Thursday, January 27, 2005

Springtime for Smallville

I've spoken before about how Smallville has taken leave of mere shark-jumping and has instead attained a truly insane and almost willful abandonment of anything resembling sense. Last night's episode was a new high (or low, depending on how you're scoring it), so awful that we watched, slack-jawed in horror, like the opening night crowd watching the opening number of Springtime for Hitler. I'm not sure I've ever seen such a disingenuous, incoherent, and just plain hideous piece of television. "Spock's Brain" is like a fourth-season episode of Homicide in comparison.

For starters, there was the plot: Audrey, the teleporting girl who's obsessed with Clark, is discharged from the crazy house, so of course she beelines for Clark. Now that she's certifiably Not Nutty, they start going out. Jonathan and Martha contribute to Clark's ongoing psychological problems by objecting not on the grounds that the girl USED TO STALK CLARK but because she knows his secret.

Meanwhile, Lana is stalking her boring boyfriend and decides the problem is that she's not having sex with him. At which point we learn that Chloe boinked Jimmy Olsen off-screen after the first season of the show.

Let me repeat that: Chloe boinked Jimmy Olsen. I'm just sayin', here, is all.

That's a pretext for Chloe's stilted, statistic-citing speech to Lana about making sure you're ready and what-not. And so Lana goes off and tries to sleep with Boring Guy, who turns her down and then babbles on about plotlines no one, including the writers of the show, actually cares about. Meanwhile, Audrey wants Clark to run away with her so she gives him a necklace make of Red Kryptonite roofies and they run off to Vegas, get married, and nearly boink, but then Audrey decides she really wants Clark Clark, not Red K Clark, so she takes off the necklace, Clark freaks out, goes home, and Audrey teleports in fromt of a bullet that her former doctor -- who is now stalking her, and ealous of Clark -- shoots at Clark. But she's not killed, so it's OK. And then Marths yells at Clark for everything he did under the influence of Red Kryptonite.

If you don't watch Smallville, you may read this and think, boy, this show is really confusing, but it must make more sense if you watch it every week. You would be wrong.

I guess there are several lessons to be learned here:
1. Sex is bad.
2. If you're slipped roofies, whatever happens is your fault. Good thing the Kents didn't adopt Veronica Mars.
3. If you really want to show that sex is bad, have your characters running around half-nekkid for most of the episode.
4. A scene of a character who's been drugged for sexual purposes cavorting around a Vegas wedding suite with the person who did the drugging can be played for laughs. If you're a fucking moron, that is.

There will be bluenoses who criticize the episode for its racy content, but these people are missing the point. The problem isn't the content per se, it's the leering, sniggering tone of the whole thing and the sheer sloppiness and crappiness of its storytelling. It reminded me of the worst treatments of the sex lives of the characters on Buffy during that series' first UPN season, only worse by a factor of ten.

Smallville dug itself a pretty deep rut for its characters' romantic lives early on. Instead of setting up a Betty-and-Veronica or Gwen Stacy-and-Mary Jane dynamic among the cast members, the creators of the series opted instead to focus on everyone pining for everyone else: Pete (remember Pete? I didn't think so) secretly pined for Chloe, Chloe pined for Clark , Clark pined for Lana (apparently he likes 'em without a personality), and Lana was dating a football player...with the net result that nothing much ever actually HAPPENED to the characters, romantically.

As a contrast, consider Buffy. We knew that there were different things at stake (no pun intended) for the characters in their various relationships throughout the series, and as a result what they did and who they did it with mattered. So when Xander hooked up with Faith and we saw Willow crying her eyes out when she found out about it even though she was dating Oz, just to take one example, we cared and we understood her, emotionally. On Smallville, we've watched these people spin their wheels for so many years that as squickish as the idea of Chloe boinking Jimmy Olsen is, well, at least she did something about something. And besides, we all know Clark and Lex are the ones who want to get together...

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