Tonight, Smallville airs its 200th episode, becoming only the 79th scripted series to reach that milestone in the history of television. This is a massive deal, but for the most part, the industry’s biggest and critics are ignoring it. There’s no Entertainment Weekly or TV Guide cover. Alan Sepinwall isn’t writing about his favorite moments over the series’ 10-year run.
That’s fine. There’s no requirement for anyone to pretend to care about a series just because it is reaching its 200th episode. But as a fledgling wannbe critic and a fan of the formerly WB, now CW series, I feel like I should bring Smallville as much attention as I can. When I thought about what I could write, I had some trouble. I’ve written about the series so much in my time doing this online criticism thing, from the countless blog posts and podcast for the Indiana Daily Student to my ridiculously excessive ranked list of all the series’ episodes leading into season 10.
I could spend this whole post trying to convince you that Smallville deserves more respect than its ever gotten. I could rant on about how it never even gets mentioned by the critical elite, even when it’s tearing through some episodes, as it did for most of last season. I could make a great case for how it was always better than the much-publicized Heroes. Hell, I could argue that the series has been the driving force that’s kept the middling, poorly ran CW alive for four years even when it’s received little-to-no promotion until this season and saw its budget slashed to a horrendous level that it can barely afford to pay its four series regulars each week.
But I’m not sure any of those statements or arguments would change your mind, and really, at this point, it’s not about changing your mind. After tonight, Smallville will have 18 episodes left. If you haven’t watched the series before, you’re not going to start now, and even if you left during the dark periods of general suckiness (seasons six and seven), you probably aren’t coming back.
Instead, I thought I’d talk a little about my personal relationship with the series and then ultimately how that ties into the fact that a series no one seems to really like or care about gets to 200 episodes in an era of quick cancellations and rapid schedule overturn.
Smallville is the reason I’m here. It’s the reason I started getting interested in television as a storytelling medium and industry back in 2002. It’s the reason I became intrigued by fan cultures. It’s the reason I wanted to become a journalist, so I could write about television. And it’s the reason I ultimately started plastering my thoughts on television across various corners of the internet.
When I started watching the series back during season two (I eventually caught up with S1 on DVD), I obviously liked television, but I always 14 and didn’t watch anything regularly. Smallville changed that. It was my first experience of being a real fan, in the sense that I watched every week, followed the plotlines closely and even accessed my family’s horrible dial-up internet so I could find out more information about the series, which ultimately led me to Kryptonsite.com, where the message boards there were like a whole new world and experience. Though I’ve never posted more than a few times, to this day I can remember specific conversations that were happening on the Kryptonsite boards, particularly the postulating that occurred between seasons three (still the series’ best) and four. I spent a lot of time there that summer, probably too much.
As I got older and began watching other and frankly better television programs, I still couldn’t leave Smallville behind. The characters, while sometimes so poorly written, were hard to shake. Even as the series shifted around on the schedule and my personal schedule got busier, I found time to watch live and check in on the forums.
When I made it to college and helped start a TV-centric blog at the IU student newspaper, Smallville was on my first list of series that had to be covered. Same goes for this blog. When I was at the Flow Conference a few weeks ago and Smallville came up, people were shocked to learn how much I knew about it and how much I write about it.
Anyway, the point is, as time passed, I couldn’t really give up on Smallville. Call me a battered wife that can’t see that my husband only stops drinking every once in a while, just to screw things all up again all you want.
But here’s the thing, and this is where I transition away from my more personal history, I’m clearly not the only one.
The Kryptonsite boards are still poppin’ today just as they were back in season three, if not more. The DVD sales are always some of the best in the television industry. The ratings have stayed relatively steady after the move to Fridays. Smart online sections of print publications like Entertainment Weekly and TV Guide have realized that writing stories about the series = lots and lots of comments. Throw in countless Twitter arguments, fan-led campaigns to get certain performers into more episodes and more, it’s fully apparent to me that Smallville wouldn’t be reaching its 200th episode if it weren’t for the fans.
I know. That’s a cliche thing to say and in the era of online discussion boards and social media, it’s fairly easy to call yourself a “fan.” But then I interviewed a number of Smallville fans for a paper and really got a great insight into the work the series’ fans put in to being a fan. It’s insane. The campaigns, the fundraisers, the arguments, it’s all fairly exhausting (and honestly, sometimes annoying and frivolous), but it’s there.
I went to Comic-Con and I saw the lines for the 10 a.m. Smallville start forming at 8 p.m. the day before. Hundreds of people literally waited outside the convention center on the concrete just to be in the front of the line for the final panel in the series’ history. Sure, SDCC is a weird case where a series like Smallville appears to bigger than something like Fringe, the various USA series or even Bones. But that doesn’t negate the fact that there were people from literally all of the country — and probably the world — there for a single one-hour panel of a series that has been on for a decade. It was telling.
Every long-running series has fans, I know that. And while there are other factors that have contributed to Smallville staying on the air — most notably the CW’s inability to develop great new content — it’s absolutely impossible to deny that without the kind of fervent fanbase it has, the series would have been gone a long time ago.
It’s one thing to be a Chuck fan and buy some Subway during a few-week period to save the series in its second season. It’s a totally different thing to continue to follow a series across timeslots, nights and even networks, for a decade. If Smallville the series is underrated, its fans are completely and totally underappreciated on a whole other level of disrespect. So next time you think “That’s still on?” remember there is a damn good reason for it.