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Adventures of Superman
Season 1 Episode 3: The Case of the Talkative Dummy

Titlecard for Adventures of Superman: The Case of the Talkative Dummy


Clark and Lois take Jimmy to a special treat for his birthday: a ventrioloquist act. Unfortunately, something unusual happens - the dummy begins saying things that the ventrioloquist isn't actually intending for him to say, disrupting the act. Clark and Lois attempt to investigate the situation. Amazingly, this disruption actually has a connection with bank robberies being investigated by the Daily Planet and Inspector Henderson - the words, numbers, and phrases being "put into the dummy's mouth" (actually being said by someone off-stage) are actually a means of secret communication between criminals so that their accomplices can know where to strike without a risk of anyone ratting anyone else out because of how secret it is. Clark eventually finds the culprit with a little super-hearing.


All things considered, I would call The Case of the Talkative Dummy a reasonably high-quality episode that didn't particularly grab me. In many ways, it exemplifies Season 1 for better and for worse. Season 1 episodes often come across as miniature crime noir films that just happen to involve Superman and which take everything very seriously without much explicit levity, with the only bits of humor generally coming from the personalities and interactions of the main cast (which is admittedly often an extremely good source of it). I really love it when Superman stories have a relatively sober and grounded nature and don't rely excessively on goofiness and gimmicks, and at its best, I find Season 1 absolutely excellent. Occasionally, though, I actually think they take this too far. After all, even though Season 1 stories are relatively grounded, they're usually not overly realistic (what else do you expect from Superman?), so sometimes taking everything so seriously feels wrong.

This episode is a prime example of this phenomenon. Criminals passing messages by pretending to be the voice of a ventriloquist dummy is pretty silly, in the sense of both being a little contrived and in having potential for humor. This episode plays that premise completely straight, however, and doesn't really use the humorous potential at all, which feels a little "off" to me.

A particular missed opportunity, in my opinion, comes in the form of the ventriloquist himself. His character seemeed to have a lot of potential for humor and a "human element" that unfortunately wasn't utilized. He's a funny guy who likes to make people laugh for a living, but his doing so is being ruined by something he can't explain. He's a surprisingly small presence in the episode and none of his humorous potential is made use of. As Clark and Lois are talking to him in back and he's talking about the dummy as though it were a living person, no one even smiles. But perhaps even more importantly, though, this episode missed out on an opportunity to focus on an individual's suffering, rather than simply "crime in general", as the problem for Superman to solve. One of the things that makes the character so special is his sense of compassion and personal connection, but this episode missed an opportunity in that regard. It's harder for me to imagine Season 2 (or even the "dreaded" colored episodes) making this same mistake. This episode actually seemed to spend more time on the criminals themselves and on their interpersonal issues. Maybe they didn't want to make the ventriloquist a focus of sympathy because his jokes were too bad...

Another minor issue about this episode that bothered me is that, while I've oddly come to kind of enjoy how this series doesn't try at all to make the security of Superman's secret identity believable to even the most remote of degrees, this episode manages to actually leave even me shaking my head a bit in this department. Clark blatantly uses his super hearing as Clark and doesn't try to hide it at all! Elsewhere in the episode, Clark and Lois are in Lois' car together and Clark exclaims that Jimmy is in a safe being lowered out of a window when he spies it with his X-ray vision, and then disappears from Lois' car to turn into Superman without giving the slightest excuse. I can accept a lot of things, but this is pushing it. After all, hiding his double life is an area in which Superman can actually have a challenge, so we need to see that it's at least possible for his secret to be at risk, but if not even publicly using his powers as Clark gives him away, what will?

All that being said, don't get the impression that this episode is anywhere near "bad". It's actually pretty solid. In particular, I have to draw attention to the characters and their interactions. The personalities of and friendship between the main characters is one of my favorite parts of the entire series, so I absolutely loved the beginning of the episode, seeing Clark and Lois being such great friends taking Jim to the ventriloquist act for his birthday, and seeing their very different reactions to the show showcase their personalities! In addition, I always like when the interesting relationship between Clark and Inspector Henderson is given a major role, especially earlier on when it was slightly strained - Clark always thinks he's right (and he usually is, of course!) but the Inspector tends to resist him. And Superman got some nice action too, of course. It's still got the most important things this series has to offer; it just had a couple of missed opportunities that kept it from being a total stand-out.

Ironically, despite all my bluster about Season 1 not having a lot of humor, this episode contains a major funny line from Henderson, where when Lois wonders aloud where Clark is always disappearing to, he answers, "I don't know. Maybe he runs into an alley, takes off his glasses and turns into Superman." Not a bad giggle, but I personally think it would've been even better later on in the series, when surely so many indicators as to Clark's other identity has mounted up that everyone should (and as it's sometimes hinted, maybe actually do, to some extent) get the picture.

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