From Sunnydale to Smallville

The television series Smallville holds the record (as of this writing) for the longest-running science-fiction TV series. It is a retelling of the Superman story from the time of Clark Kent's youth in Kansas through to his adult life as a reporter in Metropolis. It features familiar characters from the original story, such as Lex Luthor and Lois Lane.

The show also neatly bridges the transition from the Gen-X youth era, as exemplified by a similar TV series, into the Millennial youth era. The other series is Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which like Smallville has a superpowered chief protagonist who attends high school in a town where weird things happen. In Buffy the preternatural events occur because of a gate to Hell, whereas in Smallville they are because of a meteor impact. In both shows the main characters depend on as well as protect a cadre of loyal peers, and there is ample high school relationship drama.

What's neat is that the characters in Buffy are from the class of 1999, the last Gen-Xer high school class, while the characters in Smallville are part of the first wave of Millennial high school grads. Granted, Clark Kent is portrayed by a Gen-Xer, but the supporting cast of friends and love interests are almost all first wave Millennials. Overall the characters seem more well-adjusted, more outgoing and less angst-ridden than the characters in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The Smallville characters with emotional issues who exhibit antisocial behavior turn out to be the episode's bad guy and often meet unfortunate ends.

You can really see the contrast in the families of the main characters. Buffy has a fraught relationship with her single mother, who is usually too busy to be involved with her daughter's life and doesn't even realize she is a Vampire-slayer until later in the series. But Clark's Mom and Dad are together, invested in helping him with his powers and fully present in every episode. The Kents are a quintessentially American midwestern family, corny and endearingly wholesome.

In later seasons the show gets darker and more adult-oriented, but in its beginnings it feels like part of the early 2000s television coming of age of the Millennial generation.

Years: 2001-2011
Years: 1997-2003
Creator: Alfred Gough (Generation X, born 1967)
Starring: Tom Welling (Generation X, born 1977)
Creator: Joss Whedon (Generation X, born 1964)
Starring: Sarah Michelle Gellar (Generation X, born 1977)

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