One contestant proudly announces he quit his job to participate in "Who Wants to Be a Superhero?" which (assuming it's to be believed) adds a slightly deflating element to what otherwise ranks among the silliest, most idiotic reality TV concepts ever. Marvel Comics patriarch Stan Lee is a natural performer who brings a certain flair to the proceedings, but other than that, there's no better evidence that nets and producers have drained the unscripted idea pool down to a few gasping sips.

One contestant proudly announces he quit his job to participate in “Who Wants to Be a Superhero?” which (assuming it’s to be believed) adds a slightly deflating element to what otherwise ranks among the silliest, most idiotic reality TV concepts ever. Marvel Comics patriarch Stan Lee is a natural performer who brings a certain flair to the proceedings, but other than that, there’s no better evidence that nets and producers have drained the unscripted idea pool down to a few gasping sips.

Lee, who co-created such characters as Spider-Man, the Hulk and the Fantastic Four, actually never appears on camera with the contestants, instead interacting with them via TV screens. Then again, given the shady lot he’s been presented, that’s probably a wise maneuver.

The prizes, beyond getting to appear on TV in tights, include a Lee-created comicbook based on the character, a promised Sci Fi movie (one of those cheapo things they air Saturday nights en route to video) and appearing in the “superhero parade” at Universal Studios Orlando (synergy!). Depending on who wins, theme park attendees might want to hide the kids.

Indeed, it’s pretty clear from the get-go that the would-be “heroes” (Fat Momma? Monkey Woman? Cell Phone Girl?) were chosen largely for how well they fill an outfit or, barring that, the show’s demographic requirements. Given that the ebullient Lee has spent much of his life trying to inspire people to take comicbooks semi-seriously — and nothing does that better than $100 million theatrical opening weekends — he dances dangerously close to joining in a snide joke.

If this were all presented as a total parody, it might appeal to — well, come to think of it, I’m not sure who. As is, the producers seem to have phoned it in, setting the entire show to what sounds like “The Terminator” theme and using comicbook panels at the act breaks. Notably, the tryouts have been slashed to a bare minimum, perhaps because many of those who turned out for such an endeavor were scary and/or depressing.

As usual, the players are subjected to a goofy contest, though in this case there’s a twist: As they race to fulfill their task, a child actress pretends to be lost, crying, “I can’t find my mommy,” the obvious test being whether the costumed contestants stop to help the girl or go about their business. Holy conundrum!

Those who face elimination are then forced to stand on a “red cube,” where they abjectly apologize to Lee, who, as he states with relish, occupies the role of judge and jury. When one imperiled hero dares giggle, Lee slaps him back to reality, or at least the show’s version of it.

“Stop smiling,” he says to a grown man in a skin-tight spandex suit. “This really is very serious.”

Stan, love ya, but go stand on the red cube.

Who Wants to Be a Superhero?

Sci Fi, Thur. July 27, 9 P.M.

Production

Produced by Nash Entertainment in association with POW! Entertainment. Executive producers, Bruce Nash, Stan Lee, Scott Satin, Andrew Jebb, Gill Champion; co-executive producers, Bob Kosberg, Yuka Kobayashi, Gabriel Grunfeld, Tim Scott; producers, Tess Gamboa, Walt Omiecinski; director, Rick Telles.

Crew

Camera, Bruce Ready; lead editor, David Dean; music, Scooter Pietsch. Running time: 60 MIN.

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