Have we ever needed a new Superman TV show more than we do right now?
Think about it. After the year we’ve just had and the pandemic we’re still in the middle of, what we need more than anything is something to bring us hope. Well, Superman has that in buckets. It’s kind of his whole thing.
I was about twenty minutes into watching the first episode of Superman & Lois when I realized that I was hugging my empty tea mug. Seeing Kal-El back on screen in a montage ripe with moments that feel both human and aspirational, I realized how long it’s been since I’ve thought of people as possessing the ability to deeply help others. Along with being the right thing to do, it’s also the single best way to cut through the cynicism that now weighs heavily on our society. I thought about this and realized that I wanted—no, needed to hug someone and my mug was the closest thing at hand.
Superman & Lois is a breathtakingly hopeful show. It’s Superman as so many of us see him—an outsider who having been raised as a human understands better than anyone how great our potential is. Knowing that, it makes perfect sense that Superman—both in Superman & Lois, but also in his current comic books—would choose to become a father. The biggest impact any of us can have on the world is in the lives we help shape that live on after us. Apparently, that’s true for the Man of Steel as well.
Still, I’ll admit that when I first heard the premise of Superman & Lois, I was a bit skeptical. We’ve gotten Superman as a crimefighter (The Adventures of Superman), Superman as a dual-life romantic (Lois and Clark) and Superman before he was actually Superman (Smallville), but we haven’t gotten the true cosmic-level Man of Steel on TV except in the realm of animation. Do we need another Superman show set in Smallville and focused, at least in part, on Clark and Lois’s challenges with raising their two sons? Why can’t it just be Superman…in Metropolis…working at the Daily Planet…and fighting super-villains like Brainiac and Zod?
The reason for Superman & Lois taking a different approach becomes clear pretty early on. It’s no secret that not much presents a challenge to Kal-El. Finding effective, interesting adversaries for him has often been difficult since Superman can handle pretty much everything you throw at him. While there’s a comfort in that which works well for a two-hour popcorn movie, it becomes boringly repetitive in a serialized medium like TV (or, for that matter, comic books). We want our TV heroes to fail at times because we want to see if they can get back up, and TV, with the benefit of its longer runtime, has the ability to draw the whole process out as much as they’d like.
It’s by no way impossible, but that’s pretty hard to do with Superman. The guy may lose some battles, but you know just by his very nature he’s going to get back up. He’s not ever going to stop fighting for his adoptive home—if he did, he wouldn’t be Superman. But one area where Kal-El’s no more gifted than you or I is in the unpredictable business of parenting. When your teenage son starts withdrawing from you and becoming distant, that’s not something you can fix with heat vision or freeze breath. If he gets in a fight or starts having trouble with his grades, Superman can’t really swoop in and save the day. Only Clark Kent can, and he’s just as uncomfortable and bad at it as we all are.
It helps that Clark and Lois’s two sons, Jonathan and Jordan, are pretty unique and interesting characters in their own right. Jonathan is over-achieving, popular and his high school’s star athlete, while Jordan struggles in school and suffers from social anxiety disorder. On the surface those may seem like basic tropes, but I found the bond between the two brothers, despite their differences, to be surprisingly refreshing. Yes, they bicker every now and then, but they also clearly have each other’s backs. Still, the very real differences between them promise to become even more exacerbated as the series goes on, particularly after Clark tells them that he’s Superman. After all, it’s unclear if he may have passed any of his abilities on to them, and if he has, there’s no guarantee that both of his sons got them. How do you feel if you’re the son who didn’t?
To be clear, Superman & Lois is not just a family drama, and even when it is, it’s not a typical one. There’s plenty of action, quite a few surprises and mysteries, and yes, super-villains. If you want to see Superman being Superman, or Lois Lane being Lois Lane for that matter, Superman & Lois doesn’t disappoint. But by giving the show that element of unpredictability, it not only sets this Superman on a unique new path, but also makes him the most relatable onscreen Man of Steel we’ve ever gotten.
Tim Beedle covers movies, TV and comics for DCComics.com, writes our monthly Superman column, "Super Here For...", and is a regular contributor to the Couch Club, our weekly television column. Follow him on Twitter at @Tim_Beedle.
NOTE: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of Tim Beedle and do not necessarily reflect those of DC Entertainment or Warner Bros.