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Smallville: Season Four

As eventually happens to all television shows that attempt complicated storylines and convoluted character interactions for multiple seasons without sticking to a carved-in-stone overriding plot arc, The WB's Smallville firmly smashed into the giant concrete wall of dumbness in Season Four. That the show's creators — Alfred Gough and Miles Millar — jumped the shark so quickly and, frankly, with such utter lack of creative spark when they had such a brilliant palette of story potential and acting talent at their disposal is stunning. And the Season Four DVD box set is testament to how a project with the potential for both genius and longevity can go swirling down the tubes due to nothing more than intellectual malaise on the part of its creators. Forget the ongoing Clark-becoming-Superman tale, and lay aside the once promising Shakespearean relationship between the conflicted Lex Luthor (Michael Rosenbaum) and his complex, evil-genius dad Lionel (John Glover). By Season Four, the primary plot was still about high school doofus Clark Kent (Tom Welling) and his adolescent obsession with the vapid Lana Lang (Kristin Kreuck), who somehow found herself kidnapped/jammed in the trunk of a car/tied up in a warehouse in every episode so that Superboy could save her in the nick of time. Meanwhile, his best friend Chloe (Allison Mack) was smarter, prettier, and actually interested in him — but Clark, whose character became more self-involved and clueless in each season, just couldn't pull his head out of his own Kryptonian butt long enough to see it. And then, in Season Three, she died a rather lame off-screen comic book death. By the fourth season, the whole thing had become a lot like watching "Dawson's Creek," only with characters who occasionally developed bizarre powers and could toss tractors at each other.

Season Four of Smallville featured the usual number of stand-alone eps while carrying along a slender thread of Superman mythos — Clark, who vanished into some sort of dimensional netherworld at the end of Season Three, accepted his Kal-Elness (whatever the hell that happens to be, because God knows it's never made clear) and decided to fulfill his destiny; Lana had some sort of supernatural, witchy Egyptian goddess encounter or something and found a boyfriend after running off to Paris; and Lionel Luthor continued his quest to figure out what makes Clark tick so he can become immortal or cured of cancer or all-powerful or… well, it depended on the episode. In "Devoted," some cheerleaders slipped a Kryptonite mickey into some punch and Clark became a (temporary) love god; in "Transference," Lionel switched bodies with Clark and all sorts of idiocy ensued; in "Onyx," one of the few episodes that gave much time to the superior, more interesting Rosenbaum, Lex split into his good and bad selves (and his bad self locked his good self in the basement!); and, naturally, Lana's new boyfriend and his mother (guest star Jane Seymour) turned out to have ulterior motives.

Then, of course, there were the episodes that reeked of flat-out stupidity. In "Run," Clark met a guy (Kyle Gallner) who's even faster than he is — it's the teenaged Flash! And in "Krypto," the Kents took in a dog who turned out to have been subjected to experiments at LuthorCorp — and who, after Clark was yet again weakened by exposure to Kryptonite, saved the day. But the single most imbecilic addition to Season Four was the introduction of Chloe's cousin, a big city newspaper reporter from Metropolis who came to Smallville hoping to solve the mystery of Chloe's death. Yes, that's right — they brought in Lois Lane (Erica Durance). Having already completely hacked the Superman canon to tiny, bloody chunks by this point with the high-school relationship of Lex/Lana/Clark as well as bringing in supposedly cute one-shots by Perry White and the Flash — as well as that Krypto nonsense — it's sort of pointless to complain about this especially egregious change to the legend of Kal-El. But after having spent several seasons setting up Chloe to most likely become Lois in a few years through a simple name change and a move to Metropolis, the introduction of Lois at this stage of the game was a deus ex machina that lacked far too many cogs and wheels to work in the slightest. And that she was brought in as a hate-at-first-sight love interest for Clark was all the more preposterous as the admittedly attractive Durance is obviously pushing 30 while young Clark's supposedly still a high school senior (ironically, Welling, who's actually a few months older than Durance, somehow manages to pull it off). Between Smallville's gross lack of continuity — the great love of one character's life will die tragically, and by the next episode it's as if nothing ever happened — increasingly bad writing, and dismissal of its most interesting character, Lex Luthor, while turning its protagonist into a self-absorbed prat, this once promising TV show didn't just jump the shark by Season Four, it let go of the rope and fell into the gaping maw of the Great White itself to be chewed up and spat out like so much chum. What a waste.

*          *          *

Warner's DVD release of Smallville: The Complete Fourth Season offers 22 episodes, all in anamorphic transfers (1.78:1). The video is very clean and bright, with rich, warm colors and great contrast. The Dolby 2.0 audio (in English, with subtitles in English, Spanish or French) is still impressive — say what you want about the show's content, these transfers and the audio are superb. Extras include commentary by Erica Durance, Annette O'Toole, and executive producers Alfred Gough, Miles Millar, and Ken Horton on "Crusade," commentary by John Glover, Alfred Gough, Miles Millar, and Ken Horton on "Transference," and commentary by Kristin Kreuk, Allison Mack, Erica Durance, and director Jeannot Szwarc on "Spell." Also on board is a very nice featurette, "Being Lois Lane," wherein various actresses including Noel Neill, Margot Kidder, Dana Delany, and Erica Durance discuss the character the featurette "Behind Closed Doors: Inside the Writers' Room" about the enormous amount of work that goes into creating this season's dreck, deleted scenes, and a DVD-ROM link to bonus material available online. Six-disc folding digipak with slipcase.
—Dawn Taylor

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