The CW's next superhero show has arrived and though it has two very familiar DC heroes at its front and center, it doesn't look like what you'd expect -- Superman & Lois is here to break the mold created by Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) almost a decade ago. Superman & Lois is the latest series to fly onto the network, but the titular characters won't look exactly as they did in Supergirl and in multiple Arrowverse crossovers. They're older, with a family to boot. The top of Superman & Lois' pilot episode will catch you up on how Superman (Tyler Hoechlin) arrived on Earth, met and fell in love with Lois Lane (Elizabeth Tulloch), and how the pair got married, had twin sons, and settled into a comfortable life in Metropolis.
So what exactly is so groundbreaking about a superhero show that functions more like a family drama on The CW? Superman & Lois is technically the first new Arrowverse show to premiere on The CW after the end of Arrow. (Stargirl premiered last spring after the Arrow finale, but it was originally created for DC Universe and co-aired on The CW.) As such, this new show is the start of a new chapter for the Arrowverse, which has previously followed a pretty succinct recipe for success. Yes, each of the Arrowverse heroes has their own distinct personality and thus the vibe of the shows they lead varies depending on who is leading the team, but Superman & Lois is the first show in this universe to change the timbre of the world, and by aging up Superman and his family, it opens up the type of stories this show can tell. It shows that even after a decade, the Arrowverse has the ability to evolve and change, which is a crucial point to make as The CW continues to devote roughly half of its schedule to these heroes.
While the heavy voice-over exposition at the start of the episode will feel familiar to Arrowverse fans, very little about the rest of Superman & Lois will, and that's a remarkable and very important thing. Executive producer Todd Helbing has chosen a more cinematic look for the series than any previous CW superhero fare. The scenes are purposefully dusty, planting viewers in the feel of struggling small-town farm life. It helps create the distinction that this is a new chapter in Superman's life and we are looking at him from a different angle. When we first met this iteration of Kal-El, it was through the eyes of his younger cousin, Kara (Melissa Benoist), who spent most of her early days as a Kryptonian supe finding her place in the sun outside of the Man of Steel's shadow. He seemed perfect because in Kara's eyes, he practically was. When we meet Superman now, he's older and struggling to hold his family together. It's inaccurate to say that Superman & Lois is a darker version of the character -- no one is trying to give Hoechlin's Superman the Zach Snyder treatment -- but the hero facade is smudged a bit. Ironically, the dust around Clark Kent and his family helps show the man behind the iconic red cape more clearly.
Yes, Superman still flies at warp speed over placid lakes and fights bad guys in space, but it's clear that the creative team also made an investment in making even the Kent family moments at home feel like a movie. Comparisons have and probably will continue to be made between this new show and Friday Night Lights, and that's not just in the looks. When we pick up with the Kents, a family tragedy and a revelation that Clark may not be the only one with Kryptonian powers sends the family back to Clark's childhood farm in Smallville. Though Clark can turn on autopilot and be Superman, he's not as successful when it comes to being a present husband and father. As the dynamic between Clark and his sons gets more complicated, it's evident that the main drama of this series won't be about alien invaders or Kryptonite-wielding terrorists, but the fracturing state of the Kent family and Clark's changing place within it.
Unlike previous entries into the Arrowverse, this is not a series about Clark Kent learning to be a hero (or in Superman's case, a hero learning how to be Clark Kent). He's matured past that stage in his life and this show is about more than its leading character. Jordan Elsass and Alexander Garfin hand in noteworthy performances as Clark and Lois' twin sons, Jonathan and Jordan, respectively. What a relief to see teenaged characters who look, act, and talk like teenaged characters! More importantly, the young men deftly walk the tightrope between sibling rivalry and unquestioned brotherly loyalty. The move to Smallville complicates their relationship in more ways than one and seeing how their interactions shift as the power dynamics between the two evolve is one of the most intriguing setups of Superman & Lois. They both also show great potential if The CW ever decides to move forward with the rumored plans of launching the next generation of Arrowverse heroes.
While the first episode of Superman & Lois is undoubtedly ambitious and sets up a captivating new chapter in the Arrowverse, it's not perfect. The pilot does a good job of setting up Superman and Lois as a team, but even with the extra time (the first episode runs 90 minutes, followed by a 30-minute behind-the-scenes feature), it still takes until Episode 2 to truly appreciate why the "& Lois" is a necessary part of the title. Tulloch is great at grounding Hoechlin's charm, but it takes a minute for the show to prove that Lois is a hero in her own right and why she as an intrepid reporter may be the one to save Smallville rather than the town's alien martyr. When Lois' "powers" kick-in, it's fun to see her take on her own titans and thrilling to realize she doesn't need to call Clark for backup at every hiccup. The first episode also introduces Superman's nemesis for the series, whose identity will certainly raise questions for anyone with even a passing familiarity of other Arrowverse shows and the Crisis crossover. We have to assume those questions will be cleared up as the series progresses and that Helbing and his writing team can creatively thread the needle without retconning the biggest event this universe has undertaken.
Overall, the complaints against the first handful of episodes screened for critics are small compared to Superman & Lois' strengths. It is an alluring first step into a new frontier and might be just the ticket to infuse some new energy into the Arrowverse. Look up in the sky -- it's Superman & Lois, and they have our attention.
TV Guide rating: 4/5
Superman & Lois premieres Tuesday, Feb. 23 at 8/7c on The CW.