Review: Krypton (US: Syfy)

Superman's above average grandpa

Krypton
KRYPTON -- "Pilot" Episode 101 -- Pictured: (l-r) Paula Malcomson as Charys-El, Nicholas Witham Mueller as Young Seg, Ian McElhinney as Val-El, Gordon Alexander as Quex-Li -- (Photo by: Steffan Hill/Syfy)

In the US: Wednesday, 10/9c, Syfy
In the UK: Not yet acquired

“Every family has a story, every story has a beginning,” trumpeted Smallville when it first hit our screens. You’d have thought 10 seasons of the once longest-running US TV sci-fi series – as well as Man of Steel – would have been enough to tell the story of the beginnings of both Superman and his family but now we have Krypton, another Superman prequel.

Given that Man of Steel told us more or less all we needed to know about Daddy Superman, Jor-El (Russell Crowe), and why he sent his only son Kal-El to the Earth, Krypton takes the slightly odd decision of moving the action back a generation to Granddaddy Superman when Seg-El is young and played by Cameron Cuffe (The Halcyon) – odd because we know that Krypton ain’t exploding for a good few decades yet, so what exactly is the story going to be and where’s the peril coming from?

Seg-El and Adam Strange

Game of Capes

Krypton is the brain-child of Man of Steel writer David S Goyer so don’t be too surprised that everything you saw in Man of Steel is both canon and the basis of Krypton‘s plot.

Here, the house of El is down on luck because Seg-El’s granddad (Ian McElhinney) decided to side with terrorists against the ‘Voice of Rao’, the planet’s new tyrannical religious leader (Rao being Kryptonians’ God). After his death, they lose their house status, leaving Seg to lead a drifter’s life among the house-less, fighting for money. Meanwhile, his dad (Sherlock‘s Rupert Graves) and mum Paula Malcomson (Caprica, Sons of Anarchy, Ray Donovan) are making ends meet by pouring wine for the high-born.

However, soon Seg is on the up and betrothed to someone from House Vex through the generosity of chief magistrate Elliot Cowan (Lost in Austen, The Fixer), even though he’s really in love with Georgina Campbell (Broadchurch) of House Zod (yes, Zod).

Do we care? Not really, and episode one is really just an introduction to all of this, rather than anything obviously designed to make us give a monkey’s about quasi-space feudalism.

Instead, interspersed among all of this is the occasional appearance of Shaun Sipos (Shark, Life Unexpected), an American from the future who’s come back to warn Seg-El that someone else (spoiler alert: Brainiac) has come back from the future to destroy Krypton before the universe’s greatest hero, Superman, is even a glint in the glint of someone’s eye. Back to the Future-style, Seg has to find McElhinney’s Fortress of Solitude and save the planet before the red cape in his hand disintegrates.

Well, save it for a generation, at least…

Lyta-Zod in Krypton
Georgina Campbell as Lyta-Zod in Krypton

Brits in space

Superman, of course, is the ultimate metaphor for American’s self-perception – an omnipotent, morally superior immigrant with superpowers who is a shining beacon to the world and only uses his powers to help others. But he was also created by the son of Jewish-Lithuanian immigrants and represented the ambitions of European immigrants of the early 20th century, rather than of the established former colonial masters of the US.

Self-perception being a funny thing, though, Krypton is not only almost entirely populated by English actors, it’s filmed in Britain, too. No one tries to put on a Lithuanian accent – ironically, Krypton is decidedly English, right down to the occasionally slangy, “Mate,” emerging from the mouths of the cast.

This is probably in the show’s favour, because it’s actually pretty decently acted and while the average The CW superhero show is populated by Brits trying to be superheroes, the strain of having to put on a US accent often proves a little too much for them. Here, everyone can be as English as they like and as Goyer says, “even people who are 20th on the call sheet have gone to the Royal Shakespeare Academy” (I think he means RADA). Okay, there’s a few Northern Irish actors struggling and Malcolmson sounds more Northern Irish than English, but for the most part, this is Superman: the English Years, and everyone feels a lot more relaxed and natural than in certain shows I could mention.

On top of that, despite being made for the US’s cheapskate Syfy channel, it not only looks quite good, it has decent CGI and is an often convincing recreation of the comics. It also carries on some of design tropes of Man of Steel – this looks more like a prequel to that movie than it does to Smallville. The Voice of Rao also looks nicely bizarre, as does the baddie from the future. Sure, the shady parts of Krypton that Seg inhabits looks like any tedious sci-fi bar you care to imagine and there are no weird flying animals, but all those things you thought you knew about Krypton from the movies are true here.

The Voice of Rao
The Voice of Rao

Superior

All of which means that Krypton is more interesting and better than you might have feared. The young people are as annoying as young people can be, but no more than that; the older Brits do a fairly decent job of keeping a straight face through all of it, and the show doesn’t do too badly at all at being both exciting and a good recreation of an alien world. It’s not as alien as Man of Steel, but it ain’t half bad.

Okay, so if you’re not at least slightly versed in Superman-lore, you’re going to hate it or simply not have much of a clue as to what’s going on, but I reckon if you watch either Superman or Man of Steel first, that should be enough of a primer.

What’s really going to prove to be the show’s potential kryptonite – probably green, maybe red – is the houses. I mean, who cares, even though Goyer tries to crowbar allusions to Romeo & Juliet‘s houses into the narrative? Ultimately, it’s clear that House Zod is more like House Slytherin than anything sensible, so it’s all best not thought about too much.

Instead, it’s how much of a clear and present danger the future baddie is that’s really going to define whether Krypton is watchable for more than a few episodes or not. The fact we do have an Earth presence – and hints that maybe our hero could come to Earth at some point, too – also makes things a little more interesting. The show’s pretty Krypton-focused at the moment, but who knows – maybe some Thanagarians might show up, too.

Conclusion

All in all, though, I found Krypton to be a lot better and more engrossing than I thought it would be. Fingers crossed, you will, too. Although if you hate comics and/or have minimal interest in Superman, you might as well not even bother.

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