Editor’s Note (02/24/2021): A prior version of this review mentioned the character of Ron Troupe, who was named in the screener sent to journalists. In the final aired version, the character went by the name of Whit.
Surprising nobody that reads my work, I’m a massive Superman fan. Superman, his family, and his supporting characters are all extremely near and dear to my heart. When Tyler Hoechlin made his first appearance as Superman in Season Two of Supergirl, I immediately fell in love with his portrayal of both Superman and Clark Kent. It wasn’t long before I was clamoring for him to get his own spin-off, and now several years later, he finally is in Superman & Lois. Sadly, it also coincides with Supergirl ending, but at least I’ll still have somewhere to go to watch versions of the Superman family that I really enjoy.
Superman & Lois (Season 1)
Lee Toland Krieger (director), Greg Berlanti and Todd Helbing (writers)
Emmanuelle Chriqui, Jordan Elsass, Alex Garfin, Tyler Hoechlin, Katrina Kwan, Inde Navarrette, Julie Nolin, Joselyn Picard, Adam Rayner, Elizabeth Tulloch, Erik Valdez, Dylan Walsh (cast)
February 23, 2021
Before we talk about how I feel about this episode overall, it’s important to address the elephant in the room regarding the show. In November, writer Nadria Tucker tweeted that she had been told that her contract on the show was not being extended and that her services would no longer be needed. She linked this to her fighting for better representation of Black people and women on the show. (The CW has not commented on these allegations.) Among the claims that Tucker made was that she repeatedly tried to shoot down jokes about #MeToo and that she fought for Black characters to show up on the screen as something other than villains. The first issue doesn’t raise its head in the pilot — though there is definitely a moment where consent should have been asked by one of the Kent kids before kissing a girl he barely knows.
The second, however, is something much more prevalent and more than a little insidious. In an early scene in the double-length pilot, we see the staff at the Daily Planet. A big problem here is that in the early screener sent to journalists, there was a white man referred to as Troupe, which raised alarm bells with me. Ron Troupe is a long-time Daily Planet staffer who was introduced in the 1990s. Ron Troupe in the comics is a Black man, and it’s been an integral part of many of the comic book subplots that he is a Black journalist in Metropolis. Though it’s just a small cameo, it’s still something that shouldn’t have happened. When the final version of the episode aired on TV though, the character’s name changed to Whit, a reference to a different 1990s Superman supporting cast mainstay.
In addition, two of the only Black characters in the episode are framed as antagonists (or even villains). Sarah’s jealous boyfriend who starts a fight after Jordan kisses her is Black, and he gets framed in an unfriendly light amid a sea of white faces. The other character is the mysterious Stranger, who looks to be the primary antagonist of the season. Having these be two negatively painted characters be the only Black characters seen in the episode is really disheartening.
There are a handful of other problems too, but none as disrupting as the ones above. I don’t love that Superman has such a beck and call relationship with the U.S. military, for one. “Truth, Justice, and the American Way” doesn’t mean being on the government’s leash, and I hope that’s something that gets less and less pronounced as the season goes on. I also don’t understand how Superman is seen to be the be-all-end-all hero of this world when it’s canonically one with many heroes, including Supergirl. The pilot really makes it seem like Clark is the lone hero on the planet and that’s a little frustrating at times.
That’s not to say I didn’t love the episode, because I really and truly did. The problems, both major and minor, did not distract from my enjoyment. In part, it feels like this show was made explicitly with me in mind. Many of the subtle references and plot threads it seems to be pulling on call back to the Superman books of the early 1990s when I was just starting to read comics. Managing Editor Sam Foswell running the Planet is something that all Superman fans of that era will instantly remember, and it will instantly give them bad vibes (with good reason).
The fact that the pilot does pull so many things from that era makes another choice that the show makes all the more baffling. As Lois, Clark, and the boys return to Smallville, they have an unpleasant conversation with Clark’s childhood friend Kyle Kushing. Kyle is written very well, and could very well be any number of my own high school classmates that never left South Dakota. His rhetoric is familiar to me, if not a little bit aggravating because it is so familiar. He’s the white person from rural Kansas that every newspaper has run profiles on for the last five years. That said, the character of Kyle Kushing is one made whole cloth for the show. And while that’s not a terrible thing, it’s bizarre when a mostly unknown existing character could have filled that role. Kenny Braverman could be a perfect example of the same mindset; throw in some jealousy of Clark, and you have the perfect use of that character.
I also love the way this show is handling Clark’s problems with parenting. It humanizes him and makes him feel all the more real, putting emphasis on the man and not the Super. All the powers in the world can’t make him a better father, that’s just something he has to put work into. The addition of a second son who is the opposite of Jon makes for compelling storytelling, and a good bit of family drama. The show also seems to be handling mental health with a fairly deft hand, but as this is only the first episode, let’s hope that it remains this well-handled.
In the end, for all its faults, the pilot of Superman & Lois was still able to capture the heart of the characters, and with characters as iconic as these, that’s important. I hope there will be a course correction based on Tucker’s claims about the writer’s room and showrunners, and I hope that the flaws and problematic elements of the show do get ironed out. Because really, this is a Superman show that I — and likely many other fans — have been waiting for for a very long time.