In today's post, we delve into the plot and story arc features that have allowed Smallville to continue without the dreaded "Jump the Shark" moments faced by other long-running series. (If you don't know what "Jump the Shark" means, check out the website by that name. The concept is explained there and numerous examples are given.)
After five or six years, many shows allow their actors to “spread their wings” by writing “special” episodes featuring extended dream sequences, or “not to be counted” musical forays. The chief offender in this area would have to be Star Trek, The Next Generation with their infamous holodeck. Actors getting bored setting their phasers on stun and beaming up? No problem, just haul their pretentious asses into the holodeck to be Sherlock Holmes, or Shakespeare or some fucking thing… This behavior is pretentious and distracting to real fans of any show. Like anything else, this can be OK in MODERATION. By my count, Smallville has only done it two or three times. (Film-noir sequence with Jimmy Olsen, a Buffy Rip-off, and a flashback sequence with the actors playing their own distant relatives in the past.) In all of these cases, the writers did NOT completely abandon the central plot line. Point being, two or three times in seven years is quaint and cute, every other week is pretentious bullshit.
The recent trend in comic book adaptations (and, indeed, comics themselves) is DARK TONE. No one has fun in these things. The rebirth of Batman and the Hulk movies are excellent examples of this. Tortured heroes and anti-heroes, sociopathic villains, and meaningless violent encounters are the order of the day. Smallville avoids this by balancing the seriousness of Clark’s overall destiny with 1970’s campiness without over-the-top silliness (most of the time). The self-effacing humor often rears itself in minor plot points and dialog (much of it from Chloe, the series cliché-machine).
- The teenage Clark Kent has not learned how to fly yet, and is, get this, afraid of heights.
- When asked what he sees himself doing in five years, High School Clark, referring to the business life, says “NOT something that involves wearing a suit and flying around all over…”
- Clark’s heat vision was a puberty-onset reaction to horny-ness. (Thanks, Lana)
- Chloe and others at various times use the phrases, “Man of Steel”, “Faster than a speeding bullet” , and “Fortress of Solitude” (referring at first, to his loft in the Kent’s barn)
- Clark and Lois dislike each-other quite a bit at first. (Very Moonlighting-esque)
Speaking of romance, a major story arc is the Clark-and-Lana on and off relationship thing. This can be a major pain in the ass for longer series (Right, Ross and Rachel?) Smallville avoids getting REALLY annoying about this in a number of ways. First, you KNOW that they will NOT end up together in the long term. (believe it or not, this makes the little dramas more fun, not less). Second, once they are out of high school, there is a triangle featuring Lex, and finally, the show acknowledges the annoying, angsty love stuff at times by having Chloe or Lois bust in and tell Lana or Clark to “Just Deal With It and move on”… you know, what you’ve been screaming at the screen for 10 years of Friends…
Another plot plus has been avoidance of the Jump-The-Shark moments. These are usually characterized as a major character dying or departing, a REALLY dumb plot twist or digression (we see you hiding over there, Heroes and Lost),or the culmination, or break-up of a featured romance (Moonlighting Syndrome). As far as departures, the biggest so far has probably been the death of Jonathan Kent (Clark’s dad). Unlike other departures in other series, (MASH, ER, Dallas, NYPD Blue, etc.) this was not a contrivance to cover up an actor dispute, but a pre-ordained plot point. EVERYONE who cares knows that Supe’s adopted Dad dies of a heart attack sometime in Clark’s early 20s. It ties into the whole “you can’t save everyone” thing. Other characters have been in and out, but realistically so (Lois, who is Chloe’s cousin, does not work at the Planet until season 6, so she was free to disappear for weeks at a time, and really, Pete was just an annoying bitch anyway.) You know that any guest character who learns of Clark’s secret is either dead, headed for the loony bin, or off to some exotic corner of the world with no wi-fi access. As far as the romance thing, turns out Clark can’t fuck Lana anyway, because he worries he can’t control the Superdick and will end up shooting her across the county or something. (They do make it in an episode where Lana shares Clark’s powers for a time, with actual earth-shaking results…funny shit.) The plot is furthered when after Lana returns to normal, Clark refuses to fuck her again!
The existence of a known “Future” for many of the main characters keeps the writers honest, while almost forcing them into deep character development. It obviates the use of dumb sweeps-related contrivances without taking away all of the unpredictability. Minor characters can be inflated to fill in time and episodes (Hi, Chloe, Lionel, Martha, Lana) and become major in their own right.
Finally, the series has been able to introduce many of the other super-heroes and villians of the DC/Marvel world, including the Justice League (and, actually explains the formation of the Justice League, which Clark initially declines to join). Green Arrow, the Flash, Cyborg and Aquaman all make appearances. We also see and hear from the major villains of the universe (other than Lex, who, for most of the series, is not a true villain). These include: General Zod, (not specific Zod), Brainiac and Bizarro, among others.
In tomorrow's final installment, we'll review the flaws in the Series, and talk about what the future hols (hint: it ain't great...)