George Reeves as Superman/Clark Kent
Phyllis Coates as Lois Lane (season 1)
Noel Neill as Lois Lane (seasons 2-6)
Jack Larson as Jimmy Olson
John Hamilton as Perry White
Adventures of Superman is a true benchmark in television history. Not only was it one of, if not the first, TV shows ever based on a comic book, it was one of the early shows that helped put TV on the map. And despite certain flaws, it somewhat holds up over time.
In the 1950s, Superman was one of the most popular characters in all of fiction. His comics were high-sellers that had already inspired spinoffs in the form of a radio show, black and white movies, animated shorts, and of course, lots of toys. The most popular of the movies up to this point, Superman and the Mole-Men, starred George Reeves as Superman. He plays the Man of Steel in this show as well. Joining him are Jack Larson as Jimmy Olson and John Hamilton as Perry White. Two actresses play Lois Lane: Phyllis Coates in the first season, then Noel Neill in all subsequent seasons.
This show is a bit limited by technology. As this was the 1950s, Superman wasn’t going to be moving mountains or anything. He didn’t even use heat vision. They could barely pull off the effect of flight. But at the time, audiences marveled at the sight of Superman flying through the air and going unharmed by gunfire.
The format of this show is that villains of the week cause trouble in Metropolis, often kidnapping Lois and/or Jimmy in the process. Using his journalistic training, fellow reporter Clark Kent finds out where these criminals are, changes into his Superman suit, and brings them in. He usually lets some bullets bounce off him before punching out the bad guys. Many episodes also end with Clark giving everyone else an alibi for why he disappeared once Superman entered the picture.
The villains in the more intelligent first two seasons are one-shot crime bosses and mad scientists. Superman’s modern rogues gallery wasn’t really around back then, so he fights one-timers. These villains use advanced technology to hatch their little schemes. It works quite well, for the writers prove proficient at penning these sort of stories. One flaw this show has all the way through is that Superman rarely seems to be in any danger. But most episodes emphasize how well-hidden their villains are and have them do their damage from a distance. This puts the focus away from whether they can kill Superman. After all, what good is a crimefighter if he can’t find the criminals?
There are, however, some exceptions. I remember an episode in which Supes is frozen and thus unable to use his powers. This effect is achieved with makeup to color Reeves’ skin chalk-white. Also, several episodes involve Kryptonite. The pieces of Superman’s home planet are poisonous to him. This stuff hurts and prolonged exposure will eventually kill him. Fortunately, Kryptonite is used in moderation so it’s more dramatic when it shows up.
This show is much better in its first two seasons. After that, a larger budget allows it to be filmed in color. Unfortunately, the writing gets more goofy at this point. Plots become more goofy (yes, even for being about a scientific improbability). This was the era of stuff like that freeze I referenced earlier and Superman flying in medievel armor. Plus, Reeves had started to refuse to fly anymore after his wire broke one day, forcing them to use the same shot of him flying over and over. These seasons aren’t bad, but they’re not as good as the first two.
Adventures of Superman was to last at least one more season before George Reeves died. Apparently, he had killed himself over his failure to get other parts (he had gotten a guest appearance in an episode of I Love Lucy, but still as Superman). That pretty much meant the show’s cancellation. At least two replacement series were attempted. One was Superboy, inspired by the comic book about Superman as a teenager. That actually might have worked. There was actually a full pilot for the Adventures of Super-Pup. It would have basically been the same show as the subject of this review, but with dogs.
In the end, they let this show go. But the question of whether Reeves really took his own life remains.
As for this show, It’s serviceable. Especially in the first two seasons. Seasons 3-6 are significantly weaker, but still acceptable.
Overall: 7 out of 10