Lois & Clark 2.20 – Individual Responsibility

Before we got started tonight, I gave our son a super-speed recap on some of the changes made between seasons of Lois & Clark, including mentioning that they found a new actor for Jimmy Olsen who was about ten years younger than the first guy. Marie said that our son doesn’t know who Jimmy Olsen is, and I said “He’s seen Jimmy Olsen in the Superman cartoons!”

And our son said “… who is Jimmy Olsen?”

* * *

Lois & Clark made it to a second season, but there was a “Sunday Night Massacre” behind the scenes. The ratings were, predictably, mediocre at best. I enjoyed learning that eight years previously, the same dumb ratings situation had already played out. CBS was ruling Sunday nights at 8 with Murder, She Wrote, and ABC launched an adventure show, MacGyver, while NBC went after the same audience with a show executive-produced by Steven Spielberg, Amazing Stories. And so in 1993, Lois & Clark split the same potential audience with Spielberg’s seaQuest DSV on NBC. L&C ranked in the 40s out of 100-odd shows each week, and seaBore in the 50s.

Neither network blinked, they just tweaked and retooled. ABC wanted the entire writing staff of Lois & Clark replaced. The new team was full of names familiar to anyone who watched adventure shows in the 1990s, and they decided to bring in several villains from the comic books.

This might have worked, but it didn’t. One problem: they chose to chase the “will they / won’t they” crowd first and foremost, emphasizing Lois and Clark’s growing romance, but they moved far, far too quickly. Suddenly they were introducing recurring roadblock boyfriends and girlfriends that viewers and fans loathed, because their relationship had escalated so fast that the writers couldn’t figure any reasonable way to either slow it the hell down or take some time and savor and enjoy those first few fun weeks of dating.

Another problem: almost all of the new villains were terrible. The network didn’t want character actors, they wanted showbiz personalities and sitcom stars, so we got Sherman Helmsley and Bronson Pinchot as the baddies. Metallo? He should be played by someone like Dick Miller. We got Scott Valentine.

The one place where they got the casting of the new villains brilliantly right was with Intergang. Okay, sure, they didn’t do Intergang itself right at all. You know Hydra in the Marvel movies? Intergang should be like Hydra with insanely powerful super-weapons smuggled to Earth through sound-barrier-shattering wormholes from a planet of ultimate evil to run underground clone factories, with Jimmy Olsen, a bunch of street urchins from the Bronx, and Don Rickles investigating it. I tell you, Jack Kirby could write some weird, weird, wonderful comics.

Anyway, the TV Intergang was just a basic organized crime outfit (they didn’t even emphasize the “Wal-Mart is run by evil rich people” angle), but they cast the great Peter Boyle as its boss for just one episode. Intergang was mentioned here and there afterward as a generic mob with informers and assassins, and when they circled back around to Intergang toward the end of season two, Boyle’s character had retired and his son, played by the equally great Bruce Campbell, took his place, and that’s where we come in with this morning’s episode, which was credited as co-written by Grant Rosenberg and Chris Ruppenthal.

Our son retains his youthful worry about his TV heroes, and not knowing what red kryptonite can do to Superman had him hiding behind the sofa immediately. So he missed the delightful revelation that this particular stone makes the Man of Steel incredibly apathetic, and not interested in stopping thieves from robbing the Daily Planet’s payroll delivery. (It was 1995; I didn’t have direct deposit then either.) He said that other than that scene, he enjoyed this one a lot, though I did laugh more than he did. The scenes where Superman is filling out paperwork in a psychiatrist’s office, and then lying back in her office to talk about why he’s so stressed that he’s started letting criminals escape are hilarious. The psychiatrist is played by Barbara Bosson, with the huge-framed eyeglasses common to the period (guilty).

But Bruce Campbell comes close to stealing the show, mixing marketing with malevolence with his captive, Perry White, and pleased beyond words that red kryptonite has such a convenient effect on the good guy. “That was the problem with that green kryptonite, it always ticked him off!” They really, really should have done more with Boyle and Campbell. They got one episode together in the following season and that was it for Intergang. Every minute they spent on other villains this year was a wasted minute.

But next season they came up with a very good one. I’ll tell you who on Monday.