Whenever a beloved show comes to an end, it’s bittersweet. On the one hand, it’s a celebratory feeling because whether a show has been on for one year or for many, the hard work and creativity that goes into this art form is like no other. Similarly, the sense of nostalgia a series finale evokes is inevitable and beautiful in its own right. It’s not just about looking back and remembering your favorite episodes or cooing over “how young they looked” when the actors first started. For the more diehard viewers, there is an element of how young they, too, were, and where they were in their lives as pivotal episodes aired. Of course, then there is the other side to that coin that says it’s sad that it has to be over when many TV heads want to see their favorite shows go on forever. But Made Possible by Pop Culture is under the impression that it is always better to leave a party before you outstay your welcome, so it is much better for a show to go out when it wants to, on its producers terms, before the audience’s attention starts to be pulled away for newer, younger, flashier programs.
In the ten years Smallville has been on air, a lot has changed in our world. The pilot premiere on October 16 2001, a time that our country certainly needed a superhero. Just a month before the Twin Towers had fallen. There was still a somewhat smoky, extremely ashy hole in New York City, as in a field in Pennsylvania and in the Pentagon in Arlington. Just a week before, the country officially embarked on the War on Terror, in Afghanistan. It was not a good time to be a high school kid, someone who was supposed to have the world at her feet and possibilities for her future wide open.
If television at its simplest is entertaining escapism, then Smallville offered that in spades. Admittedly, I wasn’t too familiar with the Superman mythology growing up. The only comics my friends and I really read were Archie (and Friends!). I didn’t follow the early buzz of this pilot; I saw a cute guy as the lead role and considered tuning in but didn’t give it much more thought than that, and I certainly didn’t tell my friends I was thinking about watching such a show. This was ten years ago, mind you; I was in the thick of adolescent b.s. and petty judgments from kids who would rather be catty than get to know another kid; and besides, the nerd revolution that has taken over television and shown everyone that geek is chic had not yet begun. In fact, Smallville was much the start of it.
What worked so well about Smallville was that Clark (Tom Welling) was going through similar issues and angst. He, too, was just a kid with so many possibilities and paths laid out in front of him, but with one very clear destiny marked. I loved that. I loved that even with this crazy, tumultuous world outside my bedroom window, I had a reason to believe not only in fate again, but more importantly that everything would be okay. There are villains in this world (although I admit Michael Rosenbaum was just so charming I found myself rooting for him not really to be the bad guy after all), but new heroes are made every day. We just have to be willing to accept that maybe we are the heroes.
Clark’s was a long journey towards becoming that hero, towards understanding and embracing his true place in this world. At times I may have found myself checking out for a little bit, angry that he couldn’t just accept sooner. But every time, I still found myself going back because the story was greater than him; the story was greater than me; and I wanted to be there when he finally stepped up and zipped up that suit.
That night is tonight. Ten years later, no longer a boy but a man about to become Superman. Ten years later, we are still at war, though it is dissipating. Osama Bin Laden has been killed. We have had other struggles in between: Hurricane Katrina that ravaged New Orleans; a housing crisis that has put thousands into foreclosure; rising gas prices that are keeping many from going out on weekends, let alone on vacation. I, too, have gone from child to adult and may not quite be living up to my full potential, but if Clark can get there, I believe I can, too. Stakes are not nearly as high for me as for him, and that, too, is oddly comforting.
And that's something to celebrate, rather than mourn, right?
Smallville will air its two-hour series finale May 13th on The CW at 8pm and then release its complete box set this fall.