Thursday, May 19, 2005

Why Keep Watching A Show You Love To Bash?

Sometimes I think that I'm too uncritical to try to write TV criticism. You may have noticed that many of my reviews have been complimentary. Part of the reason is that so far most of the shows I've reviewed have been shows that I watch regularly anyway and if I watch them I usually like them. Come the Summer Season I expect to be sampling a lot of new shows, many of which I probably won't like. I'm easing into this criticism thing.

What got me thinking about all of this is Smallville. I like Smallville mainly as light entertainment and because I'm a long term Superman fan. I enjoy the show. While it's not Shakespeare - or even ER - that's not what I'm looking to it for. But if you spend any amount of time on the newsgroup you would think that most episodes are the biggest steaming pile of manure ever. One can imagine most of the people who post to the group channelling the Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons: "Worst. Episode. Ever. I shall write an indignant post to the newsgroup immediately." And yet when you ask these people how they would improve it the answers are usually to kill off Lana (because Kristin Kreuk is supposedly a lousy actress, and also is Eurasian while Lana Lang isn't), have Clark hook up with Chloe because she's the one he's meant to be with, and have Lex turn evil NOW. Oh yes and there's the guys who say that Clark should look deep into Lex's eyes and say "Take me now you bald headed stallion" but we don't pay too much attention them. The point is that they don't seem to have much in the way of concrete explanations of what makes an episode bad. They seem to want a restoration of some sort of "golden age" of the series that apparently existed in in the first season or something. I'm not saying that every episode of Smallville is good, but in my opinion it's not always as bad as the people posting on the newsgroup seem to think.

Wednesday's 80 minute season finale (there was a 10 minute preview of Batman Begins which looks pretty spectacular) wound up the season long "stones of power" arc in a spectacular fashion. The premise was that there were three Kryptonian "elements" that contained the knowledge of the galaxy. When united that knowledge would be transferred to Kal-el (aka Clark Kent). When Lana used one of the elements to stab her ex-boyfriend's mother, Genevieve Teague, to death (in self-defence - Genevieve was trying to strangle her) it triggered a major catastrophe, a major meteor shower headed right for Smallville, or more accurately right for Clark Kent. The voice of Jor-el appeared and castigated his son for not recovering all the elements and informed him that if he didn't a catastrophe would occur that would not only destroy him but also wipe out the earth. Lana seeks refuge with Lex, who knows she has one of the elements and wants to put into safekeeping (because it was the weapon that killed Genevieve - he says). So does she, but here idea of safekeeping is to hand it to the one person she truly trusts - Clark Kent. Lionel Luthor, Lex's father, has the third element, having gotten it from Genevieve who killed Bridget Crosby (assistant to Clark's mentor Dr. Swann) for it. When the second element is added to the first, it sends out a wave of energy that in essence puts Lionel in a coma. As everyone is set to evacuate Smallville, Clark heads for Lex's mansion to get the element which is in his safe, only to be felled by three idols with Kryptonite eyes. He's saved by Chloe(who learned about his powers earlier this season) and manages to get the third element back to the others even as the meteors are hitting Smallville (one goes through his home where his parents are in a fight with Genevieve's son Jason). Lex, who has given in to his dark side, hauls Chloe to the caves where Clark is uniting the elements just in time to get caught in an energy wave that knocks them both out and transports Clark to someplace where there's lots of snow (supposedly one of the poles, but in all likelihood Whistler B.C.). As Lana crawls out of the wreckage of the helicopter that was taking her to Metropolis to discover a crashed spaceship, Clark hurls the now united elements into the air .... at which point we're informed that the story is continued next season.

The season finale of Smallville isn't a typical episode, but it does serve to illustrate a point. So far at least the people on the newsgroup aren't complaining about the acting of Kreuk or Welling (sorry, spoke too soon). In my mind this seems to indicate that such faults as there may be - and these faults tend to be expressed by the fanboys in the newsgroup - lie not solely with the actors but with the way the parts are written. Are there problems with the writing? Yes. There are plot holes that you could drive a tanker truck through - which in fact was one of the big holes in last night's episode; how does a tanker full of fuel end up driving alone down a road in an area where a military evacuation has been ordered - but just about every TV drama has plot holes. There are nit pickers who seem determined to find all the technological errors and law enforcement faults they can in every episode of every series of CSI but that doesn't make it a bad show. The repetition of certain elements, the most egregious of which is the Kryptonite spawned "Freak of the Week" is a problem that the writers have, but remember how many episodes of Buffy The Vampire Slayer were disconnected from the main story arc and involved Buffy encountering the freaky Monster of the Week. Now I'm not comparing Smallville with Buffy but there are elements of that show in Smallville in the same way that there are elements of Roswell in it (the alien among us must keep his identity hidden from everyone lest he endangers the ones he loves and is subjected to government experiments). Buffy was in many ways a much deeper show. On the other hand, stripped of the "Superman" mythos - including the extraordinary powers - Smallville becomes a typical WB teen-angst series, with enough romantic triangles and quadrangles to drive sane men mad. But of course it is the "Superman" mythos that sold the show and I suppose it's why the fanboys keep watching a show that, by their comments, they clearly don't like. That's what I just don't get - if you think so little of most of the episodes don't watch it; if enough people agree with you it will go off the air and you'll be out of your misery, and more to the point, out of mine. But maybe I'm just not critical enough.

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