The Saturday night time slot on BBC1 has always been traditionally family-oriented. It was where Doctor Who sat snugly for decades. By the 90s, with Doctor Who temporarily rested (except in the New Adventure novels), there was space for something else. Something…glossier. Something American. Superman made sense for Saturday night television. But the Superman TV show that aired on BBC1 every Saturday wasn’t quite what anyone expected. For me, kid Kirkland, it was better than I could ever have imagined. The New Adventures of Superman! I saw the trailers in weeks leading up to the pilot being broadcast. Weirdly, I watched it on a black and white television, a relic from when we couldn’t afford a colour TV. Scotland in the early 90s was feeling the shockwave of Thatcher’s legacy and I was a child of that time. Despite my black and white TV (from which I watched Ace bash a Dalek with a baseball bat), the first episode of The New Adventures of Superman seemed colourful and larger than life. All superhero tv shows and movies should be colourful and fun. Drama can still exist, of course, but I’m not a fan of Superman being remorselessly grim. Sorry, Man Of Steel!
The pilot introduced viewers to this new era’s Lois Lane. She’s the first character we meet. Lois Lane is every bit as iconic and important as Superman. She’s been there from the first issue of Superman. Teri Hatcher, whom I immediately adored, is my Lois Lane. She’s almost a prototype for Ally McBeal, thanks to Hatcher’s gift for comedy timing. This Lois Lane is tough, but also ditzy and fun and just a little bit ridiculous. A go-better, she always takes things too far. Oh my God. She was amazing. This is the Lois to which I judge all others. Dean Cain played a great Clark Kent, but his Superman seemed a bit more vulnerable, though that may have been his youth. I like the idea that this was a Superman in development. Literally, Lois Lane helps inspire Clark each week, because she sees Superman as a symbol of everything that’s good about humanity. Yes, he’s alien. And Lois is alienated. But they find each other and it takes an alien farmboy to bring Lois to life again. Obviously, they’re crazy for each other. We, the viewers, rooted for them immediately. They immediately understand each other. A classic love triangle is reborn. Lois is in love with Superman. Clark is in love with Lois. Superman is the wedge between them both. But this Clark isn’t a dork. He has qualities that draw Lois to him, though in the pilot she spends her time putting him down, confiding in him, before threatening to kill him if he tells anyone what she said! No wonder he’s nuts for Lois. Clark didn’t know what hit him.
The other great revelation of Lois & Clark is John Shea’s Lex Luthor. He’s the best incarnation by far. I love the idea of Lex as a crazy scientist, but this version works for me because he’s completely amoral and powerful yet the public never sees his true face. It lurks beneath the smarm and charm. Lex should be a corrupt industrialist/banker. They’re more villainous than mad scientists and this Lex puts the con into congenial. He spends episodes literally looking down on Metropolis from his penthouse, despising everyone, plotting to dominate the world whilst shooting clay pigeons in comfort.
I think the reason the first two seasons of Lois & Clark work so well is the romantic angle, of course. But also the fact Superman suddenly seemed more…human. We could understand his struggles. He was young, dynamic, but not perfect. We watched as he tried to assert his authority each week. We wanted him to tell Lois how he felt. Gone was the indestructible religious figure presented in the movies. I like this Superman. I like this Lois. I like this version of the myth. No matter what Teri Hatcher does, no matter how many roles she takes, she’ll always be Lois Lane to me. I mean this in the best way. Likewise, Dean Cain is frozen in time as a different kind of Clark Kent, the one I followed every week on a Saturday night on a black and white television for a few years. I’d like to see them return in the latest Superman spin-off during another Crisis on Infinite Earths. Yes, a new generation will get their own Lois & Clark in the form of Tyler Hoechlin and Elizabeth Tulloch. This time I’ll be watching it in colour.