Thursday, December 09, 2010

Culture Shock 12.09.10: 'Smallville' embraces tights for all (except Clark Kent)

You will believe a man can fly. Eventually.

Since its debut in 2001, "Smallville" has been bound by the "no tights, no flights" rule instituted by the show's original producers, Alfred Gough and Miles Millar.

Now, as "Smallville" approaches the end of its 10th and final season, Gough and Millar are gone, having departed after season 7. And the show's new producers seem fed up with the "no tights, no flights" premise of focusing on Clark Kent and his journey to becoming Superman.

Ten years is a long time, especially for a TV show, and "Smallville's" star, Tom Welling, is 33 years old. By any reasonable measure, he should have started wearing the Man of Steel's red-and-blue tights years ago.

Ah, but that stupid rule...

So, even though they're stuck with "no tights, no flights," Gough and Millar's successors have, improbably, managed to cheat their way around it. In the process, "Smallville" has become something I never would have expected in a network TV show.

It's become a showcase for Superhero fetishism.

For the past two seasons, "Smallville" has been all about Superman. You're just not allowed to call him that yet. Clark has left behind Smallville High School and his high school sweetheart, Lana Lang. He has moved on to Metropolis, The Daily Planet and a relationship with Lois Lane, who already knows Clark's secret identity, even though he doesn't have one. Clark has even joined with other superheroes to form the Justice League, which is weird because Clark is the only one who doesn't wear a costume.

The "no tights, no flights" rule is still in place, but it applies only to Clark. If Hawkman shows up, he's allowed to fly. And regular guest stars Green Arrow and Aquaman definitely don't have a problem with tights, except when they're not wearing much of anything at all, because "Smallville" averages the most beefcake per episode of any show not called "True Blood."

"Smallville" has finally shed its high-school-based, monster-of-the-week formula to become the closest thing television has ever seen to a live-action comic book.

Clark's world is full of heroes and villains and spandex tights. It's often over-the-top, sometimes even absurd — but in a good way — and it is increasingly filled with Easter eggs intended to please fans of DC Comics.

Nobody but us fanboys cared when longtime Teen Titans adversary Slade "Deathstroke" Wilson showed up to threaten Clark a couple of weeks ago. But for us, it was a geektastic moment, made even better by the fact that Slade was played by "Battlestar Galactica's" Col. Tigh, Michael Hogan. (Both Tigh and Slade wear eye patches, which is what makes it really cool, if obvious casting.)

The same episode that gave us Deathstroke also introduced Aquaman's wife, Mera, played by Elena Satine, who showed few inhibitions as the Queen of the Sea. (If Elena needs a fan club, I volunteer to serve as its president.)

I've long maintained that superhero comics are, intentionally or not, thinly veiled fetish fantasies, which is why they're read mostly by adults. Think about it: Superheroes are, for the most part, incredible physical specimens who run around in skintight costumes and beat each other up. Along the way, they routinely find themselves captured, tied up, caged, tortured or mind controlled — just like all this season on "Smallville."

By embracing the tights for everyone but Clark, "Smallville" has also embraced all of that. It has, in its PG-13, broadcast-standards-compliant way, become the kinkiest show on television. And this time I am including "True Blood."

Clark may not have put on his cape yet, but he's definitely not in Kansas anymore.

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