Superman is more than a superhero, he has become a character of myth and legend. Celebrating his 80th year, the iconic hero that spawned an entire history may have found life on the big screen, but his story is unfolding all over again in a wholly new way with Syfy's "Krypton."
The last surviving son of his home planet, Krypton, Kal-El was an infant when he was rocketed away from his family as the planet was destroyed. For him and for all of his fans over the decades, Krypton lived only in history, seen mostly in fleeting glimpses in the various movie and television versions of Superman. Here, finally, with Syfy's new series set two generations before the Man of Steel's birth, Krypton comes to life as we've never seen it before, and it is gorgeous.
The panoramic views of Kandor City teem with life and technology and every bit of it is so alien and yet so consistently presented, it is genuinely jarring when we see something so mundane and familiar to our Earthly senses there. Everything is meticulously rendered from costuming to architecture, vehicles, weaponry and even the structure of politics, class and religion. We are immersed fully into this alien world, and yet it is all explained so well, by the end of the first hour, it feels familiar.
Familiarity with the Superman mythos is not necessary at all, and in fact may lead to false assumptions. This story steps back two generations from the moments we've seen most; the moments of a planet facing its imminent demise and still refusing to listen to the wisdom of the House of El. In fact, the House of El is no more as we get into the action on "Krypton," and the planet's destruction is still two centuries away.
The biggest question then was how to make this show about Superman's home planet set 200 years before his birth exciting and relevant to Superman fans? Add to this the fact that under its red sun Kryptonians have no superpowers, and you're talking about just regular people walking and talking ... This is on Syfy, right?
But that was the genius of this premiere episode, which adds a sense of present-day urgency to an already exciting and unpredictable plot unfolding 200 years ago. Tying the past to the present through a familiar artifact and the already-announced character of Adam Strange (Shaun Sipos) suddenly makes "Krypton" the most important Superman story of all time. The stakes couldn't be higher for Kal-El's grandfather, Seg-El (Cameron Cuffe) ... or Seg after his family was stripped of their name.
There were elements of "Caprica" in this, another successful experiment in world-building extrapolated from a more popular property, in that case "Battlestar Galactica." But where "Caprica" never stepped beyond mildly interesting (but mostly boring), "Krypton" kicked things off with a blast, filled with plenty of excitement and action and danger.
The story starts even earlier, capturing the moment that Seg's grandfather Val-El (Ian McElhinney) was stripped of his title, house and holdings for refusing to swear fealty to the new religious order coming to power. We then pick up the action when Seg is in his early 20s, settled into his new life as an unranked citizen in the underbelly of Kandor City hustling to get by. You know, the classic Han Solo type that everyone loves to root for.
Along the way, we meet his lover Lyta Zod (Georgina Campbell), who happens to be a member of the city's elite military guild -- which is run by her hard-ass mother Alura Zod (Ann Ogbomo) -- as well as their ruling class. Still in power is Daron-Vex (Elliot Cowan), the same man who stripped Val of everything nearly 15 years ago. Then, because this is a hero story, things have to take a huge turn for the worse to set Seg up to emerge as a reluctant hero with the weight of not only his homeworld but the entirety of the future -- and possibly the entire universe -- as well.
Yeah, there are familiar beats to this story, but it's an archetype story. It's a hero story about the grandfather of the most famous superhero of them all. There are elements of that goodness and that willingness to fight for right from the beginning with Seg in a way that feels organic. He's a compassionate man who cares about even the lowest of citizens, proving that some of Superman's best traits did, in fact, come from his biological family as well.
By the close of the first hour, we've had the dramatic reveal of the other looming danger that threatens everything, but there are also hints that it is a threat further off to be dealt with down the road. The good news for fans is that Seg has plenty of trouble already laid at his doorstep in this first hour and no clear direction about how to deal with any of that, much less the flying green menace traveling the cosmos.
Like "Battlestar Galactica" and more recently "The Expanse," Syfy is taking this science-fiction property seriously, respecting the source material while modernizing it and making it relevant to newer audiences. The acting is top-notch throughout, they took their time developing this world thoroughly before populating it, and with this solid foundation beneath it, "Krypton" has begun parceling out its localized dangers for the main characters while teasing the larger "big bad."
It's Cult TV 101, and "Krypton" deserves the chance to lure in the same type of obsessively loyal fanbase that followed Joss Whedon from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" to "Firefly," elevated the new "Battlestar Galactica" to mythic status, and turned "Lost" into a cultural phenomenon.
And don't worry, just because Kal-El isn't there he's still totally there and while that makes no sense, trust us. He is the most urgent element of the entire series in a unique twist that left us eager for what comes next.
"Krypton" premieres tonight at 10 p.m. ET on Syfy.