Friday, July 28, 2006

Who wants to make an ass of themselves?

Last night was the premiere of Who Wants to Be a Superhero on the SciFi channel. I'm really not sure what to make of this show. I laughed out loud a couple of times, but I suspect it was more in spite of the show than because of it.

The premise: eleven humans with super powers compete to see who is the greatest superhero on Earth.

No, really.

Well, okay, it's not really like that. I mean, there is no such thing as super powers. They even mentioned this in the show, just in case the costumed clowns contestants didn't get it. Now, I thought this was a stupid premise at first, but as I got thinking about it, it's not that outlandish. Survivor could just as easily have been named Cannibal and had the same effect. You know, once every three weeks someone disappears, and when the show ends the two finalists have to prove that they were the least evil. Gosh, why do they even run Survivor on tropical islands? (I know: cleavage.) They should instead hold it in the Sierra Nevadas or the Andes.

So you have 11 adults (youngest was 19, oldest 42, average age in their 30s) dressed in costumes that wouldn't have passed muster at Jimmy's Halloween party. They compete for the title of greatest superhero and a slew of prizes: a comic book, a SciFi channel movie deal (one of those horrid Saturday night things that are too bad even for direct-to-video), and an appearance in the "superhero parade" at the Universal Studios Orlando theme park. Not much of a prize, really, for making an ass out of yourself. I think I made more money when I sold off my nearly-complete run of Claremont/Byrne/Austin X-men comics back in the 80s.

The hero bios can be found here:

Presiding over this motley crew is Stan "The Man" Lee, co-founder of Marvel Comics. The driving force behind the show is Dark Horse Comics. Stan Lee doesn't actually appear on camera with the contestants. He's seen giving directions to the heroes on widescreen TVs. He's no Jeff Probst, and he's way, way too earnest, but he does bring a sort of kitschy charm to the show.

Not so charming are the contestants. They look like they were dragged out of a GenCon superhero LARP.

No, I take that back. LARP-ers would have actually read superhero comics at some point in their life. There is very little evidence to suggest that any of these people can read a cereal box, let alone a comic book. Cell Phone Girl, Monkey Woman, and Fat Momma are the worst as far as concepts go. Worst costume goes to Monkey Woman, though the Iron Enforcer — with a huge prop gun and steroidic muscles that scream "Compensating!" — and Major Victory are right up there in the fromage department.

Nitro G is an ex-comic book store worker who knows "all" the characters. Maybe he is a little too close to the subject, because he sure doesn't act like a superhero. Maybe he should have spent more time roleplaying...

I missed the first bit of the show, coming in 50 minutes from the end. I don't know if the first episode was two hours long or only an hour, but the first casualty — Levity — had already been ousted when I tuned in.

[Edit: I had missed closer to half an hour. Levity was thrown out because he makes action figures and was caught on tape talking about making money on his character.]

The rest of the episode consisted of the superheroes finding their "hidden lair", and then competing in a test of super powers.

This is where Lee made a point of explaining that the contestants didn't really have any super powers! (Too bad for Krispy Kreme, as Fat Momma's bio says she gets her super powers from doughnuts.) Instead, the challenge (notice that "games" are always "challenges" in reality TV?) was for each superhero to change from street clothes to their costumes in a public place without being noticed, and then run under an archway. The first one through wins. Presumably the last ones would be up for elimination.

Oh, but there's a catch! Unknown to the heroes, a young girl with lousy acting skills was hanging around the finish line crying for her mom. The superheroes were actually supposed to help her get to her mother. Only those who raced past her and followed the letter of the challenge were selected for possible elimination.

(Stan Lee declared the little girl to be the "real" challenge. There's a constant theme in comics about saving the innocent, even when there are more serious things afoot. If any of the losers who ran past her had cracked open a Spider-Man comic they'd have known this. If any of them had listened to her pretend sobs, they would have realized something was up. Still, it seemed like cheating. It's obvious not all of the heroes saw her, or heard her. And, really, should Batman ignore the bat signal because of a little girl was suffering from parental neglect?)

The show's elimination ceremony takes place on the rooftop of their secret lair. Each hero stands on an acrylic box lit by a white light. Three heroes risk elimination, and they are told to stand on one of three red boxes. They have to give the little "why I should stay" speech so popular in Hell's Kitchen, and then Lee turfs one of them via a billboard sized plasma screen.

In the end, Nitro G was the second superhero sent back to his parents' basement. I can't remember the reason, something about Stan Lee not believing in him, or some such crap. Lee was deathly earnest. He even berated Monkey Girl for smirking at one point in the proceedings, which was the second time he told them this was serious stuff. If you have to tell your contestants that the show is serious, you have a problem! Personally, I thought they should have thrown the loser off the roof. If he could really fly, he should win by default. At least it would have been something no one had tried before.

I did laugh several times. Some of the contestants looked like they were having fun and knew full well they looked like idiots in full daylight. Other contestants looked... well, like there was a very good reason Lee had to mention they didn't have powers in real life.

I compared the show to Survivor earlier, but this is really Hell's Kitchen with secret identities and four-colour spandex (and Hell's Kitchen is really The Apprentice with appetizers and expletives). There's nothing really new here except for the incredible geek quotient. Still, I'm intrigued enough to watch it again. It's like Toby Maguire trying to stop the subway car in Spider-Man II, except you know this train wreck isn't going to end in hero worship.

The first episode airs again in 11 hours on Bravo, and July 30, at 9 a.m. EDT and 11 p.m. EDG on SciFi, just in case only seeing is believing. The next episode is next Thursday, and features the appearance of a super villain. For Fat Momma's sake, it better not be Richard Simmons.


mark said...

I hope you do catch the first part of that show; it really has some fuel for a scathing blog. Levity was the first to go, and wouldn't you know, he was the only ADMITTED homosexual in the group. Still, you have to admit, this train wreck is more fun than some, or most, reality TV.

Allan Goodall said...

I did catch it this morning. It was incredibly stupid of Levity to admit, to an obvious Fanboy, that he hoped to make money off his own superhero action figure. I don't think the fact he was openly gay was the reason he was turfed, though it's impossible to know based on the way the show was edited.

Ironically, doing it "for the money" was exactly what got Spider-man started... They seemed to weed Levity and Nitro G first because of their lack of roleplaying ability. Creature didn't roleplay much either, but she's got an interesting personality. It's all about keeping the audience (reality TV learned that after the first Big Brother).

How come nobody went to the guy with "ROTIART" on his chest and asked, "Hey, what does ROTIART mean?" I would have at least done that.

It is better than most reality TV, if for no other reason than it's... well, silly. And the prize isn't that great. I will tune in again, just to see what idiots they make of themselves. As I said, I did laugh out loud several times. In its own quirky way it's more fun to watch than Hell's Kitchen (which I'm sort of addicted to).