STUDIO: Warner Bros.
MSRP: $59.99
RUNNING TIME: 970 min.
Deleted Scenes

By the end of the third season of Smallville, I’d pretty much decided I nearly had enough. The departure from the freak-of-the-week formula was simply replaced with a different series of constant coincidences, and Clark Kent and Lana Lang’s perpetual mutual attraction would obviously never yield actual results simply because it was so written in the show’s “bible”. And the show’s fourth season scheduling clashed with one of the other few shows I bother to Tivo and not even the obsession-worthy Kristin Kreuk could entice me back, so when the box set was tossed on the block for review, I figured it was a good way to catch up with Smallville’s not-so-intricate web of contrivances.

The Show

When season three of Smallville ended, Lana Lang (Kristin Kreuk) had gone to study abroad in Paris, Lex Luthor (Michael Rosenbaum) continued his fascination with the ancient caves, nosy Chloe (Alison Mack) was put in Witness Protection and blown up (yay!) for discovering the dark secrets of Lionel Luthor (John Glover), and Clark Kent (Tom Welling) was “possessed” by his true alien self Kal-El.

Season four continues to chart the evolution of the Teen Who Would Be Superman during his final year of high school. Clark is battling with his “programming” – he discovered (via messages from biological dad Jor-El, voiced with regal authority by Terence Stamp) that his mission on Earth is to rule through subjugation, an idea he’s not too keen on after growing up as the adopted son of swell parents Jonathan and Martha Kent (John Schneider and Annette O’Toole). The season blasts off with a possessed Clark taking to the skies (the writers circumvent their no-fly mandate by having Clark later explain that it’s only Kal-El who knows how to fly) before crashing in a field with amnesia, where he’s discovered by the passing Lois Lane (Erica Durance), in town to investigate her cousin Chloe’s unsolved demise. But it’s not long before things return to status quo, or what passes for it in Smallville.

The glorious Ms. Kreuk demonstrates just how much she cares about all my letters expressing my true love.

This season tries to give Lana something more to do, and I’m not just talking about enigmatic new beau Jason Teague (Jensen Ackles, since graduated to WB’s spook-series Supernatural), who met her in Paris and followed her home to Smallville where he becomes the assistant coach of the high school football team. It turns out that Lana is a descendent of a witch named Isobel (as evidenced by the tattoo that mysteriously materializes on her delectable lower back), who’s also tied into the Kryptonian crystals coveted over the course of the season by the Luthors and Jason’s conniving mom Gevenieve (Jane Seymour) – the one who orchestrated her son’s new relationship from the start.

Clark continues to mature over the school year, joining the football team while willingly keeping his abilities mostly in check. He even gets a potential love interest (don’t worry, he and Lana still get all melty around each other) when obsessed teleport babe Alicia returns… and is swiftly eliminated in the next episode (pity Clark, who after three years of Kreuk-teasing must have balls bluer than his eventual unitard). And while the underlying baloney about the mystical stones and caves continues unabated, the season serves up a number of relatively self-contained stories as well: the football cheerleaders concoct a kryptonite-flavored Gatorade that lets them control their boyfriends’ minds, a former ugly duckling causes hallucinations, a LuthorCorp fear toxin is released into the town atmosphere, and a creepy teen freak builds a school replica and places kidnapped students inside in an attempt to relive his high school days forever (weirdly, this was the season’s penultimate episode).

Hey, I don’t care if it says ‘The Lakers Were Here’.

As has become customary, the fourth season also throws a few bones to the comic fans with variations on characters from the 4-color pages, including a super-powered canine named Krypto, a jinx-triggering baddie named Myxzptlk, and an impossibly speedy pickpocket named Bart Allen (aka The Flash), the last of which makes for one of the most entertaining episodes of the season. With Pete no longer present as the Friend Who Knows Clark’s Secret, this responsibility has been transferred to the endlessly annoying Chloe (no, of course she’s not dead, dammit) who witnesses Clark perform a Heroic Feat. Unlike Pete, however, she doesn’t reveal this discovery to Clark, instead just constantly dropping awkward hints about it, which serves only to make her character even more irritating than before. The season ends with a meteor storm that devastates Smallville during the high school graduation ceremony, a near-duplication of the event that initially began the series – complete with the arrival of a craft from another world.

Aside from nepotism, there are other advantages to having actor parents. Take Robert Patrick’s kid for example…

But for the most part, the writers keep dropping their bucket in the same shallow well and drawing up a single idea, which becomes abundantly clear when drinking the show in large quantities – literally more than half the season’s episodes feature some sort of body-jumping or mind-swapping or amnesia or possession. Clark starts out trying to fulfill his destiny as Kal-El. Lex gets physically split into the two halves of his personality. Lana is seized by the spirit of Isobel and goes all Crouching Tiger on Clark during a visit to China. A snooty student lying in a coma discovers she can astral project and occupy the bodies of others. The imprisoned Lionel uses one of the Kryptonian stones to switch bodies with Clark. And so on and so on. This show has more identity crises than DC Comics could ever dream up, and yet by the end of every episode, all the havoc caused during the previous forty-odd minutes is conveniently forgotten, erased or otherwise explained away, and nobody finds it terribly peculiar. A byproduct of living in Smallville, it seems, and any viewer still watching after four seasons of similar behavior has obviously accepted it as the norm as well.

My infamous Kreuk craving aside, I’d say the cast has grown more than comfortable in their roles even if they’re often just spinning their wheels. Welling seems to catch flak for his acting skills, but he nimbly shifts between the frequent personality changes, and imbues manicured farmboy Clark with a wholesome nature — or as much as an angular model with super-powers possibly can — while his increasingly strained friendship with future nemesis Lex (embodied with a flawless restraint by Rosenbaum) remains the highlight of the show. The strong family dynamic continues thanks to the dependable Schneider and O’Toole, while on the opposite end of the parenting spectrum Glover gives Lionel Luthor a delicious layered menace. As Lois, Durance brings a quick wit and a killer frame that are a welcome addition… at first anyway. But obviously her early appearances were popular enough to allow for recurring appearances, during which the writers obviously couldn’t figure out precisely what to do with her, and she winds up doing little besides shacking at the Kent farm while bickering with Clark.

It turned out Lois’ "investigative skills" were more thorough than Clark ever anticipated.

Smallville’s production values are always top-of-the-line for television – not quite feature film quality but echelons above, say, Mutant X (the latest meteor shower to rain on Smallville is a particular visual highlight). Unfortunately while this season has some memorable moments (lots of compromising positions for the female characters), it’s dragged down by Clark/Lana’s absurd unrequited love, the over-reliance on altered behavior, and the occasionally confounding attempts at creating a new mythology (magic, sacred caverns) while maintaining the vague intrinsic structure of the Superman legend (Kryptonite, supervillains, etc.) in a small-town high school setting complete with football games and prom and graduation. Still, I’ll toss in extra decimals for a pair of hotties like Kreuk and Durance.

6.9 out of 10

The Look

The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen looks far superior than it ever could when bound by the restraints of fiberoptic cable, and the rich comic book colors practically leap from the screen in a single bound. Or at least at a remarkable sprint.

8.8 out of 10

Like I said… pretty good actress.

The Noise

It’s on a Dobly 2.0 audio option, but with the strength of the whooshing and zapping and exploding, you could easily be convinced otherwise. Or maybe you’ve just been possessed by one of the numerous recurring plotlines.

8.0 out of 10

The Goodies

Leading the treats is a trio of commentaries with an interesting mix of the talent, two of which appear on a couple of the season’s best episodes (which involve behavioral changes!). There’s also a pair of quickie 10-minute featurettes, one focusing on the character of Lois Lane with clips of her portrayal over history and interviews with the actresses who wore her pink panties (Teri Hatcher was apparently too busy with Desperate Housewives or getting more plastic surgery to participate), while the other looks at the creative process as the writers “break” a story. Sadly, they’re working out one of the season’s more bizarre episodes during the featurette, but it’s an intriguing glimpse at story development. Then there are a handful of deleted scenes, most of which seem to have been sliced for time constraints, including a nifty Lex dream sequence.

Another bonus in the package: the first episode of The Flash TV series from 1990, so we can probably finally expect that DVD set in the near future. Took his time.

5.7 out of 10

Sorry, tigerlips… hiding only makes me look harder.

The Artwork

Clark hangs out in the Kansas cornfields with new co-star (not yet a regular circa season four) Lois Lane, instantly knocking a point off the score for completely excluding Kreuk imagery. The interior is designed like a high-school yearbook, with the DVDs fitted on each “page”, making me wonder why the outer sheath didn’t mirror the same theme in lieu of beef and maize. Still, a sweet kit.

8.0 out of 10

Overall: 7.0 out of 10