Let us introduce you to a new Syfy show premiering on Wednesday evening. It takes place on an alien planet, far removed from our world, but the people living there face problems all-too-recognizable — albeit in the context of a different societal structure from what we know. Houses battle for dominance within this society, while the “rankless” are constantly victimized and the dominant religion makes more demands upon its citizenship. Meanwhile, danger lurks on the horizon as an alien threat might destroy everything that’s been built.
It’s an intriguing premise, and yet that’s not all that’s going on with “Krypton” — because, as hinted by the title, the main character is Superman’s grandfather. That means there’s a whole other level of tension in play here. It’s so important that young Seg-El (Cameron Cuffe) overcome his rejection from the higher levels of Krypton society and find his place in the world, in fact, that Adam Strange (Shaun Sipos), a time-and-space traveler from our world (specifically, Detroit) has come to Krypton to ensure Seg’s safety.
This is, as the kids might say, a lot. But the best way to approach “Krypton” is also a way of acknowledging when the show is at its best — when it focuses on this alien civilization, which is full of intriguing quirks and shifts. There are plenty of sci-fi stories set in the not-too-distant future, but it’s rare that a show will commit so fully to creating a whole new world divorced entirely from our own — and that’s refreshing.
Because this reviewer is somewhat unfamiliar with the deep cuts being pulled here from Superman’s backstory (and also because the show is inventing some elements on its own), the world-building on “Krypton” feels relatively fresh. “Game of Thrones” is such a clear influence here, especially when it comes to the warring houses of Krypton, but in the best way. “GOT” showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have always excelled at grounding their characters in relatable problems even while dragons fly about, and “Krypton” executive producers David S. Goyer and Damian Kindler are close to finding a similar balance.
It’s odd to say this, but while it’s unlikely “Krypton” would have ever been made without the Superman connection, it might have been better served in that respect. Just give us alien worlds! Weird space bugs that crawl up peoples’ noses! Star-crossed lovers! (Georgina Campbell, as Lyta Zod, is easily one of the show’s most enjoyable aspects, as she strives to excel in her training as a member of Krypton’s warrior class while also managing her personal relationships.)
But then, there’s the fact that Seg has been tasked with saving his own grandson, and the constant flexing of Superman iconography without ever really establishing why it’d be such a bad thing if Superman never eventually made it to Earth. In the first five episodes provided to critics, production values are solid (always important when aiming to transport viewers to a new world) and enough story is introduced to keep people invested. But screen time is limited, and we could have gotten more.
Ultimately, it comes down to this: this show doesn’t need Superman to survive — and might in fact be weighed down by the expectation that you need to be an uber-nerd to appreciate the action. “Krypton” is a show split between two different concepts, and that lack of commitment shows in the first five episodes. But those unfamiliar with the comics will find plenty to enjoy, as the plot gets twistier and twistier.
It’s a shame that “Krypton” feels the need to lean on the Superman crutch. But while those elements are a distraction, there’s still plenty of weirdness to appreciate.