Smallville was always divisive. From the moment the premise was revealed, the series was met with mixed reactions. Today, it seems that not a day goes by without the announcement of a new superhero show. That was not the case in 2001. The television landscape was drastically different and the idea of a series centering on Clark Kent’s teen years was controversial in and of itself.
However, the series made it ten seasons, despite near constant backlash from fans. Regardless of how you feel about the series, Smallville was undeniably ahead of its time. It blazed a trail for countless shows that followed
While all fans will agree that the show was not without its problems, Smallville still occupies a place in our hearts and most likely always will. The show’s indelible influence will certainly live on long after many other superhero shows have been forgotten.
Controversial doesn’t necessarily mean bad. Smallville both updated and drastically changed its source material and there were bound to be some growing pains. Certain choices made by the writers wound up leading to some truly great storylines. Others unequivocally led to the worst episodes of the series.
Here are the 16 Most Controversial Things Smallville Ever Did.
16 “No tights, no flights”
Met with controversy from the moment this mission statement was announced, Smallville – for better or worse – stubbornly stuck to this mantra from first episode to last. Show creators Alfred Gough and Miles Millar chose "No tights, no flights" in order to differentiate the series from other Superman adaptations and keep it focused on Clark Kent’s humanity.
Although this was a sensible plan at the show’s onset, no one could’ve foreseen that Smallville would be on the air for ten years. By the time it reached season 7, Clark was starting to look pretty silly as other Kryptonian characters able to literally fly circles around him.
Many viewers loved the way that Smallville’s 10th season truly embraced the show's comic book roots, leading to a series that was finally confident in its identity. However, that final shot was not the one that fans had been hoping to see, barely giving us a glimpse of the iconic Man of Steel.
15 Clark sent himself to Earth as a baby
It’s one thing to change up the mythology. Smallville fans had grown accustomed to that. However, it’s another thing to completely obliterate Superman’s origin story. In season 7 episode, “Apocalypse”, the writers decided to do just that.
The thing is, it’s actually a pretty cool episode. Alternate reality storylines can be hit or miss, but this one incorporated so many cool elements from the comics that it was difficult not to get swept up in the story. Clark gets a glimpse of what life would’ve been like if he’d never come to Earth and unsurprisingly, it’s not awesome.
However, when Clark travels back in time to Krypton in order to save baby Kal-El from Brainiac – thereby ensuring his arrival on Earth – things take a turn for the worse. Clark was actually the one who put his infant self into the spaceship, rather than Jor-El and Lara. This was a strange decision and it made the entire episode seem disjointed.
14 Lex and Lana get married
Many fans will never quite get over the unfortunate love triangle of Clark, Lex and Lana. We get it: Lois had been in town for a while and it was time for Lana to move on. However, was it really necessary for her to move on to Lex Luthor? Their relationship kind of ruined both characters for a while – not to mention, it was pretty icky.
Lana Lang was Clark Kent’s first love, so having her marry the man destined to become his arch nemesis could’ve been an interesting narrative decision… if Michael Rosenbaum and Kristen Kreuk had any chemistry whatsoever.
It was difficult for fans to welcome Lois when she first arrived, because they were already so invested in the relationship between Clark and Lana. However, over time it became apparent that their romance was doomed and the writers needed to do something else with the character. Still, she and Lex both deserved better than the travesty that followed.
13 Lois hooks up with Aquaman… and Green Arrow
When Lois showed up in season 4 – the season where many of us almost broke up with Smallville – fans thought that they knew what to expect. Lana had seemingly moved on and the woman who’d shared a life with Clark for decades in the comics had finally arrived.
The series definitely subverted expectations by having Lois hook up with Arthur Curry, aka Aquaman. That was just a fling, though. It certainly raised some eyebrows at the time, but it wasn’t serious. Lois’s relationship with Oliver Queen, aka Green Arrow, on the other hand, was a real romance that lasted for quite a while.
Although these relationships caused a stir at the time, they gave Lois and Clark the opportunity to get to know each other, and the ability to form a bond that extended beyond romantic love. Plus, Lois and Ollie were a fun couple. Luckily, he and Chloe turned out to be an even better one.
12 Smallville is basically the Hellmouth
Like many shows, it took Smallville a little while to find its footing. Buffy the Vampire Slayer began with a Monster of the Week format that eventually gave way to a rich and ever-expanding mythology. Smallville followed a formula that was a little bit too similar, and didn’t outgrow it quite as quickly as BtVS did.
Sunnydale was on a Hellmouth, a center of mystical convergence that all manner of supernatural creatures were drawn to. The town of Smallville had suffered a meteor shower, which not only brought baby Kal-El, but also a large supply of meteor rock.
These rocks gave Clark a weekly foe to fight, but also led to season 1 being incredibly formulaic. Watching Clark take on members of the town who’d been altered by Kryptonite week after week got fairly redundant. Some of these “freaks” were great, while others were downright cringe-worthy.
11 “Killing" Chloe
The mere inclusion of Chloe Sullivan in Smallville was contentious to say the least. Pete Ross and Lana Lang were familiar names, but Chloe was created just for the series. Comic fans are often nitpicky and it took many of them some time to appreciate Chloe. It didn’t help that early on she spent far too much of her time mooning over Clark.
By the time the writers seemingly killed her off, though, she’d come into her own and had turned into a fan favorite. However, as angered as viewers were by Chloe’s demise, the fact that her death was faked didn’t go over very well either. Fans were overjoyed to have her back, but the circumstances didn’t necessarily make sense.
It was one of many poor storytelling choices made during season 4, but fans were so glad Chloe was alive that they let it go pretty quickly.
10 Lana becomes a witch… and a vampire
Remember how we said that season 4 was rife with poor choices? Well, Lana Lang’s ancestral connection to 17th century witch, Margaret Isobel Thoreaux, can definitely be counted among those.
It often seemed that the writers struggled to make Lana more interesting and although the character was deserving of an identity that extended beyond being Clark’s love interest, making her a witch wasn’t a great idea.
As if poor Lana hadn’t suffered enough during season 4, the 5th season turned her into a vampire in “Thirst”. The entire episode came off as pretty hokey, much like “Spell” – the one where Lois, Chloe and Lana are all turned into witches. Thankfully, the vampirism lasted but a single installment, as opposed to the witch arc, which lasted an entire season.
9 “Bad boy” Clark
Many people seem to have the misconception that Superman is boring. Sure, in the hands of writers who don’t know what to do with them, any character can wind up lacking in depth. Supes is no different.
One of the ways that creators have chosen to give the Man of Steel layers over the years is to have several types of kryptonite, all affecting him in different ways – some of which were pretty ridiculous.
Whether you loved seeing Clark act out, or are of the mind that Tom Welling never quite made a convincing bad boy, there is no denying that the red kryptonite episodes on Smallville were usually a whole lot of fun. These stories not only showed another side of Clark, but also were incredibly engaging in the way they chose to explore his family dynamics.
8 The Doomsday letdown
Fans waited months for the inevitable showdown between Clark and Doomsday and when it finally happened… it was one of the biggest disappoints ever served up by the series in its entire history.
The buildup lasted an entire season, but the actual confrontation lacked any kind of true emotional depth. Aside from that, the stakes never felt real. The only one truly in danger was Jimmy Olsen – we’ll come back to that.
The fight between Superman and Doomsday is such an iconic piece of the Man of Steel’s mythos that it was always going to be difficult for the finale to live up to those expectations. Still, if you title an episode “Doomsday”, it needs to be worthy of that name and this one just wasn’t.
7 Jimmy Olsen isn’t Jimmy Olsen
Speaking of Jimmy being the only one in any real danger during “Doomsday”, that episode was where the character played by Aaron Ashmore for several seasons took his final bow. In a way, the conflict between he and Davis had more emotional resonance than the one between Clark and Doomsday.
The response to Jimmy’s untimely demise ranged from heartbreak to indifference. Not everyone was a fan of Smallville’s version of the character and many had complained since his introduction that Jimmy was supposed to be younger than Lois and Clark.
Killing Jimmy, who turned out to be "Henry James Olsen", while strongly implying that his younger brother was
James Bartholomew Olsen", aka the really Jimmy Olsen, placated some viewers who could never accept Superman’s Pal being killed off before the Man of Steel even truly took flight. However, others felt that the reveal made no sense and cheapened Jimmy’s death.
6 Casting an American Idol star as Aquaman
Alright, so Smallville was never known for having exceptional actors – although some of the cast truly were – but casting Alan Ritchson as Arthur Curry was still a controversial move.
Fans were elated that Aquaman would be making his Smallville debut, but were less than enthusiastic about the fact that he’d be played by a guy best known for not even coming close to winning American Idol.
Ritchson was fairly wooden in his season 5 appearance and many fans felt that although he looked the part, Ritchson’s casting was all wrong.
Viewers may have been lukewarm to AC’s introduction, but over time, most warmed up to Ritchson’s portrayal of the character. By the time “Justice” aired in season 6, fans were so excited to see a version of the JLA that the initial complaints about the actor were largely forgotten.
5 Spending an entire episode promoting Stride gum
Smallville had plenty of obvious product placement, but none quite so insulting as using an entire episode as an impossible to miss ad for Stride Gum. To make matters worse, it completely eclipsed the return of Clark’s former bestie, Pete Ross.
The season 7 installment, “Hero”, not only took place in a Stride Gum factory, but chewing the gum also gave Pete actual superpowers!
This wasn’t even the only episode to prominently feature Stride Gum, but it was certainly the only time that it was central to the plot. This made for an unsatisfying story and an incredibly underwhelming return for Pete.
His appearance would’ve packed a much bigger punch if the episode was actually about the relationship between him and Clark, as opposed to a super-sized commercial for chewing gum.
4 Making Mr. Mxyzptlk a handsome foreign exchange student
Mr. Mxyzptlk is a reality bending imp from another dimension who has been annoying Superman – and anyone attempting to pronounce his name – since 1944. Fans were excited to see him show up on Smallville, but Trent Ford was not what they were expecting.
Appearing in the season 4 episode, “Jinx”, Mikhail Mxyzptlk was a dreamy foreign exchange student from the Balkans who could control people with his voice. He used this skill to affect gambling outcomes to his benefit.
Trent Ford did a fine job portraying this interpretation of the character and let’s be honest, the comic version of Mr. Mxyzptlk probably would’ve looked pretty silly on television. Plus, Smallville was known for putting their own spin on comic characters. Mxyzptlk just differed from his comic counterpart more than most.
3 The return of Lana Lang
Smallville spent too many seasons developing the relationship between Clark Kent and Lana Lang. Tom Welling and Kristen Kreuk had some serious chemistry, and fans had invested a whole lot of time in their will-they-or-won’t-they romance.
When Lois showed up in season 4, most fans’ hearts were with Clana and not Clois. However, over time, Erica Durance’s portrayal of the intrepid reporter grew on fans. Lana’s departure from the show may have been a bitter pill, but many viewers were ready for Clark and Lois to finally get together.
The thing is, by the time Lana reappeared in season 8 everyone had stopped missing her. Clark was ready to move on and so was everyone else. Lana’s return was meant to bring closure, but all it ultimately brought was a divisive conclusion to what had been the central romantic relationship of the series for seven seasons.
The final moment between Clark and Lana was truly heartbreaking, but it was also a rather contrived story that finally drove them apart, rather than the two of them realizing that they were better off without one another. It made the imminent relationship between Lois and Clark a much tougher sell.
2 Jason Teague
Interestingly, Jensen Ackles almost won the role of Clark Kent on Smallville. Although we all love him as Dean Winchester on Supernatural, you’d be hard pressed to find many Jason Teague fans out there.
Jason was Lana’s boyfriend in season 4. As a new obstacle standing between her and Clark, he was never meant to be a fan favorite. His arrival coincided with Lois Lane’s, whose appearance signaled a new love interest for Clark as well.
Giving Lana a new and different boyfriend was actually a mandate from the network, and Millar and Gough were apprehensive about introducing both him and Lois at the same time. Aside from the fact that fans disliked Jason because he stood in the way of Clana, there was also the ridiculous plot he shared with his mother (played by Jane Seymour).
Bringing in either character was controversial at the time, but Erica Durance managed to win viewers over, while Jensen Ackles never did. Luckily, Dean Winchester has no shortage of fans.
1 Making Clark and Lex friends
This is one instance where an incredibly controversial decision most definitely paid off. When Smallville first aired, many fans were astounded by its premise. First of all, Lex Luthor and Clark Kent knew one another when the latter was a teenager. On top of that, the two became friends rather than enemies. This was certainly a novel approach in adapting the source material to television.
Viewers were skeptical at first, but Michael Rosenbaum quickly won them over. Many still consider his performance to be the definitive version of Lex Luthor on the big or small screen. Rosenbaum elevated Lex from a mustache-twirling arch villain to a deeply complex character that the audience could actually root for.
In many ways, it was the rapport between Lex and Clark that became the central relationship of the show as viewers witnessed a heartfelt friendship descend into enmity. It was slow-burning, brutal, and utterly captivating.
Watching the heartrending evolution of the camaraderie between these two characters kept viewers tuning in season after season. Knowing what their relationship would ultimately become made seeing it unfold all the more tragic.
How did you feel about Smallville's controversial decisions? Let us know in the comments!