Coming hot on the heels of - and into the same timeslot as - the now completed first season of Heroes of Cosplay, is Syfy’s other look into the world of fandom and pop-culture, Fangasm. Where Heroes of Cosplay’s focus was following its cast from convention to convention as they prepared and competed in costume contests, Fangasm’s premise is a group of superfans brought together to compete in jobs and contests as interns for Stan Lee’s Comikaze Expo.
The show is related to the competition flavor of reality shows, however at least in the first episode there’s no elimination of contestants, which is a bit of a relief in that it reduces the pressure to try to throw each other under the bus.
The shows nerd cast is made up of four men and three women:
Dani Snow – A lifelong fan of Star Was and Tolkien, Dani is also a regular on the Renaissance Faire circuit.
Kristin Hackett – Kristin is a New York comic book and graphic novel fan-girl extraordinaire. She can cite chapter and verse of comic lore with the best of anyone, and has an expressed goal of travelling the country and attending every comic convention possible.
Mike Reed – Founder of Team Avalanche, a cosplay group he founded is part comic fan, part performer, and part nightclub traveller.
Molly McIsaac – A self-proclaimed fashionista and cosplay queen, she’s fond of breaking through stereotypes of fangirls by being equally capable as a fan of anime, cosplay, comics, gaming, and LARPing as she is outgoing and social and fond of nightlife.
Paul Perkins – More of the classic image of a fanboy, getting cast onto the show finally got him out of living in his parent’s house. He’s a passionate fan about all things comics, sci-fi, and Yu-Gi-Oh tournaments.
Sal Fringo – While he leans towards Marvel in his love of comics, he’s not one to discriminate against any particular publisher. He takes great pride in being part of the modern breed of geek because he’s “attractive, funny, cocky…but with a sweet side.”
The episode has some of the constituent required items of a show of the genre, like the moving into the house that they’ll all share for the duration of the series, and a challenge they all participate in trying to win a reward, but neither of those items work out quite like they would on so many other shows.
During the move-in, right away the fans start to bond as they look around the house. One pair opts to have a co-ed room right off the bat (and note that none of the others think twice about it). As everyone begins to unpack, rather than having to spend time making small talk to find out about each other, they see what books, toys, and action figures each person brought along and they are able to jump straight into in-depth conversations about each other’s treasures they brought from home.
Compare how the group is getting along by the halfway point of the first episode vs. most other similar shows and you’ll notice that it already feels like a group of longtime friends hanging out for a game night.
The next day everyone heads on over to the offices of Stan Lee’s Comikaze Expo for their first day on the job (as interns). With some video words of encouragement from Stan Lee himself, and instructions from event CEO, Regina Carpinelli, they’re sent out on their first assignment: to do a grassroots marketing pitch to show LA that it’s cool to be a nerd. Some of the fans get suited up in superhero costumes, and others in plainclothes head out with picket signs and enthusiasm to get people to sign a petition to make May 25th a national Geek Pride holiday.
The signature collection goes well, and everyone kicks back to watch a cosplay show, featuring the “Superhero Angels.” The show doesn’t make it at all clear who was responsible for the Angels, which are three women in costumes that are far more related to stripper outfits than superheroes. This causes some consternation between the fans, as it’s discussed of how that kind of gratuitous performance is exploitative of geek culture is brought up, and how it does nothing to help battle against too-common allegations of women being fake-geeks.
During the evening there is more adventures that evening at the Fan homestead, with everyone sorting out how to work the propane-powered grill, and then diving into the hot tub. During the evening, we get more insight into each of the fan’s particular interests and backgrounds.
The next day the fans go to a comic store where they’re presented with their first real challenge. They have to hold a blaster pistol out at arms length with one hand and hold it up above a certain line – whomever holds it up longest, wins a 1-on-1 dinner with none other than Star Trek’s George Takei.
It’s during the challenge that another element of many groups of fans stands out – the willingness to help each other out. Before long they’ve all decided who would most appreciate the opportunity to have the time with George, and are willing to all tap out to let them have the win. I’m sure not all of the contests will wind up as magnanimous, but it speaks a great deal to the character of the individuals.
It reminds me of the first season of Big Brother, which was unique in that only the viewers voted out the houseguests, causing the cast to bond very tightly in a short time. While it didn’t make for the most dramatic of backstabbing viewing, it did result in a group of people working together towards a great adventure.
It's also refreshing in that the fans look like a realistic cross section of geeks - some attractive, some plain, some outgoing, some shy, some eloquent, and others notsomuch. Their conversations come across as far more honest or at least less constructed from an editing room than is often found. Again, the series still has a lot of episodes to go, but so far, it's pretty refreshing.
There are a few surprises through the episode, and the skimpy-costumed dancers will be sure to be the subject of more than a few posts, this will be a fun series to watch progress. It may well also be a very positive look into the world of geeks, nerds, and fans – showing that they’re not nearly the same kind of parent’s basement dweller with no social graces as they used to be, and that women and men geeks have long since achieved parity in their geek cred.