Last year’s surprise hit on the Sci-Fi channel was a quirky parade of weirdos in capes competing for the opportunity to be immortalized by Stan Lee in a comic book. As wacky as the premise of Who Wants to Be a Superhero sounds, it was delicious, and viewers tuned in Thursday night for a second helping.
Fans of Who Wants to Be a Superhero were treated to a new cast of oddballs in tights including the squeaky voiced “Ms. Limelight” who can use her mirror to blind her foes, and the bouncy “Hyper-Strike” who can turn his own sweat into a dangerous weapon. Each of the contestants has a zany catchphrase and an interesting background.
Like the first season of Who Wants to Be a Superhero, the show is still hosted by legendary comic book author Stan Lee, who appears to the wanna-be superheroes in picture frames and television screens. The basic format was the same; the contestants run around the city in costume, being “tested” for heroic qualities, after which one of them is eliminated for failing to make the grade. But for some reason, the formula didn’t work as well in the premier as it did last season, and it may be difficult to pinpoint only one reason why.
Last season, the contestants on Who Wants to Be a Superhero were tested in simpler, more heart-warming ways. They were asked to confront their fear of heights; they were challenged to change into their costumes without being seen; they were sent to reform criminals. Nothing from the season premier’s quests came close to recreating that vibe.
The tests that Stan set for the contestants in the season premier were decidedly more like your run-of-the-mill reality television show adventure. Stan faked his own kidnapping, and put two teams of superheroes into a chamber where they had to battle wind and water to turn off a pump. We got to see the heroes slip and slide their way across the floor to fetch a key–but there was nothing memorable about it.
Another possible reason that the season premier of Who Wants to Be a Superhero disappointed was because of the Schmaltz Factor. Last seasons’ heroes were weepy without ever being maudlin. By the time they crossed over into unabashed sentimentality, the audience had already fallen in love with them and sobbed right along with them.
But last night’s season premier of Who Wants to Be a Superhero featured a decidedly annoying crying jag by Whip-Snap, the asthmatic superhero with six pack abs. Though Whip-Snap can allegedly turn her foes to dust, a simple fall during one of the challenges turned her into a blubbering mess. Her whining about how she let down the team was reminiscent of every other reality show out there, which is a shame, because the charm of Who Wants to Be a Superhero is how it differs from standard reality TV fare.
By the end of the season premier of Who Wants to Be a Superhero, it was a rainbow-hair-colored contestant called Braid who was arbitrarily eliminated. It seemed as if Stan would have liked to get rid of the annoying Mr. Mitzvah–a walking Jewish stereotype if ever there was one–but must have realized that irritating people are good for ratings.
The second season premier of Who Wants to Be a Superhero wasn’t all bad. Fans were treated to a guest appearance by last year’s winner, whose exuberance made True Believers out of us all. And the show has a train-wreck quality that makes it hard to look away. After all, viewers will want to find out what happens to quirky but charming potential superheroes like “Hygena” even if her name does sound like a venereal disease. How can they resist a superhero whose feather duster shoots ionized radiation upwards of sixty feet?