'Krypton' Has Its Heart In The Right Place, But It Has A Long Way To Go

So...about KryptonI can definitely say I've seen it. I know what happened in the premiere episode, but do I care about it? I can't say I do. At least not yet.

Let's run down the plot real quick. Krypton is a Superman origin story of sorts, but we're not really discovering new information about Clark Kent/Kal-El's origins; we're discovering his grandpa's origins. His grandfather, Seg-El (Cameron Cuffe) lives with his parents as "unranked" members of the elite, their rank stripped from them due to the so-called "treason" of Seg-El's own grandfather Val-El (Ian McElhinney). Of course, this was actually his commitment to saving Krypton from otherworldly evils not yet seen. Seg-El finally realizes the importance of his grandfather's legacy when a strange time-jumper from Earth, the aptly named Adam Strange (Shaun Sipos) tells Seg-El that he must take the sunstone key to his grandfather's Fortress of Solitude and use his grandfather's research to save Krypton from Brainiac (Blake Ritson). If Seg-El can save his homeworld, then he can save his grandson, Earth's savior.

On paper, the show sounds ridiculous. Why are we even concerned with Superman's grandfather's origin story? But then you watch it...and it's just as ridiculous.

I will be upfront and say that maybe I'm not as versed on my Superman lore as I should be to really see why Krypton should be awesome – Comic Book Resources said the pilot "could be the best Superman TV series yet"– but I'm also part of this show's target demographic: the casual Superman fan. Even though a show based from a comic book is supposed to appeal to its diehards, it's also supposed to lure in folks who don't know much, if anything, about the comic.

Introducing us to a brand new character seems like a sound way to bring in new people desperate for fantasy costume dramas, since there's no history accompanied with such a character and they can act as an avatar for the audience. But it's also a gamble because that new character has be engaging enough to entice new audience members to want to learn more about the show's already established comic book world. If that character isn't engaging, then you've got a problem. There are many areas where Krypton fails me, but characterization is its first and biggest flop.

Who is Seg-El?

Seg-El might be the most confounding part of this episode. We see him as a kid, getting his "S" rank stripped from him alongside the rest of his family members (which also include his dad Ter-El, played by the always amazing Rupert Graves and his mom Charys-El, played by Paula Malcomson). We then see his grandfather's sentence – death by falling into icy snow – meted out. This trauma leads Seg-El to grow up to become a feckless drunk.

When I was watching this episode, particularly the introduction to adult Seg-El fighting guys in a bar his friend Kem (Rasmus Hardiker) owns, a phrase entered my mind: "soulless Aladdin." Indeed, Seg-El looks and acts like a less charming, more annoying version of Aladdin, and his put-upon roguishness is never earned. All the character does is go through rote motions of a bad boy-turned-Chosen One.

It's funny that I wasn't the only person to associate Seg-El with some version of Aladdin; The A.V. Club's Vinnie Manusco also described Seg El as "a society-spurned street rat with a heart of gold." Indeed, that's exactly what he is.

What's great about Disney's Aladdin, though, is that we know why he's a street-rat. He has no parents, and we sympathize with him over this. Sure, even if he had parents, he might still be homeless, but if we're going by Disney logic, Aladdin's homeless because he has no family, and yet he still finds a part of him that has a sense of humor about his sad life, which makes us like him even more. Meanwhile, Seg has both of his parents and a roof over his head, and getting drunk is how he repays his mom and dad for their sacrifices? If Kem, who seems to be just a normal dude with no rank of any kind, can hold down a job as a barkeep and as an engineer, why can't Seg? His El name might be in shambles, but does that mean he has to throw his life away in the most predictable way possible?

Seg should be our most interesting character, but he isn't. If we should be following anyone, it probably should be Adam Strange, who somehow time-hopped all the way from present-day Detroit (he's  wearing a Detroit Tigers baseball cap) to Krypton. How in the world did he do that? I know we'll figure it out as the show goes along, but I'd love to have known his story from the jump. His presence alone was immediately more interesting than all of the time we'd spent with Seg to that point.

A misuse of Rupert Graves

Rupert Graves is one of the finest actors Britain has produced, and yet he's wasted in Krypton. I don't know why, since he was the only one of two actors in this episode who made the world feel as if it was lived-in.

Why cast Graves if we were to only see him in this episode and this episode alone? I feel like Graves was the one element that was giving the show its much-needed nuance and humanity, and with one fell swoop, they cut the heart out by killing him off. Graves' talent is going whole-hog with characterization and somehow come off as both broad and subtle. Like Martin Freeman, he brings an Everyman quality to his roles. However, while Freeman comes off as the guy you want to meet at a pub and then visit a bookstore with, Graves comes off as the guy you meet at a pub and then get in a fight with. The amount of danger Graves laces into his roles usually serves him well, and even as Ter-El, he gives a hint of what could have been duplicity when he takes Seg's sunstone, complete with a shifty look in his eyes. But that character note is never followed up, and that's a shame, since it could have been a cool turning point in the episode.

I feel a little like I did when Star Trek: Discovery killed off Georgiou in the two-part premiere. Does it have to be this way? Especially since Ter and Cherys' deaths were both done just so Seg can have some semblance of character? At the very least, maybe we'll see Ter in some flashbacks. I feel we're owed that.

Why so serious?

Krypton desperately wants to be Game of Thrones in space. The self-serious tone to the entire episode made it hard to take things, well, seriously. Maybe if it just lightened up a little bit, things might be all right, but the show really wants us to think long and hard about the Kryptonian political machinations at work.

For instance, we're supposed to hate that Seg will have to throw away a chance at life with his true love Lyta Zod (Georgina Campbell) for an arranged marriage with Nyssa-Vex (Wallis Day). We're supposed to wonder what's at the root of Krypton's absolutist leader, the Voice of Rao (as well as what's up with their admittedly cool golden three-headed mask). We're supposed to feel immediate shock once Seg's parents are killed, even though their deaths were telegraphed way in advance. We're supposed to care really hard.

Even the set and costume design wants us to care much more than we actually do, because other sci-fi and fantasy references are invoked constantly, the most prominent of which being Star Wars. The military arm of Krypton, of which Lyta and her mother, General Jayna-Zod (Ann Ogbomo) are a part of, are decked out in red and black. Inexplicably, they wear black hamaka (AKA samurai pants) to practice a combat style that looks vaguely Asian, yet this is supposed to be an entirely alien combat style. Jayna even wears a black suit with a cape that seems vaguely like the Galactic Empire. Certain sets, combined with CG backgrounds, have an uncomfortable "Star Wars prequels" feel to them.

Blade Runner also gets a nod; during a scene featuring Lyta and Seg in bed, the camera pans up from them to a nighttime shot of the city, which looks like it's desperately trying to remind the viewer of a futuristic Los Angeles. Even the background music during this scene sounds like a synthesizer.

Game of Thrones is the obvious influence, but British dramas as a whole are referenced in Krypton, from the costumes of the rankless, who look like Medieval space serfs, to the insistence on using only British actors, weirdly cementing an alien planet with Earthly cultural politics. Because if you want to taken seriously, it seems, every drama depicting a non-British place aside from America must be outfitted with British accents. There's a reason Chadwick Boseman insisted to Marvel brass that T'Challa not have a British accent, and that's because the subjugating reign of the British Empire still holds supreme in the mind of the film and TV industry. Do I know what accent Kryptonians should have? No. But Game of Thrones created an accent for the Dothraki, as well as a language. Maybe Krypton should have followed their idol's lead and done the same for Kal-El's people.

Maybe I'll come to care more about things as the series progresses, but right now, it's much ado about nothing.

Women of color, but will they be tropes?

One of the bright spots in this episode is that we do have prominent women of color. There are detractors, though – they're both related, and having two black people who are related in a show that's otherwise dominated by white characters is already a trope within itself. Also, they are part of the military, which could play on the "strong black woman" trope more than I'm comfortable with. Jayna is already treading on thin ice by stabbing a knife through her daughter's hand to prove a lesson in combat. Nyssa's dad and high judiciary Daron-Vex (Elliot Cowan) called her a "blunt instrument," insinuating her only go-to is to kill, as she did to Seg's parents during their trial.

Even still, Ogbomo is the other actor along with Graves who is giving me something to work with. I can understand Ogbomo's character because she still laces her with something interesting and intangible, something that makes me want to see more of her. I hope we see her character develop as the series goes on.

Overall, Krypton is a show that will need to actually put in the work to earn its high fantasy accolades it immediately wants from the audience. If you're a casual Superman fan, or even if you're a diehard, you might come away from the pilot shaking your head in confusion. But seeing as I'm going to recap Krypton this season, who knows how we'll feel as an audience later on. We might collectively come to love it.