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Hurray! Here's my mini-essay in response to "Neverending Battle."
On finding the show: Amazon's streaming service offers Seasons 1 & 4 for $15 each, but Seasons 2 - 3 are $30 each. $90 is a bit much. But I see the DVDs available: Season 1 for $10, Season 2 for $12, Season 3 for $21 and Season 4 for $12. $55 for all four seasons is pretty reasonable. eBay also offers the DVDs at lower rates than Amazon if you do some hunting."The Neverending Battle":
One of the greatest struggles with writing Superman: he's ridiculously powerful and difficult to antagonize or threaten, especially on a TV budget already straining to depict one superhuman character. Both "The Neverending Battle" and "Strange Visitor" are attempts to figure out how to attack Superman on a weekly basis and both offer great ideas. Villains:
"The Neverending Battle" has Luthor attacking the very concept of Superman; Superman saves people, but Luthor intends to flood Superman's life with counterfeit saves, creating so much junk data Superman won't be able to figure out who's in danger and who isn't. Deborah Joy Levine was asked to create a Superman series as part of her development deal; she saw serious problems with the character and she and her writers approach them with an experimentation and a sincere interest in finding solutions. Luthor has yet to find a way to attack Superman's body, so he turns his malevolence on Superman's spirit.
Tom and Cory definitely enjoyed Luthor's portrayal in this episode. They note that the pogo stick is baffling. It's meant to indicate something about Lex's sex life, which the Pilot also touched upon. A later scene informs us that a cheerleader is waiting on Lex.
They also declared that they would not expect any of Lex's three henchmen to return. One of them actually does! It's Nigel (named Albert in the script), the Englishman. Oh, Nigel. Generalizations:
This episode's strong script has its flaws. In the Pilot, Cory took Levine to task for presenting Chinese food fortune cookies as an authentic part China's cuisine when they were created in Los Angeles and largely absent from restaurants in China. It was a valiant effort stymied by the writer's ignorance and probably a lack of time to conduct research. This wasn't the Internet era when you could Google this stuff.
With "The Neverending Battle," we have Luthor's three henchmen. One is defined as being black, referring to himself as black and indicating that on Planet Levine, all black people are basketball players. One is defined as being a woman who is defined as hating men. One is defined as being British and being aggressively prim and proper. This is an odd instance of malpractice; where Levine took pains to give each character in the Pilot a quirk, she allowed this episode's screenwriter to define two characters by race and gender and the other by accent. God, the 1990s were a tough time.Repetition:
The other massive failing of this episode is an inexplicable inability to trust the audience at a critical point. When Clark is depressed over Luthor having effectively grounded him, Lois tells Clark: "What he can't do -- it doesn't matter. It's the _idea of Superman. Someone to believe in. Someone to build a few hopes around. Whatever he can do -- it's enough."
For some baffling reason, the aired episode proceeds to repeat these previous lines in voiceover for Clark for the benefit of anyone who might have forgotten words that were spoken less than a minute previous. This crushing failure of trust is not in the script; it's clearly been added in the editing stage with no concern for the fact that Teri Hatcher did not deliver her dialogue to work as a disembodied voice and what works coming out of her mouth sounds bizarre as voiceover.
So what we have here is 1990s TV where creators and networks had yet to trust that audiences were sufficiently capable to understand visual storytelling and spoken information without needing to be guided to each and every emotional point. For God's sake.Lois Lane:
Where Lois was unlikable at times in the Pilot, Deborah Joy Levine allows her to be utterly contemptible this week. She steals Clark's story while pretending she's on his side. She struts around the office declaring she and only she should be permitted to write Superman articles. telling Clark he should thank her for having taken advantage of his trust. She attempts to steal a story from Eduardo Friez.
In an interesting contrast to modern shows where anti-social, selfish people tend to be flattered for getting their way, LOIS & CLARK promptly comes down on Lois for her bad behaviour like a ton of bricks, first critically by having Clark look down upon her and then consequentially by deciding to send Lois on a wild goose chase that leaves her covered in sewage and mosquito bites. Throughout this episode, it's only Teri Hatcher's comic timing that keeps Lois from being in any way relatable -- and then in a neat twist reminiscent of Lex in the Pilot, Lois is gracious in defeat and even admires Clark for standing up to her.Clark:
Dean Cain's Superman is no better than in the Pilot. In fact, he's worse. He's given a critical moment of confrontation with Luthor where, in a rage, Superman fires a gun into Luthor's face and catches the bullet just before it strikes. Cain just can't sell the rage here, just as he can't seem to quite connect with Teri Hatcher when playing Superman. I'm supposed to see a godlike figure. I see an actor in a suit he finds uncomfortable with a hairstyle that's not quite right for him delivering dialogue he cannot perform with any conffidence or charisma.
Which makes it all the more strange that Cain's Clark Kent is just superb. From his discomfort during his interrogation to his pranking Lois with exasperation, Cain's Clark is a wellspring of warmth and goodwill. Cain's intense likability easily gets the audience on his side. He has chemistry with every other actor -- his scenes with Lois, Jimmy and Cat are a delight, his fencing with Lois is hilarious.
Most notably, Cain convinces his portraying his frustration with Lois. But it's a low-key, gentle frustration. Cain's Clark doesn't get angry; he gets exasperated -- and when scripted with rage in his scene with Luthor, Cain just can't convince. Cain, from all accounts, is a very gentle, friendly, earnest Clark-like figure. The only difference between the Dean Cain and Clark Kent personas, really, is that Dean Cain had a much more active sex life.
I think what it comes down to is that the Superman suit is not a comfortable set of clothes. Cain is clearly much more at ease in a suit and tie or in his sleeveless casual clothes and with his hair let down. He comes off as an incredibly powerful person who enjoys living among normal people; the clothes give his posture and body language comfort and props to work with, the glasses give him something physical to work with.
A skintight outfit is essentially Dean Cain naked and his performance as Superman has the discomfort of someone who wandered onto a nude beach, stripped and now regrets it. Humour:
Tom remarked when talking about "Strange Visitor" that Superman is barely in this show and that's probably for the best. Tom and Cory also remark that the Lois of the comics in this era had a much harder edge than the frequently goofy, silly character of L&C.
That's simply because LOIS & CLARK is not attempting to be serious adventure fantasy. It's aiming for humour. Curiously, many SUPERMAN comics and films were exceedingly absurd, yet none of them were like LOIS & CLARK because none of them were trying to be a romantic comedy where all the jokes come from character interactions as opposed to extended sequences of farce or bizarre visuals like Superman with a flying dog. Lois is frequently silly, but I have no problem believing that the 90s Lois was silly between panels, silly when we didn't see her.
LOIS & CLARK gives us all the personal, intimate moments between adventures that other comics and films skipped past, like Clark doing his damned laundry or sending Lois on a wild goose chase to a sewage plant. It could easily be cruel; Cain performs it as the outcome of a Superman at his wit's end with Lois and it's hilarious that, as vengeful reprisals go, this is pretty mild.
Next: "Strange Visitor"!