Clark Kent is growing into the super man we all knew he could be as “Smallville” begins its 10th and final season on Friday. Jevon Phillips writes about the show and the actor who has portrayed Clark Kent longer than anyone else, Tom Welling.
Tom Welling’s first memory on the set of “Smallville” nine years ago was a chance meeting with a young production assistant named Chris Petry. The actor waved at Petry, who returned the greeting. Almost a decade later, Petry is all grown up and now serves as one of the show’s producers and occasionally directs. As for Welling, well, he is still almost Superman.
“The two of us were just sitting around the other day and going ‘Eh, not too bad. Not too bad for nine years. [We’ve] done all right,” said Welling, who is also an executive producer on the show and on the new CW program “Hellcats.”
The original vision for “Smallville,” which begins its 10th and final season Friday, was not to dazzle viewers so much with a red-and-blue-suited alien leaping tall buildings as it was to explore the early life of Clark Kent, explained the 33-year-old actor. That character study has been as successful as anyone on the show could have imagined a decade ago and now a generation of kids and young adults know Welling as the defining image of a capeless Superman.
The show’s creators, Al Gough and Miles Millar, embraced the opportunity to write a rich, new narrative for the iconic character’s journey to manhood.
“I know that sometimes we’ve done some things fans didn’t like — though other fans really appreciate — but we’ve just going our own path knowing that eventually he would become Superman,” said Welling, whose character still hasn’t leapt a building in a single bound.
But come on — 10 years of teasing fans with Clark’s maiden flight?
“Some people might be a little upset that it’s taken this long, but I think that we have to embrace the fact that if we’d done it in the first season, the show would be over,” said Welling. “The whole point was to try to elongate this journey or this transition that Clark has to becoming Superman.”
The show has endured challenges in its 10 seasons including the demise of its original network, the WB. The program has seen its viewership drop — 8.4 million for the show’s premiere in 2001 to 2.3 million for last year’s opener — though that’s not unusual for an aging show. And it’s faced the inevitable questions, especially from hardcore comic book readers about their narrative choices.
“It’s got its own continuity — just like Richard Donner’s ‘Superman,'” said Geoff Johns, chief creative officer for DC Entertainment, a comic book writer and an occasional writer for “Smallville.” “It’s built its own world, and it’s certainly a huge legacy. It’s crazy … I mean Tom Welling has spent more hours as Clark Kent than anyone in history.”
Many hail Christopher Reeve (over, say, George Reeves or Dean Cain) as the quintessential Man of Steel, and Brandon Routh’s rendition in 2006’s “Superman Returns” was generally well received, but Welling’s “Smallville” longevity gives him a special place in superhero lore.
“When he [Welling] finally becomes Superman, he will be, to me, stepping into the role and becoming Christopher Reeve,” said executive producer Brian Peterson. “We really want it to end where a lot of people in the world … where their knowledge of Superman picks up. Our goal was not to create mythology but to fill in a gap of mythology.”
But will fans be satisfied now that they’ve waited?
“I think the dilemma and the challenge this year is waiting until the end of the show,” said Welling. “At this point you’re like, ‘Why doesn’t he just put on the suit?’ I mean, come on — he’s doing the same stuff now, so why not? That’s the challenge — to make that last until the end.” And speaking of the end, that issue presents a special challenge.
“We all know that Clark doesn’t die,” said Welling. “I just want the audience to get the feeling that I got watching [the “24” finale] … a feeling of hope, and faith that he’s going to continue, and that he’s out there somewhere.”
— Jevon Phillips
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