It’s al­most time to don the cape

As ‘Smal­lville’ en­ters its fi­nal sea­son, star Tom Welling pre­pares for his Clark Kent to fi­nally reach his destiny as Su­per­man.

Los Angeles Times - - Calendar - Jevon Phillips

Tom Welling’s first me­mory on the set of “Smal­lville” nine years ago was a chance meet­ing with a young pro­duc­tion as­sis­tant named Chris Petry. The ac­tor waved at Petry, who re­turned the greet­ing. Al­most a decade later, Petry is all grown up and now serves as one of the show’s pro­duc­ers and oc­ca­sion­ally di­rects. As for Welling, well, he is still al­most Su­per­man.

“The two of us were just sit­ting around the other day and go­ing ‘Eh, not too bad. Not too bad for nine years. [We’ve] done all right,” said Welling, who is also an ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer on the show and on the new CW pro­gram “Hell­cats.”

The orig­i­nal vi­sion for “Smal­lville,” which be­gins its 10th and fi­nal sea­son Fri­day, was not to daz­zle view­ers so much with a red-and­blue-suited alien leap­ing tall build­ings as it was to ex­plore the early life of Clark Kent, ex­plained the 33-year-old ac­tor. That char­ac­ter study has been as suc­cess­ful as any­one on the show could have imag­ined a decade ago and now a gen­er­a­tion of kids and young adults know Welling as the defin­ing im­age of a cape­less Su­per­man.

The show’s cre­ators, Al Gough and Miles Mil­lar, em­braced the op­por­tu­nity to write a rich, new nar­ra­tive for the iconic char­ac­ter’s jour­ney to man­hood.

“I know that some­times we’ve done some things fans didn’t like — though other fans re­ally ap­pre­ci­ate — but we’ve just gone our own path know­ing that even­tu­ally he would be­come Su­per­man,” said Welling, whose char­ac­ter still hasn’t leapt a build­ing in a sin­gle bound.

But come on — 10 years of teas­ing fans with Clark’s maiden flight?

“Some peo­ple might be a lit­tle up­set that it’s taken this long, but I think that we have to em­brace the fact that if we’d done it in the first sea­son, the show would be over,” said Welling. “The whole point was to try to elon­gate this jour­ney or this tran­si­tion that Clark has to be­com­ing Su­per­man.”

The show has en­dured chal­lenges in its 10 sea­sons in­clud­ing the demise of its orig­i­nal net­work, the WB. The pro­gram has seen its view­er­ship drop — 8.4 mil­lion for the show’s pre­miere in 2001 to 2.3 mil­lion for last year’s opener — though that’s not un­usual for an ag­ing show. And it’s faced the in­evitable ques­tions, es­pe­cially from hard­core comic book read­ers about their nar­ra­tive choices.

“It’s got its own continuity — just like Richard Don­ner’s ‘Su­per­man,’” said Geoff Johns, chief cre­ative of­fi­cer for DC En­ter­tain­ment, a comic book writer and an oc­ca­sional writer for “Smal­lville.” “It’s built its own world, and it’s cer­tainly a huge legacy. It’s crazy … I mean Tom Welling has spent more hours as Clark Kent than any­one in his­tory.”

Many hail Christo­pher Reeve (over, say, Dean Cain) as the quin­tes­sen­tial Man of Steel, and Bran­don Routh’s ren­di­tion in 2006’s “Su­per­man Re­turns” was gen­er­ally well re­ceived, but Welling’s “Smal­lville” longevity gives him a spe­cial place in su­per­hero lore.

“When he [Welling] fi­nally be­comes Su­per­man, he will be, to me, step­ping into the role and be­com­ing Christo­pher Reeve,” said ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer Brian Peter­son. “We re­ally want it to end where a lot of peo­ple in the world … where their knowl­edge of Su­per­man picks up. Our goal was not to cre­ate mythol­ogy but to fill in a gap of mythol­ogy.”

But will fans be sat­is­fied now that they’ve waited?

“I think the dilemma and the chal­lenge this year is wait­ing un­til the end of the show,” said Welling. “At this point you’re like, ‘ Why doesn’t he just put on the suit?’ I mean, come on — he’s do­ing the same stuff now, so why not? That’s the chal­lenge — to make that last un­til the end.”

And speak­ing of the end, that is­sue presents a spe­cial chal­lenge.

“We all know that Clark doesn’t die,” said Welling. “I just want the au­di­ence to get the feel­ing that I got watch­ing [the ‘24’ fi­nale] … a feel­ing of hope, and faith that he’s go­ing to con­tinue, and that he’s out there some­where.”

jevon.phillips@latimes.com

Ed Araquel

LONGEVITY: Tom Welling is go­ing into his 10th sea­son as a cape­less Su­per­man in “Smal­lville.”

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