Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Superman, Mental Breakdowns, Lemon Meringue Pie and a Mule named 'Lily-Bell'

It shouldn't come as a shock to anyone that I'm something of a Superman fan. I'm tantalisingly close to having seen every single live-action interpretation of the character that there has ever been and I'm generally a walking encyclopedia on all things that relate to the Last Son of Krypton.

One of those things is the Adventures of Superman episode "Flight to the North".

Adventures of Superman has the honour of being the first Superman TV show ever (not counting the movie chapter-serials, which we will get to in due time) and had a very diverse six years of existence. When the show began, it was gritty and dark and full of misery and death. In the second season, it mellowed out a lot and by the time it reached the third season, it was pretty much didn't make any bones about being a campy kiddie show. Flight to North very much fits in that latter category. But is awesome. I don't know how how or why this most bizarre story ever came to be, and I don't care. The fact is, it exists and every time I think of it, it makes me smile.

The episode follows Louie Lyman, a gangster who has just been released from prison (where he was sent because of Clark Kent's exposé articles "years ago"). Louie apparently spent all of his time in prison waiting to have a slice of his childhood neighbour Margie's lemon meringue pie, which he claims is the greatest of all-time. His buddy disagrees and says that his aunt's is better. So they hold a bet, with their respective halves of their ill-gotten $20,000 at stake. That's right, folks. Superman has dealt with earthquakes, meteor showers, giant rampaging robots and despotic supervillains and the challenge that is being presented to him here is a bet about who makes a better lemon meringue pie.

That's not even the craziest part of the plot. So there's this hillbilly guy Sylvester, visiting Metropolis who just so happens to be nicknamed 'Superman' back home, because he's a strong fellow. He reads an ad in the paper about a woman who needs Superman's help and happily goes to help her out, with his mule Lily-Bell in tow. It turns out she needs him to bring a slice of her famous lemon meringue pie to her fiancee, Steve who is stationed alone, at an outpost in Alaska. Being that this misunderstood hillbilly is such a straight-up guy, he agrees to fly to Alaska for this woman (who thinks he's the real Superman, who can, as we all know, fly), to bring the pie to her fiancee.

So, needless to say, Louie shows up begging Margie to give him a pie. Here's where things get really crazy. Margie won't give Louie a pie, because she swore she wouldn't bake a pie for any other man than her fiancee. The episode has gotten crazy enough that they are tying in some kind of allegory for sexual fidelity. Louie finds out about the mistaken Superman going to Alaska with the pie, and sets out after him.

For some reason, Clark Kent goes to Louie's apartment, but the clerk informs that Louie's not there. Then this happens:

...which, if seen out-of-context, might be the most hilariously stupid scene of television ever filmed.

So we get to Alaska and we learn that Margie's boyfriend has gone bonkers and talks to himself in the mirror. Sylvester shows up with pie in hand and mule in tow and the two sit down to enjoy the coveted confectionary, which I'm guessing must be filled with some kind of gold-encrusted super-Heroin or something.

Throughout this exchange, Steve admits that he's sure he's gone completely crazy from isolation and is imagining the whole thing. At this point, it could be interpreted as the writers dropping hints that that's actually what's happening.

Louie shows up freezing his balls off and takes the pie at gunpoint. Superman arrives and saves the pie, delivering it back into the safe hands of Margie's fiancee. Here's where things get flat-out disturbing. Rather than flying the friendly Hillbilly guy home, Superman shoos him and the mule back out the door and...

What a dick-move on Superman's part. He basically tells Sylvester to go on home with an armed criminal in tow (through the freezing cold, until he gets to an airport and has to pay for a plane ticket for him and his mule), just so he can have more pie for himself. For a character who's supposed to be the focused totality of pure goodness, that's pretty damn selfish. He probably suspected that Steve wouldn't want any as well and that he could have the whole thing for himself.

So the story ends with Louie cancelling the bet with Buckets and Buckets coincidentally bowing out as well, because he also failed to get a pie (although he probably didn't stare an icy death in the eye while failing). Clark and Sylvester (presumably fresh off his flight) show up and kind of guffaw at the fallen mobster and Sylvester states that big city life is a bit too much for him and that he's going to return back to Skunk Hollow.

If Tim Burton had been successful in directing a Superman movie back in the 90s, I have trouble believing he wouldn't want to take that chance to adapt "Flight to the North" for the movie. The episode is one of the most surreal, bizarre and utterly brilliant things I have ever seen.