TV Preview

Anyone Got Some Kryptonite?

Major Victory (Chris Watters), one answer to
Major Victory (Chris Watters), one answer to "Who Wants to Be a Superhero?" (By F. Scott Schafer -- Sci Fi Channel)
By Hank Stuever
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 27, 2006

Spandex is the No. 1 reason the world doesn't have superheroes. If you've ever walked on Hollywood Boulevard and had a tranny Wonder Woman or a lumpen Captain America offer to pose with you for a picture, then you know: Off the page, humans have just never looked right in those costumes -- even in big-budget movies and with big-budget trainers and big-budget codpieces.

Sci Fi Channel's new low-budget reality series, "Who Wants to Be a Superhero?" (debuting tonight at 9), lends a whole new meaning to cape fear. Being on a reality show almost always means you're going to have to work extra hard to just seem human, never mind super, and the result here is reminiscent of something between the early-'80s comedy "Greatest American Hero" and Howard Stern's adventures as Fartman.

Instead of Halle Berry, we get Fat Momma, a.k.a. Nell Wilson, a 43-year-old single mother who works at home and draws her powers from doughnuts. (Diet soda, she claims, weakens her powers.) She says she's here to show the world that fat people can do anything thin people can -- except perhaps run a few dozen yards without wheezing.

Values seem to be the central theme. Don't worry about how you look, our wannabe superheroes are assured by their host -- and unconvincingly Trumplike interlocutor -- Stan Lee, the 83-year-old creator of such comic book legends as Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four. He speaks to the contestants via an always-somehow-available flat-panel TV, with the creepy-cheapy feeling that most of his segments were taped months prior.

"Every really good superhero has what's important on the inside," Lee says. (You know -- it's about integrity, compassion, honesty. Early on, Lee kicks out Levity, a 32-year-old toymaker who has unwittingly bragged to a hidden camera that his reason for competing is to get exposure for his custom-designed action figures, which he sells for $300 a pop.)

Poor Stan has to watch as "thousands" audition for 11 spots on this Injustice League, a process that the show's producers have blessedly cut to a few amusing minutes: "My name is Ice Bitch," announces one unsuccessful aspirant, and it's downhill from there. There's a guy outfitted in a giant pink ball who bounces around. There's a guy in a thong onesie who claims his strength rests in the fact that "I was born with a hairy [posterior] -- my powers were completely unknown to the world until I put on this costume."

Major Victory, a.k.a. Chris Watters, is a 38-year-old San Francisco deejay who used to be a male exotic dancer, "which took a toll on my relationship with my daughter," he immediately confesses to the camera, and, as any parent knows, the way to impress a sullen adolescent is to prance around town in red-and-black long johns that occasionally reveal your coin slot when you bend over. Major Victory is also competing to win . . . well, it turns out the grand prize here is to be featured in a one-off comic book title and to star in a full-length movie on Sci Fi based on your character. So the prize is an ego trip -- coach class.

In the first challenge, the group is taken to a public plaza in their street clothes, where they must wait for Lee to send them a secret message on the super-duper, circa-2001 PDAs they wear. When the signal comes, the hero must find a place to change into his or her costume without being seen, and get to a finish line in the fastest time. Already the chasm between comic book and reality makes itself clear: Our heroes, lugging around duffel bags, scrunch down behind bushes and kiosks and Port-O-Lets to furtively change into their get-ups. This makes them look either homeless or perverted, but props to Monkey Woman for climbing a tree for a switcheroo into her banana-belt bikini!

In the rush to the finish line, not many of the contestants notice the real crisis, a sort of Kitty Genovese setup: A little girl is standing in their path. She is crying and pleading for help, saying she's lost her mother. Most of these supernarcissists blow right past her. A few stop and help, especially Major Victory, who makes a hammy show of picking the girl up and striding toward the security office with gazelle-like grace.

At that night's elimination ceremony, the big Stan Lee on the flat panel feigns his disgust. He expresses special scorn for Nitro G, a.k.a. Darren Passarello, a 20-year-old part-time comic book store employee from Staten Island who didn't just miss the crying kid but also chose to change into his costume in plain sight -- with lots of gawking passersby. (C'mon, dude -- if you work in a comic book store, you should be a little more protective of your secret identity.)

As dreck goes, "Who Wants to Be a Superhero?" works a certain charm, but only if viewed as a ridiculous sendup of celebreality tropes: The heroes are assembled in a tricked-out group house (in this case, a "secret lair" above a Los Angeles sweatshop), where they flirt and dis. They are deceived by producers, they compete, they are scolded, and, one by one, they are eliminated.

Though it never occurs to folks like Cell Phone Girl, Feedback and Ty'Veculus, they should thank their lucky stars this thing isn't on network TV, where the ray beams of humiliation would surely immolate them.

Who Wants to Be a Superhero? (one hour) premieres tonight at 9 on Sci Fi.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company