With a beautifully filmed premiere episode from Riverdale and The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina veteran Lee Toland Krieger, The CW's Superman & Lois has set a very high standard for itself -- and for superhero shows to follow in the Arrowverse. The series, which premieres on February 23rd, stars Tyler Hoechlin and Bitsie Tulloch, reprising the roles they originated in previous Arrowverse outings (Hoechlin on Supergirl and Tulloch in the "Elseworlds" and "Crisis on Infinite Earths" crossovers). This time out, their takes on the characters have been forced to evolve somewhat -- and not just because they have gone from special guest stars to lead actors.
In the new series, Superman and Lois are parents. Not just to Jonathan Kent, as in the comics, but to him and his twin brother Jordan, two kids who are very different and who will present new challenges to Superman and Lois, making this a fresh take even for fans who have seen the many previous live-action iterations of the characters.
The episode, like early episodes of Black Lightning, leans heavily on the family drama aspect of the series -- and like Black Lightning, Superman & Lois has the feeling of a prestige series, with visibly higher production values than many of The CW's other shows and writers who don't back away from potentially controversial elements.
Those elements include corporate power, and how powerful corporate interests are depicted differently in different parts of the U.S. and different parts of the political spectrum. There's some not-very-friendly back-and-forth on the role of the media and some other beats that will read unmistakably as red-versus-blue in the current political context. The show does a fairly good job of not vilifying either point of view, but ultimately it's difficult not to read "good" into the side embraced by Lois Lane and Clark Kent.
That lack of an overt political message -- even if one can be read into the subtext by the audience -- is one of the ways Superman & Lois seeks to differentiate itself from Supergirl. That's a concern, of course, since the now-veteran series centers on a character with similar powers and a similar civilian career. The decision to make Kara into a journalist along the way, and the show's habit of adapting Superman storylines, left some fans wondering early on how Superman & Lois could operate as a distinct show -- especially one that's distinct both from Supergirl and from previous Superman shows.
The answers are immediately evident in the pilot, from the idea of casting Lois and Clark as parents in a family drama to the setting -- Smallville -- which sets it apart from the other Arrowverse shows, all of which take place in big cities. Stargirl is visually the closest to Superman & Lois, and even that isn't quite the same, as that show is saturated with color, making it feel like a live-action comic book or cartoon. Superman & Lois seemingly understands that Superman is an A-list character and that TV is a weird place for him to live, given the massive success of comic book movies right now. The result is a show that steps up in every way it can, notably with a very cinematic visual style.
The performances elevate the series, too. Hoechlin and Tulloch have been great in the roles since they were first introduced, but they step into lead roles with comfort and instantly manage to sell the relationships on camera -- from their kids to locals in Smallville and Lois's father -- that have years of backstory behind them that we will likely never get to see 99% of.
The tone of the series is somewhere between Smallville and Man of Steel in a lot of scenes, with superhero action that lives somewhere between the Arrowverse and the DC Films. It's certainly an animal of its own, and it's better for it -- again, very much like Stargirl was last year.
Rating: 5 out of 5
Superman & Lois hits the airwaves on February 23rd.