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August 20, 2007 |

By Miscellaneous | TV | August 20, 2007 |

Publisher’s Note: Ryan won our Secret Shame contest two weeks ago and, as part of his “prize package,” he asked if he could review “Who Wants to be a Superhero?” We were happy to oblige. Here is that review.

“Who Wants To Be A Superhero?” (Sci-Fi, Thursday, 9 p.m. EST) is the brainchild of Stan Lee, creator of some of Marvel Comics’ most beloved and longest-running titles and characters. Lee acts as the show’s MC (isn’t that clever?) and sets it up as a Survivor-style “last hero standing is the winner” competition, the prize of which is a comic book featuring the winning hero written by Mr. Lee and a Sci-Fi Original Movie based on the character. While a comic book is by far one of the coolest non-monetary prizes you can win in any competition, anyone who has ever seen a Sci-Fi Original knows that a spectacularly low-quality B-movie suckfest tailor-made for drinking games and “Mystery Science Theater 3000” viewing commentary is its own reward. In other words, so bad it’s freakin’ awesome.

The format of the program is pretty basic. We begin with an absurdly truncated look at the auditions. You only (tragically) get a 5-minute highlight reel, with a tantalizing look at some truly ridiculous heroes, before meeting the finalists as they arrive at the secret lair. The hero-wannabes then get sent off on cockamamie “tests,” ranging from physical challenges to interviews with Stan (or sometimes others, including at one point a roomful of children) to determine their superhero-osity. While whittling them away one at a time, Stan helps talk through what the individual powers of each one are, a little help on possible back-stories, and a Marvel-style costume redesign.

Did I mention that Stan hosts this entire thing from random television sets? Which I wouldn’t note if I didn’t have the sneaking suspicion that he’s convinced this is how life actually works.

The tests are not terribly complex; and the redesigns are interesting, because we all know that spandex is a major no-no and seeing comic book designs brought to life is really kind of a feat all to itself. But the whole reason to watch the show is the actual competitors.

(Fair warning, there are going to be Season 1 spoilers from here on in.)

The Season 1 heroes run the gamut from obviously having the time of his life to way too serious about what’s going on. Major Victory (Christopher Watters), a former exotic dancer, lies at one end. Full of bad puns and worse jokes, (his catchphrase is “Be a winner, not a wiener” for the love of whatever higher power you choose) he’s obviously having a great time through the entire experience, but never takes the competition too seriously.

The other end is owned outright by the crowning jewel of Season 1, Feedback (Matthew Atherton), the eventual winner. Feedback is, as near as I can tell, completely disconnected from this plane of existence. The first thing he says on camera is, “This is the culmination of everything I’ve ever done.” By episode 2, he’s convinced he’s not taking this seriously enough. By the end of the run, he’s revealed that when his father committed suicide, Spiderman taught him how to be a man; and cried openly while sobbing, “When I look at you, Mr. Lee, I think of my father.” This is exactly who is supposed to be on this series, and exactly what makes it so much fun.

The other wannabes don’t really warrant a straight jacket quite like these two, although the runner-up Fat Momma (Nell Wilson) obviously also has a strong personality and serious conviction in her creation. Not only did she write her own theme song (simplistic as it is) but she also called everyone in the lair fakes and liars for not standing up and throwing a fellow wannabe under the bus when Stan asked who he should eliminate.

Fat Momma’s arguments with Lumeria (Tonatzin Mondragon) are the closest to outright conflict between the competitors that we get, and even that is over pretty quickly. But amongst the top three (Feedback, Fat Momma, and Major Victory), there is more than enough personality to cover anything that may be lacking, character-wise. Even without the infighting that most reality shows rely on for drama, the sheer absurd charisma of these people works well enough to hold the show up.

Which may be the reason why Season 2 seems weak in comparison so far. We’re about halfway through the run currently, and we don’t really have any strong personalities. We’ve got the Feedback-lite of the season (though by far not the clear winner) in Whipsnap (Paula Thomas), but there’s no clear Major Victory type. The already eliminated Mr. Mitzvah (Ivan Wilzig), who refused to talk to anyone about his past (he’s a confirmed multi-millionaire) but was more than willing to fill a stereotype, was close, though, as a self-parody.

But in general, the heroes all fall somewhere in the middle of the Feedback-Major Victory continuum, never quite spiking up to the sheer level of absolute absurdity of Season 1, but all are more than willing to make fools of themselves, which is really what we watch any reality show to see.

As the season progresses, we may get a true psychotic break from Whipsnap, especially since the most generic wannabe, the Defuser (Jarrett Crippen), is getting more and more controlling and arrogant when dealing with the others. Whipsnap is the closest to the edge by far, and she’s been very forthright about her low tolerance for bullshit. We could also see the lamest superhero ever, Hygena (Melody Mooney) (she’s a mom who “fights crime and grime”), actually give into her OCD impulses on camera and scrub a hole into a coffee table. As for now, you can feel the tension building. These people are imbalanced enough to create superhero alter-egos. When they reach the breaking point, it should be absolutely epic.

The first run was 6 hour-long episodes with two eliminations each, so having only 3 really outstanding characters (because that’s what all reality shows are based on, let’s not kid ourselves) was not much of an issue; the run was over before they could get stale. The second season is scheduled for 9 episodes, with a single elimination in each. This may be why the show feels a bit bloated. Lacking any really outstanding characters (so far) means that everything is riding on the tension that’s building. Sci-Fi and Lee have recognized this, and this season have the wannabes fill out “mission logs” after challenges, then reveal anonymously the contents, usually skewing bad and escalating the tension each challenge. Here’s hoping the storm they’re brewing is worth it.

Despite the fact that they’ve obviously put more money into this run than the first, the effects are only slightly improved during this go-round. Of course, Sci-Fi is known for exceptionally low-grade effects (and production values in general) in its originals, which is one of the reasons to watch anything they do. Because you know that with an Apple IIe, you could definitely do better. But that’s not the reason this show is entertaining.

It’s the wannabes.

They’re self-flagellating masochists who believe too much in a fictional character they’ve created. Then they are locked in a building with others just like themselves, simmering with the knowledge that their creation is better than everyone else’s. And we’d be wrong to deny them this showcase.

And don’t miss Feedback’s movie debut in the awfully titled MegaSnake on Sci-Fi this weekend (August 25, 9pm EST). It’s won’t be good, but it’ll definitely be entertaining.


Ryan Correll is a guest critic for Pajiba. He lives in Chicago.

"Hello, Mr. Shiny Pants!"

"Who Wants to Be a Superhero" / Ryan Correll

TV | August 20, 2007 |


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