Ten Years of Superman

Recently, I watched the series finale of Smallville, concluding its tenth season. Ten years is a long time for anything. Ten years of actors playing the same role, ten years of steady employment for the crew, ten years of storytelling and character development. Considering I only recently watched the finale that originally aired in 2011, it is, perhaps, obvious that I did not watch Smallville real time, but I also didn’t watch it all at once. My journey with Clark Kent and friends has existed through what must be six years of my life, and it’s impactful. Television shows, especially today, are just as strong, powerful, and entertaining, if not more so, than films, and it’s amazing when you look back and think about all the adventures you’ve watched when a long-running series like Smallville ends.

While Smallville first aired in 2001, I started watching it sometime during my freshmen year of high school. Ding! First point! I watched Clark Kent go through high school at the same time I did. The show, as you know if you’ve seen it, is very CW. Average budget, kind of cheesy CGI, and a lot of techno babble and hammy “where will you go now” dialogue, yet I loved the show and kept watching. Why? Smallville matters means than its production value. Over the years, I came to truly love the characters on the show (always remembering they were fictitious, of course). It was sad when someone left, exciting when a new actor’s name appeared in the opening titles, and emotional when you heard the same title song play from pilot to finale. Every time Clark gained a new power, it was a great moment, a great episode. Every time Chloe tried to date someone (RIP Jimmy) it was exciting and lovable.

There’s so much television now that I think viewers forget the impact a single show can have. Smallville was watched by just enough to earn season renewals, but consider a show like LOST or The Closer. LOST is different because the writers made a big deal about its ending. ABC turned it into a huge event with a four-hour recap, reminding us of literally everything. The Closer was a major episode, but not as much marketing went into it. They treated it as it should be treated: a conclusion to the story, and Brenda finally closed the one case that had haunted her for years.

The weird thing for me is the feeling of knowing you won’t be watching a new episode again. When a show is airing, it is kind of relieving when they go on hiatus: “summer break, now I can relax and watch something else for three months.” Yet when the show starts again you’re excited week to week. When a show ends, it’s like a void. I very much remember watching the pilot of LOST because I originally wasn’t going to. I remember being in the car with my mother and her talking about how she planned to watch the pilot because TV Guide had said good things. Seven years later, we’re anxiously waiting for the finale. LOST had some bumps (notably because of the writers’ strike), but it still ended strong.

Smallville did an excellent job of making its last season valuable. Several episodes were direct call backs to earlier seasons, characters, arcs, including the return of a season one “freak of the week.” Add to this the return of Lex Luthor in the finale (albeit in a minor role of “I’m here to kill off that major character who obviously wouldn’t survive”) and it was a great season. The writers did what we, as fans, want them to do: wrap things up in a way that acknowledges, rather than ignores, all the years we’ve spent with these characters; the tears, the jeers. Everything. The “season villain” wasn’t, in my opinion, all that important compared to the revelations our main cast went through. This season was about Clark Kent finally putting on the suit and they made no effort to hide that.

Here’s another example: Boy Meets World. I can’t remember many episodes but I sure as hell remember the two-part series finale. I remember it essentially being montage after montage of all the characters’ best moments. Talk about emotional, and don’t get me started on the finale scene of all the characters standing in Mr. Finney’s classroom, reminiscing about their adventures, recognizing this as the end, but acknowledging there is a future. I cried then and I would probably cry now. Boy Meets World was an integral part of my childhood: my memories of coming home from school and watching television before dinner (don’t worry, I also did homework).

Smallville serves a similar role for my teenage years. I stopped watching Smallville after season six for no other reason than things got busy, and it wasn’t until a solid two years later that I picked up season seven. I got right back into it, remember all the characters and making guesses as to where things go from here (there, then, though). It was climatic when Lex learned Clark’s true identity and sad when the character disappeared for several seasons, though the writers did a good job of keeping the Luthor presence constant.

I’ve never watched Six Feet Under or The Sopranos but I have seen their finale scenes. It’s hard not to get emotional even if you haven’t watched. Television characters, when handled properly, come to mean something to the audience. It’s why Charlie’s death on LOST was so powerful; it’s why his return in the final season was so welcome. It makes me wonder what it will be like when The Simpsons finally ends, though I haven’t watched in a while. A better example is when Dexter ends. That’s an event I am in no way looking forward to. There’s always that argument of ending a show when the creator wants to (BBC’s Sherlock) versus when audiences want to (never, unless ratings plummet). The Closer is a good example of the former where LOST, perhaps, straddles the two with a leaning towards the latter. The Simpsons is probably the latter, as is Dexter even if season seven is shaping up as one of its strongest.

No matter which path is taken, the end is always important. People change a lot in ten years, in real life and television. When a season ten episode of Smallville flashed back to a season one clip, I was shocked at how matured Tom Welling had grown. I mean, it’s expected; it was ten years, but then it made me think about how different I am after these six-odd years. I was in high school during one season and college another. Most importantly, the impact only grows stronger with time. When I think back to Boy Meets World, I think about my elementary school self and how I’m now in college like they were. An interesting topic, perhaps, is the affect of live-action versus animated series. Whereas Boy Meets World turned the aging of its actors into a facet of the show, The Simpsons or Family Guy show no progression of time but are still emotionally viable.

Television is an amazing medium filled with gems. Yes, there’s a lot of crap, but there’s also a lot of gold. Nothing lasts forever, but television manages to stay with us for years, especially with DVD/Blu-Ray. I do not mean to talk so much about how television changes us or teaches us lessons. Merely, I think television serves a sort of landmark in our memories. It’s not that I learned something from Smallville, rather I use memories of watching the show to in turn remember other things about my life at the time. Good and bad, memories are just as powerful as the television shows that spark them. For now, I can only say farewell Smallville and thanks for all the wonderful memories.

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