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Syfy's Krypton Imagines the Origins of Superman

Anyone who knows the story of Superman very likely knows what happens to his home planet of Krypton, even before the Man of Steel grew up. So it is curious to imagine Superman’s true Kryptonian connections, removed from the context of his people simply having their world being destroyed. What dreams, technology, or values did Superman’s ancestors have? Arriving on the Syfy channel tomorrow night, “Krypton” (from creators David S. Goyer and Damian Kindler) answers these questions with some fan service and power-play drama, intriguing elements held back most of all by some generic sci-fi and fantasy imagination. 

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In the timeline of Superman, “Krypton” starts with the Man of Steel’s grandfather, Seg-El (Cameron Cuffe), as a dashing young ruffian and an only child with his own world-saving responsibilities. Soon into episode one, an American man in a Detroit Lions ball cap named Adam Strange (Shaun Sipos) finds Seg in the Kryptonian city of Kandor, informing Seg of his famous grandson, with a red cape in hand. But Adam also tells Sen of an evil force that must be stopped to save numerous planets across time: the world-collecting Brainiac. 

To its credit, “Krypton” is busy with a few inspired plots, even if the story’s actions seem to have more dimension than the characters expressing them. Along with saving Krypton, Seg-El is trying to preserve his family name after it had been disgraced by his grandfather Val-El (Ian McElhinney) and left them “rankless”; just the same, a young woman named Lyta Zod (Georgina Campbell), who is also Seg-El’s love interest, hopes to make her own legacy working within the Krypton police force, especially under the eye of her tough warrior mother, Alura Zod (Ann Ogbomo). Alura is trying to maintain peace in Kandor as a terrorist group called Black Zero threatens to bring its own type of chaos and makes for some of its own quarrels. At its height, “Krypton” can offer some Orwellian pings next to its Brainiac-central apocalyptic inklings. It takes a while to get to this point from the three episodes I viewed, but the series does eventually take on some immediacy. 

The biggest problem with this series is its lack of distinct aesthetic. For one, it’s the kind of show that leans on British accents to be taken more seriously, with performances that are roundly serviceable for characters that too slowly become complicated. And there are some noteworthy dashes of imagnation in the sets and the costumes, but it’s the staid directing where the action largely involves characters standing on a set, having an important conversation, and moving on; it creates a dull rhythm when the story is trying to heat up. And then, one of my biggest gripes with sci-fi storytelling, there’s the boring reliance on blasters, guns, whatever you want to call them: they simplify the drama of a moment when someone important is killed, and make the story’s supposedly intense acts of violence ho-hum. 

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As it builds an addition to the story of “Superman” in ways that will likely please those familiar with Black Zero, Brainiac, or even just excited to hear the “Superman” melodic motif, “Krypton” does have the trappings of a prequel. And the idea of focusing on Supeman’s grandfather, instead of his father, Jor-El, might mean there is a lot of room for story with this series and its lineage. But the show’s first few episodes have a nagging inconsequential air to them, as I wonder might be the overall case if “Krypton” doesn’t start putting its good intent toward a more innovative cause. 

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