When the creator of the series calls an episode of something one of the worst of all time, it’s a pretty bad thing. When that same creator has been the shepherd of a whole universe of TV shows, movies, characters, and comic book stories put to screen and calls said episode among the worst things in the entirety of said universe, THAT’s when it becomes legendary. This is the case with the eighth episode of Season 3 of Superman: The Animated Series, entitled “Superman’s Pal,” a reference to Jimmy Olsen and the comic book series starring him of the same name. Bruce Timm, the man responsible for the continued amazingness of the DC Animated Universe from 1992-2013, has called the episode a low-point in the entirety of his tenure, which is really, really saying something. But is it as bad as all that? Let’s find out together, shall we?
This is an episode, essentially, about the price of fame. Maybe. I think that’s one of the themes that’s discernible. While Superman: The Animated Series was always much more wholesome and “safe” than its Gotham City predecessor, the series still maintained a bit of an air of it being for everybody, not just little kids. Certain episodes, though, were entirely juvenile, and those were the ones that always made me roll my eyes. Just like thinking kids could only enjoy Batman if they could live vicariously through Robin, the studio must have thought that upping the profile of cub photographer would give the young viewers someone to latch onto. Without taking into account, of course, that kids watching Superman want to BE Superman; nobody CHOOSES to play Jimmy Olsen.
The episode begins with a new intern at the Daily Planet, Tina, walking through the main room, jangling all her metal bracelets and things, irritating Lois Lane in the process. Tiny replies that she likes metal, which is a thing nobody ever says. Jimmy Olsen stands by and watches longingly. When Clark Kent comes over and tells him to go ask Tina out, Jimmy says he isn’t cool enough; plus, he already asked her out twice and got a hard pass both times. Just then, a commotion on the news feed draws the two different-sized chums over and it turns out there’s a high-speed chase through the streets of Metropolis, followed by a police helicopter and a news helicopter. Naturally, Clark slips away so that Superman can go help. As he goes and picks up the fleeing car, the news chopper veers into the police helicopter and causes the latter to crash. Superman catches the copter and sets it down, asking Jimmy to help the crew while he goes to secure the perp.
Supes is real mad at the news team, as you might expect, and refuses to give a statement to Angela Chen, star reporter. She then turns her camera to Jimmy who says he isn’t comfortable saying anything, and he certainly wouldn’t call he and Superman pals, which of course leads to her cutting it in such a way as to make it seem like he said he’s super comfortable saying they’re pals. While Jimmy’s embarrassed, he’s surprised when Tina finds him in the elevator and asks if Jimmy still wants to go out with her. Obviously he does, and they do, but that night afterwards, he’s accosted by a group of thugs who want to kill him because of what Superman did to one of their brothers. Tina yells for Superman’s help and he actually shows up, believe it or not. He tells Jimmy to get them to retract the story, but Angela Chen will not. Jimmy keeps getting accosted by people who want him to get Superman to help them with something, usually menial and not important. He’s going bananas!!!!
Tina drives up and saves him from a group of women (like he’s the Beatles or some such malarkey) and she takes him to a “special place” which ends up being a junkyard. Why ever would she bring him there? It’s because she’s only been fake-liking Jimmy and is actually the girlfriend of old foe Metallo who wants to use Jimmy as bait for Superman. He originally wanted Lois, of course, but Lois isn’t easily fooled. Tina calls Lois and pretends to be in danger and Clark eavesdrop on a meeting with Perry White wherein she explains what happened. Superman then goes whizzing out of Perry’s window, blowing up Lois’ skirt in the process. After the wind is gone, she says “I need to start wearing pants.” (WHY IS THIS JOKE IN THIS EPISODE?!?!?!)
Superman shows up and tries to free Jimmy from the car-crusher, but Metallo springs his trap and starts bombarding Supes with kryptonite beams (seriously, maybe start wearing led if that’s literally the only thing that can hurt you). Jimmy manages to free himself and tries to get Tina to stop Metallo. What could she see in that guy anyway? “What can I say? I’m a sucker for metal.” GROSS. Does this imply she has sex with Metallo? I know this is a kids’ show and we should read too much into it, but ugh, right? Anyway, Tina starts kicking Jimmy’s ass but he manages to push her into a closet (that’s in a mobile home trailer…) and lock her in. He then tosses battery acid onto Metallo (REALLY) and it cuts the kryptonite’s connection to him. Superman then decides it’d be fun to toss a million old cars onto him, thus defeating him.
The episode ends with Superman giving Jimmy a special watch that has the Superman emblem on it (he got it at the Warner Bros. Store of Metropolis) and tells him it has a button that emits a supersonic pitch which will let Superman know if Jimmy’s in trouble. After all, they’re pals, right?
I think the major problem with this episode is that there’s hardly any stakes. Jimmy doesn’t seem to have much in the way of real issues, even if he is annoyed by people asking him about Superman. Also, it’s kind of silly, though not entirely without merit, that he would get pulled in so totally by a pretty girl. Ultimately, it just seems like Jimmy’s resolution and saving of Superman at the end was way too convenient; he happens upon a leaky car battery and knows enough to flick acid at Metallo, and it just so happens to land directly on the kyptonite circuitry. It’d be easier to believe if he’d done it by accident, but it doesn’t seem like something he’d know on purpose.
While this wasn’t an episode I liked by any means, it was mostly just fine considering, although within the annals of the DCAU, if this is the worst they ever did, that’s some pretty high praise.