Parenting teenage boys isn’t easy, even if you’re more powerful than a locomotive. Superman & Lois is about to kick off its third season, which will bring a new set of challenges to the greatest parents in Smallville. In addition to helping Jonathan and Jordan learn how to drive, Lois and Clark will also be facing the threat of Bruno Mannheim and his criminal syndicate Intergang. Plus, a certain villain by the name of Lex Luthor might be stopping by. Perhaps you’ve heard of him?
In short, it’s going to be another eventful year in Smallville. So, to help get us ready for the new season, we had a chat with showrunners Todd Helbing and Brent Fletcher. The longtime producers told us about some of the troubles that Lois and Clark will be facing this season, what’s in store for the boys, and how their version of Lex Luthor will raise the stakes.
There are lots of awesome little Easter eggs sprinkled throughout Superman & Lois. I don't know if you guys realize that we're picking up on them, but I'm absolutely picking up on them. Principal Balcomb—that's a guy that was in a single issue of Superboy back in the fifties. The same with Coach Gaines.
TH: When we started, there was a Smallville encyclopedia that we got, that basically had every resident in Smallville. So, you know, we kind of pick from this list and then we have some staff members who are walking encyclopedias. We can say any scenario and within five minutes, we'll get panels, we'll get splash pages, we'll get deep dives, it's amazing. We don't go online very often, so I don't know if fans respond to our Easter eggs, but there are a lot.
BF: We try to pepper the audience with them. Shout out to (writers) Max Kronick and Adam Mallinger, our Easter egg MVPs. Todd and I know a little, but it's a drop in the bucket to these two guys and Superman lore. They are encyclopedias.
Lex friggin Luthor! That is something to get excited about. What can you tell us about Lex Luthor this season?
BF: Get ready.
TH: Lex is Lex. Everybody, even my mom, knows Lex Luthor. He transcends the comics. There has obviously been a long list of fantastic actors who have played him. We just wanted, like all the characters in our show, to put our own stamp on them. We came up with a pitch that we pitched to DC and they loved it. Warner Bros. loved it, CW loved it, and then we pitched it to Mike Cudlitz and he loved it. We're super fortunate to have him, he's crazy talented.
BF: He's elevating the concept to like a whole new realm.
TH: And we think that this version is quite a bit different than any version of Lex Luthor you've ever seen.
BF: Also, it doesn't discount the Luthors of the past because we're always reverential to what's been done. But again, it's not doing a service to the fans if it's not something they haven't seen before in live action. So, it is a Lex story that they haven't seen and it's a version of him that's going to feel fresh and hopefully really exciting, and in our show it will be the greatest adversary that Superman and Lois have ever faced.
There's another LL in the series that I want to talk about, which is Lana. She is one of the most interesting characters of the show, and there are so many story threads with her going on. First of all, she's mayor of a town that is constantly at the epicenter of these end of the world crises. What is mayoral life like for Lana this season?
TH: Like any job, the reality is different than the dream. It's a lot more complicated than she realized. You learn some stuff about Mayor Dean, and what was going on in that administration and the headaches that it's caused for her.
BF: And when she was running for mayor, she was married and now she finds herself in a totally new role as a single mother. So, within the span of a very short amount of time, both her professional and personal lives have done a total 180. And balancing that for anybody is so hard. That's what makes her somebody that we can all relate to. It's tough when you take on new challenges in life. It's why we watch dramas, to see what unfolds for those characters because we relate to it.
TH: She's been a lifelong Smallville resident and she loves that town, so everything comes from a heartfelt position with her. And it's sort of these extracurriculars that start to threaten her from doing as good a job as she knows she can do.
You mentioned her separation. I thought that was wonderfully handled last season. It felt very real. The awkward dance of trying to figure out how to co-parent during those early stages of separation. How did you guys approach that in the writers room, and what can we expect in season three?
BF: We're always trying to play things real. We have a heightened reality with all the superhero stuff, but in terms of personal dynamics, we talk about how these things feel and how it would feel if we were in his or her shoes, and what we have witnessed in our own lives. We have real emotional conversations in the writers room about all these different topics, and this divorce was one of them. A lot of people have had children and divorced and have seen that relationship unfold. Knowing what we know, how do we apply that to our characters? And that's what we tried to do in the second season. In the third season, it's how do you take those first steps starting anew for both Lana and Kyle? They've made the decision to separate, then get a divorce. What's that next step look like? A lot of times you don't know in that situation and it's scary. We thought that was an interesting place to put those characters and see what fell out.
TH: Kudos to Emmanuelle, Inde, Erik and Joselyn. Whatever we give them, they elevate. We're really fortunate to have them. We love the Lang-Cushing-Cortez family.
Now for the title characters. How are Clark and Lois looking at the start of season three, as parents, as reporters and as heroes?
TH: The boys are getting a little bit older. They're just starting to do their own thing. Now there is room for the two of them to sort of rediscover Lois and Clark. They're getting along fantastically.
BF: Best place they've ever been in the three seasons of the show. Which makes it the perfect time to complicate it.
Chrissy Beppo is aware of the secret, which changes things for Lois in the workplace. How is their new dynamic?
TH: When you bring Superman into the Gazette, well, Chrissy wasn't expecting the amount of times that he was just going to fly off, save the world and be absent. It's going to take a little time for the three of them to figure out a rhythm, but once they do, they really rise to the occasion. When the Mannheim story really gets up and running, it's the three of them that investigate. It's been a lot of fun to see that happen.
Let's address the elephant in the room. You had to recast a key role this season. How are things going with Michael Bishop, our Jonathan 2.0?
BF: It was a little bit of a curveball, but we got Michael Bishop, who we brought in and just wowed us from the start. He knows who the character is, but we allowed him the room to put his own stamp on it. We built stories to grow the character as well. It's still a kid that's growing and changing. He turns sixteen in the first episode of the season. At sixteen, you're still finding yourself. We've put him on that journey and everything we've gotten back from Michael has been through the charts fantastic. Hats off to this talented young man. He came over for an audition, got the part and had to stay. Talk about your life changing in the snap of a finger. It was just an audition, and then he had to have all his belongings shipped to Canada because he was suddenly an employee of the show.
Honestly, it's kind of like the real Jonathan who had to relocate to Smallville at the drop of a hat. What is life like for Jonathan in school? Because everybody is probably still mad at him for canceling school sports. And there's the whole Candice of it all.
TH: With the X-Kryptonite stuff, I think he learned his lesson. He's still dating Candice and they're finding their way, and there's some interesting stuff that happens with them. We bring up a little bit of the past between these two, and there are some interesting turns that happen where you get to see Jonathan in a light that you haven't seen him in before, which has been a lot of fun.
I want to circle back to someone that you guys mentioned before—Bruno Mannheim! Intergang! We got that tease for it at the end of season two.
BF: It looms large over everything. Bruno Mannheim is an adversary worthy of both Superman and Lois, but interestingly enough, ends up in a lot of other stories as well. A complicated figure, somebody that's not easily pigeonholed. You think you know him, and then you learn something new about him and find out that he's got more layers. And every action has a reason that may not be as bad as you think, or as good as you think. There's a realness to the character that is different, that feels more human and real than anything we've done before. We're really excited for people to see him and get to know his backstory.
Before we wrap up, what are you hoping fans get out of season three?
TH: We had a proper break between seasons two and three. We had a lot of time to think about this, map it out and develop all the stories so they intersect and speak to each other. The emotional journey that the audience and our characters go on this year, I think is more moving than it's ever been. And then the payoff at the end—the action, the Superman quotient has never been higher, the emotion and family aspect has ever been higher. I'm stoked for all of it.
BF: I think this is the show at its best. I think that you can come in if you haven’t seen it before and it won't be too confusing. There's stuff that you can take away and enjoy. And for the fans that have been with us for a while, I think they're going to see it taken to another level, and they're going to get a story that has real emotional resonance and means something, and unpacks itself in ways that they're not expecting. That's what I love in my television. Todd and I talk every day, and we cannot wait for people to finally get a chance to watch it.
Superman & Lois returns Tuesday for its third season at 8 p.m. (7 p.m. CT) on The CW.