As we approach the 18th anniversary debut of Smallville, the Superman prequel is arguably more popular than ever, with fans celebrating the announcement last week that stars Tom Welling and Erica Durance will reprise their roles as Clark Kent and Lois Lane in the Arrowverse crossover "Crisis On Infinite Earths." It's a clever bit bit of fan service for those who have clamored to see some sort of television revival, virtually since the series ended in 2011 after 10 seasons. However, while this will no doubt renew calls for the fabled 11th season, what we really need isn't a continuation of Smallville, but instead a reboot.
At the time of its premiere in October 2011, Smallville tapped into an important niche market Superman lost his grip on over the decades: younger and, more importantly, female fans. The primary demographic appeal of Superman had long been boys and men, but 1993's Lois and Clark: The Adventures of Superman demonstrated the potential for the character's broader appeal, particularly when proper attention was devoted to his female supporting cast.
Smallville continued that success by turning up the dial on the interpersonal drama. The Betty & Veronica-style love triangle involving Clark Kent, Lana Lang and Chloe Sullivan offered a classic dramatic device for making fans take sides in the protagonist's decisions. The further irony of knowing that Lois Lane, the "true" love of Superman's life, would eventually show up only added another layer. The series used that to its advantage, and for all 10 seasons mined the tension between what could happen and what diehard fans knew would occur.
That's much the same formula that has fueled most of the superhero dramas that followed. Action set pieces and the continuing discovery of powers are typically a given, but by focusing first and foremost on telling a human story rather than a superhuman story, Warner Bros. found a combination that not only worked, but worked for (virtually) everyone.
By making the comic book characters feel all the more "real' and tangible, the show held onto teenage audiences that are often looking to distance themselves from childhood interests. What a reboot would offer is a chance to do that for a new generation, to update the stories and settings the show featured, and a chance to repeat the success all over again with a new twist.
That's not to say the genre hasn't evolved in a lot of ways since Smallville concluded in 2011. The technical advancements and studios' willingness to dole out higher budgets mean the special effects for a new Smallville would be better than ever. Whether it's Clark's powers, those of his villains, or the action set pieces, there is no doubt they could tell a more ambitious story.
What advanced even faster than technology, perhaps, is the culture. Smallville debuted before even the first Spider-Man film was released, and concluded before The Avengers arrived in 2012. Since then, superheroes have filled the screens large and small.
Part of what always held Smallville back was its reluctance to embrace the trappings of superhero storytelling. The show's developers were famously guided by the mantra "no tights, no flights," which kept Clark out of costume and away from the clouds for most of the its run. Even when other superheroes became became more commonplace on the series, they often wore colorful street clothes (and hoodies... a lot of hoodies) that came close to being a costume without ever crossing the line.
Any bashfulness over tights is out the window by 2019. Audiences are so accustomed to superhero tropes that nobody bats an eye when a hero leaps into action in leather or Spandex, and a Smallville reboot could easily embrace those aspects of its source material wholeheartedly.
Areboot even has options when it comes to what form the series could take, and where it might appear. Although Arrow will conclude with this season, The CW has no shortage of superhero programming, from the established Arrowverse dramas to Black Lightning to newcomer Batwoman. However, the network is not even Smallville's only option. The streaming service DC Universe clamors for new content and has already found success with Doom Patrol and Titans.
Callbacks to the original series, or casting the original actors in guest roles, would be a great nostalgia fix. The original show received a satisfactory ending, whether in its 10th and final season on air or in the comic book continuation Smallville Season 11. But there's so much that could be done to reinvigorate that world, and so much a reboot could try that the original never had the opportunity to do.