Continuing the 20 years of Smallville celebration today with a full ranking of all 21 episode from Smallville’s debut season.
21- Kinetic (Episode 13)
Whitney joins a super villain gang and starts robbing delivery trucks. Take the least likeable character on the show and make him even more unlikable. Perfect recipe for a bottom of the season ranking.
20- Craving (Episode 7)
It’s fantastic to go back and watch future Lois Lane, Amy Adams, in a very early role on another Superman property. Unfortunately she’s playing a girl on a super powered diet shake. If any other actors had been the guest star this may have been at the bottom of the list.
19- Drone (Episode 18)
I like any plot that has Clark trying to fit in as a teenager. There’s a lot of potential for a story of Clark running for school President. There’s even more potential for failure when the action involves a swarm of bees. Good idea ends up beyond cheesy.
18- Reaper (Episode 17)
This episode plays out well dramatically. The Clark and Lex stories are solid. Whitney is just not a character I can connect with for 42 minutes. It’s even harder when the story is tackling something as dark as euthanasia.
17- Shimmer (Episode 10)
Rosenbaum himself is always fantastic, but an invisible stalker story doesn’t feel like enough this early in the show to carry the majority of the focus for the week. The fact that the villain randomly appears out of nowhere plays out as being extremely implausible as well. The one positive is a slightly unexpected twist on the end.
16- Hourglass (Episode 6)
A seniors home hardly seems like a setting that would lend itself to an entertaining superhero story. It actually works better than expected, but the issue is there are 2 stories, and they pick the wrong one to make the ‘A’ story. I love the future visions part, but unfortunately the main focus in on the de-aging villain on a run of the mill revenge mission.
15- Stray (Episode 16)
This is a very well regarded episode. Personally I don’t get the love. Maybe it’s having a kid as the main star, or maybe it’s the plot itself that feels dated. To me Stray would have been a strong episode on the 80s Superboy TV series, but not so much in 2001/2002. I like when Smallville is lighter in tone, but this borders on being too sugary. An explanation could be in the positioning within the season. As this aired right before ‘Reaper’ arguably the darkest episode of the season, the overly light tone may have been intentional.
14- Hug (Episode 11)
It’s a nice change of pace to have a corporate super villain instead of the typical teen meteor freak. Making the conflict about 2 guest stars and not a villain vs Clark is also a welcome change of pace. Having said that the story isn’t quite as interesting as the setup that is given. Odd choice of an episode title, but I guess it’s better than “Handshake”
13- Cool (Episode 5)
This is basically the same premise as ‘Hothead’ which aired 2 weeks prior, but instead of a teacher it’s a high school jock, and instead of generating heat as a power he drains people of their heat. This doesn’t feel like a copy though, even though in the early episodes a lot of the stories felt a little too similar.
12- Metamorphosis (Episode 2)
The bug boy, a villain so memorable that he would come back 9 years later. To be honest he’s mostly memorable only for being the first real Smallville “meteor freak”, but the actors plays him well. Lana is a little too relaxed as a damsel in distress to bring any real tension to the episode, but the creepiness of the bug boy mostly makes up for it.
11- Crush (Episode 19)
Another soon to be famous guest star with Adam Brody as the freak of the week prior to making it big on the O.C. His powers are a little more unique compared to so many of the more predictable season 1 villains. The B story is perfectly incorporated as a love triangle, which makes everything in the episode fit together.
10- Hothead (Episode 3)
On the surface there’s nothing extraordinary about this episode, but I enjoy it just for the pure over the top performance from Dan Lauria as the evil football coach. The earliest episodes of Smallville had some of the best guest stars of the series, which helps elevate it past your run of the mill superhero show. This would also be the only adult villain until almost the half way point of the season.
9- Obscura (Episode 20)
The story involving Lana experiencing psychic visions would have been interesting enough to make for a passable episode. What makes this a top 10 episode is so more focus on the characters leading into the finale. This is arguably the first episode where the writers went out of their way to setup stories that were meant to continue in future weeks/ seasons.
8- Tempest (Episode 21)
This is very small scale in comparison to all future finales. It’s often remembered as the tornado episode, which in actuality is only a very short moment in the final minutes. The rest is wrap ups of small season 1 plots such as the Clark/Chloe relationship and Whitney being written out. The biggest strength is the discovery of Clark’s ship and how that sets the stage for season 2. It was only at the end of season 1 where the decision was obviously made to commit to some longer form storytelling.
7- Zero (Episode 14)
This is how a Lex centered episode is done right. It helps that Gough and Millar are the ones writing it. The mystery story line of a Lex stalker coming back for revenge is expertly told. The flashbacks of the back story are throw in sporadically, which keeps some mystery to the story throughout, and they don’t rely too heavily on the super powers like so many weaker episodes did.
6- Rogue (Episode 9)
One of the best episodes of the season thanks to a completely different take on the villain. Instead of a super powered meteor freak we get a crooked cop trying to manipulate Clark into helping him. The threat is all in someone exposing Clark’s powers. Credit to having multiple threats play out throughout the episode to increase the tension and allow Jonathan to get involved as well.
5- Nicodemus (Episode 15)
Here is an episode where the entire cast seems to be having a blast. Half of the actors get to play extreme versions of themselves when infected by the Nicodemus flower. The acting is definitely over the top at times, but that’s part of the fun of the episode. Lana, Pete and Jonathan in particular really get to step up and take the spotlight.
4- Pilot (Episode 1)
The opening sequence alone, with the meteor show and Clark’s arrival, is as epic as anything you will see in a Superman movie. The action part of the story, featuring the first villain and Clark’s hanging in the cornfield, is much briefer than I think anyone remembers. That’s not a knock against it either. The fact is this feels like a double episode, but in only 45 minutes the show is able to tell the origin, setup the town Smallville as a bizarre environment, introduce all of the characters, and establish all the conflict between them that would carry the show for countless seasons.
3- Leech (Episode 12)
Leech is the first time in the series we get to see Clark without his powers. This allows for so much more character development for Clark. We also get another great villain with Erik Summers, who was strong enough to bring back for a guest spot in a future season. It’s a little odd looking back now to see Shawn Ashmore as Erik as his twin brother Aaron would go on to play Jimmy Olsen in 5 more years, but viewed as a stand alone story Shawn is arguably better cast here as a villain than he was as a hero in the X-Men films.
2- X-Ray (Episode 4)
If I had to pick one episode as the most all around fun in season 1, it would easily be X-Ray. Tina Greer was the first true stand out villain in Smallville, and another one strong enough to bring back in a future season. The ability to take over the identities of Lex and Lana also allows Rosenbaum and Kreuk to have something different to play. On top of that there’s the introduction to Clark’s X-Ray vision. One of the best things about early seasons is being able to see Clark’s powers developed, and how the writers used it to show teenage awkwardness.
1– Jitters (Episode 8)
Jitters is an absolutely perfect episode. The premise of a hostage situation is as exciting as anything you could find on TV in 2001. Tony Todd of course is born to play a villain, and he has a lot more depth than the typical meteor freak of season 1. The twist on the end was a great surprise that gave Lionel such an incredible presence in the show as the master manipulator, even throughout season 1 when he wasn’t on screen. This episode is a rare example of where almost all of the characters get to be on screen together, and everyone shines.