Every Saturday night at fifteen minutes past six, I rushed into the living room and sat, legs crossed, eyes fixed on the television. Like so many before me, I was captivated by the most iconic of superheroes—the Man of Steel, Superman. But the show that held me spellbound wasn’t primarily about speeding faster than a speeding bullet, being more powerful than a locomotive, or leaping tall buildings in a single bound. It was Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, and it explored the relationship of Kal-El and Lois Lane in a way that had never been seen before.
A New Spin
Lois and Clark first aired 25 years ago. Created by Deborah Joy LeVine, the show was intended to bring Superman into the nineties with a love triangle between Superman, Clark Kent, and Lois Lane—who spent most of the series unaware that the first two were the one and the same.
The role of Superman/Clark Kent/Kal-El was played by Dean Cain—now dismayingly an open Trump supporter—an actor who turned to the profession after breaking his leg as a quarterback, ending his hopes of a career in American football. He was the perfect choice to play the role in an environment which looked like a 1940’s Metropolis blended with at the time cutting-edge technology. The Daily Planet was full of CRT monitors running MS-DOS publishing suites. Like I said, cutting-edge. Cain brought a different kind of energy to the role, inverting the traditional Clark/Superman duality by playing a more assertive Clark who Kal-El felt was the “real” him. Perhaps as a result, his portrayal is now maligned by many Superman fans—but it was a laudable experiment that put a new spin on the classic character.
Teri Hatcher—coincidentally also previously involved in the NFL as a cheerleader—played Lois Lane. You probably know this already, perhaps because of the now-legendary 1994 photo of her wearing nothing but the Superman cape. Hatcher played this almost effortlessly, but with an independence that showed you why Lane was a great reporter.
Breathing New Life Into Old Characters
The cast was rounded out by “where have I seen that guy from” Lane Smith as Daily Planet editor Perry Smith, Broadway star John Shea as Lex Luthor, and Dynasty’s Tracy Scoggins as Cat Grant.
White’s character was given depth beyond an obsessive desire for photos of Superman, most memorably in his love of Elvis. One episode featured him performing as the King, in full costume and hairstyle, to the Daily Planet’s cleaner after falling under the sway of a love potion. White’s wife was even given a name, though never appeared onscreen. His depiction as a passionate fan of Elvis mirrored fans’ love of Superman and other heroes, a lovely touch that also served to humanize him.
But the best character of the series was—and always will be—Lex Luthor. Here Luthor is a corrupt businessman rather than a mad scientist, and John Shea plays the role like a Shakespearean Richard the Third. In his guest appearances in seasons two and three—he was reduced to a mere voice appearance in season four—he dominates his scenes, matching Cain’s portrayal of Superman perfectly.
Changing the Formula
Perhaps the biggest change from many other Superman stories is that Clark’s foster parents are both alive, and so, he had parents that supported him throughout his life—they even offer to wire him money to help out in the pilot.
Clark discovers his heritage early in season one through a globe of Krypton that displays a hologram of Jor-El. And his suit didn’t arrive with him from Krypton, but is sewn by his mother in an incredible montage scene featuring Clark trying on different outfits to the tune of Bonnie Tyler’s “I Need a Hero.” As Martha unveils the iconic S shield, Clark removes his glasses and becomes Superman. It’s an moment that never fails to make me smile.
Will They or Won’t They?
The show wasn’t perfect. Lois and Clark hinged on the Superman-Lois-Clark love triangle and Lois’s ignorance of Clark’s dual identity. Once those two plot points were resolved, things faltered somewhat.
And the series was notorious for drawing out the romance plot in bizarre ways. Clark proposes to Lois at the end of season two, and the two finally marry in a season three episode that aired on Valentine’s Day. Kind of. Because this wasn’t the real Lois—it was a clone, the original having been kidnapped by Luthor. As you might expect, it wasn’t a particularly well-received episode. By the time Lois and Clark really do marry in season four, it was in an episode titled “We Swear to God, This Time We’re Not Kidding.”
ABC announced a fifth season of the series during its fourth, but then later decided against producing it. And so, the show ended on a cliffhanger in which Lois and Clark find a baby with a note telling them that it is theirs after learning that they are incapable of reproducing biologically.
You Never Forget Your First Superman
Lois and Clark made a lot of changes to the Superman formula, but it was the Man of Steel story I grew up with. I was six when I first found the series on BBC One, and it wasn’t until the early 2000’s that I realised that there were Superman stories featuring arctic fortresses, a Lex Luthor obsessed with land for some reason, and a Perry White exclaiming “Great Caesar’s Ghost!” rather than “I’m all Shook Up!”
Remember, superheroes weren’t taken seriously in popular culture in 1995. This was before Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, before the Marvel Cinematic Universe. We’d had a few Superman and Batman movies, but the genre was far from the cultural force it’s since become. There were fewer preconceived ideas about what a superhero show should be, and that allowed for a show like Lois and Clark to exist.
Lois and Clark defines Superman for me, and maybe that’s why I don’t care for the character’s newer onscreen depictions. The Superman movies of the past few years are great explosion-fests, but Lois and Clark had heart. The series made you care about what happened to these characters, even throughout the terrible stories of the final season.
The spirit of Superman suffuses the series—and it’s perfectly summed up in a first season quote from Lois Lane. As a disillusioned Clark asks her what good Superman is if he can’t be everywhere at once, can’t save everyone, she replies, “What he can’t do, it doesn’t matter. It’s the idea of Superman. Someone to believe in. Someone to build a few hopes around. Whatever he can do, that’s enough.”
And to me, that’s what Superman is all about.