Stan Lee's Superhumans: Season One
(History Channel; US DVD: 26 Apr 2011)
This series is hosted by comic book creator Stan Lee (Spider-Man, X-Men, etc.), although the legwork is done by contortionist Daniel Browning Smith. In each of the eight one-hour episodes, Smith meets three people who have some “special power”, a talent resulting from genetic mutation (like a guy with very flexible skin) or through long study (a Shaolin monk who generates powerful punching force) or through an invention (like a guy with a portable jetpack flying suit). Usually the special fellow (no women so far) shows his stuff and then submits to EKG tests or catscans or some other scientific measurement in an effort to measure or explain what he does.
Some people are more remarkable than others, and one or two feel dicey. The Scotsman who claims to have prophetic dreams doesn’t quite come through; however, he has the rare talent of lucid dreaming and waking on command. The “wolfman” is simply a scientific researcher who’s studied wolves, knows their signals and howls convincingly. The “human bee hive” is scientist who’s synthesized a pheromone. Some people have been highlighted on other venues, like the autistic British savant who can play any piece of music in any style. Some people are mighty impressive, like the guy with a super memory and the human calculator, and brainscans show them to be using larger or different portions of their brain for these skills than in average people. Some people are jaw-dropping, like the man in India who conducts electricity, or the man who can run without stopping because his blood metabolizes oxygen differently.
This show is fascinating but has irritating ticks. It was made for commercial breaks, but does that justify annoying teasers of what’s coming up next and recaps of what we’ve just seen? Daniel Browning Smith must introduce himself at least 25 times. Did they think we’ll forget? The sound mix favors pointlessly dramatic music that nearly drowns out what people are saying, a problem exacerbated if you’re not listening with stereo speakers. As a “reality” documentary, it errs sometimes in the direction of razzle-dazzle and can become so wrapped up in its flashy gee-whiz theatrics that it forgets to probe deeper. Still, some of these don’t-try-this-at-home stunts are seriously dazzling and enough to make you reconsider the limits of human capacities.