Friday, September 27, 2013


Fangasm made its debut Tuesday night on the Syfy Channel.  Here’s
the “about” entry from the channel’s website:

From the producer of Jersey Shore comes Fangasm – a six-part
docuseries that celebrates the incredibly unique, often
misunderstood, and infinitely fascinating fan girl and fan boy
culture. The show follows seven pop culture-obsessed fans (whose
passions range from comic books and collectibles to science fiction
and fantasy) living together in an LA apartment complex and working
together at Stan Lee's Comikaze Expo. The seven must contend with
each others oversized personalities and conflicting fandom as they
vie for an opportunity to work within Lee's organization. Because
when different passions come together, you get a real big bang.

Fangasm promotional ads ran frequently on Syfy prior to the show’s
debut and I found them disturbing.  The promos weren’t celebrations
of fans and fan culture.  They were mocking vignettes showing the
cast members in the worst possible lights.

I recorded the first episode and watched it the following day.  I
had to take a break after 20 minutes.  Here’s what I posted on my
Facebook page and Twitter during that break:

I'm 20 minutes into FANGASM on Syfy. I'm afraid my jaw will never
come up from the floor. This may be the scariest thing that's ever
been on Syfy.

Cast member Molly McIsaac responded on Twitter:

It's a shame you feel that way! Most people really seem to love it.

I visited McIsaac’s Facebook page before returning to the show and
saw many complimentary comments.  Which is what I expected.  Check
out my Facebook page.  Everybody loves me there, too.  Well, almost
everyone, but I kill anyone who doesn’t so it pretty much amounts
to the same thing.

After I finished watching the debut episode, I posted this comment
on my Facebook page and on Twitter:

How could a show so terrible at the start end with great stuff? The
last scenes won the show a second chance from me.

Let’s turn the clock back four decades...

When I was first hired by Marvel Comics, I was determined to be as
professional as possible.  I didn’t wanted to be dismissed as some
mere fanboy.  I wanted to do my work to the best of my ability and
be taken seriously. 

The one thing I regret about my decision is that I missed countless
opportunities to interview the comics creators whose work inspired
me as a reader. Magazines like my pal David Anthony Kraft’s Comics
and Roy Thomas’ Alter Ego picked up many of the balls I
dropped.  All the same, whenever I think about some dearly departed
creator I could have interviewed and who was never interviewed, it
makes me sad. 

I made the same mistake when working at the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
Ray Osrin, who worked with Joe Shuster, Matt Baker and others, was
the newspaper’s editorial cartoonist.  We talked a few times and,
since he knew I was a comics fan, he would often ask me questions
about creators he had known, but I never pressed him on his comics
career.  I got the sense he didn’t much like talking about it and
I didn’t want to annoy him.  In retrospect, I should have at least
asked him if he’d be willing to talk about his time in the comics
trenches. Another lost opportunity.

What does this have to do with Fangasm? Good question.

I took pride in trying to conduct myself in a professional manner
at Marvel Comics, though I’m sure I didn’t succeed as well as I’d
have liked.  Comics fans were coming into the industry in greater
numbers than ever before - oh, those glorious 1970s - and I didn’t
want to screw things up for those who would follow me. 

So, during those first 20 minutes of Fangasm, I watched the seven
interns conduct themselves in an incredibly unprofessional manner.
They were so gosh-wow about their new gig they didn’t concentrate
on their professional obligations.  They tanked the first job they
were given. 

CEO Regina Carpinelli did the interns no favor by soft-pedaling how
badly they screwed up.  Besides forgetting the petitions they were
to be collecting their signatures, the interns didn’t do the small
bit of online research that it would have taken to discover their
choice of venue for the signature-gathering would be “entertaining”
its patrons with gyrating pole dancers. The venue was an exploitive
embarrassment to fan culture. 

Points to McIsaac for rightfully pointing out this was demeaning to
fan culture.  Negative points to the male interns who sat drooling
over the dancers in clueless lust as they embraced perhaps the most
persistent of fanboy stereotypes.  

One other thing bothered me during those first 20 minutes and that
was Stan Lee - my inspiration, my former boss and mentor, my friend
of many years - playing “Stan Lee” once again.  I love Stan madly.
Anyone who’s been reading my columns knows that.  I even love the
exuberant showman part of his personality and I saw that during my
time in the Marvel offices.  But I wanted to see the serious Stan,
the one from whom I learned so much.  He’s the Stan these interns
can learn from. He’s the Stan they need.

Reality shows are, by their very nature, manipulative.  They show
us the scenario they want to show us.  Sometimes they push people
into behaving in a certain way.  Sometimes they edit to achieve the
scenario they want.  This is why - disclaimer - I can only comment
on the show I watched and not speculate on whether or not any cast
member is other than they appeared to be on the show.

Back to Fangasm...

After my break, I was still mostly appalled by the show.  The fans
couldn’t figure out how to turn on a grill or a hot tub.  Really?
I’m a dinosaur and I can do both those things.

When Carpinelli asked if a couple of the fans could work on their
day off,  but McIsaac and Kristen Hackett were the only interns
to accept the extra work.  If I were their boss, I’d take note of
that and how the other interns weren’t interested in going an extra
mile for the company.

Andrew Duvall was especially quick to turn Carpinelli down.  That’s
not how someone responds to a request like that if he really wants
this internship to lead to a steady job.  Duvall’s appearance and
manner is already working against him.  He needs to step up to the
demands of the job.

Digression. Don’t expect a critique of every cast member today.  If
I continue to write about the series, I’m sure I’ll get to each and
every cast member. That said, Duvall’s speculating on which interns
would hook up with other interns was creepy.

McIsaac was the first intern to show me something more than these
fanboy and fangirl cliches.  When she talked about why she likes to
cosplay, she hit all the right notes.  When she talked about body
image, I recognized young women I know in her.  Yeah, it could be
taken as manipulative - on the part of the producers, not McIsaac -
but it was also real.

Given I’m old enough to be McIsaac’s moderately young grandfather,
there’s no way this next comment has a chance of not coming off as
creepy.  I thought she looked terrific in her Black Widow outfit,
far more attractive than the pole dancers.  I wish she had been in
Heroes of Cosplay as she represents the “cosplay for the fun of it”
cosplayer that series lacked. 

The next great moment in this first episode came when the interns
who didn’t volunteer to work went to a comic-book store to compete
in a contest to win dinner with George Takei.  The challenge was to
hold up a phaser longer than the other fans.

Mike Reed quit so that he could hit on another losing contestant.
Andrew wasn’t up to the challenge and this clearly broke his Star
Trek-loving heart. Dani Snow couldn’t go the distance either.  That
left Paul Perkins - as big a Star Trek fan as Andrew - competing
against intern Sal Fringo and another female contestant.  When the
female contestant dropped out, Sal threw the contest so Paul could win
the grand prize. That’s a mensch and a friend worth hanging on to.

Paul has dinner with Takei and gets some good advice from the actor
and social activist.  After dinner - and this was obviously set up
in advance - Takei returns to the intern house with Paul and meets
the other interns.  This was a strange and surreal moment, but it
was also a lot of fun to watch.

After Takei leaves, Andrew talks about his love for Star Trek and
it’s manipulative as Hell.  It’s manipulative as Hell and I don’t
care.  You’d have to be a complete jerk not to be moved by Andrew’s
story and I always aspire to not be a complete jerk.

This also rang very true to me because I’ve been on the creator end
of conversations with fans telling me how much my work has meant to
them.  Those conversations stay with me and inspire me to always do
the best work I can possible do on every gig. 

Fandom shouldn’t be a way of life.  But it can be a good part of a
well-rounded life.  Molly’s cosplaying comments.  Sal throwing the
contest so Paul could win it.  Andrew’s love for Star Trek.  I see
the best parts of fandom in these scenes.

Fangasm showed me some great stuff in its second half of this first
show, so I’ll keep watching the series for now. What I want to see
in future episodes is the interns taking this gig more seriously.
Rocky as the road can be, I can attest that doing what you love for
a living can be very rewarding.  I hope some of these cast members
get to experience that.

Today and tomorrow, I will be at the Mix 2013 comics symposium at
the Columbus College of Art and Design.  Look for the bloggy thing
to return on Monday.   

© 2013 Tony Isabella

1 comment:

  1. I felt much the same way as you did about the first part of the show. Just as with the initial installment of Heroes of Cosplay, I felt the producers were giving us the most negative portrayal of fans. Realities shows seem to want a bad contestant to root against and a nice one to root for, but I'm not really sure with Fangasm who we are supposed to dislike all that much. Initially it was Andrew, but the scenes were Takai have me changing my mind.

    I've set up my DVR to tape the rest of the series, but since I'm going to be away for about a week I'm not sure when I'll get around to seeing the next episode.