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Sunday, November 17

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A decade ago, Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman aired an episode called "Tempus Fugitive." I wasn't a regular viewer of the series, but for some reason I tuned in that night. Clark and Lois need to travel to 1966 to save baby Superman from being destroyed by a disgruntled villain from the future. Apparently, Lois and Clark's kids create a utopia in the 22nd century and the villain, Tempus, is bored with his life. He wants chaos and excitement. So when H.G. Wells shows up in his time machine, Tempus forces Wells to take him back to Smallville to kill young Kal-El. Lois and Clark use a second time machine to follow the two men from 1995 to 1866 to 1966; they bicker the whole way because Tempus told Lois about Clark's secret identity. After defeating the villain in 1966, Clark realizes there are only minutes until the Kents are supposed to find him in a nearby field. So Clark PICKS UP THE BABY VERSION OF HIMSELF, and flies to the spot in the nick of time.

It was at this point I stood up and yelled, "There's no way that could happen! Didn't you see Timecop?"

It didn't matter that I was alone in my apartment shouting at my television. (Shut up.) Or that I am not a sci-fi expert by any means. Or that I shouldn't be basing my admittedly poor knowledge of time travel on a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie. All that mattered was that Clark shouldn't have been able to touch himself (not like that!) without something happening. One or both Clarks should have disappeared or blown up or created a vortex or wormhole. Sure, Einstein defined the theory of the same matter occupying the same space much more eloquently and correctly but you get the idea. I have at least heard of the space-time continuum.

Then I realized how much questionable material I had accepted up to that point:

  • Clark is from another planet, and the yellow sun of Earth gives him superpowers.

  • He wears a skin-tight uniform with his underpants on the outside, as well as a cape. This is perfectly acceptable.

  • Time travel is possible.

  • H.G. Wells, an actual person, builds an open-air time machine. It contains two wicker chairs for its passengers and runs on 24-karat gold.

  • The utopian future of the 22nd century, which was founded by Superman's descendants, has a complete lack of technological understanding. (This is why Tempus keeps Wells alive: to drive the machine.)

  • It only take Clark a few hours to build another time machine; thank goodness Wells left behind the schematics!

  • After Wells "accidentally" sends himself and Tempus to 1866 Smallville, they meet Frank and Jesse James.

  • Even though he's only fired a gun once or twice, Tempus is a better shot than Jesse.

  • Jesse immediately suffers from gun performance anxiety. (And yes, the show does go there.)

  • In the future, Lois is revered on the same level as Superman.

  • Lois and Clark meet his great-great grandparents in 1866 and his parents in 1966.

  • Even though he is fading in and out of existence (baby Clark is surrounded by Kryptonite), grown-up Clark manages to use his super breath to freeze the gun Tempus aims at Lois.

But Clark carrying a younger version of himself back to the field where the Kents originally found him? That's too much!

Because of this episode, I call this revelation "Baby Superman!" the moment when disbelief is no longer suspended. To enjoy almost any story, we must set aside "logic" to a certain degree in order to enter that new world. But we all have our individual breaking point, our personal Baby Superman! flash of clarity, that jerks us right out of the narrative. Sometimes we can make it through an entire film or series without this happening, but more often than not, reality rears its ugly head. I've compiled a few examples from more recent and current series.

Smallville
I had no problem believing that: A superpowered alien, yadda yadda.
Baby Superman! moment: When orphaned high school freshman Lana Lang opened and operated a thriving business whilst still attending and passing all of her classes. A more recent example is Chloe having her own desk at the Daily Planet. She's only a college freshman, for cryin' out loud.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer
I had no problem believing that: Buffy Summers used her supernatural strength to battle vampires and demons on a daily basis. She sacrificed herself to save the world and her younger sister (who is not her sister at all but a metaphysical energy that could open portals into other dimensions). Buffy was brought back to life months later and clawed her way out of her coffin.
Baby Superman! moment: When Buffy landed a job as a high school guidance counselor with less than a year of general college study and absolutely no experience in psychology. It was a weak attempt to tie into Season 7's "Back to School" theme, which was one of only several missteps of that final season.

Battlestar Galactica (current series)
I had no problem believing that: The Cylons were created by man. They evolved. They rebelled. There are many copies. And they have a plan.
Baby Superman! moment: When fetal cells from Helo and Boomer's unborn half-human/half-Cylon baby cures President Roslyn's fatal breast cancer. Yes, I really just typed that sentence.

The Baby Superman! theory doesn't only apply to fantasy or sci-fi shows, however.

Lost
I had no problem believing that: The survivors didn't die in that horrific plane crash. A paraplegic can now walk. The characters are all connected in some way. The tropical island has polar bears, a mysterious black fog, and several scientific labs as well as another group of people living on it. There's also some crap about numbers.
Baby Superman! moment: When Ethan "vaccinated" Claire's baby in vitro numerous times without the benefit of an ultrasound. It really doesn't matter what Ethan was doing; you don't just blindly poke big-ass needles into a pregnant woman's belly. Also, the overall level of hygiene among the castaways is bothersome. How do the women find time to shave their legs and under their arms between kidnappings, violent deaths and button pushing?

Prison Break
I had no problem believing that: Michael has an intricate blueprint literally tattooed on his skin, which is a plan to save his brother from the electric chair. The needed potential accomplices Michael researched beforehand will of course comply with said plan, and the group will definitely break out.
Baby Superman! moment: Finding out T-Bag has lots of power, a personal bitch or two, and a big crew on the inside. In prison hierarchy, inmates convicted of child molestation or murder are the lowest of the low. They are the bitches, not the leaders. Speaking of, pretty Michael would have been someone's prag in about two minutes if this were an actual scenario.

24
Ha! As if I could write down all of the applicable moments for this show (and as if you would want to wade through them all). This entire series is nothing but Baby Superman!

So the next time you're watching television or a movie and logic rears its ugly head and causes your suspension of disbelief to tumble from its lofty perch, remember Baby Superman!

Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, Seasons 1 and 2 available on DVD (Season 3 available June 20, 2006)
Smallville, WB, Thursdays 7pm
Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Seasons 17 available on DVD
Battlestar Galactica, SciFi, Fridays 9pm
Lost, ABC, Wednesdays 8 pm
Prison Break, Fox, Mondays 7pm
24, Fox, Mondays 8pm

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About the Author(s)

As a child, Dee Stiffler was only allowed to watch one hour of television a day. She usually chose Sesame Street. Today, she overcompensates by knowing far too much about the WB's lineup as well as pop culture in general. Email her at pop@gapersblock.com.

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