I’m just going to come right out and say it. There are a lot of #DCTV shows on the air right now.
Now, this isn’t a bad thing. There’s a lot of variety within them and having so much #DCTV on the air these past few years has led to some of the best, most creative comic-inspired storytelling we’ve ever seen on the small screen. But in spite of this, I think we can all agree that it’s a lot to keep up with, particularly for anyone who’s trying to follow them all.
So, why would we want to add yet another #DCTV show to an already packed slate, especially another Superman prequel? Well, aside from the fact that Superman is one of the best characters in history and we’re celebrating his 80th anniversary this year, the reason is pretty simple. Krypton, which premieres tonight on Syfy, is completely unlike any #DCTV show that you’ve seen before.
Tonally, it’s Unique
Yes, Krypton is a Superman show, but you don’t have to be a Superman fan to enjoy it. In fact, you don’t even need to be a superhero fan. While Krypton has ties to the DC Universe, there’s no crimefighting or superpowers to be seen. Rather, Krypton resides firmly in the sci-fi/fantasy realm—think Game of Thrones or Battlestar Galactica. The series dives into the Kryptonian culture and way of life more than anything we’ve ever seen before, building a world that feels real, interesting and compelling…but also, appropriately, doomed.
The premiere begins with a character being banished (knowing that banishment from Kandor essentially means death) for speaking out about an incoming threat that’s at odds with Krypton’s theocratic beliefs. We’ve seen similar events in other stories about Krypton before, and here it both reassures us that the creative team understands the material they’re about to delve into and sets a serious tone right from the start.
Speaking of which, anyone who feels like DC’s shows could stand to take themselves a little more seriously will absolutely love Krypton. It’s easily the most serious of the #DCTV shows on the air. The stakes here are dangerous and feel real, the relationships are subtle and complex and the villains are truly frightening. That’s not to say it’s humorless. There are some great moments, particularly in the second episode, that result in genuine laughs. But nothing here is over the top or juvenile. In fact…
It’s the Most Adult #DCTV Show We’ve Seen
Krypton is the first DC show to air on a cable network (at 10 pm, no less), and it seems to take full advantage of the more relaxed restrictions. The politics, intrigue and schemes are pretty complex, with all kinds of parallels to be drawn to both our current world and historical one. (Science versus religion and tradition seems to be a dominant theme in the early episodes, as does class inequality.) There are very few pure villains and our heroes all possess plenty of flaws. Like the aforementioned Game of Thrones and Battlestar Galactica, there’s plenty of grey here.
There’s also sex, violence and occasional swearing. (How, exactly, do you say the s-word in Kryptonian?) Nothing on the show goes beyond PG-13 standards, but it’s certainly more than you may be accustomed to seeing on DC’s CW shows. In short, if you’re used to watching #DCTV with your kids, this may be one to watch after they’ve gone to bed.
It Looks Amazing
For all its flaws as a civilization, you’re going to want to visit Krypton because it looks absolutely breathtaking. While it’s true that like much sci-fi and fantasy television, many of Krypton’s scenes take place inside rooms and halls, I was pretty amazed at how many are shot in the streets of Kandor or in the cockpits of ships. There are A LOT of effects shots in this show, and the team behind Krypton’s post production pulls them off impressively.
The same can be said about the show’s sets. Clearly the production and art designers did their homework because Krypton looks and feels like it’s leapt off the page, while also featuring several locations that seem to be the invention of the writers. Honestly, I don’t know if they are of if they’re from the comics—that’s how seamless everything is.
But the biggest praise here is reserved for Brainiac, who looks phenomenal. His presence is extremely limited in Krypton’s earlier episodes, but he’s very much a part of the show and the glimpses we do get of him do not disappoint. He’s absolutely terrifying and without a Superman to defeat him, represents an apocalyptic-level threat. We’ve seen Brainiac in animation and videogames before, and we’ve seen a variation of him on Smallville and in Superman III, but this is the first time we’ve seen him in live action as he exists on the page. He’s been a standout in trailers, and he’s even more of a standout on the show itself.
It’ll Change How You View Some Classic Characters
The obvious example of this is Adam Strange, who gets a modern reinvention that still manages to stay true to his Zeta Beam roots. Strange isn’t a particularly well-known DC character outside the DC Comics faithful, but Krypton has a good chance at changing that. Actor Shaun Sipos injects both desperation and humor into the character, and has a natural chemistry with Cameron Cuffe and Rasmus Hardiker, who play lead character Seg-El and his friend Kem.
However, I found myself surprised at how much I’m gravitating toward the Zods. Embodied primarily by two women—Alura Zod and her daughter Lyta—the Zods may have one of the most interesting, exciting relationships on the show. Alura is the embodiment of tough love, teaching her daughter a brutal public lesson in combat in the series premiere, only to let her commanding officer façade slip just slightly in the next episode when Lyta challenges a callous, skilled squad leader to a ritual fight to the death. Two episodes in and I’m cheering for Lyta and Alura almost as much as Seg-El, and that’s completely removed from the fact that Lyta and Seg are also romantically involved, despite both being promised to others.
It’s intriguing, exciting stuff.
There are other characters you may find yourself viewing with a slightly different lens after Krypton—the Kryptonian god, Rao, comes to mind—which is much of the fun of a prequel. But perhaps the biggest reason that Krypton is different from any other #DCTV show that’s come before is…
It’s a Superhero Prequel that Doesn’t Feel Like a Prequel
Yes, it’s a prequel, and yes, Superman is a core part of the show. The score even makes reference to John Williams’ iconic theme at one point. But it doesn’t feel like a show about Superman to me. It feels like a show about a young man living within an oppressive society trying to find justice for his family by bringing the truth to light. The stakes are as high as it gets—it’s not just his family name that’s on the line here, but his world’s very existence along with the life of our world’s greatest hero. While other prequels seem to nod regularly at the stories that come after it, this one is more interested in getting us invested in these characters.
Yet, Superman fans are likely to love it even without the presence of Kal-El since everything feels so vital to him. We know who Brainiac is and what he’s capable of, we know what the Phantom Zone is, and we know so much of what Superman must deal with in his lifetime has its roots here on Krypton. The ties to the Man of Steel’s life are all there, the show just isn’t dependent on them.
Krypton is the second #DCTV show to debut this year and the tenth live action #DCTV show currently on air. Yet it feels so distinctly different from all the other shows out there that I’m eager to see where this recent DC small screen expansion may take us next. Looks like I’m going to need a bigger DVR.
Krypton debuts tonight at 10 p.m. (9 p.m. CST) on Syfy.