Smallville v Sunnydale

In the video shop* the other day, I picked up the first disc in the first season of Smallville.
I have to admit, I was inspired by my recent (and pleasant) experience with Superman Returns [insert insanely effusive gushing over the Alien Beauty that is the noo soops], and I’m not sure I’ll stick with it (though I’m up to disc 2), and we do have plenty of Buffy and Angel to watch)…
Yeah, so anyway.
Smallville. I’ve been struck by the similarities between Buffy and Smallville. This is, no doubt, an illustration of the influence of Buffy on the genre I’m sure my supes would call ‘teen supernatural’ or something similar. I know there’s been lots written about self-reflexivity and polyvocal texts ‘n all – all lain to varying degrees at the door of Joss Whedon – but I think that Buffy had a more interesting influence on Smallville (or perhaps, that we can see similar tropes across this genre?).
Ok, now before I go any further, please do remember that this is a three-seconds-worth-of-thinking theory, in a post I’ll probably publish as soon as I finish it, without re-reading (eek)…
Ok, so here’s the thing I’d not realised about Smallville (what with never having watched it before):
In Buffy, particularly in the first 4 seasons, while Buffy was in High School (or was it 3 seasons?), the program was very much a story about teenagers, doing teen things, mostly in high school. Everyone knew there was something ‘kind of weird’ about Sunnydale, but nobody really took issue with it. Certainly, no one ever moved away. The city’s proximity to the/a hellmouth justified all manner of strange and supernatural dealings, from girls who turned invisible to substitute teachers who were actually giant praying mantuses(i?).
Similarly, in Smallville all manner of strange things in the town are ‘explained’ by the presence of bits of meteorite which fell to Earth with Kal-El’s space ship, way back there (in 1989 – god, it scares me that 1989 constitutes ye olde days in teenland today. I was 15 in 1989 and had already read every decent SF book known to familykind and secondhandshopdom). This is an interesting twist – it gives a little ‘consistency’ to the paranormalness of the town, with this paranormalness being something only Chloe seems to consciously recognise, despite the fact that there are at least a wall’s worth of weirdness for her to seek out in local (and national) magazines, newspapers and other media. The whole meteorite thing also gives Clark something to feel guilty about. And guilt seems to be the S-Boy’s stock in trade… maybe it’s something for him to sublimate later on? Heck, I wish I was hip to psychoanalisis. I just know there’s something I’m missing, what with all the father-son relationship action going down in Smallville.
All this interests me. While I don’t buy that either Sunnydale or Smallville is actually in the ‘country’ (we all know Sunnydale is actually an outer suburb of LA – the Geelong or Ipswich of the city of Angelus, and sure as shit no one in Smallsville sports a Kansas accent…I think ?), I’m kind of caught by the idea that not only do terrible things happen more frequently in rural communities, but that rural communities also produce fiesty female characters**.
One other thing about the supernatural in Smallville that reminds me of Sunnydale is the way that ‘super villians’ are usually teenagers, or people in the teenage world – female students with envy issues, football coaches who need some anger management advice. Again, much has been written (and spoken) about the ways in which the monsters in Buffy represent the monstrous… or mundane in teenagerdom, but it seems Smallville is attempting the same sort of work. Far less effectively, of course, and with terribly inferior dialogue.
In a similar vein, please do read this discussion of race and class in Joss Whedon’s work (from Feminist SF and discovered by Kate – strength to her for the moving thing). It’s mighty interesting.
Now, I’d been thinking to myself, ‘yeah, sure Whedon is neat, but, Self, should I be all yay! go! about another white guy writing for me, rather than a sister doing it for herself, television-writing-wise?’. In other words, I’d had reservations about the wholehearted and uncompromised passion for Joss Whedon which others seem to evince. I had had issues with the race thing. And that’s been kind of exaggerated by Smallville, where Clark’s buddy Peter is black, he has other not-white friends, and Lana Lang has this Eurasian*** thing going on.
And in a third ‘why Smallville is a bit like Sunnydale’ point, I’ve been thinking about something prompted by these comments from Wikipedia:

Technology in Buffyverse has been shown to be advanced enough to produce such an advanced robot as April

(in the I Was Made to Love You April the robot girlfriend episode from season 3)

In the Buffyverse there seems to be some extraordinarily advanced technology available to some. For example, robots are living among the ordinary citizens of the Buffyverse: in the Internet (“I, Robot… You, Jane”), produced by people decades ago (“Ted”), produced by youngsters today (“I Was Made to Love You”), and even used by dark powers (“Lineage”).

(Buffyverse article in wikipedia).
That wikipedia article on the Buffyverse discusses the ways in which the world of Buffy is not like the ‘real world’ (and we could make all sorts of interesting segues into more talk about teenagers and the Teen World, but we won’t), and technology seems one of those points. I’ve waxed lyrical (and slightly manically) on the issue of technology in Buffy before, so I won’t go into it again, but it’s worth mentioning that this matter was called to mind while watching Smallville for two real reasons:
1) Chloe (Clark’s fiesty sidekick) is the technology person, what with all her digital cameras and computers (macs, no less) and things (despite Lex’s best efforts) and
2) the ease with which the Sunnydale people accept robots (particularly the scoobies – and I do like the way the gang unanimously agree that April is a robot – why can they accept robots when they are usually so cynical and wise to the ridiculousness of life on the hellmouth?…look, I know it’s a joke. But.) reminds me of the way the Smallville people seem cool with the whole ‘meteorites destroyed my town’ thing. That, and the 12 years of strange, meteorite-related events. In this ‘verse, not only are Smallville and Metropolis real places, African American kids mixing happily with white kids with no hint of racial tension at the high school and teachers set on fire with no police investigations, but no one really seems to mind that kids turn into giant insects and girls shape change to rob banks.
Oh my, it’s late (all of 11:08! My, how the world changes!), so I’m not sure I can write more. But if you have watched both these programs, do chime in.
Oh, and: everyone’s had a doppleganger in Buffy – Buffy, Willow, Xander – who’s anyone. What does that mean?
And, and: was I the only one who wondered what class Clark was reading Neitzche for in high school? And Lana with a great Russian work of lit? Hmmmm.
*soon to be the only-DVDs shop
** I’m talking Chloe, not the ever-irritating Lana Lang here.
***Well, maybe. But probably not.
[promise I’ll fix the typos and add links later when I’m less tired and have more battery power on the lappy]

1 Comment

  1. As you no doubt know, I love Buffy, but I can’t get into Smallville. I’m not sure why. Maybe (not to do with anything in your post, actually) it’s because I started watching Buffy as an actual teenager — I was 18 when I first saw it.
    But you’re right about the racial conciousness thing — it always bothered me about Buffy that there were hardly any black people. And then when you did get black people — Mr Trick and the new principle and Kendra — they didn’t stick around. Would it have hurt to have a black/Asian scooby? I think not. At least this improved somewhat by the time Whedon got to Firefly.

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