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lois & clark: the new adventures of superman

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Superman has always been the squarest of super-heroes: a thick slab of extraterrestrial muscle, noble, good-hearted, dull. Even by comic-book standards, Superman is rather overdone; a famous Mad magazine satire dubbed him ”Superduperman.” As the character moved to television in the ’50s, George Reeves played Superman as a high-minded oak tree; two decades later, in the movies, Christopher Reeve turned him into a smug bore. So the most startling special effect achieved by lois & clark: the new adventures of superman (ABC, Sundays, 8-9 p.m.) isn’t X-ray vision or the ability to leap tall buildings in a single bound. It is that Superman has been transformed into an interesting, likable fellow. In this fresh rethinking of the comic-book legend, Clark Kent is a callow young Midwesterner played by Dean Cain, best known as Shannen Doherty’s fleeting love interest in last season’s Beverly Hills, 90210. As in the comic book, Clark possesses incredible strength and can fly-all that stuff. He was born on the planet Krypton and has been raised by the Kents (K Callan and Eddie Jones) since he was a superbaby they found in a corner of their Smallville, Kan., farm. In Lois & Clark, the foster parents are in on Clark’s supersecret, but our hero has spent his youth keeping a low profile-no Superboy antics for him. When Clark moves to the big city of Metropolis, he’s not looking to fight for truth, justice, and the American way-he just wants to get a job on The Daily Planet and lead as normal and unobtrusive a life as he can. One of the smarter decisions made in hatching this show is that Lois & Clark doesn’t follow every detail of the Superman myth as it has been developed by DC Comics over the years. This has freed the series’ creator, Deborah Joy LeVine (Equal Justice), to make Clark a sympathetic yuppie surrounded by a city crawling with yuppies of lesser sympathy, including the dazzling, hard-edged reporter Lois Lane (Teri Hatcher) and the sadistically ambitious tycoon who will become Superman’s archenemy, Lex Luthor (John Shea). Not for nothing does this series give Lois top billing in its title. Hatcher, perhaps most fondly remembered by TV cultists as the woman whose breasts gave rise to the plot of an entire Seinfeld episode last season, quickly turns Lois’ snappish aggressiveness into a measure of her own strength. When it comes to repartee and derring-do, Hatcher’s Lois may not be more powerful than a locomotive, but she’s fully a match for either Clark or Superman. As in the original, the series is built around what the ads call ”a love triangle with only two people”: the sweet conceit that Lois is gaga over Superman, won’t give the adoring Clark the time of day, and never realizes they’re the same guy. But the show wouldn’t be as nifty as it is without its strong supporting cast: Lane Smith (Son-In-Law) as editor Perry White (”Hard facts! Hard facts! That’s the name of this game!” he thunders); Michael Landes (The Torkelsons) as a brash Jimmy Olsen; and Dynasty’s Tracy Scoggins, having a ball as the Planet’s slinky society columnist, Cat Grant. ABC, anxious about competing with NBC’s underwater doozy seaQuest DSV, wants you to know that Lois & Clark has a lot of neat special effects, but who cares, really? The point the network should be emphasizing is that, up against seaQuest and CBS’ Murder, She Wrote, this comic-book show is the smartest, most human hour of programming that Sunday night now has to offer. B+

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