With Dean Cain seemingly destined to become America’s next sex symbol (that’s with a big red “S”) and co-star Teri Hatcher not far behind, ABC seems to have gotten it right with its most expensive fall gamble — balancing humor, action and “Moonlighting”-type banter between the leads. Those elements combined will probably sink “seaQuest DSV,” but the real question is whether Superman can soar sandwiched between “Murder, She Wrote” and “Martin.” Answer: If ABC can get it sampled, this bird could fly.
For the most part, exec producer David Jacobs, director Robert Butler and writer/co-exec producer Deborah Joy LeVine succeed, bringing a fresh cleverness to the well-worn Superman mythos without trampling on its tradition.
The intro has Clark Kent (Cain) arriving in Metropolis, where, after joining the Daily Planet, he’s thrown together with Lois Lane (Hatcher) — a cool, career-obsessed knockout. Investigating a sabotaged space launch, the two soon cross the path of Lex Luthor (John Shea), a ruthless entrepreneur who wants to exploit space for his private gain.
Key to the opening is the understated use of special effects, such as Lois expressing an interest in Chinese food and Clark winging his way to Taipei for take-out. An equally canny sequence has Clark trying on costumes (some look suspiciously like those of other superheroes) before settling on the customary cape and tights.
Even then, the scene pays off with humor, as Ma Kent (K Callan) answers the age-old question about why no one notices the Superman-Clark resemblance by saying, “One thing’s for certain: No one’s gonna be looking at your face.”
Such moments effectively convey the premise in small ways, without falling into the syndrome that plagued “The Incredible Hulk,” for example, where budgeting dictated one action scene per half-hour — a formula that won’t work with viewers spoiled by high-ticket movie FX.
That said, this 105-minute pilot takes too long to get airborne, without having Clark don his super-garb until the last act. On the plus side, that last sequence bodes well for future episodes, assuming those anticipating the big moment haven’t tuned out already.
Cain demonstrates the right mix of boyish good looks and self-effacing humor and could find himself plastered all over magazines if the show lasts. Similarly , Hatcher projects a proper spunkiness-bordering-on-reckless-stupidity that makes her a believable Lois Lane, even with looks that seem more suited to a modeling runway.
The show also boasts a nifty supporting cast, with Shea menacing as criminal nemesis Lex Luthor, Lane Smith as blustery Planet editor Perry White and Callan and Eddie Jones offering downhome charm as Ma and Pa Kent.
With DC Comics part of the Time Warner empire, the studio has every reason to treat the series as one of its crown jewels. In the process, the show could give a big lift to ABC’s Sunday lineup.
It’s a tall order, but if viewers are willing to explore the dial, “Lois & Clark” just might find a big chunk of America.