-ego. Yet, due to stereotypical superhero reasons, Clark daren’t tell her his secret lest he put her in danger. However, the fact that Lois can’t put two-and-two together in regards to the two men is often played for laughs and makes up a great deal of the humor on the show.
Grounded in Fantasy
Lois & Clark is quite possibly the first TV show to humanize the Man of Steel and make him relatable for the audience. As already pointed out, Superman’s adventures often take a backseat to Lois & Clark’s budding relationship – especially in Season One. But there are still notable differences between Dean Cain’s Superman and the TV/Movie incarnations that preceded it.
Firstly, here, unlike previous versions, Clark Kent is the real personality and Superman is the disguise. In fact, by the time Clark sets foot in Metropolis in the Pilot, he is aged twenty-seven and doesn’t invent Superman until the end of the whole two-parter episode. In previous on-screen appearances, Clark Kent was often just a cover for Superman as per the early comics, a way for him to access news from all over the world so he could save more people.
Now, while L&C’s Clark certainly retains the superhero’s desire to save those in trouble, his motivations for being a journalist aren’t merely for that reason. Here, Clark is seen liking his job and has reported abroad before taking on his iconic role at the Daily Planet. A laidback everyman, Clark is also socially competent and well-liked by his colleagues. This is a huge difference from Christopher Reeve’s version in the 70’s/80’s Superman films, which was merely a clumsy, awkward ruse designed to distance himself from his real identity as Superman.
Of course, having a more competent Clark was required to make the Lois and Clark relationship more feasible. This Clark had to be more grounded and relatable as well as able to trade witty repartee with Lois Lane. It was a characterization that had become standard issue for the comics since the 1987 John Byrne reboot. In fact, Byrne himself visited the set and complimented Cain on his portrayal of Clark.
Since Lois & Clark’s Clark hit screens, the character has consistently been portrayed in media as a more three-dimensional human character as opposed to the nerdy stereotype of previous Superman media. The influence can be seen in such shows as Smallville and even in the upcoming Superman & Lois.
Lois & Clark is Cheesy to the Bone
A problem often cited with Lois & Clark is its cheesiness. And when you watch the show, it’s easy to see why. The villains in the show are often hammy to the point of ridiculousness and appear more in place in a children’s TV show than an evening drama. Mad scientists wanting to become “the most criminal organization since Intergang” and kids taking a potion that improves their IQs and turns them to crime are just a few of the cheesy, childish plots on offer in the show. Even iconic Superman villain Lex Luthor comes off a bit one-dimensional in his season-long appearance in Season One and his subsequent guest appearances in later seasons. Missing the character’s iconic bald scalp, the corrupt businessman is your stereotypical mustache-twirling villain without the mustache. All in all, Superman’s antagonists rarely receive as much care and development as the man himself and his love interest. This is a shame because Deborah Joy Levine expressed interest in developing Lex Luthor further in the second season before she became unceremoniously fired because the Powers-That-Be replaced her for Season 2.
Another thing that makes the show look silly is the special effects. Now, in this case, it’s not entirely the fault of the show, since CGI technology wasn’t as advanced in the ’90s and superhero shows were hardly popular enough to warrant huge budgets at that time. But looking at Lois & Clark from a modern lens makes some scenes look unintentionally comedic. One example is when Superman & Lois are tackling the villain Metallo and Supes melt his mechanical legs with his heat vision. The mix of Metallo’s army acting and the amateur-looking special effects as Metallo sinks to the ground make it look like a modern-day fan-film.
But Alas, Superman
However, being a product of the ’90s also paradoxically helped give Lois & Clark its charm. In many cases, the show’s penchant for silliness and absurd plots gave us some of the most entertaining Superman-related stories ever put on-screen. From a love pheromone being spread around, making the inhabitants of Metropolis lovelorn and horny, to an episode where the Toyman changes Metropolis’ citizens’ behaviors into little kids via toy rats, there is plenty of fun to be had with the show. You often wonder how absurd it can get next, which can be a refreshing change in a popular culture where superhero shows are now too scared to go too silly lest they not be taken seriously.
When you look at the current slate of superhero shows on television, it’s hard not to see the influence of Lois & Clark. It was the first serialized superhero show targeted towards an adult audience that focused on the relationship of its lead characters, rather than the action. Because, at the end of the day, the relationships between characters are where the heart of any good show is, regardless of what special effects and action it delivers. If you’re looking for some cheesy, but light-hearted superhero fun with a little depth then Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman offers that and will tide you right through until Superman & Lois starts airing.
Have you watched Lois & Clark? Are you going to watch Superman & Lois and if so, how do you think the two shows will compare? Share your thoughts in the comments below.