Coming reasonably soon to a screen near you: Krypton, a Syfy series set on the planet of Superman’s birth, but with no Superman — instead, the show will focus on Superman’s grandfather. Also in the works: Metropolis, a series about Lois Lane and Lex Luthor before Superman/Clark Kent arrives in the city of Metropolis. In other words, here are two superhero shows without the superhero that made both shows possible. It’s a new genre — no-Superman TV. I hear the concepts behind this pair of projects and wonder: Can they possibly be any good?
I doubt it. Krypton will follow the life of Seg-El, a young man who will eventually become the grandfather of Kal-El, aka Clark Kent, aka Superman. Set approximately 200 years before the birth of Superman, the show takes place on the planet Krypton, where Superman’s ancestors, the House of El, are a besieged family. According to the Syfy press release, the “House of El was ostracized and shamed” and Seg-El “fights to redeem his family’s honor and save his beloved world from chaos.” I swear, I’m dozing just typing that out.
I mean, how can this not be just a variation on the ridiculous Marvel’s Inhumans? You know in your bones that Krypton is going to be a nonstop costume drama with everyone talking in stentorian tones, not using contractions (“I am going to the store!”), and yakking endlessly about family lineage and palace intrigue. I see that the traditional Superman-comics enemy Zod figures in the show — here, it’s the rival family, and so of course there will be a female Zod-daughter who’s going to be a romantic interest for Seg-El, a whole Montague vs. Capulet, Romeo and Juliet thing. I wish my DVR had a DO NOT RECORD THIS EVEN IN A MOMENT OF WEAKNESS setting. Krypton premieres March 21 on Syfy; good luck with that.
Meanwhile, back here on Earth, we’ll have Metropolis, in which, per Variety, “Lois Lane and Lex Luthor … investigate the world of fringe science and expose the city’s dark and bizarre secrets.” So you’re telling me the pitch meeting went like this: “It’s Fringe meets Gotham, see, but, you know, more popular!” (Indeed, Metropolis counts among its producers Gotham’s Danny Cannon and John Stephens.) So according to this premise, we’ll have to buy into the idea that Lois Lane (shall we assume she’ll be an intrepid Daily Planet reporter?) will work alongside Lex Luthor (shall we assume he’ll be a brilliant, bald scientist type?), all the while looking for little clues and Easter eggs about Luthor’s future as Superman’s archest of archenemies? Groan. It’s the nonstop foreshadowing of everything Batman, without the Batman, that makes Gotham unwatchable to me. Sounds like they’re going a similar route here. By the way, Metropolis will be distributed via a “digital content hub” being set up by DC Entertainment and Warner Bros. Television, with DC promising “an immersive experience designed just for DC fans.” I’ll believe it when I see it.
Of course, there’s always the possibility that creative people can turn an unpromising premise and redeem it spectacularly — need I say more than Buffy the Vampire Slayer? — so consider this my preemptive, “Yes, I guess they could be right” sentence. And I do remember that DC Comics has had success with Superman/Superboy-less TV before, in Smallville. But for me, it comes down to this: Superhero shows without the superheroes are tedious. Give me superheroes in costume, and in action, instead. (This is one reason I’m really enjoying the CW’s new Black Lightning.)
Critics are supposed to tell you they come to every new show with an open mind, a blank slate. I’ll be honest with you — sometimes I don’t. It’s impossible: If you have any sort of critical intelligence (and who doesn’t?), you know the history of the genre you’re looking at. You have precedents and examples in your memory of what worked and what didn’t work in these kinds of shows. Yes, sure, I’ll look at Krypton and Metropolis when they premiere, but, like the great state of Missouri, I’ll have a “Show me” attitude — that is, show me a reason to care about any of these characters as much as I care about Superman himself.
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