How 'Superman And Lois' Became Our Best Modern Superman
It's nuts that it has been 42 years since we've had a Superman movie whose critical reception didn't consist of exasperated sighs at best or angry nerd screeching at worst. There's just something about Superman that makes him exceptionally hard to adapt on film without crapping the bed in some way or another. But that's film; TV is a whole other beast. While we've been sitting here waiting for a Superman movie that's good at something other than inspiring a million internet flame wars, CW's Superman & Lois show has quietly reinvented the Man of Steel by not reinventing him and just sticking to what made him work in the first place. (A revolutionary concept no one else had thought of, apparently.)
A major issue in live-action Superman adaptations is that they seem ashamed of Superman. Smallville thought showing a blue blur on screen was more acceptable than letting Clark Kent put on his dang costume, while Zack Snyder's Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice decided that the only way we'd all believe a man can fly is if he's conflicted about saving people and, oh yeah, kills a bunch of them. Superman Returns and Justice League came the closest to depicting the idealistic Superman from the comics, which is ... not a good state of affairs. Even those felt the need to complicate the character in some very un-Superman-esque ways, like by making him a creepy stalker or giving him an inexplicable case of post-resurrection psychosis.
Keep in mind that when we say that there hasn't been a truly good cinematic Superman this century, we're not talking about the quality of the acting. Tom Welling, Brandon Routh, and king of nerds Henry Cavill did a great job with the material they were provided (even if, obviously, they couldn't hold a candle to Nicolas Cage's glorious Superman test footage). No, what makes the difference here is the writing.
Superman & Lois's writing is refreshing because it lets Superman be his own uncomplicated self -- the complications come from external factors, like having to raise a hormonal superpowered 15-year-old, and in seeing how such a massively idealistic character deals with them. Superman's conviction in saving people and being Superman is never in question. Lois Lane is the conflicted one in the relationship: the show depicts her as a loving mother who can be way too harsh on her kids and doesn't always do the right thing. That's why Superman loves her: she's complex, flawed, and deeply human, something he can never be. Or should never be, anyway.
Also, while we already praised the other actors, it helps that actor Tyler Hoechlin can play a convincing dork better than anyone since Christopher Reeve. Look at this freaking dweeb (who could punch us into the stratosphere).
Top image: Warner Bros. Television