Writing stories about Superman has always been challenging, especially in the 21st century. DC Comics’ Man of Steel is typically portrayed as an overpowered paragon of virtue, which makes it harder to burden him with extensive internal conflict. Syfy’s new fantasy series Krypton recognizes this challenge, as well as the recent failed attempts at doing Superman justice on the big screen. So their approach is to remove Superman himself from the equation, and instead focus on the imperfect place that birthed this perfect being. Unfortunately, despite its visual splendor, Krypton fails to create a convincing world, and doesn’t give us any characters as interesting as old Clark Kent.
On paper, this “show about Superman without Superman” sounds massively promising, since the premise allows the show’s writers to dive into Kryptonian lore without Kal-El’s moral center getting in the way. So it’s disappointing to see that, while Krypton may have all the ingredients for an epic high fantasy series, it just doesn’t have strong enough direction to put all these elements in place. A story like this demands an appropriate level of world building but the focus is kept mainly on a small group of characters, making the series feel much smaller than it probably should feel. You can tell the directors are trying to create a sense of political intrigue through these characters from different Kryptonian houses, but the show lacks ambition in its methods of telling this story. You hope to be given insights into how Krypton works as a society, but the show never achieves a large enough scale to pull this off.
Another of Krypton’s large flaws comes as a result of their idea to get rid of Superman. While he is often reduced to a cookie cutter boy scout, in the right hands, the character works well as a universal protagonist. Here, we’re saddled with a young version of Superman’s grandfather, Seg-El, played by Cameron Cuffe. Cuffe doesn’t quite know how to play Seg; he’s a charming jokester one moment, and an insufferable jock the next. And no matter what mode he goes for, Cuffe doesn’t yet have the emotional range to communicate all of the pressure being heaped onto Seg. The same can be said for many other supporting actors in this cast, but none more so than Shaun Sipos, who plays the time traveling Adam Strange. Sipos goes a little too far into silliness and makes Adam a minor nuisance instead of a lovable sidekick.
The brightest star in this cast, however, is Georgina Campbell, who plays the warrior Lyta-Zod, who has easily the most compelling arc in the show. Through Campbell’s performance, we learn about the strict code of honor kept among the members of House Zod, and how this code challenges Lyta’s morality, her relationship with her mother, and her forbidden romance with Seg. There are layers upon layers of emotion here that Campbell nails, and if the show’s creative team knows what’s good for their series, it would be in their best interest to put her front and center in the following season.
One thing that this show has no problem with, though, is its presentation. While Krypton still has a ways to go with regard to filling out the narrative and the details of its setting, visually speaking, the world is breathtaking. Impressive CGI keeps the series from looking like other fantasy shows out there, while beautifully detailed costumes and sets ensure that viewers always have something new to look at (even when the cinematography gets too muddy for its own good). Toward the end of the season, when more overt superhero elements start being introduced into the plot, the visual effects keep up—arguably looking better than some of the cinematic entries from the DC Extended Universe.
Krypton still has individual moments of excitement and effective drama that keep it from totally sinking. There are times when all the different factions on Krypton are placed at odds with one another, and interesting ideas about faith and power are explored. There are certain action scenes that are just gritty enough to feel painful. And, again, whenever Lyta-Zod takes the stage, the show becomes twice as engaging. It’s a show that occasionally gets lucky, and the way the season concludes is daring enough to potentially make even its staunchest critics curious about what’s to come.
However, it’s understandable if one thinks that sitting through the show ends up feeling like a chore after a few episodes. There isn’t a lot of momentum carried over between scenes, no mounting suspense, even after we’re told during the pilot that monumental stakes are balancing on Seg’s shoulders. Krypton jumps around from character to character, leisurely strolling through ordinary and repetitive conversations when this time could have been used to sketch out a bigger picture. This is a show that presents itself as an epic, as a definitive untold story behind one of fiction’s most enduring characters. But by the end of the 10th episode, it all just feels like an inconsequential footnote.