Superman on TV in the Last Three Decades

Even though I watch and enjoy many superhero TV series I cannot really claim to be a comic book geek. I have only superficial knowledge of superheroes and I can count with one hand the number of DC or Marvel comics that I’ve bought. I have always preferred to watch rather than read the adventures of the likes of Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman.

I love to watch Superman in particular. I loved the Christopher Reeve movies (yes, even Superman 3 and 4). Today, I found myself thinking of the different Superman series and spin-offs that have appeared over the last three decades and how they have entertained me in various stages of my life. This article is not intended to be a review of those series but rather a reflection of where I was and what I was doing while they were on air.

Superboy (1988-1992)

I would have loved to have watched this series because the executive producers were Ilya and Alexander Salkind who produced the first three Superman films (though I don’t think the series was connected to the movies). Sadly I never caught it when it was originally aired as I don’t remember it being shown in the UK. The first time I heard of it was in the mid-90s when I was in the Philippines where it was shown on one of the TV channels there. The show explored the character’s college years and heavily featured love interest Lana Lang. Initially played by John Haymes Newton, Clark is portrayed here as more of a “normal guy” rather than the overly nerdy depiction made famous in the films. I have thought about buying the DVDS but they are only available in Region 1 and are quite expensive. Definitely something to keep an eye on.

Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (1993-1997)

Terry Hatcher and Dean Cain played the titular characters respectively in this series. It revolved around the romance between Lois and Clark, which meant that the series’ focus was more on Clark than Superman. I was working for Caritas Manila in the Philippines for most of the series’ run. I watched the show on ABC 5 (now TV5) when it started and I continued to watch in on the BBC when I returned to England, though it was simply called The Adventures of Superman there for some reason. Generally, I enjoyed the series even though it got quite silly towards the end: it was light and bright and didn’t take itself too seriously. There was also great chemistry between the two leads, though I felt that Dean Cain was a better Clark than he was Superman.

Smallville (2001-2011)

This Superman prequel series lasted for 10 seasons. It was the decade when I was heavily focused on my career back in England, had my own flat, and was happily independent. The series tracked Clark Kent’s (Tom Welling) journey from being a farm boy to becoming the world’s most famous superhero. I seem to recall the slogan “No Tights, No Flight” to describe the show which meant that it was never meant to be about Superman or Metropolis – just Clark’s life in Smallville. I loved how they paid tribute to the Superman movies by bringing in actors from those movies including Christopher Reeve himself and Margot Kidder (who had played Lois Lane). If I remember correctly, they even used some of the John Williams music score occasionally, though the series was not set in the same universe. What I did not like, however, was the introduction of characters from the Daily Planet in the latter seasons such as Lois Lane, Perry White and Jimmy Olsen. In the movies and in the comics, Clark did not meet them until he moved to Metropolis. I think introducing these characters were the producers’ way of keeping the show going. It would have been better if Smallville concluded after the fifth season with Clark becoming Superman, and then a sequel series Metropolis was produced. But, from what I hear, Tom Welling never wanted to wear the Superman costume which explains why in the final episode CGI was used to show “him” don the famous costume and fly to save the world.

Supergirl (2014-Present)

Yes, I know this is about Superman’s cousin but it’s still part of the Superman mythology, and Superman has appeared in a few episodes (played by Tyler Hoechlin) much to the delight and approval of fans. I was thrilled when it started to air in 2014 as I needed my Superman fix and it now serves as a welcome distraction from my studies in Rome. Melissa Benoist makes a likeable Supergirl while some of the other casting are nods to previous Superman films and series. Dean Cain (Clark/Superman in Lois and Clark) plays Supergirl’s Earth father and Helen Slater (Supergirl in the 1984 Supergirl film) plays her Earth mother, while Erica Durance (Lois in Smallville) plays her Kryptonian mother. I hope the series continues long after I had left Rome and returned to England.

Krypton (2018-Present)

This started this year on Syfy and is set 200 years before Superman’s birth and the destruction of the planet Krypton. It focuses on Seg-El, Superman’s grandfather who fights to redeem his family’s honour and save his planet from chaos. I have not managed to watch it because I literally do not have the time because of the number of superhero TV series that I am already following. Despite the mainly negative reviews, I hope to watch it in the summer when all the other shows – and my studies in Rome – will have finished.

And soon …

Words have it that there is going to be a series called Metropolis, though it will not be the Smallville sequel that I proposed earlier. The forthcoming Metropolis series will instead be another prequel series, set in a time before Superman relocated from Smallville. The planned show will see dogged reporter Lois Lane investigating meta-human crimes, with assistance from a pre-villain Lex Luthor. It will be shown on the (also) forthcoming streaming service DC Universe.

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