Studio: Warner Home Video
Cast: Tom Welling, Allison Mack, Erica Durance, Aaron Ashmore, Cassidy Freeman, Sam Witwer, Justin Hartley
Release Date: September 10, 2009, 8:50 pm
Rating: Not Rated for (CW-style sexuality and superhero violence)
Run Time: Approx. 924 min.
Movie Grade: B
DVD Grade: B
Smallville. Yup, I just checked: still on. But if you're reading this, you probably already knew that. I, on the other hand, bailed on the show years ago (right after that season that was all about magical tattoo possession; couldn't take it anymore). I heard rumblings that things improved somewhat with the departure of series creators Alfred Gough and Miles Millar after season seven but didn't bother to check back in until the DVD release of season eight arrived on my doorstep. And I have to say, after getting back into it (and reading up on what I missed), I'm kind of looking forward to what's ahead this fall in season nine. Which, if you are counting, is two more seasons than Buffy managed to eke out, and I certainly didn't see that coming.
In some ways, it's a different show than I remember. For one thing, it should probably be called "Metropolis," as scenes in the titular town are pretty much a thing of the past—Clark (Tom Welling) is now working at the Daily Planet with Lois (Erica Durance) instead of hanging out in his barn and moping about Lana Lang. Speaking of Lana, Kristen Kreuk is no longer a regular (though she does appear in a handful of dour mid-season episodes), and I can't say it bothers me—the soapy Clark/Lana relationship was always the show's most divisive factor, and I was not a fan. I'm not as happy about the departure of Lex Luthor (Michael Rosenbaum) as the future Superman's frenemy, however; the duo's close friendship, drizzled with homoerotic bonding scenes, provided most of the fun early on.
The first half of the season feels a lot like the Smallville of old crossed with a romantic comedy, as Clark and Lois bicker even as he tries to keep his superpowers a secret while defeating the requisite villains of the week as the "Red-Blue Blur." Soon enough, things get a lot darker with the introduction of Davis (Sam Witwer), a friendly paramedic who, over the course of the season, discovers some troubling secrets about himself. His story—loosly adapted from the Doomsday/Death of Superman comics—is much darker than anything attempted on the show before (he begins to suspect he might be a serial killer after he keeps waking up covered in blood; later he makes good on his suspicions) and creates an odd disparity with the lighter episodes. Meanwhile, Clark's sidekick Chloe (Allison Mack) continues to develop her relationship with Jimmy Olsen (Aaron Ashmore), and that plotline certainly isn't all hearts and flowers either, let me tell you.
It's nice to see the show trying something a bit more ambitious, and the introduction of another new villain—including Cassidy Freeman as Tess Mercer, the villainous head of LuthorCorp in Lex's absence—certainly shakes things up. But different isn't always good: witness the dark path of torment and regret laid out for Oliver Queen/Green Arrow (Justin Hartley); formerly a light-hearted addition to the show, he's become something of a grim drunk. Smallville was always rather goofy and it doesn't take to brooding very well, which is probably why the finale, Doomsday, is such a disappointment, failing to provide a satisfying conclusion to the season arc, let alone live up to the comics upon which the story is based.
All that said, it's easy to see why the series earned an unexpected reprieve—in its eighth season, a refreshed cast and the depths of the Superman mythos have refreshed the show. Next season might be the last (Allison Mack has announced her intention to leave), and he's hoping it goes out on a high note. (Oh, and can Superman finally fly? Please?)
The DVD: No surprises when it comes to the video and audio quality; eight seasons in, the show still looks great on DVD, though diehards might opt for the Blu-ray version, with all the added benefits HD brings to a show in which a bunch of thirtysomethings are playing fresh college grads.
The extras package is your usual-usual: commentaries on two key episodes (Identity and Legion), short featurettes on the creation of Doomsday and actress Allison Mack's first foray into directing an episode, and deleted scenes for 10 shows.
The packaging is a new style—a hard plastic keepcase—but thanks to a well-designed slipcover, it matches previous season sets on the shelf.
Joel Cunningham September 10, 2009, 8:50 pm