Syfy's 'Fangasm': Nerd Culture Meets Reality TV

Fangasm - Season 1

Now is the time of the geek on Syfy. After wrapping up its exploration of the cosplay community last week with the first season finale of “Heroes Of Cosplay,” the network introduces us tonight at 10 p.m. to “Fangasm.” A fan culture reality series that mixes “The Real World,” “The Apprentice” and “The Big Bang Theory,” “Fangasm” is a solid product and, most of the time, it is a pretty entertaining one.

Let me explain the difference. It is shocking that “Fangasm” has not been made before. We are existing in a time of peak geek. “The Big Bang Theory” is a top-rated show; San Diego Comic-Con overtakes entertainment news coverage for a week every July; super hero flicks top the box office; casting of a super hero flick makes Twitter explode; and Stan Lee is every day treated like more of a national treasure.

By assembling a group of “real” geeks from across the country – who we are told are more than the sum of their nerd stereotypes -- to live together in a house while also interning for Stan Lee’s Comikaze, who then have to complete tasks on the job (which will lead to a full-time gig for one of them), Syfy and “Jersey Shore” creators SallyAnn Salsano and Joel Zimmer have created a no-brainer product. “Fangasm” clicks, and that immediate understanding of what the show is about may allow it to exist for a few seasons.

And the show is cast fairly well. Sure, these seven nerds (all anchored in pop culture, and not so much in math, computer science, etc.) are still “types,” which is a necessity for reality-TV, but they are not cheap stereotypes. There is Kristin, the attractive female who also seems to be set up as a bit of a quiet leader type; Molly, who has a big, bold personality and a love of cosplay that hides a history of body issues; Mike has an overconfident swagger and fancies himself a ladies man; Paul is an aspiring filmmaker who is shy around women; Sal and Dani, meanwhile, are somewhat positioned as a new breed of well-adjusted geek who are charismatic and good with the opposite sex.

The message with the casting seems to be that fanboys and fangirls are just like regular people, but not quite. So there is someone for every nerd and non-nerd audience member to kind of like -- and dislike.

But then there is Andrew, the “character” Syfy has most clearly set up to be its breakout geek. He’s socially awkward and is a super “Star Trek” fan, and he looks like the kind of kid that inspired Lewis Skolnick. But as much of a geek stereotype that he is, he’s also the most likable and relatable. Andrew – who is referred to as the housemate getting laid the most because he has a girlfriend -- has a dry sense of humor and is a bundle of insecurities, and he behaves as if he’s starring in a show all his own but occasionally pops into this one to make observations. There are moments in the pilot where you see him being cheeky, getting defeated and becoming so overwhelmed with nerd emotion that he cries – and it feel like a real moment. Reality TV fans, meet your Sheldon Cooper.

Andrew, and the authentic character moments, are the saving grace of at-times forced dialogue used to set up heavily produced set pieces.

For instance, for the internship, the crew is sent on a mission at Universal Studios City Walk Hollywood on May 25 to collect petitions to make Geek Pride Day a national holiday. They then hit a party where women in scantily clad super hero outfits parade on stage and the boys let their tongues drop while Kristin and Molly are obviously offended. They argue that, as women of geek culture, they strive to fight the exploitation they’re currently experiencing. Andrew points out that they’d just been collecting signatures in similarly tight outfits.

The resulting conversation – ironically cut far too quickly to make way for an awkward hot tub scene with the ladies in bikinis with not-exactly Thor-sculpted dudes – was worth the forced set up. The same can be said for the scenes leading up to George Takei’s guest appearance. The set up is artifice; the pay-off is satisfying.

And speaking of Takei, and the show’s unofficial mascot Stan Lee (who returns to Syfy after his 2006-2007 series “Who Wants To Be A Superhero?”), “Fangasm” seems primed to feature a lot of cameos from geek icons; a potentially successful series gimmick that can get people tuning in week to week to see who the housemates meet next as they work on Comikaze.

Judging by the pilot alone, “Fangasm” is worth a first look. Endure some of the more clunky reality-TV contrivances and you’ll find yourself with some sincere human moments.

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