"What was life like for Superman before he grew up to be Superman?" That was the questioned posed, and brilliantly, answered, on the weekly sci-fi/adventure series Smallville, the WB network's most successful new program of the 2001-2002 TV season. Without wreaking undue damage on the sacred Superman legend, as set down by 65 years' worth of comic books, radio series, TV shows, and movies, Smallville artfully wove its own mythos concerning the early years of Clark Kent -- not yet "the man of steel" Superman, but born Kal-El, "strange visitor from another planet" (namely, the doomed planet Krypton). The first episode, telecast October 16, 2001, rapidly established the fact that the child Kal-El's arrival on Earth in the year 1989 profoundly affected virtually the entire population of Smallville, a tiny Kansas farming community. The spacecraft bearing the alien toddler arrived at the same time as a cataclysmic meteor shower, which all but devastated Smallville. Among other things, the meteor bombardment brought about the deaths of the parents of little Lana Lang, and rendered completely hairless nine-year-old Lex Luthor, son of ruthless billionaire businessman Lionel Luthor. Though Lana was able to put the tragedy behind her thanks to the loving care of her aunt Nell (Sarah-Jane Redmond), Lex's sudden and spectacular hair loss left him cynical and suspicious of humankind in general, and his grasping father in particular. On a happier note, childless farming couple Jonathan and Martha Kent (John Schneider, Annette O'Toole) rescued Kal-El, renamed him Clark, and raised him as their own son.
As the years passed, it was painfully obvious that Clark (played in his teen years by Tom Welling), possessed Herculean strength and other powers "far beyond those of mortal men." To protect their adopted son from being exposed as an alien, and to prevent others from being accidentally injured by the boy's superstrength, Martha and Jonathan kept Clark from indulging in youthful horseplay, and refused to allow him to participate in contact sports. As a result, Clark earned a reputation as something of a namby-pamby nerd -- and his own growing realization that he was different from his peers kept him perpetually on the outside looking in, a natural-born loner. Which is not to say that Clark didn't have his own circle of friends at Smallville High School. Lana Lang (played as a teen by Kristin Kreuk), who had matured into the campus queen, regarded Clark as a loyal and faithful friend -- but, much to Clark's dismay, she reserved her romantic feelings for high school jock Whitney Fordman (Eric Johnson), who, thanks to a series of neat coincidences, tended to get the credit for the heroics performed by Clark (which of course, young Mr. Kent was bound not to claim as his own lest his secret be revealed). Conversely, fellow student Chloe Sullivan (Allison Mack), a budding paranormal investigator who wrote for the Smallville High newspaper, the Torch, harbored a hidden crush on Clark. Our hero's best bud was the shy and self-effacing Pete Ross (Sam Jones III), who like everyone else in Smallville could not help but notice that strange things happened whenever Clark was around, but who seldom questioned these happenings for fear of damaging their friendship. As for Lex Luthor (played as an adult by Michael Rosenbaum), several years Clark's senior, he lived the life of a swinging bachelor in his family mansion, while dad Lionel (John Glover) wheeled and dealed from his headquarters in the city of Metropolis. A firm friend of the young Kent since Clark saved his life, Lex had his share of good and noble impulses, but they were often mitigated by his inbred avariciousness and lust for power -- and his overpowering desire to wrest the family business from the grasp of his father.
During season one, Lex had a fling with sexy Victoria Hardwick (Kelly Brook), but their romance fell victim to his self-absorption. And though Clark generally got along with Lex, the same could not be said for Jonathan Kent, who (not without reason) felt that the Luthor family's business ambitions posed a threat to Kent and his fellow farmers. Also muddying up the Luthor legacy was the cache of kryptonite -- the green, glowing element indigenous to Clark Kent's home planet -- which was kept on the premises of Smallville's LutherCorp plant. As everybody familiar with the Superman canon knows, kryptonite has an adverse and possibly deadly effect on Clark; in this series, the mineral also brought out the worst in everyone else who came in contact with it. The first season of Smallville studiously avoided any mention of Clark's future alter ego, Superman, though the viewers would see the young misfit painfully adjusting to his awesome powers, some of which (such as his x-ray vision) were brand-new to him. Also, several episodes placed those closest to him in dire jeopardy, forcing him to utilize his powers without giving himself away -- and in at least a couple of cases, Clark's friends would themselves develop temporary superpowers that they too had to learn to properly deploy. Along the way, Clark's campus rival, Whitney Fordham, would leave Smallville after a series of daunting personal setbacks, joining the Marines to see the rest of the world. Like many another network series of its ilk, Smallville closed out its initial season by setting up a cliffhanger, to be resolved at the beginning of season two. In this case, the "to be continued" elements involved the first kiss between Clark and Chloe, a potential unholy alliance between Lex and Lionel Luthor, a startling discovery made by an unscrupulous big-city news reporter named Roger Nixon (Tom O'Brien), and a devastating tornado that threatened to bump off the helpless Lana Lang. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi
- Tom Welling, Kristin Kreuk, (more)