Shiny Shelf

Smallville: The Complete First Season DVD

By Mark Clapham on 14 October 2003

Old ‘Superboy’ comics are rubbish. The ‘Superboy’ TV series is rubbish. Prequels are usually rubbish (just look at ‘Enterprise’). So why is ‘Smallville’ actually good?

It’s worth starting at the beginning of something, and in this case there’s no disadvantage – it’s not like the series has particularly grown or weakened since its first year. Buy the first season, and you’ll find the same strengths and failures that the series has today. Twenty one episodes, from a spectacular opening sequence to an almost-as-spectacular season cliffhanger, with a mix of episodes in between – some great, some average, some downright rubbish.

The pilot is definitely among the best, beginning with a meteor shower which both devastates the Kansas town of Smallville, and allows a spaceship to slip under the 1989 radar. Jonathan and Martha Kent find the ship and the boy inside. In the present day, that boy is Clark Kent, their adopted son. In the pilot he finds out about his origins, develops some powers, and finds that the meteors spread across the town are causing mutations and superpowers in the local population.

This is The Formula: capital T, capital F. The Formula goes like this – someone gets powers through the meteors (powers cunningly related to some personal quality of theirs), they use them to do bad stuff, Clark stops them with his powers. Most of the first season episodes stick to The Formula, with varying results depending on the strength of the writing and the quality of the actor playing the freak-of-the-week. ‘Metamorphosis’ is a great ‘Spider-Man’ pastiche, while ‘Leech’ takes the oldest and most overused story in Superman comics – someone else ends up with Clark’s powers – and turns it into a great, fun episode. Other episodes are less successful, with dreary powers and overwrought performances.

There are pleasing breaks with The Formula, including a couple of crime based episodes, but the best shows are those which focus as much on the characters as the superpowered action. ‘Smallville’ has a good ensemble cast, and when they’re used well the show really sings. Aside from the Kents there’s Clark’s friend Pete Ross and his love interest Lana Lang, both from the comics. Also from the comics is Lex Luthor, not yet a villain at this stage of his life. Not from the comics, but an awful lot like Lois Lane, is Chloe Sullivan, Clark’s friend and high school reporter. All the roles are well cast, although some are flashier than others – Chloe and Lex have a tendency in particular to steal the show.

‘Crush’ is a great episode for Chloe, while ‘Hourglass’ digs deep into the motivations of both Clark and Lex, playing off the tragic irony of their future rivalry. The aforementioned ‘Leech’ manages to take Clark through a series of great character moments in 44 minutes. ‘Nicodemus’ has Jonathan, Pete and Lana all losing their minds under the influence of a meteor-infected flower, and is a great showcase for all of them.

In spite of some longeurs (‘Reaper’ is a deadly dud, while ‘Obscura’ is just gibberish), the first season of ‘Smallville’ manages the impressive feat of retooling ‘Superman’ into a digestible TV format that’s relevant for a twenty first century audience, and doesn’t break the studios budget. By cutting out the costumes and other distracting elements, it actually gets closer to the heart of the character than most adaptations of the material. While its inevitable that a TV series will let you deeper into the characters as it goes on, and there are plenty of great episodes in the second season, I’m not sure the ‘Smallville’ team quite matched their first year that second time around. While The Formula, and the tendency for hitting reset buttons, can become wearing, season one is still worth seeing in its entirety, and has a good few episodes that sustain repeated viewings.

Multi-region fanatics will be a little disappointed that all the extras here are taken from the Region 1 release of the first two episodes. While they add up to a fair amount of stuff, it’s all concentrated on the first two episodes. If deleted scenes were readily available for those episodes, couldn’t some be found from later shows? Wouldn’t it have been possible to get extra commentaries rather than just for those episodes? Certainly, ‘Tempest’ would benefit from the treatment. While virtual tours and storyboard comparisons are fun, the set lacks an overview featurette, or even some recut promo material from the series’ electronic press pack. While newcomers will find the existing features entertaining enough, it’s a shame that Warners didn’t dig a little deeper to find some extras to represent the other nineteen episodes in the season. As it is, the package feels top heavy. Nevertheless, this still remains a recommended purchase.

Line Break

By Mark Clapham

Mark Clapham is a Devon-based writer and editor. You can find out more about him at the egotistically named

Comments are closed.