Welcome to the Couch Club, our recurring column devoted to all things #DCTV! This week, Joshua Lapin-Bertone looks at some of the complex family dynamics at play in Superman & Lois.
Thanksgiving is approaching, which means it’s time to reflect on family and what we’re thankful for. The holiday means something different for everyone, depending on how you celebrate. However, for many of us, it’s a time to come together with family.
In a way, Superman & Lois is the perfect Thanksgiving show. The series not only embodies family, but the most recent season reminds us why we should be thankful for them.
Superman & Lois’ third season, which is now streaming on Max, features a variety of family dynamics. We see the Kents, a nuclear family struggling to maintain their lives as their matriarch is diagnosed with breast cancer. We also see Bruno Mannheim, his wife and their son, who act as a dark mirror of the Kents. Like Lois, Peia Manheim also has cancer, but Bruno takes a different approach to coming to terms with it than Clark.
The Irons family also gives a unique dynamic. John Henry Irons is a single father who isn’t thrilled about his daughter Natasha entering the dating world. Even Lex Luthor, who shows up during the final few episodes, is motivated by his own family dynamics. When he’s imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit (as opposed to the many he did), Lex is disheartened to find that his daughter doesn’t want anything to do with him. This estrangement is one of the biggest reasons he’s angry at Lois and vows revenge for her role in his conviction.
The series does a great job at exploring and contrasting these unique families, but one of the most interesting subplots has to do with the Cushings, as they navigate co-parenting after a divorce. On most TV dramas, divorce is played for…well, drama. We get bickering exes with escalating tensions. Often, the divorced spouse leaves the show entirely. The problem is that real life isn’t that simple.
Kyle and Lana have some resentment towards one another, but there is also a genuine affection—something Hollywood doesn’t often grasp about divorced couples. When you’re married to someone for years and start a family with them, there will always be a part of you that cares for the person, even when they drive you crazy.
Superman & Lois season three explores the first year of Lana and Kyle’s post-marriage relationship, which is a challenging period. The first year after a divorce is often very confusing for those involved, especially when it comes to co-parenting. There is no rulebook for how things are going to work, and you have to figure out what shape your new relationship is going to take. How do you co-parent? What are the boundaries? What happens when one of you begins to date someone else?
It's a tricky situation. To top it off, Kyle is a firefighter and Lana is Smallville’s newly elected mayor, two jobs that come with big stressors of their own. Oh, and let’s not forget that thanks to its connection to Superman, Smallville is regularly the epicenter of end-of-the-world events. Mix all that together and the Cushing divorce is a psychological obstacle course.
Co-parenting with an ex-spouse is one of the hardest things to do. What happens when the two of you disagree on parenting techniques? We saw some of those disagreements, as Lana chastised Kyle for neglecting their daughter Sophie. We saw the anger when Lana accused Kyle of prioritizing time with his new girlfriend Chrissy over his daughters. Kyle disagreed, insisting that he always gave Sarah and Sophie his complete attention and devotion. It gets ugly sometimes, and there are no good guys and bad guys.
Despite these difficulties, Kyle and Lana know how to come together when their children need them. After Sarah is caught drinking and opens up about her struggles with depression, Kyle and Lana rally around her. They present a united front, working together to make sure Sarah gets the help she needs.
When Kyle begins seeing Chrissy Beppo, it adds a new wrinkle. Sarah and Chrissy begin to bond after a night at the movies together, something that gives Lana mixed feelings. She happens to see Sarah and Chrissy leaving the theater, and notices how well they’re getting along. Lana doesn’t say anything, but her face speaks volumes.
Sarah getting along with Kyle’s new girlfriend is a positive thing, but there is a part of Lana that is understandably sad about it. It’s a part of her that feels like she’s losing a part of her daughter and that’s being reminded that life moves on after divorce. It’s a very complicated emotion, and Lana handles it like a champ.
This is where I must give my props to Emmanuelle Chriqui and Erik Valdez. This storyline required a lot of emotional nuances, and they performed their roles beautifully. Who would have thought that in a show about Superman, my favorite scenes this season would be about two non-superpowered supporting characters learning to co-parent?
At this point, it should be obvious that I’m speaking from personal experience. As a child of divorce, I witnessed a lot of this growing up. I also work with kids and their parents when I’m not blogging about DCTV shows. I’ve seen some interesting family dynamics with divorced parents. Lana and Kyle’s narrative feels so real to me because I have seen so many of those moments play out in real life.
As we sit around for Thanksgiving dinner, we’ll experience some family dynamics of our own. Family is a concept as old as time, but it’s a curious thing. Our families may drive us crazy, and at other times we’ll miss them like crazy. They can make us laugh, cry, scream and love. This year, we saw all of these emotions and more with the Cushings. Family isn’t always pretty, but as Superman & Lois proves, it’s always worth fighting for.
Joshua Lapin-Bertone writes about TV, movies and comics for DC.com, is a regular contributor to the Couch Club and writes our monthly Batman column, "Gotham Gazette." Follow him on Twitter at @TBUJosh.
NOTE: The views and opinions expressed in this feature are solely those of Joshua Lapin-Bertone and do not necessarily reflect those of DC Entertainment or Warner Bros., nor should they be read as confirmation or denial of future DC plans.