NOTE: Some spoilers from throughout the debut season of, “Superman & Lois” are present in this review
The Arrowverse has had a lot of trouble recapturing its former momentum since its mega-crossover event, Crisis on Infinite Earths from late 2019/early 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic certainly hasn’t helped matters, compromising productions across the board, along with currently denying crossover efforts between The CW’s ongoing DC superhero dramas. Even beyond the pandemic however, the Arrowverse’s growing plight feels systemic at this point, being a combination of age, ever-diminishing primetime budgets, and WarnerMedia starting to direct more and more of their DC TV resources to their streaming platform, HBO Max. There’s no easy answer to these problems either, despite the stubborn defiance of veteran DC shows hosted on The CW like The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow and even the fairly recent Batwoman, all of whom have currently refused to surrender DC’s established primetime TV territory, despite DC fans’ and general TV consumers’ attentions being directed more and more toward the Max Original catalogue these days.
As much as CW shows like the aforementioned The Flash and Batwoman are starting to feel like backwards-thinking relics in the modern age of premium streaming TV though, The CW has at least made some effort to adapt to the changing TV landscape. It’s begun plugging the streaming-oriented CW App after almost every promo, for example, and it’s leaned more into higher-budgeted shows with shorter seasons during the Spring months especially, including Stargirl, a transplant from the now-shuttered TV production arm of the DC Universe app, and the recent reboot of Kung Fu that was rescued from rejection at FOX. Another anticipated new series that became part of this streaming-era CW initiative in 2021 is Superman & Lois, the latest addition to the network’s shared Arrowverse franchise, and a successor series to the soon-concluding Supergirl.
Superman & Lois is maintaining its midseason spot this coming season, opting to withhold the premiere of its sophomore season until 2022. That feels appropriate, because Superman & Lois has proven to be arguably The CW’s strongest DC drama in many years. That’s thanks in no small part to its tight storytelling and high production values. It’s hard to believe that this is a series designed for The CW right from its initial pitch in fact, considering that The CW is a network that’s notorious for its dirt-cheap budgets and soapy, teenager-baiting melodrama. Superman & Lois meanwhile is a series that’s blatantly designed to target adults in at least their 30’s, namely by portraying a surprisingly grounded family drama narrative that has more in common with This is Us than the conventional trappings of the DC Universe!
While those coming for the action might be disappointed at just how much time Superman & Lois spends on its family plotlines, it’s also true that Superman & Lois at least remembered to actually have action scenes in most of its Season 1 episodes, something that too much of the Arrowverse seemed to be prevented from featuring this year, likely due to COVID-19 restrictions. You still get the scope and stakes of a proper Superman drama in Superman & Lois, with decent enough primetime TV effects to be plenty passable, if well beneath, say, the modern DC Extended Universe movies. It’s just that the action isn’t the true priority of the storytelling in Superman & Lois, which instead revolves mostly around a fortysomething Clark Kent and Lois Lane moving to Clark’s rustic hometown of Smallville, Kansas, alongside their two teenage sons, twin brothers, Jonathan and Jordan.
Jonathan’s and Jordan’s existence in the Arrowverse is the main consequence of Crisis on Infinite Earths for Clark and Lois, who originally had one infant son in their Pre-Crisis universe of Earth-38, the former setting of Supergirl. In the revised Post-Crisis Earth-Prime universe however, where Supergirl’s events and characters have now been merged into the same world as The CW’s other current DC dramas (Supergirl was originally set on a different Earth because it first aired on CBS during its debut season, if you’re not aware), Clark and Lois have had two children for a while, complete with fresh anxiety over whether they may or may not develop Superman-like powers. Originally, the high-achieving family athlete, Jonathan is suspected to have taken after Clark (the fact that Jonathan inherits all of Superman’s Kryptonian powers in DC Comics lore further fuels this expectation), but in an interesting twist, it’s actually the anxious, unpopular and aggressively introverted Jordan that eventually manifests Kryptonian abilities. That’s only the beginning of Clark’s and Lois’ problems in Smallville however, after they witness the nearly-bankrupt town get set upon by opportunistic business mogul, Morgan Edge, now recast with Adam Rayner in the role on Superman & Lois, after Adrian Pasdar formerly played the Arrowverse’s Edge on Supergirl.
As much as its narrative pacing can be surprisingly relaxed, despite the frequently high stakes, there’s no shortage of threats throughout Superman & Lois’ debut season, both in the form of super-villains, and more down-to-earth problems like money trouble, marriage trouble and teenager trouble. Even the Post-Crisis Multiverse itself eventually descends on Clark and Lois, marking a surprising plot twist for Superman & Lois to carry during its first season! In a brilliant twist that’s very well-paced and executed, a mysterious bald stranger in a Lex-O-Suit, who is originally built up to be a Lex Luthor from a parallel universe that’s hell-bent on eradicating Earth-Prime’s Superman, consistently torments, stalks and provokes both Clark and Lois. In the end though, this character is instead revealed to be John Henry Irons, a.k.a. Steel, a survivor of his ruined Earth that was conquered by an evil Superman doppelganger, an Earth where Irons was married to an alternate Lois, and had a daughter with her. This is a smart, subversive way to establish an initial animosity and eventual partnership between Superman, Lois and Irons in the Arrowverse, especially considering that Irons/Steel is one of Superman’s closest superhero allies in DC Comics lore.
Another impressively big swing that Superman & Lois takes with an established DC character in Season 1 is through Morgan Edge. It probably helps that Edge is apparently one of the least liked Superman villains by most fans, but regardless, the Post-Crisis Arrowverse has given the character a massive makeover, complete with rendering his entire ‘Morgan Edge’ identity a falsehood! Instead, Superman & Lois’ take on this normally human character involves making Edge into an undercover Kryptonian named Tal-Rho, one that was born from Clark’s Kryptonian birth mother, Lara Lor-Van, thus making Tal the biological half-brother of Superman! This is another inspired way that Superman & Lois keeps its family drama alive and well even amid its super-powered threats, though this does beg the question as to how Edge’s character could change so completely after his former Pre-Crisis history on Supergirl.
In fact, as much as Superman & Lois proves to be heartfelt and riveting TV throughout its first season, one of the show’s annoying shortcomings throughout these first episodes is the fact that its relationship with the rest of the Arrowverse is frustratingly ill-defined at this point. This is especially apparent when it comes to Superman & Lois’ repeated and head-scratching failures to acknowledge Supergirl, complete with acting as if Clark’s Kryptonian cousin doesn’t exist in its world, and that the events of her Arrowverse series have no bearing on Clark’s and Lois’ lives, which is obviously impossible to believe. Beyond the expected mentions of Crisis on Infinite Earths, the only direct nod that Superman & Lois gives to its existence in the larger Arrowverse continuity so far is a guest appearance by Arrow’s John Diggle later in the season. This was done as part of a larger CW deal with Diggle actor, David Ramsey, one that saw Ramsey directing episodes across the Arrowverse this season, and making appearances as Diggle on Superman & Lois, Batwoman, The Flash and Supergirl, on top of a separate guest role as historical figure, Bass Reeves on Legends of Tomorrow, all of which served as a consolation prize for the lack of a proper Arrowverse crossover this season. Hey, it’s better than nothing, I suppose!
I can also respect the fact that Superman & Lois wants to establish its own unique identity as a DC series, and not constantly lean on its Arrowverse brethren to solidify its appeal, especially not the dying Supergirl. Fortunately, the show’s relatively grounded family storylines are just as engaging as its actual superhero material. Like I said, Superman & Lois bridges generations very well by examining relatable issues from the perspectives of both the adult leads and their teenage children. Aside from the Kent family, a major plot focus is also placed on the family of Clark’s childhood Smallville sweetheart, Lana Lang, now Lana Lang-Cushing, who is stuck in a strained marriage with Smallville’s fire chief, Kyle Cushing, an abrasive alcoholic who is all too eager to buy into Edge’s false pitch of prosperity for Smallville. The Cushing’s have two daughters, effectively complementing the Kent family’s two sons, and the emotionally troubled elder daughter, Sarah, quickly takes a shine to Jordan, eventually leading to a romantic relationship that helps Jordan gain more confidence amid his growing, unstable powers.
The Kent/Cushing family contrast is a consistent high point throughout the many themes that Superman & Lois explores, balancing an idyllic, wholesome nuclear family (the Kent’s) with a well-meaning, but struggling family that’s rife with mental illness and substance abuse (the Cushing’s). Just as relatable family issues effectively come to the forefront throughout the show’s narrative as well, the professional and academic lives of its lead characters also get explored in a surprisingly unbiased, heartfelt manner. This is especially refreshing for The CW, because, to be frank, The CW has had a bit of a soapbox problem lately. This soapboxing issue has frequently dragged down Supergirl in particular, with its preachy social justice commentary that also comes off as infuriatingly vapid, an unwelcome storytelling priority that also immediately infected the somehow-even-worse Batwoman.
Fortunately, Superman & Lois avoids this kind of faux-woke garbage that’s become all too common throughout The CW’s current lineup. Instead, it examines its themes with a more careful hand, and a more multi-layered perspective. This makes its more grounded dramatic scenarios like small-town gutting, inability to relate to the younger (or older) generation, unwelcome government intervention, gentrification, corporate buyouts, limitations in media, and preying on the desperate for professional gain, go down a lot easier, and feel a lot smarter. As much as it’s still fun to see Superman punch it up with one of Edge’s ‘Subjekts’, namely Smallville citizens that have become possessed with the displaced consciousness of a dead Kryptonian, it can be just as satisfying to see the characters talk and confront the real world like actual adults, not airheaded teenagers in adult bodies, as The CW is more frequently inclined to deliver.
To that end, it’s almost like being part of the Arrowverse subtly embarrasses Superman & Lois, and that’s why it doesn’t want to share the spotlight with increasingly juvenile shows like Supergirl and Batwoman. In its defense though, I can’t blame Superman & Lois for feeling like it’s above the rest of the Arrowverse for now, because honestly, it kind of is. The show’s debut season is a massive breath of fresh air for the flagging Arrowverse of 2021, balancing intelligent, mature-minded family drama with surprisingly well-produced action/superhero material. Commanding a higher budget and much better writing than most of The CW’s usual crop, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Superman & Lois got lost on its way to the Max Original library, but I’m happy that it’s improving The CW’s DC series catalogue just the same.
- Mature-minded family drama that's full of heart
- Exciting, unpredictable antagonists
- Surprisingly high production values throughout
- Inexplicably refuses to acknowledge Supergirl (or most of the larger Arrowverse)
- Family focus might demand some patience from Superman fans