Why You Should Watch 'Who Wants to be a Superhero?'
I have a love/hate relationship with reality tv. I hate that they don’t really have writers (I’m sure writer’s are used to stage certain events, but it isn’t the same as a regular fiction show) and I hate how vicious they can become. Romantically themed reality shows rarely (if ever) work out for the couple involved. Competitive reality shows always seem to have a ringer or, if it’s a talent variety contest, the singer always wins. So, anyway, there are very few reality shows that I will tolerate. But of the group that I do watch, one has stood above the rest as a truly unique experiment. Take a bunch of comic book nerds, tell them to invent their own superhero, then make their dreams of immortality a reality. I present, for your consideration: Who Wants to be a Superhero?
What is it?
This show was probably one of the cheesiest things on television during its two season run. Seeing nerds dressed up in homemade superhero costumes while running around in public is a ridiculous enough concept, but add in low-budget special effects and overly-emotional contestants, and it’s hard not to laugh at. The show gets its comic book credibility from Stan Lee, who was instrumental in a great deal of famous Marvel heroes. He serves as the host, challenge giver, and final judge of the contestants via a series of televisions. It certainly lends the show more of a comic book feel, even though I’m pretty sure the television thing was included so that the aging Stan Lee could sit down and still conduct the show. Each episode features two challenges, usually one of which is a hidden test of the heroes’ character, after which two eliminations ensue. The winner received a limited edition comic book featuring their character, along with a few other prizes that were de-emphasized after each season ended.
Why it’s different.
Despite the over-the-top cheese factor to the show, it stood out to me because the hidden challenges discouraged vicious play style. I don’t like it when people back-stab their way to the top, so it was refreshing to see good, role-model style behavior being rewarded. For example, one of the first challenges of season 1 was to secretly change into their superhero costume then run to the finish line in a busy park. The hidden challenge, however, was a little girl shouting “help me, I lost my mommy”. The heroes who gave up the race to help the girl, ultimately won the challenge. The more a person gave up the challenge to do what was right, the more likely they were to move on. Similar tests of self-sacrifice, courage and problem solving were sprinkled throughout. And this is why I consider it one of the best reality shows to grace television; the person who progresses is the one who plays fair, does the right thing, and learns from their mistakes. The one who succeeds is the person who can stand as a role model to the people they’re supposed to be saving (in their super hero lore). Despite the message narrative television sends to children (don’t do drugs, stay in school, etc.) reality television’s message has almost always been the same: do whatever it takes to win, and conflict makes for good tv. Maybe that’s why Who Wants to be Superhero was canceled after only two seasons; if the contestants weren’t strangling each other, it wasn’t worth watching.
How it holds up.
I recently re-watched the first season of this show after getting the dvd as a birthday gift, and it holds up pretty well to the first time I saw it. Time, however, has revealed some of the flaws. For example, the episode where the heroes had to interact with convicts serving jail time was revealed for the setup it was because one of the convicts went on to success in other television shows. Either it was the greatest turnaround in history or, more likely, they were actors to begin with. Had the show pointed this out, and only kept the secret from the heroes, I wouldn’t mind so much, but they tried to pass it off as real and it ruins the magic of the show to see the strings behind the curtain. Also, despite the shows best intentions, there was definitely a level of playing the field for the contestants. This was most evident during the self-sacrifice challenge. After one of them figured out what to do, it was obvious everyone had to repeat it or risk elimination, which isn’t really a test of self sacrifice, but rather an exercise in who is paying attention. But despite this, the show is still a joy to watch, and I still think it is one of the best reality shows produced. If you’re a comic book/movie fan, and you can get past the cheesy exterior, you’ll find something to really enjoy with this show. I’d love to see a new season some day, but as it stands, it is a successful experiment of reality tv done differently (at least in my mind).
For more great movies and television you may have missed, visit my feature: Why You Should Watch.