In 1978, Superman: The Movie was marketed with the tagline: “You will believe a man can fly.” Now, in 2021, a new version of Superman is poised to make parents believe that their children shoot lasers out of their eyes. In CW’s new series, Superman and Lois, the most famous superhero story of all time has become a legit family drama. It’s not your father’s Superman. And for those who prefer Christopher Reeve, Brandon Routh, Tom Welling, Henry Cavill, or even Dean Caine, this isn’t exactly the Superman you wanted, either. But for parents, this might be the Superman we all need.
Superman and Lois is not the greatest new show on television. But then again, Superman: The Movie was not the greatest motion picture ever made. Any version of Superman is inherently prevented from being a perfect and serious piece of art because it must star a character named Superman, who, eventually, has to wear a skin-tight blue costume, and a red cape. As a concept, Superman is corny. You could argue that he’s weirder than Batman because he acts so happy all the time. But making Superman edgy is tricky and misguided. Instead, if you’re smart, the best bet is to lean into the cheesiness of Superman and find some compelling melodrama in the character.
This is where Superman and Lois clicks. Calling this show the most realistic version of the Man of Steel isn’t quite right. Casually believing that Lois and Clark have two teenage boys who have somehow been kept in the dark about their dad’s secret identity requires some rowdy mental gymnastics. But, when Clark takes off his glasses to reveal to his sons, that yes, he is Superman, the show just owns it. It’s not trying to make a statement about Superman or make Superman seem more naturalistic. It’s not trying to make the glasses thing more realistic or more believable. It’s just saying, yeah, this is happening. Superman and Lois is a show that simply says: What if Superman — the Superman you remember — decided to move back to Smallville with his family. What would happen next?
The plot of Superman and Lois impressively balances real-deal parent problems with high-flying superhero action. Yes, there’s a secret villain who is invading nuclear power plants and wields a Kryptonite knife. But, the majority of the story revolves around Clark Kent losing his job as a journalist at The Daily Planet, and he and Lois struggling with a complicated mortgage on the family homestead back in Smallville. Yes, predatory mortgages from shady lenders are just as important in this version of Superman as evil dudes in spacesuits.
Even more important than the logistics of the family, however, are the problems Clark faces as a dad. Yes, the show is called Superman and Lois, but the pilot episode is mostly about Clark Kent feeling like a fraud. “Am I a bad father?” he asks Lois in one scene. The answer is complicated. He’s not a great father, but he is trying to be a better one. The metaphors here aren’t subtle. When Clark describes the moment his adoptive human father discovered him, he talks about how fatherhood is like a meteor impact. For his parents, that’s exactly what it was, and for him, it’s different, but not too different. “Your life falling apart doesn’t mean you’re special, it just means you’re human,” Lois tells her husband later in the pilot episode. As any Supe fan knows, Kal-el is not literally a human being, but in Superman and Lois, his reliability is more interesting than it’s been since the Christopher Reeve films. Yes, the 2006 film Superman Returns dabbled with the Supe being a dad, but in that situation, he was an absent father. In Superman II, Clark gave up his powers for Lois, but it didn’t last.
By moving the Super-family from Metropolis to Smallville, Superman and Lois touches on something many families experience after they have children; a desire to intentionally slow down their lives. But how can you slow down when you’re already faster than a speeding bullet? With retro charm, and kitschy twinkle, Superman and Lois promises do to what feels impossible; it makes Superman seem brand-new. We all know that life is what happens when we’re busy making other plans, but for Superman, those plans include a mix of Lex Luthors and kids who won’t listen. Traditionally, we’ve always looked to Superman for moral clarity, but this time around, it seems like he’s learning something from us.
Superman and Lois airs on Tuesdays on the CW. You can watch the episodes streaming — for free — the next day on the CW App