Revisiting Lois & Clark: The New Adventures Of Superman

Lois & Clark: The New Adventures Of Superman was silly, joyful fun. We take a fond look back at the 1990s series...

This article comes from Den of Geek UK.

A flash of red cape, the S sitting proudly on the chest, the warrior of Truth, Justice and the American Way, Superman has always been the most recognisable and iconic of all the superheroes. After many changes on-screen over the years from the All-American hero in the 1978 movie to the recent darker and moodier version, you’d be hard pressed to go anywhere on the planet and find somebody who had never heard of the Man of Steel.

The character has had many faces and been in many decades and settings, but one of the best that deserves a bit more love and a lot more praise is that of Lois & Clark: The New Adventures Of Superman, a show that brought the character to life for a new generation of fans and brought, what I would consider at least, the last truly great version of Clark Kent/Superman to the screen.

Debuting on ABC in 1993, Lois & Clark was a fresh new look at the Superman ethos, focusing on the budding relationship of its two leads while letting Superman deal with the villain of the week. Its mixture of mystery, banter and light-heartedness made it the ultimate show for those who enjoy their heroes with a side of fun.

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And it was fun, silly and fun and often over the top and ridiculous. It popped in glorious bright colours on the screen and it wasn’t ashamed to be garish or celebrate the fact that Superman himself was a symbol of hope, which feels heavily borrowed from the ethos of the original two Superman movies, but pitched just right for the small screen.

Grounded in season-long arcs revolving around the ‘will they, won’t they’ aspect to the leads’ relationship, which felt much like a more modern, more hero-filled version of Moonlighting, each episode focussed on solving a different crime or mystery. Plots themselves were not complicated – you knew the main storyline would get neatly solved by the end and nine times out of ten you could figure out who was ultimately behind the dastardly deeds – but they were just so much fun you didn’t care. Each week was like sitting down with a box of your favourite sweets, predictable but ultimately very satisfying.

But what made this show, and what stands the testament of time are its characters, who embody the best traits of every version there had been up until that point. Starting with the leads, Lois was the ambitious, smart, kind, brave leading lady you wished all shows had. Sure, there were times she needed to be rescued, but she was never just a damsel in distress and did her own fair share of saving Clark/Superman in return (remember Ultra Woman – see below). She led rather than followed and was a force to be reckoned with, holding her own as a total equal alongside Clark/Superman – a feat that could have been extremely difficult given the overarching distraction of the man in the cape. That’s what made the show so wonderful, because even though it’s titled The New Adventures Of Superman, he isn’t really the focus. Instead, it’s Clark Kent we get to really know over its run.

Unlike the previous versions of Clark, who was played as the quiet wallflower who turns attention away from himself, this Clark is confident and isn’t afraid to speak his mind or be the dominant character. The show may about his alter ego but that isn’t who he is, it’s what he does. It’s a total credit to the screenwriters that Clark got the space to be his own man, a well-rounded, interesting character in his own right and not be totally overshadowed by the character of Superman. Even better was that it was Clark and not Superman that Lois finally fell for. When she wasn’t blinded by Superman’s flash, Lois and Clark had an honest to goodness relationship that was a joy to watch. Teri Hatcher as Lois and Dean Cain as Clark encapsulated these beautifully written characters perfectly.

If that wasn’t enough to keep you entertained, the supporting cast were the lynchpins of the series. From Lane Smith’s Elvis-loving Perry White (in my opinion the greatest representation of the character on screen ever) to naive but thankfully not annoying Jimmy Olson and the ever supportive Ma and Pa Kent who although interesting in their own right, serve to make the character of Clark even more human and keep this iconic character grounded in some sort of TV reality.

Villain wise, well the show peaked in season one with John Shea’s cigar-smoking, cobra-staring Lex Luthor (Shea hated the commute between his home in New York and the set in Los Angeles so left after the first season), whose departure left it feeling like Superman never had a proper nemesis to fight. Arguably, this actually helped rather than hindered as it didn’t let the show fall into a hole of the two of them facing off with each other constantly, leaving everything else to be second fiddle.

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And Superman? Well he does what Superman does, saves Metropolis, defeats the baddies, plants flags on the moon… but the show was so much more than that, it was a love letter to characters created all those years ago, brought to life again in the modern world as if they had always been there.

Lois & Clark was unexpectedly cancelled after four seasons, despite the studio having promised at least five, due to declining viewing figures. The final season ended on a forever unresolved cliffhanger.

Yes, if you re-watch it now it looks slightly dated (fashion and technology have come a very long way in the years since) but the characters still shine. In the years since we have seen young Clark on the small screen in Smallville but nothing since has been quite as full of utter joy than Lois & Clark.  

Here’s a pick of five great episodes…

Pilot

Origin stories get a bit of a bad press nowadays so maybe Hollywood could take a few tips from the opening episode of Lois & Clark. Knowing that the audience has some sort of knowledge of the characters it jumps straight into Clark Kent moving to Metropolis, getting a job at The Daily Planet, meeting Lois and officially becoming Superman. Throw in an exploding space rocket and Lex Luthor staring out a Corba (it’s a thing everybody has to see at least once, it is truly magnificent) and you have an exciting, fun and well-paced opener. It could be so easy to get bogged down with character introduction, the re-telling of Clark’s arrival on Earth as a baby and setting up the remainder of the series but the writers really ticked all the right boxes with this episode and instead we got Perry White’s Elvis stories and Clark Kent creating his suit with his mum to the tune of Bonnie Tyler’s Holding Out For A Hero – sheer TV perfection.

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Season Greedings

A great example of how fun this show could be and probably one of the greatest Christmas-themed TV episodes ever, a disgruntled toymaker and his secretary decided to take revenge after losing their jobs, creating a toy which sprays a substance which turns adults into greedy children. Its light-heartedness makes the episode sparkle with pure joy and you can see the cast relishes getting the chance to play off-book for giggles. There are of course the traditional Christmas boxes ticked (toy makers donating toys to orphans, Clark giving up his Christmas to spend it with a lonely Lois) but this is one episode that really  does have that end of school year feel of fun to it. For readers who love useless facts, this episode was written by Superman himself, Dean Cain.

Ultra Woman

After two bank robbers try and make Superman more apathetic with the use of Red Kryptonite and a laser beam to help them on their next job, all they manage to do is transfer his powers to Lois. This turns her into Ultra Woman and with a little help from Ma Kent (honestly how much lycra does one woman have just sitting around the house?) she zips around town doing Superman’s job, realising how hard it actually is to be yourself while also being this hero that saves everybody. The episode of course wraps up neatly with Clark getting his powers back but it also ends with a proposal from Lois. Although not exactly original (a transfer of powers episode seems to come up in most of this genre of shows) it is great to see somebody else wearing the tights and although I probably could have done with a few more episodes featuring Ultra Woman I love that at the end it was Lois who popped the question to Clark, which just enforced that this was a version of the classic story that wasn’t afraid to keep Lois a strong force to be reckoned with and didn’t let her fall into the feeble girlfriend box.

The House Of Luthor

Lois is about to marry Lex, The Daily Planet has been blown up, Superman is trapped in a kryptonite cage under the wedding venue by Lex, Lex jumps off a building, James Earl Jones is in it, what more could you possibly want? A great season ender which pits Superhero against Supervillain, sets up Lois’ feelings for Clark which will run across the next season and JAMES EARL JONES – I mean come on, if you want to watch it for anything it has to be for that fact alone, speaking of great casting…

I Now Pronounce You

Tony Curtis plays a scientist called Mamba who can clone people from frogs, Tony ‘Hollywood Legend’ Curtis. Having worked for Lex Luthor he replaced the President and Members of his secret service, a plot which is easily foiled by our leads. Lex gets out of prison thanks to a pardon written by a froggie president just before Lois and Clark get married (oh yeah that happens in this episode too) but at the end it’s revealed that Lois IS IN FACT A CLONE. This episode is the first of a three parter and it probably does mark when the show finally jumped the shark a bit but frog Lois and Tony Curtis definitely make it an episode to dig out, watch and enjoy for the sheer nuttiness of it all.