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Why ‘Superman & Lois’ should be the future of the Arrowverse, and superhero TV itself

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Aug 30, 2021, 1:20 PM EDT

Turns out you can teach an old superhero a few new tricks. It’s been almost a decade since the Arrowverse began on The CW, with the flagship series spawning a half-dozen spinoff shows set in cities — and, umm, a spaceship — all across the DC universe.

But within those 500+ hours of combined television, the franchise has also fallen into some familiar formulas and tropes. Which, after nine years and around 20 episodes per show per season, can all kind of start to wear a bit thin.

But just when we start thinking the Arrowverse couldn’t surprise us anymore, along came Superman & Lois. The CW's newest superhero series is an easy pitch on paper, focusing on one of the most recognizable superheroes in all of media as he saves the world and stops the Big Bads. Admittedly, this sounds a whole lot like the formula shows like The FlashArrowBatwoman, and pretty much everything else have followed in recent years with proven success.

That’s where the similarities end, though, as Superman & Lois has managed to carve out its own distinct corner of this universe that fits within the larger framework while also feeling wholly its own thing. It’s been said before, but I’ll say it again: Superman & Lois is the perfect mix of Friday Night Lights and Man of Steel, combining the well-told small-town family drama with high-flying superhero stakes that feel more akin to Zack Snyder’s vision of the DC universe than the wacky action of The CW stalwarts like The Flash or Legends of Tomorrow.

The key to making Superman & Lois stand out from all its super-siblings? It’s grounded. Like really, really grounded. Which is an odd thing to say about a show focused on the most powerful, high-flying hero in the DC Universe. If you didn’t know any better, you’d think it were a family drama like This Is Us at a glance. There’s no STAR Labs loaded with cutting-edge tech, or a secret Arrow Cave bunker to gameplan the action. There’s no support team of super-scientists, or tech experts, or budding superheroes that fill out the roster of supporting players.

Instead, the narrative is framed around Clark and Lois’ family, made up of the famed comic couple and their twin teenage sons (introduced to the narrative courtesy of the Crisis on Infinite Earths event, but you don’t need any of that background to jump into this story). The fuel that drives this show is the high school drama of the Kent boys trying to find their place in Smallville, after leaving their lives in Metropolis; and Lois’ efforts to start the next chapter of her career after leaving the Daily Planet and learning she can still make a difference wherever she puts up her shingle.

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At its core, this show has family drama DNA running through its veins. The superhero action is just ancillary to that — but thankfully — the superhero action is also really good. The big comic book story of Season 1 was framed around a rogue Kryptonian looking to destroy the Earth and turn it into a new Krypton, but that alien threat came in the guise of a shady businessman leveraging his promise of economic prosperity to take advantage of a dying small town. The superhero story was woven perfectly into the fabric of what makes the series work, which allowed them to complement one another in a way we don’t typically see in the Arrowverse.

It’s also solved a puzzle that has flummoxed filmmakers and storytellers for years, in truly making Superman himself feel like a relatable alien-super person. He’s just a husband and father trying to figure out how to be there for his family, a universal tale that we haven’t seen much from in superhero TV. And, not surprisingly, superpowers can actually make that job harder, not easier, when the rubber hits the road. We see him in the nitty-gritty of fatherhood, as opposed to the old cliche of sending the kids off-screen to make way for the comic book antics. As cliche as it sounds, Tyler Hoechlin’s Supes is the kind of guy you’d like to get a beer with — at least until he bails on the second round to go save the world. 

The difference between Superman & Lois and pretty much any other superhero show is exemplified in the season-ending cliffhanger. It’s not about a new super-alien threat, or a character stuck in the Mirror-verse, or a big death fake-out. It’s framed around the surprise arrival of John Henry Irons’ (Wolé Parks) displaced daughter, the product of his marriage to the alt-universe version of Lois Lane, who has somehow found a way to escape from her universe and crossover to this reality to join her father. It promises a rich new story that is tied to the multiversal mysteries but anchored squarely in how it affects the family and characters at the show’s center. It’s comic book adventures and twists, but always filtered through a family drama lens.

Over the course of Season 1, this show has truly captured a new approach to storytelling within this genre that brings something fresh to a universe that has gotten stale, to the point both Arrow (before its end) and The Flash were repeating themes and character arcs because there’s just only so much territory to mine within these formulas. For the Arrowverse to succeed, it has to grow beyond the formula that worked so well to make it such a hit in the first place.

If Superman & Lois is the first big creative swing at reinventing what the Arrowverse could be, we can’t wait to see what’s next.

Superman & Lois is streaming now on The CW app, and hits HBO Max on September 17.