It’s safe to say that Smallville paved the way for TV shows centered on superheroes. Back in 2001, you could count on one hand the number of successful series based on comic books, and that’s not even digging into quality. So, Smallville was great because it showcased the richness of the source material and how the television format could benefit these types of stories.
That said, Smallville ran loooong. A decade’s worth of prequel Superman stories brought us closer to teenage Clark Kent (Tom Welling) than we’d ever been, but because it’s virtually impossible to make 217 good episodes in a row, we also got to see some of the weirdest storylines on TV.
The WB-turned-CW show certainly had some thrilling episodes, but boy could it go low. The monster-of-the-week format, which basically dictated the series’ structure for more than half its run, subjected us to storylines we wish we’d never seen – and we’re looking back on some of the worst of them on this list.
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Easily one of the worst episodes of the entire series, what makes this one worse is the fact that it came so early in the show’s run: “Craving” was only Episode 7 of Season 1, a time in which, theoretically, the show still had a lot to cover instead of dedicating an entire episode to nonsense. Way before Amy Adams was a six-time Oscar nominee, she played Jodi, an overweight girl who, after drinking a kryptonite-infused detox juice, accelerates her metabolism to the point where she needs to feed on living people’s fat to survive. No, you didn’t read that wrong.
The fat-phobic aspects of this storyline are as overt as they are mean-spirited, but arguably more troubling is the fact that showrunners Al Gough and Miles Millar were comfortable in delivering this kind of episode right from the start. After “Craving” aired, it was clear to Smallville fans that the show was going to be a weird ride.
When Smallville reached Season 6, the monster of the week card had already been played to exhaustion, so then the showrunners came up with an interesting concept: after Clark escapes from The Phantom Zone, in which he gets trapped in the Season 5 finale, he accidentally releases various prisoners who were put in there by his father.
This is a decent idea that could be exciting for a season-long storyline, and it definitely felt fresh when it was introduced. The trouble was, the show ended up using the Phantom Zone escapees (or “Zoners”) much like the monsters of the week, and that made for ridiculous plots like in Episode 17, “Combat.” In it, a Zoner named Titan (Glenn Jacobs of WWE fame) is very fond of underground fight clubs and starts livestreaming deathmatches on a website called “Live! or Die!” Just to be clear: we’re talking about an alien who’s been incarcerated for years and is set free on a planet in which he could literally become a god. But somehow he decides to both stay under the radar and kill people online for everyone to see.
In the series’ defense, this was way before live streams and TikTok, so kudos on predicting our streaming obsession. But didn’t Phantom Zone escapees have better things to do?
Once Clark moved to Metropolis and started saving people in Season 8, he quickly got nicknamed “the red-blue-blur” because that’s all people could see when he saved someone. That’s fair, but after he starts running around in a black trench coat, Lois Lane (Erica Durance) decides to give him a rebranding and starts to call him… The Blur.
True, it was still difficult to spot who was saving people, but would a figure that mysterious remain unidentified by the people in a city for so long? The Daily Planet, which is supposed to be the biggest newspaper in Metropolis, doesn’t make it a point to find out who The Blur is, even though Lois has direct contact through phone calls. To make things worse, in Episode 8 Jimmy Olsen (Aaron Ashmore) is able to photograph and identify The Blur. This suggests that any photographer with time on their hands and a good camera wouldn’t find it hard to do the same, especially considering that Clark runs around unmasked. However, The Blur’s identity remains a secret, because apparently a building full of journalists wasn’t much interested.
Throughout the series’ whole run, the kryptonite meteor rocks that came to Earth with Clark were used as plot devices to explain most of the weird things that happened in Smallville. However, the showrunners used them so carelessly that a lot of times this generated a bunch more questions than answers. Take the Season 3 episode “Crisis,” for example. In the cold open, Clark receives a distressing phone call in which Lana Lang (Kristin Kreuk) screams desperately for her life, but gets shot before he can save her. However, when he rushes to the Talon (their Central Perk-like coffee shop), he finds her completely unharmed. What the hell happened?
Well, turns out that the call came from the future. Not only that, future Lana made a phone call during the rain, near some electric wires that went into short-circuit. Those wires were close to, you guessed it, meteor rocks. So what this episode tells us is that when you have a combination of water, electricity and meteor rocks, you can make time-traveling phone calls. Groundbreaking, right? No. Everyone just dismisses this piece of information and it’s forgotten for the rest of the series.
There are some shows that run for so long, the writers just throw their hands up and start experimenting with high-concept ideas. This might be fun like Supernatural’s “Changing Channels” (a Season 5 Episode which spoofs other TV shows), but it also may come off weird like Grey’s Antomy’s musical episode “Song Beneath the Song.”
Unfortunately for Smallville, the Season 6 Episode “Noir” falls into the latter category. On paper it sounds fun: Jimmy Olsen dreams up a 1940’s Smallville, which pays homage to whodunits from the Golden Age of Cinema and is stylized in black and white. The problem is, the background against which this story is set is the attempted assassination of Lana Lang, which, you know, should be kind of a big deal. However, the episode decides to veer into this dream-like reality and then solve the mystery of who shot Lana Lang almost as an afterthought.
Season 4 hit us with a baby-sized curveball near its end, with an episode that, once again, introduces a whole concept that is never, ever revisited. If you ever wondered how kryptonites can affect embryos, “Ageless” is the episode for you. In it, Clark and Lana find an abandoned baby only to discover that he ages extremely fast, going from toddler to teenager in a matter of days.
The episode is weird enough on its own, but what’s even weirder is the casual way in which the showrunners throw in that kryptonite may influence life at its very conception. This could easily have been a season-long arc that featured a compelling character who doesn’t know whether he’s human or not, while simultaneously commenting on the fleeting nature of life.
Imagine for a moment the impact this storyline would have if we had stuck with the ageless boy for 6, 10, or 20 episodes. At the very least, we could have cared more about the tragic nature of his existence. At best, it could further emphasize Clark’s guilt over the way his arrival at Earth destroyed other people’s lives. Unfortunately, this ended up as just another good idea in the forgotten pile.
This isn’t exactly a storyline, but rather a ridiculous plot device that was used by the Smallville showrunners so often it eventually became a running joke among fans. Since Clark’s identity had to remain hidden from most of the other characters for the entire series, people were often knocked out during crucial times, so that they either wouldn’t witness Clark using his powers or would completely lose their memories if it was convenient for the plot of the episode.
This list features every K.O. count in the show’s run, but just to hint at how ludicrous they got: in the Season 6 episode “Combat,” Lois Lane gets knocked out by… falling to the ground. And she barely even hits her head! Even though the show’s disregard for giving its characters brain damage often came off as lazy writing, what it further exposed was how often it needed to hit the reset button. Before streaming platforms were a thing, TV networks wanted viewers to be able to tune in every week and not be confused about plot points. However talented or untalented a showrunner is, there’s only so much you can do when big changes in settings aren’t permitted from episode to episode, and Smallville is one of the shows that illustrates it best.
Despite all of its problems, however, Smallville was a fun show to watch, especially in earlier seasons. It made us excited about cliffhangers and brought to our TV screens some superhero action we’d never seen before. Plus, it worked for fans of DC comic books and non-fans alike, and it taught The CW there was a huge and loyal audience for superhero series, which led to more hit shows like The Flash, Arrow, Legends of Tomorrow, Gotham and Batwoman.
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Erick Massoto is a Brazilian feature writer who’s always loved film and TV and is obsessed with making lists. He can also name about 700 Pokémon and Digimon off the top of his head, but sadly no one has ever asked him to do it.