So, way back when DCU first launched, the literal first thing I did was start watching the Superboy TV series. I was a big fan of it when it came out during my teens, but rights issues kept it from ever being stripped for dauly syndication or running anywhere, as such it has never been on TV anywhere in the US after it’s initial run. And the problems were not worked out until well after the series on DVD fad was at it’s height. So even though DVD’s eventually came out I never got them. So one of the most appealing things to me when DCU launched was to finally get to watch this series again after so many years.
But about midway through season 1 when nostalgia started to lose it’s luster, the original series started to show up, we got more TV and movie content on here, and then we got the more or less full comics library… and I started to go through the series a lot slower.
But last week, after just over a year from when I started I finally finished the 100 episodes of Superboy. So thought for fun I would give everyone my thoughts on this.
First off as some noted here (and apparently in a pannel on DC Daily which I seem to have missed) the early season was not great. I heard it had a micro budget in the beginning and it showed. Now to be fair, syndicated shows at the time were not done on a high budget or with a lot of big names in front of the camera or behind the scenes. So most have not aged well by this point, but Superboy definitely shows it’s age.
The effects are not good, and it was clear they struggled to figure out how to use the half hour format when most action shows have an hour to work with. The decision, likely for budget I would assume, to have Superboy initially face mostly human badguys was puzzling too. I mean, it more or less worked in the 50’s which at the time was the only other Superman series to go by. But bank robbers, terrorist, and people fixing college basketball games never posed any threat to a character so over powered. And while there were some cases of magical or sci-fi elements in some of the stories, especially the latter part of season 1. Mostly it was Superboy facing off against regular people and that didn’t work in most cases. There were some good examples, the one with the Superboy imposter that seemed to be inspired by a similar themed Max Fleisher Superman cartoon was well done, and the three episodes featuring The Alien were good. But as a whole it really plodded along.
Also the puzzling choice of casting for Lex Luthor was baffling. I hate to be mean when judging peoples acting ability, because I sure don’t think I could do better. But for such a big role the guy they cast seemed to really be in over his head. Definitely made the right choice to cast him.
It wasn’t all bad, besides the few episodes I mentioned. While the villains were not real menacing there has recently been a theory that Supervilains are the result of criminals upping their game after Super Heroes show up, sort of a reactionary response to the presence of Super Heroes. (except for Gotham, because no one in that universe can argue the reverse was true). So while I don’t think it was by any means an intnetional choice, the fact he started out facing mostly normal criminals and threats, then over the years of the show more super villain and extrodinary threats slowly surfaced did make a kind of narrative sense.
And while not the best performance, the decision (from what I understand the actor winning out in a battle against the producers) to have Clark Kent be more like Superboy and not the bumbling nerd Clark Kent was known for to most at the time (with the post-Crisis having just started in comics) was a different take on the character. Even now it is kind of weird to see a Clark Kent who was popular on campus and dated regularly. Yeah, that is more how we know Clark Kent now, but at the time it had to be confusing to a lot, although it also at least gave it a different perspective.
Also while it was toned down after season 1. The fact the show was filmed and set in Florida was definitely present in season 1. With things like swamps, ocean side views and the live being more common, right down to the original opening theme. It was weird to see those elements present in a character that is usually associated with small town Kansas in his youth or a huge urban city in his adult years. A college town in Florida was different if nothing else. And in season 1 it was the season where college life and a college setting was used the most, it was toned down in season 2 and all but ignored in the last two years.
Which brings me to after season 1. The one thing most don’t realize who gave the show a try in the beginning… is the show got better. Noticibly better in season 2 and MUCh better in season 3 and 4. In fact it changed so much over it’s run, Superboy in it’s entirety almost feels like three different TV series. Three series with some of the same characters and continuity. But the tone and even setting changed so much over time, it is hard to believe beyond it is the same show if you were to go from episode 1 to the series finale.
Season 2 improved it a lot. They re-cast Superboy with an actor who was more experienced, if not also an unknown and a better actor frankly. He also played Clark as more bumbling and nerdy like how Christopher Reves had played him and allegedly the producers wanted intially. It was a huge contrast though, to the point naritively it made no sense why Lana (or anyone who has known him before at all frankly) didn’t find him suddenly having a completely different personality strange. I mean, did he fake getting hit in the head over the Summer and it changing his personality or something?
They replaced Superboy’s bland Jimmy Olson Clone room mate (yeah, he was T.J. White AKA Perry White’s son. But he was clearly there to fill a Jimmy Olson role) was replaced with Ilan Mitchell-Smith, easily the biggest name to ever be a series regular on the show, who added some more comedy to the show. And Lana became the only regular to survive (and the only actress, if not character, to be a regular in all 4 seasons of the show. Although Clark’s parents as far as I can tell were present in all 4 seasons by the same actors also).
They also did the “changed by plastic surgery” bit to re-cast, which was cliched even then but they got a much better actor to play Lex out of it who lasted the rest of the show in the role, and is easily one of the more memorable parts of the show.
The show leaned into a lighter tone and the stories were much better written and they finally had figured out how to make the half hour format work. They also kicked it up with more super villains with Metallo, Bizarro and Yellow Peri appearing in the show and although most episodes had original villains they leaned more often to sci-fi or fantasy themes so it felt more like a true superhero show. The college aspect was also toned down. It was still set in college but other then as the back drop nothign was ever really done with it compared to season 1 which tried to work it more into the stories.
Season 3 and 4 was where the most drastic changes came. Ilan Mitchell-Smith left the show (although he did come back for one last episode in season 3) and Clark and Lana were given internships at a government agency that investigated unexplained and unusual phenominon. Lana being there made no sense as she was not a journalism major so it was a half baked way to keep her in Clark’s life.
The action took place more in the evening especially in season 3 due I assume to the Batman movies success although they did tone it down some by season 4. And although Lex and some other comic book villains did show up, a lot of the episodes with the Bureau element being how Superboy found threats to fight felt more like something that would be better fit for the X-Files then a superhero show.
It did make the show feel in some ways more like the traditional Superman formula with the new setting. The Bureau was The Daily Planet stand-in, Lana was changed to feel more like a Lois Lane stand in most episodes then the wholesome girl next door she was in season 1 and 2, and Jackson (Clark and Lana’s new boss) was a Perry White stand in. Clark and Lana also were portrayed more as full grown adults where supposedly they were still in collge, as they were interns, other the brief mentions of them being interns or college students (and I mean brief mentions) in a few episodes the show wrote it more like they were just full time employees for the Bureau… I mean 2 years was a hell of a long internship.
Still, it was weird seeing Clark as he was supposed to be an adult despite the Superboy name by the end working in such a different enviornment. While not as obvious it was still set in a city presumably in Florida called Capitol City (and presumably near the same college as it did come up a couple times) and Clark seemed to be set in for a career with them, no real traces of the future Daily Planet reporter remained by the end. I remember watching around season 3 or early season 4 I had come to terms with the fact this was apparently an alternate timeline Superman who made MUCh different career decisions. Even by the end there was no setup for Superboy to go to Metropolis, meet Lois Lane or even change his name to Superman (although would hope sooner or later he stopped calling himself SuperBOY).
The show was weird and changed so much I can imagine to people watching it the first time it would be disorienting, especially binging it. But while it obviously was not amazing or I would have finished it sooner, it had it’s charm. It was not great to start out but unlike most shows that run for 100 episodes or so it improved with time, rather then slowly dip in quality, and was a fun take on Superman that may not have aged perfectly, but still was easy to watch by the end of it’s run.
My advice to anyone who tried it and started from the beginning and gave up… give it a try but check out some season 2 episodes and especially some season 3 and 4 episodes. See where the show is heading.
The fact the show was never stripped to daily syndication for rights reasons and released on DVD so late (and season 1 doing so bad on DVD it was years before the second season came out) has made it kind of the forgotten Superman series. Even thought it was actually a big success when it came out. So it has not built the nostalgic connection other shows on DC Universe have. But especially for Superman fans it is worth checking out, and has way more to offer then it’s unfortunately poorly done early episodes would make you think.