Tonight, SyFy ends the (hopefully final) season of its latest “Docu-Drama” reality-series-in-disguise, Fangasm. Not content with my previous drubbing, SyFy continues its continued assault against nerdy subcultures with misguided attempts at creating a reality TV hit.
Although in Fangasm’s favor, at least there was a plan involved this time. Unlike Heroes of Cosplay, the producers had a very clear vision about what they wanted from the subjects involved, and what the arc of the “story” was going to be.
Unfortunately, that “vision” is a soulless, pointless commercial for Stan Lee’s Comikaze. That in and of itself isn’t exactly a terrible thing; we live in a world where the latest Superman movie was mostly a commercial for 7-11 and IHOP. But even as a commercial, Fangasm doesn’t do itself or Comikaze any favors.
Here are seven reasons to avoid Comikaze because of Fangasm.
7) Welcome to “Nerdsy Shore”!
The ads leading up to Fangasm seemed to be proud of the fact that it was “FROM THE PRODUCERS OF JERSEY SHORE!!!” And unfortunately that is painfully evident. The producers went through painful extremes to show its seven contestants in constant states of panic, duress, horniness, loneliness and so on.
The seven, uh, participants, which is I guess the best way to describe them, are all culled from well-worn geek circles. There’s the ardent Star Trek fan with the toothy grin, skeletal frame and awkward laugh; the literal basement-dweller, who won’t stop mentioning how he used to live in his parents’ basement; the vigilant Tumblr personification with a Chocobo tattoo on her arm; the equally vigilant Reddit personification; the podcasting Harry Potter fangirl; and three other nondescript nerd stereotypes. All single (except for the Star Trek guy. He’s off the market, ladies!), all frustrated, all under 30, all, as Lloyd Banks would say, “young, dumb, and full of cum.”
There’s lots of furtive glances and awkward gestures of affection, and lots of general postulating about which of the Comikaze interns are going to hook up with each other. It’s gross, in other words. I guess the point is that I’m supposed to gossip with my nerd friends, all watercooler-style, about which of these stereotypes ends up having sex with the other? Just like any other boilerplate soap opera-y reality show?
Nice try, Fangasm producers. Considering that the stated goal with the show is to “celebrate the incredibly unique, often misunderstood and infinitely fascinating fan girl and fan boy culture,” something seems incredibly amiss here. I’m not seeing any “celebration.” All I’m seeing is a bunch of pre-fabricated events designed to goad a bunch of 24-year old nerds into fucking each other. Again, this isn’t a terrible thing. I mean, this is a reality show – SORRY, I MEAN “DOCU-DRAMA” – and all. But as the vigilant and televised face of Stan Lee’s Comikaze? Please.
I get it though. These are just interns. They’re young and eager and they’ll screw up occasionally. That’s what interns are for, right? Well.
6) These Are The Worst Interns Ever
Putting aside Fangasm’s obsession with their subject’s crotch interactions, somehow, these “interns” are THE WORST INTERNS.
In a way, I sort of applaud the production company and casting directors for making (what I hope is) a deliberate choice to find the most inept, careless and bungling gaggle of 20-somethings this side of a Craigslist Missed Connections post. Time after time, they fail at virtually every task they’re assigned. They are asked to attend a “Geek Pride” event and take signatures, but forget all the sign up sheets at home. When asked why they didn’t drive back to get them, their only reply is “well, we were already there.” I mean, duh. Of course!
They’re also asked to hand out Comikaze fliers at last June’s E3 video game expo. Almost all of the fliers end up in the trash, while the kids gallop and cavort in video game heaven. In another episode, they’re asked to “create a viral video” for Comikaze. (As a sidebar: if anyone ever asks you to “create a viral video,” punch them in the God damn neck. Because they’re clearly an idiot, or insane. But more on that later.) All the videos they make are uniformly terrible, amateurish, and somehow an even worse advertisement for Comikaze than Fangasm itself.
No one is ever reprimanded. No one is ever chastised, or called out. All they get is maybe an irksome remark and grimace from Regina Carpinelli, the Comikaze empress and Fangasm’s overlord. Then the kids podcast about their day, hang out with George Takei and contemplate who they should point their vaginas and penises at. When I was 24 and working at my real job, I would’ve been fired in a heartbeat for half the shit these kids get away with. This isn’t just some bitter old writer venting sour grapes, either. I’ve been fired, demoted, written up and bitched out for far smaller offenses than what the Fangasm cast fucks up completely.
It’s almost like… maybe what these terrible interns are doing doesn’t really matter, huh?
5) Nothing Really Matters
It’s true, though; nothing these supposedly grown-ass adults do, say, or screw up seems to matter in the slightest to anybody involved in Comikaze. The Comikaze offices are strangely barren, aside from Regina Carpinelli and the Fangasm cast. It’s almost like a set; a big, phony set.
That’s because it doesn’t matter. None of this matters. So long as the valiant SyFy viewers tune in, hear the name “Stan Lee’s Comikaze,” and see plenty of shots of Comikaze’s people-devoid offices that are conspicuously adorned with Stan Lee and Elvira memorabilia (coincidentally two co-owners of Comikaze, naturally), then that’s enough.
Andy Khouri over at Comics Alliance has a really great article up about the farcical commercial that Fangasm is, and how little everything seems to matter in the long run. It’s a great read – even though it scooped my own planned Topless Robot article by about a week. Grr!
Either way, it’s spot on. He mentions, “It is possible the producers have simply edited out the hours of logistics, booking, copywriting, graphics editing and other assistance interns would traditionally provide, but I doubt it.” Khouri isn’t some fly-by-night blogger begging for clickbait, either. He’s as well-respected a writer as the comic industry allows. In a perfect world, the producers of Fangasm, which Khouri also mentions includes one of the co-owners of Comikaze, would’ve done their due diligence to either impress and/or include someone of Khouri’s stature. The idea that they could pull the wool over his eyes is insulting.
In other words, it completely blows up any notion of Fangasm, and Comikaze by extension, of being in any way a “celebration of geek culture.” Whatever you define as “geek culture,” it’s far too big to condense into an hour-long reality show scumfest.
Hey! That reminds me of a segue!
4) The Fallacy of “Geek Rights”
Fangasm’s members, and Regina Carpinelli too, are always “Geek Pride” this, “Geek Rights” this, and always championing geek-related causes and taking signatures for a “Geek Pride Day” and other stuff that doesn’t matter because this is a paid Comikaze advertisement.
But all that, in and of itself, speaks to a bigger problem. One that could easily take up an entire ponderous think piece, but I’ll be brief. There’s no such thing as “Geek Rights.” There are “Human Rights,” certainly. But being a geek obviously means you are a human being, so. What are we trying to do, again? Prove to the world that our interest in superheroes isn’t weird and strange, in a world where Iron Man 3 and Man of Steel make billions of dollars? Show the world that a group of completely incompetent interns shouldn’t be made fun of because they read Harry Potter?
One of the most infuriating experiences I’ve had watching television in recent memory has to be the first episode, where one of the Fangasm cast “wins” a chance to meet George Takei (whose surname most of them mispronounce as “Takai,” even though he makes a point of saying at every convention that “Takai” means expensive and thus he should be paid more if you call him that). Who then proceeds to drop by the Fangasm nerd castle, purely by coincidence I’m sure. The other members proceed to shriek and shout and blubber Vulcanisms, which is understandable, I guess. Until one of the girls decides to praise Takei for “being a proponent of geek rights.” Huh? Takei gets props for “geek rights”? And not, uh, gay rights? Or maybe the rights of Japanese-American citizens who were put in internment camps during World War II? Nope; George Takei posts funny pictures of Dumbledore on his Facebook page. Now that’s worth fighting for.
And even then, Regina Carpinelli’s Comikaze empire has no interest in your “rights.” They’re interested in your money. Buy a badge, buy some crap at the dealer’s room, have some fun, and leave. There is no higher importance here. Nor should there be, necessarily. But the awful, heartfelt insistence that this exploitative reality show is somehow a beacon of civil rights is sickening.
And that’s just the tip of this iceberg.
3) No One Knows Who This Show Is For
So, what demographic, exactly, is Fangasm targeting? It’s purpose is to entice viewers to see Comikaze as a viable and fun-filled alternative to San Diego Comic-Con. SDCC cuts a wide swath between male and female, young and old. My best guess is that Regina Carpinelli and the bigwigs at SyFy were hoping for their own niche-market Jersey Shore for the awkward-teen set, wherein likeminded nerds – and the adults they morph into – would tune in in record numbers to watch themselves fumble through the cruel realities of life. And while it approaches the lurid qualities of a Jersey Shore, as Khouri points out, Jersey Shore is at least rather bluntly honest about the lives of its specimens, while the Fangasm cast is forced to jump through Regina’s carefully, PR-approved hoops to keep Comikaze awareness trending on Twitter and Facebook and the like.
Fangasm is too blatantly a commercial to work as a legit reality show, its contestants too reserved and bland to break out into reality show infamy, and the production is too labored and sanitized to work as any sort of competition show. The Fangasm kids aren’t competing for anything. I mean, they’re clearly incapable of actually doing their jobs in the first place. If there’s no point to anything, what’s the point of watching this?
And that’s a question I’ve been wondering since the premiere. While Heroes of Cosplay infuriated me from the get-go because of its massive misconceptions about its core concept, I’ve spent the past several weeks in a confused state of disarm just wondering what the hell Fangasm exists for, besides a Comikaze commercial. The cast themselves reminds me of nerds I knew or would hang out with when I was 24, which isn’t really a good thing. The older you get, the more you realize that having friends who can do more than simply re-enact The Trouble With Tribbles has its own benefits. And just by gauging the interest online, Fangasm hasn’t really been connecting with anyone.
Might explain why SyFy bumped the show back an hour, in favor of Ghost Hunters. And speaking of ghosts, there’s a haunted specter at the core of Fangasm, and Comikaze as well.
2) Regina Carpinelli, Comikaze Overlord
From the first episode, I got a chilly vibe from Regina, the Comikaze co-founder.
In my experience, only two people want to start their own conventions: idiots, and insane people. Running a successful convention requires a gargantuan commitment to your time, and is a 100-percent guaranteed way to lose money. Starting your own convention, especially back in 2011, was basically asking your bank account to deplete itself with no hope of ever breaking even, except in the rare circumstance where the convention takes off and eventually, maybe 10 years down the line, it starts to break even and stops losing money. It’s expensive to rent out an entire convention center for a weekend, it’s expensive to lure guests and vendors, and the entire effort requires so much money that only a rich and exceptionally stupid person would ever want to do it.
Unless, of course, you’re insane. Insane people often want to start conventions because THEY want to be the ones to coalesce all their nerd celebrity heroes and gain “respect in the industry” and lots of other crazy things I’ve heard at crowded hotel room parties at conventions past.
I wasn’t sure which side of the spectrum Regina Carpinelli landed on, so I asked around. To my alarm, no one that has had the pleasure of making her professional acquaintance wanted to speak publicly and on the record about her. Suffice to say that the word “unprofessional” was uttered more than once, and another confided in me an incident where they were invited to a VIP lounge – because of their Press Badges, of course – only to be uninvited because it was “talent only.” Whatever that means.
I mean, kudos to anyone who can transform a convention from a parking garage affair to a massive 40,000+ event. Even though several hundred people had to stand in the heat for two hours last year. But it goes with the territory. Growing pains and all that. Nonetheless, it all seems fishy. Things don’t add up. And unleashing a “docu-drama” that is nothing more than a three-pronged PR assault for a big convention with a big name attached (that is coincidentally, as Khouri points it, far below Anime Expo in attendance) smells like a rotten pitch meeting given life. Like Regina somehow bought her way into the NBC Universal offices and smuggled in bottles of Pappy Van Winkle and gave everyone a signed copy of Avengers #1.
Granted, off-the-record remarks should always be taken with a grain of salt, because that’s what they are – unsourced remarks from anonymous figures. But trust me that when I say there’s smoke, there’s usually fire.
But that’s not even the most important reason to avoid Comikaze on behalf of Fangasm.
1) Fangasm Is a Bad Show
It is. Fangasm isn’t terribly entertaining, it doesn’t have much of a hook, it has no real compelling characters, and parades around well-worn nerd stereotypes like they’re foreign currency.
Fangasm isn’t the train wreck that Heroes of Cosplay was, but that doesn’t mean SyFy gets a pass. They still allowed an hours’ worth of air time to a sucky commercial for a mid-level Los Angeles convention, but at least they didn’t create something that inspired within me a feeling of wrath and fury.
But at the end of the day, since when does “DOES NOT INSPIRE FEELINGS OF PANIC, ANGUISH, AND ANGER” count as a pass? Comikaze was supposed to earn my business, and Fangasm was supposed to be the linchpin. Too bad it didn’t work.