Freaks, Geeks and Stan Lee
Series like the old That's Incredible! and Real People, or the more recent This American Life, which spend a little time with the more unique members of our society, are like mini-documentaries, focusing on a person's special gifts or abilities. Now, if you label those gifts as "powers" and get the father of modern superheroes to act as host, you've got yourself a show, namely Stan Lee's Superhuman, where Stan the Man purportedly sends his emissary, contortionist Daniel Browing Smith, out into the world to uncover other "superpowered" people. Stan's barely in the show unfortunately, appearing merely to set up the segments, before handing the show over to Smith, who meets up with the subjects and tests their abilities.
Smith doesn't show off his abilities during the show really, leaving the spotlight to the global line-up he travels to meet, bringing with him supposed skepticism. There are some truly impressive people among these subjects, though the way their presented leaves something to be desired. When the concept is followed correctly, introducing the subject, showing their "power" and then using science to figure out why they can do what they do, the series is great. That's what you get with the Rubber Band Man, who can stretch his skin, the Human Calculator, who can do math faster than a machine, or the Human Orchestra, whose beatboxing skill is examined via a camera in his throat. But too often, the science is used simply to show a feat has been achieved, via instrument recordings and super-slow-motion. Thus, we frequently have experiences like when we meet the Human Jukebox, a blind, autistic man, who can play any song he's ever heard. His skill is proven by musical notation software, and theories are proffered, but we never learn why he can do it. The same goes for a samurai with incredible reflexes and a monk with a wicked punch.
This is certainly preferable to the show's efforts to make superhumans out of people with simple skill, access to technology or just intellect. Arguing that a guy who covers himself with bee pheromones to create a suit of bees is controlling a swarm is just silly, as is the case of the Wolf Man, who, by growling and making faces, establishes his place in a wolf pack. There's no notable power or mutation here, outside of an unfortunate lack of normal common sense. One segment, where a guy uses a jet pack to fly after leaping out of a plane, is actually solid as him being able to fly, because he uses his body to direct his flight. Yet, in the same series, Smith later argues that a man's incredible memory might be a learned skill, not a "power." Seems the idea of powers is flexible.
That's good, because there's one time the subject fails to convince Smith. In the goofiest exhibition of the whole series, a martial arts expert can supposedly knock down people without even touching them, using only his Qi. Even Smith, who seems open to everything, openly mocks the man in the narration, but after some testing fails to show anything of note, Stan actually defends him, with some nonsense about "the power of suggestion." It's the only time where I couldn't suspend my disbelief of Stan's carny-barker showmanship, so it doesn't damn the entire series, but it's still a black mark on the proceedings.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 audio tracks are, like the video, good, but not particularly impressive, as the sound is strong and clear, but lacks any kind of dynamic mixing, resulting in a straightforward, center-balanced presentation.
The Bottom Line