I Really Wanted to Like Smallville, Part 1: Everybody’s Girl

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I’m a huge fan of all things Superman. He’s my favorite superhero, however un-cool that may be in general geek culture. So, when I started renting Smallville, I really wanted to like it. I made it through two seasons, and it was not until the third episode of the third season, “Extinction,” that I finally gave up. I just can’t keep watching this.

It isn’t the butchering of the Superman mythos. It isn’t the formulaic mutant-of-the-week plots. It isn’t the fact that they made Clark Kent a less sympathetic character than Lex Luthor. It isn’t even the constant, clumsy use of the reset button.

It’s Lana Lang.

As of the end of just the second season, she has been stalked by at least 5 people (including Clark, which is a whole ‘nother article). Only one other character on the show has been stalked – once – making Lana the target of over 83% of Smallville’s stalkers.

(Why? Apparently because she is the Perfect Pretty Princess, and everyone loves her. Why, I don’t know. Yes, actress Kristine Kreuk is very beautiful, but so is the rest of Smallville. Even Ma and Pa Kent are hot. It’s not like Lana is particularly likable, either. She gets pissed at people who do the slightest thing she doesn’t like, such as not telling her a secret that is none of her business, or telling her that a guy who is plainly obsessed with her, and a probable murderer, just might be dangerous. )

So what is Lana doing at the beginning of “Extinction?” She’s going swimming. Alone. At night. At the high school swimming pool. The high school with a student body count approaching that of Sunnydale High.

You’ll never guess what happens. That’s right folks – her sixth stalker attacks her.

Lana Lang isn’t a person. She’s not even a Perfect Pretty Princess. She’s a Perfect Pretty Plot Device.

Comments

  1. says

    Yeah, I always wanted to throw something at Clark and say Chloe (is that her name? Its been so long I’m not sure..) is significantly cooler than Lana! She’s just as hot, not to mention smarter, you stupid man! If you want to be a superhero, you need backup, not the moronic continuous victim!

  2. Jennifer Kesler says

    So are they – as per usual – conflating intimidation tactics with sexual attraction, as in “you’re not really a hot girl until you’ve been stalked”? Or is it her punishment for being hot and snooty, as in “Let’s bring Princess down a notch”.

    i just love it when I have to sort out WHICH bone-headed trope is driving the plot before I can even begin to list the 348 plot events that would have achieved the drama without being stupid.

  3. Blake says

    I agree with everything you said. Lana Lang was and is by far the worst part of the show.

    When I was watching the show on DVDs, I would mostly fast-forward past her parts. Especially the Lana/Clark interactions.

    For me, the Lional, Lex, and Chloe aspects of the show more than made up for the Lana aspect, for a long time at least.

  4. Ifritah says

    There is nothing creepier than seeing the main character of a TV show that you’re supposed to empathize with… using a telescope to peep on his neighbor.

    The only reason I forced myself to watch four seasons of this awful awful show (I quit at the beginning of fifth when the episode ‘Lexmus’ finally broke me) was because of Chloe (well, and Lex before they ruined his likability: aka, by having him fall for Lana) and knowing James Marsters was going to be a character in fourth season. (I started watching late.)

    I want those hours of my life back.

  5. S. A. Bonasi says

    (including Clark, which is a whole ‘nother article)

    Please write it.

    And, yeah, I have the same issues with Smallville. And it doesn’t get better.

    So are they – as per usual – conflating intimidation tactics with sexual attraction, as in “you’re not really a hot girl until you’ve been stalked”? Or is it her punishment for being hot and snooty, as in “Let’s bring Princess down a notch”.

    The former. The aforementioned “doesn’t get better”? Has a lot to do with how Clark and Lana relationship (or lack there of) is handled.

  6. says

    I have to say that after the first two seasons, they decided to “sex up” the show and that’s when it went completely down the toilet. They sacrificed the story in favour of having people take off their clothes every episode.

    This didn’t have to happen. I mean, look at Battlestar Galactica. It’s one of the best written shows on tv and the majority of the cast are very attractive and there is a certain amount of sex in the show. But they didn’t let that become the driving force behind the show.

  7. Patrick says

    There will be another article regarding Clark stalking Lana, and another regarding how much Chloe deserves to be in a better show than Smallville (along with Lex).

    I have to say that after the first two seasons, they decided to “sex up” the show and that’s when it went completely down the toilet.

    It actually gets WORSE? I’m torn between a desire to watch good television and morbid curiosity about how the show could possibly go further downhill.

    What’s really sad is that there are occasional moments of awesome in the show. Such as an episode where things happen in a rather nonsensical manner, and it seems like haphazard writing… until you realize that all of the background music in every scene is an R.E.M. song, and that the episode so far has been one long dream sequence. Then Lana shows up and all subtlety goes out the window.

  8. Bastet says

    The creepiness of obsession of the producers/writers of that show with Lana is not to be believed. They think she’s just SO HOT, so we must too! And we must want her to take off her clothes! And be the focus of every episode!

    Chloe, though, is one of my favorite female characters of all time (except in S2 when she’s moping over Clark). And she does get a lot more attention in the later seasons, or so I’ve heard, but I can’t take the Lanafication of everything.

  9. S. A. Bonasi says

    Oh, God, the Lexana wedding. The we’ve-had-a-few-episodes-that-actually-sorta-kinda-had-Lana-being-proactive-so-we’d-better-get-rid-of-that-real quick Lexana wedding. The annoying Evil Guy, Nice Guy dichatomy.

    MaggieCat, I still watch for potential-superhero (Please?) Chloe and the ever magnificent Lionel. Lex is dead to me.

  10. Jennifer Kesler says

    You know, I’m starting to hate Lana and I’ve never seen the show. :D

    Seriously, though, I’ve been hearing about this character for years now that I think about it. In my hearing, she’s been accused of ruining the show, ruining other characters and… several plot-related disasters I can’t recall specifically.

  11. MaggieCat says

    Have you ever read any of the interviews with Millar/Gough about the character of Lana? There’s a vague Humbert Humbert tone there that is seriously weird.

    It actually gets WORSE? I’m torn between a desire to watch good television and morbid curiosity about how the show could possibly go further downhill.

    I’d only recommend watching later seasons, particularly 4 and onward (ancient French witch!) if you can watch certain shows and movies just because they are SO bad. The Plan 9 From Outer Space/Barbarella territory.

    At this point I… well, to tell the truth I really have no idea why I still watch it. Maybe it’s because I tend to MST3K my way through every new craptastic plot device. Lex/Lana’s wedding was a goldmine of material.

  12. S. A. Bonasi says

    MaggieCat,

    There were a couple of episodes where Lana was very proactive in finding out Clark’s secret. And she was presented as underhanded about it. There were also a couple of parts earlier in the season where Lana seemed to be rather digging the power that being a Luthor offered. Ya know, baby steps in the right direction. But heaven forbid they follow through.

    See: Lexana wedding. Agency? Gone! By the way, can any of the wonderful people here word the general distaste I have for all the Bad Tragic things that happen TO Lana?

  13. MaggieCat says

    we’ve-had-a-few-episodes-that-actually-sorta-kinda-
    had-Lana-being-proactive-so-we’d-better-get-rid-of-
    that-real quick

    When was that? Where was I? I don’t remember any of those episodes. All I remember is a spiral of annoyance that’s been going on without relief since the audience discovered that even freaking Zod loves Lana.

  14. MaggieCat says

    I know we mostly agreed a while back that there’s really no good use for the term “Mary-Sue” that’s an actual show character but if ever there was one, it’d be here. She always has to be set up to be the most perfectest, prettiest, nicest girl in the world; randomly acquires skills for a single episode; and everyone falls in love with her. Lana is the head of Sparklypoo House.

    I feel like I need to point out I have nothing against Kristin Kreuk, and actually feel kind of bad for her that her character ends up with so little agency of her own. On the rare occasions Lana’s had anything interesting to do, Kreuk’s been quite likable.

  15. Ifritah says

    Hrm, you know, I think out of all 4.5 seasons of the show I watched, the only time I liked Lana was when she was evil.

    Clearly, she should have stayed that way.

  16. SunlessNick says

    So are they – as per usual – conflating intimidation tactics with sexual attraction, as in “you’re not really a hot girl until you’ve been stalked”? Or is it her punishment for being hot and snooty, as in “Let’s bring Princess down a notch”. - BetaCandy

    It’s not a punishment, because the producers regard Lana as without flaw; likewise, Heaven forefend anyone perceive her as snooty, or think she is other than in the right in all things.

    So I guess, they’re conflating stalker-behaviour with normal attraction, and treating Lana as the obvious target for both.

    I feel like I need to point out I have nothing against Kristin Kreuk, and actually feel kind of bad for her that her character ends up with so little agency of her own. - MaggieCat

    According to some of the people at TWoP, you can hear the drool in the producers’ voices when they talk about her, which makes me wonder about the comfort of her working environment.

    But I get where you’re coming from. My most loathed Buffyverse character is Andrew, who I hate so much that always feel the need to say it doesn’t extend to Tom Lenk.

  17. Gategrrl says

    Perhaps the producers of Smallville and Stargate should get together and compare notes about their hard-ons about their female characters that they lust for.

    Maybe Lana is Sam Carter’s orphaned love-child – Sam went to the midwest to have her baby, and it got dumped in Smallville?

  18. Jennifer Kesler says

    Gategrrl, I was thinking the same thing. :D

    I think sometimes producers are instructed by the network to go on and on about how gorgeous and hot their stars are – the male stars, too – but there are some fairly creepy moments during SG-1 DVD commentaries in which producers sort of go off into trances murmuring about Amanda Tapping’s visual assets.

  19. sbg says

    In the Supernatural DVDs, the guys behind the scenes (one of them the shows creator) waxed poetically about a woman who appeared in the first episode only – going on about they had a great excuse to get her hotness captured in a nurse’s costume (it was Halloween), and what a great panning shot of her they accomplished amid various other things.

    I wonder if it would be the same if there were women behind the scenes in DVD extras. I mean, I know I ogle…but I don’t think I do it to the extent most guys I know seem to. Where I’ll notice a fine butt…or nape…or hands…I’ll appreciate, then move on. Where my male friends notice a woman’s butt, or breasts, I think they get a full-blown “having-sex-with-her” fantasy going in their head. It seems to take them several minutes to recover.

    Uh. But that’s neither here nor there. Sorry. ;)

  20. Gategrrl says

    More on topic, re with Lana on Smallville…

    I remember watching the first episode, or part of it, and decided to switch off and go somewhere else. I wasn’t impressed with Kristen Kruek, who was getting OODLES of publicity at that time as The Newest Hottest Young Thang with the Twang. I didn’t think she could act. Much. And that was confirmed with the later episodes in that season, I think.

    I don’t mind relationship angsting, as long as that’s not the total focus of the show – and it seemed/s like that’s what Smallville was all about; that, and Clark figuring out what he could do. Lana, of course, is relegated to that part of the show, the relationship angsting. Who wouldn’t want to Be Her and have the future Superman drooling for her in a gutless manner? Love afar, starcrossed lovers, etc etc and barf.

    Is the reason Chloe is so relatively loved is, even though she has a thing for Clark (or she did, in the first season) it’s not what defined her role on the show? She was the second banana female character, just like Dr Fraiser on Stargate, who was written as a *character* and not a Girl, because she wasn’t the focus of the network/producer sexual fantasies?

    It’s very uncomfortable for me when I’m watching a show, having never seen it before, and can see how a female character is going to go, just by virtue of how she is written, shot, lit and mooned over in the scripts and on the screen. As someone else said, it makes you wonder what the working conditions are for the women actresses who fall into what can only be called the Wet Virtual Fantasies of the men in power on the shows they work in.

    And it certainly makes you wonder where the UNcreativity for these characters’ storylines come from. Actually, they’re beyond noncreativity. It’s all rote fantasy and tropes, even within a show rife with them. It’s more offensive because it’s not PLOT that’s being treated as rote, it’s a CHARACTER, which by rights, should be more individual than the plot, in order to make it, and her, interesting. It’s a sign of bad writing, flaccid imagination (you’d be surprising how rote male sexual fantasies are) and blinders. And this isn’t always limited to female characters, either.

    Of course, that’s what your entire site is based on, so I’m preaching to the choir here. :-)

  21. Jennifer Kesler says

    Yeah, but you said it very, very well there, Gategrrl. Seriously, I was reading that and thinking, “Yep, that’s exactly it.”

    Original shows often resort to tropes with their The Girl(tm) characters; unoriginal shows full of tropes somehow add MORE trope layers to their The Girl(tm)s. So even in total crapfests, women generally still manage to get written “even worse” than the men.

    And I third what Nick said which you reiterated: wonder what it’s like to be a young woman working with men who feel entitled to openly ogle you and/or worse? Within the industry, that stuff is far more tolerated than in most other lines of business these days because it’s the last industry where they can without question hire and fire on the basis of looks.

  22. Ifritah says

    I can’t really argue with that, because one of the episodes where I liked her the most is “Spirit” where various people are being possessed by a ghost of a very Mean Girlsesque wannabe prom queen. – Maggiecat

    I loved that episode! I was also very fond of the witch possession episodes. Personally, I thought they did far too much build-up for so few episodes with it. … Or maybe I was just sad Lana came back.

  23. MaggieCat says

    There’s a rather interesting interview with Greg Beeman, one of SV’s executive producers, and he said a few interesting things about Lana. It’s from 2004, but sadly few of the things that are relevant have changed since then. (Any bolding for emphasis is mine)

    About the constant use of The Pink (which admittedly may only be interesting to me, since my background’s in costume design):

    So, Kristin, because I think she was always designed to be the princess, you know, the object of desire, I think the idea was to put her in very innocent colors, and she would be the innocent one. So really, sky blue and pink were always her colors from the beginning.

    Well at least they aren’t totally oblivious:

    She’s a tricky character because I’ve read things like MobiusKlein’s objectification of Lana, but, you know, in some ways, that’s the truth, but in some ways, that’s what it needs to be. Especially from the beginning. She was the object of his desire, and she motivated him. As a dramatic instrument, he needed to have something that made him want to move forward, and so Lana was that. She was in fact sort of an object.

    Writing for Chloe vs for Lana:

    If you stripped all their names away and you stripped all the actors away and you just said, okay: there’s the villainous father, and there’s the struggling son of the villainous father. Then there’s the good son striving to be a hero, full of self-doubt, and you just put those kind of character traits on people, and then there was the beautiful object of the hero’s desire. Well, that limits that character. Versus the perky sidekick girl who gets to investigate. That character gets to have more fun. It doesn’t matter who plays that character, just in drama, that character gets to have more fun. Lana is a little bit limited by the nature of who she is as a character in the drama. You can go back to Aristotle. That character in that drama, that character is limited.

    The only thing “that character” is truly limited by is the creativity of the writers. Quit blaming Aristotle, he was writing in a time when women were property. Am I the only one who thinks it sounds a bit nutty to try to use that particular tack as justification for a modern character?

  24. MaggieCat says

    until you realize that all of the background music in every scene is an R.E.M. song, and that the episode so far has been one long dream sequence. Then Lana shows up and all subtlety goes out the window. Patrick

    They actually made this almost literal one point. I distinctly remember an episode where they actually backed a shot of Lana coming down the stairs with that godawful Maroon 5 song that has the “She wiiiiiiill be loved, she wiiiiiiill be loved” chorus. It was one the funniest things I have ever seen, but I really don’t think that’s what they were going for.

    Hrm, you know, I think out of all 4.5 seasons of the show I watched, the only time I liked Lana was when she was evil.

    Clearly, she should have stayed that way. Ifritah

    Hee. I can’t really argue with that, because one of the episodes where I liked her the most is “Spirit” where various people are being possessed by a ghost of a very Mean Girlsesque wannabe prom queen. Lana as a Plastic was fun. Interestingly, it also looks like one of the episodes where Kreuk was actually having fun.

  25. MaggieCat says

    I’m not sure they’ll ever top PossessedClark’s snit of “The crown’s mine, bitch” while yanking the tiara away from Chloe. Must… resist… bad… queen… joke.

    I was not a fan of the whole witch storyline because to me it always felt like “Lana’s not special enough… I know! Let’s give her magical powers! And make her powerful enough to hurt Clark!” Bah. Total waste of Jane Seymour if you ask me.

  26. Ifritah says

    Hrm, I never thought of Witch!Lana that way. I definitely thought it was silly to have Lana’s ancestral line look just like her, but that’s television for you. But I think I liked the episodes because it gave me a break from Lana’s constant perfection. (Though, naturally, they had to make her as ‘sexy’ as possible when she was witch possessed.)

  27. Gategrrl says

    Greg Beeman moved on to Heroes, another show with superheroes (and plenty of them!) and a young girl who started out as The Cheerleader, and another one as The Stripper.

    At this point, The Cheerleader has her own very strong fanbase, from what I’ve been able to tell, and has one of the strongest storylines on the show. It helps that the character of her adoptive father took off as a huge break out character, as well – and Claire, The Cheerleader, has ALWAYS been questioning who she is, what she is, where she comes from, etc and so forth. It also helps that Claire’s actress is very appealing and talented (I like her) and manages to NOT be precious precious. The writers have also avoided the Lana Lang pitfalls with her on that show as well.

    Nikki, The Stripper, hasn’t fared quite as well. She’s also fighting for her identity, to protect her family, and live a good life – but she hasn’t been played as strongly or as interesting. The writing for her has been weaker, although I think her actress is pretty talented as well, and able to carry off the dual personalities she has.

    The third major supporting female character of Heroes was, thankfully, killed off – she was nothing more than a fuck-toy/object of desire of two of the main male characters. I’m glad there’s a shorter lag time on Networks these days. With Stargate, they would have refused to have dealt with a failing character/storyline as quickly; and their schedule would not have permitted such a quick turn-around for adapting the story to eliminating such a lame plot/character.

    It’s telling that amongst the fans I know of Heroes (not many, I admit) – they almost universally despised Simeone the Fuck-toy, are bored with Nikki, who hasn’t made any forward strides with herself and her plotline, but all like Claire the Cheerleader because she’s developing, and so is her storyline.

    Lana seems to be lodged firmly in the Simone camp.

    The only thing “that character” is truly limited by is the creativity of the writers. Quit blaming Aristotle, he was writing in a time when women were property. Am I the only one who thinks it sounds a bit nutty to try to use that particular tack as justification for a modern character?

    Beeman’s thinking classically, of course. Perhaps he couldn’t outright say it, but perhaps the actress really wasn’t up to much more than looking pretty? Or if she *could* do more, they weren’t prepared to risk a show on her doing more? I’m not trying to excuse the writers.

    As usual, though, I go back to Stargate: Sam Carter’s actress is very average. The only time we ever see her highly emotional, or even EMOTE, is in an elevator way back in the first season, when her character is leaving a little girl alone to die. She didn’t break up that much when her father died. There was never much emoting going on there. It was as if her actress was incapable of it – of making it translate to the screen.

    It’s still a mystery to me why they tried to make Sam Carter a major lead character on that show, and have tons of episodes center on her. I guess that same question applies to Lana Lang as well: she is NOT the main “hero” of the show, even though she *could* be, if she were written better (or acted better).

  28. Jennifer Kesler says

    Re: actor skills. There is no such thing as a limited actor skillset that only lends itself to stereotypes.

    Re: Amanda Tapping as an example. I don’t think the producers had any question of her ability to convey emotions – they relied solely on her to convey the sekrit Sam/Jack ship after all. And she did do that great meltdown with Cassie in S1, so clearly she COULD have performed that again when her dad died.

    I think producers sometimes want a serene, passionless Lady, gazing beatifically from the sidelines, with only the slightest of lovely smiles or delicate frowns to mar her perfect features. They don’t want a woman character who gets involved and reacts, who breaks a sweat, who – well, competes with the men.

  29. Gategrrl says

    Keeping in mind that I don’t follow Smallville at all on TV, but have been watching Heroes – Claire the Cheerleader herself doesn’t seem to have too many “flaws” other than her wondering why she doesn’t fit in. Other than the mondo-drama surrounding her birth, raising, and life after adoption by the show’s lead gray-villian (who loves her in a nonsquicky way), she has very few flaws herself.

    Tim Kring, the main writer for Heroes, is latest from Crossing Jordan, a show which features at least one strong female lead, one strong secondary lead, and a rotating supporting female lead (that changes out with the seasons). I think he’s capable of writing strong women, although he’s not perfect.

    I think if any of the Heroes was informed by the brickbats of Lana Lang, it was Simone, the woman who slept with the Painter (Isaac) and then the Nurse (Peter Petrelli) who cared for her father. As I said, they got rid of her pretty fast when it became clear that the audience was NOT digging her at all. But she wasn’t a lead character – or if she was, she was relegated very quickly to a tertiary character.

    Mama Petrelli…now, she’s a puzzle. That is, if that was Mama Petrelli we saw before the hiatus.

  30. MaggieCat says

    Beeman’s thinking classically, of course. Perhaps he couldn’t outright say it, but perhaps the actress really wasn’t up to much more than looking pretty? Or if she *could* do more, they weren’t prepared to risk a show on her doing more? I’m not trying to excuse the writers.

    I understand the classical thinking- hell, I could give you several hundred words right now about my belief that modern procedural dramas are a direct descendant of medieval morality and miracle plays- but I also have this wacky idea that when society has progressed to the point where certain things are now unacceptable (like say, women as property) maybe you rethink that strict adherence to tradition.

    I’d find it very difficult to believe that they were constrained by the ability of the actress in this particular case, since quite a few of the actors had questionable levels of skill to begin with, but they all got better storylines than “the princess”. (Well, except for Pete. Poor Pete.) It doesn’t help when the execs respond to fans dislike of Lana with the “you’re just jealous!!” reply- it definitely makes it look like they don’t want her to be a real person with actual flaws.

    I’m still taking Heroes on some faith-I like Niki well enough, and I’ve heard several places that the writers intended for her to be the character that we knew the least about and a lot would be explained at the end of the season. I have no idea if that’s what they’re still planning on, but I’m willing to wait it out. Particularly since I like Claire and MamaPetrelli so much. (I do wonder though, if the backlash against Lana informed Claire’s arc at all since in addition to Beeman, Jeph Loeb is also a former SV producer and writer.)

  31. Patrick says

    Lana is the head of Sparklypoo House.

    I didn’t think there would be a way for that comic to be better, but you just nailed it.

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