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Posted by: Keith Chow on April 15, 2011 at 9:48 am

The final five episodes of Smallville begin tonight with the episode “Kent” and the return of John Schneider in the role of Jonathan. Last week, when I looked back at the earlier seasons of the show, and re-watched the Pilot, I was struck by how much I missed the family dynamic of the earlier seasons. People like to call early Smallville a rehash of Dawson’s Creek, what with all the teen angst and everything, but those early years were as much about the relationship between Clark and his parents as it was about Clark pining over Lana. After Annette O’Toole resurfaced as Martha a few months back, tonight marks the return of Schneider in the role that made everyone forget that he was Bo Duke. Okay, maybe not everyone.

I admit that when I was little, I was a big fan of the show Dukes of Hazzard. At the time, it didn’t really register in my six-year-old brain that they were driving around in a Dodge Charger named after Robert E. Lee or that they were smuggling moonshine across county lines. I, like most kids in my town, had the little die-cast General Lee and tried on more than one occasion to slide across the hood of the family station wagon and jump in through the window. So when it was announced that the former Bo Duke was playing Pa Kent in a new version of Superman, I was intrigued for sure. Mostly because in 2001, John Schneider was 40 years old and honestly, a little young to play a character who had always been portrayed as a senior citizen in most iterations of the mythos. Throw in Annette O’Toole as Martha, and it was clear that The WB had reinvented Ma and Pa Kent and decided to make them kinda hot. (Needless to say, when Zack Snyder decided to go with Diane Lane and Kevin Costner as sexy versions of Ma and Pa Kent in the new Supes movie, us Smallville fans merely yawned “been there, done that.”)

People might dismiss the influence Smallville has had on the Superman legend in general, but I think de-aging the Kents was a genius move by the show’s creators. Having the Kents actually portrayed as Clark’s parents (rather than his grandparents essentially) made the family drama more relateable to modern audiences. And isn’t that always the knock against Superman? In 2004, when DC Comics launched “Superman: Birthright” (a modern reinterpretation of Superman), Mark Waid and Leinil Francis Yu took a page out of the Smallville playbook and also brought Ma and Pa into the 21st century. And for a time, young Jonathan and young Martha carried over into mainstream DC continuity as witnessed by this panel from “Superman/Batman” #16. Of course, the Kents have reverted back to being portrayed as the elderly type in the comics, but the casting of the movie implies that the Schneider/O’Toole paradigm is still in full effect.

It’s unfortunate that Smallville had to kill Jonathan off in Season Five. I think that decision was made in a misguided effort to line the Smallville mythos up with “Superman Returns” which was premiering the same year and using the Richard Donner/Christopher Reeve continuity as a jumping off point. One of the things I always appreciated about Superman in the comics was that his superhero persona wasn’t born out of tragedy (unlike, say, Batman). I liked that he could fly to Kansas in an instant and have dinner with Ma and Pa. I was hoping the Smallville folks would continue in that tradition (because seriously, what’s the point of de-aging the Kents in the first place?) Sure the show has evolved a great deal since the Kents were cast regulars, but it still would be nice to see Ma and Pa working the farm again instead of being ghosts from an alternate universe or clandestine agents of the government. It’s the little things that make me happy.

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Keith is the Editor-at-Large of the groundbreaking graphic novel anthology SECRET IDENTITIES and Outreach Director for SIUniverse Media. Visit the official Secret Identities blog to keep up with Keith and the rest of the SI team
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