Actually, ABC has done the show a disservice with its cheeky ad campaign, which may chase off male viewers from a pilot that offers solid action and top-flight special effects.
Those ads largely hinge on developing the romantic triangle among Lois, Clark and Superman in an effort to appeal to women.
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 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 takeout. 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 each 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 supergarb 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 just the right mix of boyish good looks and self-effacing humor. Hatcher projects a proper spunkiness bordering on reckless stupidity that makes her a believable Lois Lane, even with looks that seem more suited to runway modeling.
The show also boasts a nifty supporting cast, with Shea menacing as criminal nemesis Luthor, Lane Smith as blustery Planet editor Perry White and Callan and Eddie Jones offering down-home charm as Ma and Pa Kent.
The core Superman audience has a right to be skeptical of a show that leads with the name of his alter ego. Taking a similar route, “Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes” turned out to be a crashing bore.
The pilot escapes those pitfalls, and 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.