I…can’t. I just can’t with Krypton right now. It’s a comic book show. It airs on SyFy after The Magicians, a show I adore. It features DC characters like Adam Strange and Brainiac and dares to ponder the previously unexplored question of what exactly Superman’s grandparents were like, hoping we actually care to know the answer. It feels like a show I should write about or want to write about. At the very least, SyFy’s absolutely relentless advertising and actual countdown clock to the series premiere placed to the side of the screen during The Magicians last night certainly made me aware of the show’s existence, if somewhat resentful of it because, seriously, just let me watch the damn Magicians in peace, SyFy.
Still, I decided to give Krypton a shot. The advance reviews had been mixed but seemed to at least promise something better than Inhumans, the lowest of low bars. Turns out, that’s fairly spot-on: Krypton is flawed but watchable for fans of what it is, which is pretty much the last vestige of the Zack Snyderverse, both tonally and visually, which died with Justice League. But speaking as someone who has never been able to muster much enthusiasm for that particular version of the DC universe, I just couldn’t have cared less about a single second of Krypton. All I saw was a LOT of wasted money
Touted by show co-creator David S. Goyer as “Romeo & Juliet in Space,” the pilot reveals Superman’s grandpa, Seg-El (Cameron Cuffe, who looks like he was probably the #2 choice for countless CW leading roles) and General Zod’s possible grandma, Lyta-Zod (Georgina Campbell, Black Mirror’s “Hang the DJ” star) were star struck lovers in their day. Plus, there’s a Terminator-esque subplot about a villain from the future going after Seg as a way to cancel out Superman’s existence, but time traveling Adam Strange pops up to warn/help. As EW noted, “It’s an oddly pointless premise for a show — save Krypton now so it can explode later!”
Set 200 years before Superman’s birth, we find a rather drab, joyless, caste-oriented version of Krypton where the Zod family is in charge while the House of El suffers the ignominy of being denied their family symbol – yep, the big “S” – and forced to grovel. Seg’s grandpa dared to defy the elders in proclaiming the Kryptonians weren’t actually alone in the universe and that continuing to worship their sun god was leaving them vulnerable. Didn’t go over so well. People were executed, family names besmirched. So, now Seg has to run scams with a local bartender to make ends meet and lives with parents who seem scared/ashamed to be of the House of El.
Except….twist!….they kept up the family’s scientific research in secret, staging it all out of what will later become known as the Fortress of Solitude. But then they’re found out and promptly executed in front of Seg and a government tribunal.
Same old Krypton, I guess. Never believing the El family and their crazy ideas like “pretty sure there are aliens out there in the universe” and “call me crazy, but I think the planet is about to blow up.”
A newly orphaned Seg vows to both stir revolution and fight anyone who means to deny his grandson his birthright, thus setting him on a collision course with both the more-complicated-than-they-first-appear-to-be Zods on Krypton and Brainiac, who is seen monitoring the planet from afar. Also, future episodes will see Seg communicating with his dead grandpa in the Fortress just like Superman will one day do with Jor-El. So, there’s that.
Goyer (and Geoff Johns) mixed Romeo & Juliet and Terminator with a little bit of Batman (the hero’s parents killed right in front of him) and Game of Thrones (Seg is now the Jon Snow of the story; brutal society where death is common; rival, ruthless families) and a whole heck of a lot of Man of Steel. On top of that, he created a central character who has to, as EW put it, “to further the legacy of the S symbol and create it while honoring both his dead ancestors and a famous descendant whose mythic actions inspire him.”
Jeesh. Is it too late to call the whole thing off? Like, am I allowed to just stop the review right now and instead talk about how excited I am to see SyFy’s upcoming George R.R. Martin series Nightflyers?
At least “Psycho in space” sounds and looks better than “Romeo & Juliet in space.” Alas, back to Krypton.
In truth, Krypton obviously owes its existence to Man of Steel, which Goyer wrote. For that film’s overextended, Krypton-set prologue, Goyer rejected the dour-faced, shiny robe-loving version of Jor-El from the Richard Donner Superman. In its place, he presented a dragon-riding man of action, a version of Jor-El who debates creaky old politicians one minute, fights Michael Shannon the next, and then tumbles over the side of a cliff with the carefree ease of a man who knows he’ll somehow stick the landing.
Beyond that, Goyer and director Zack Snyder turned Krypton into a Chronicles of Riddick-esque future city which around half the audience loved and the other half quickly tired of. Russell Crowe campaigned for a Jor-El spin-off movie. That didn’t happen, and slowly but surely Goyer was elbowed out of working on any more of the DC movies. Couple that with the failure of his Constantine TV show and you’d think that was the last of him in this particular sandbox.
But he’s had Krypton in development at SyFy since 2014. It’s his project, and it’s finally here, ready to wed all of Smallville’s endless easter eggs with Caprica’s “yeah, we know this doesn’t end well” with the futurescapes of other SyFy shows.
From a screenwriting perspective, I appreciate the surprising inclusion of Adam Strange as a time traveler trying to help Seg since his presence creates at least the semblance of any real suspense in the idea that they might fail and/or change the future irreparably. But it’s also an incredibly wonky idea which seems to be in active argument with the idiocy of ever making a prequel about a people and planet whose sole identifying characteristic is their tragic end.
From a DC fanboy perspective, it’s at least somewhat gratifying to see a comic book-faithful Brainiac lurking in the distance as the Big Bad. But Smallville already played that card, albeit not quite as faithfully. It doesn’t mean as much to me as it used to.
As a science fiction fan, it’s not lost on me the amount of work and serious money which has gone into this show’s futurism, costuming, and set designs. Like any self-respecting prestige show in the Peak TV age, it needs to look just as good if not better than a movie, and, well, this guy gets it:
But SyFy is already doing far more colorful and interesting futuristic production work on The Expanse and Killjoys, and the most cinematic thing on the network remains Channel Zero (and it’s not even close).
That just leaves me with the characters to suck me into the universe, but despite a game effort from Georgina Campbell, I can’t get behind any of them when I don’t buy into the entire premise of the series.
To be fair, you can simply enjoy Krypton as the story of a possibly doomed romance and revolution set on a futuristic planet with religious beliefs and societal views which just so happen to mirror some of our own from ancient history. You can also think of it as a sci-fi YA dystopian story about telegenic twenty-somethings with clear skin working together to save the world. Just ignore about the whole “they’re all going to die” of it all.
But Krypton doesn’t make that easy. The pilot, in so many ways, is stricken with Smallville-itis, that familiar disease characterized by pointless easter eggs, plays on nostalgia, and knowing winks to the audience. Heck, one of the primary settings is going to be the Fortress of Solitude, where not only is there a Giant “S” on the ground there’s also an actual copy of one of Superman’s capes draped on a coat rack. It’s brought to Seg by Adam Strange as proof but is really just there as a loud reminder to the audience: This is all about Superman! It oddly plays better if you don’t pick up on any of that and are just as in the dark as Seg.
That all seemed novel, at one time, but I’m done with it now. Just stop already with these Superman prequels. Stop with the nods toward John Williams’ iconic score. Stop with all of the moments filled with imagery which means nothing to the characters but everything to us.
But even if Krypton pulls back on all of that and forges its own path I suspect it still won’t be a show for me. I didn’t like or care about this version of Krypton in Man of Steel and I still don’t now. Superman die-hards should stay away unless they really love Man of Steel. Sci-fi fans, meanwhile, have so, so, so many better options. Heck, if you’re really jonesing for a prequel series about a doomed people just look up Caprica. It’d be a better use of your time than Krypton.
What about you?