Stan Lee's Superhumans
A&E Video // PG // $19.95 // April 26, 2011
Review by Francis Rizzo III | posted March 28, 2011
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In 10 Words or Less
Freaks, Geeks and Stan Lee

Reviewer's Bias*
Loves: Stan Lee, documentaries
Likes: Freak shows
Dislikes: lame "powers"

The Show
Before I get into reviewing this show, it sure seems that the History Channel, like TLC, Bravo and A&E before it, has given up on its reason for being, huh? Between this show, Pawn Stars, Swamp People, American Pickers and Ax Men, there's not a lot of history on the air. Doesn't anyone care about niches anymore? Oh well.

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 DVDs
The eight episodes of the first season of Stan Lee's Superhumans are spit evenly between two DVDs, which are packed in a standard-width keepcase with a tray for the second disc. The DVDs feature a mostly-static, anamorphic widescreen menu with options to play all the episodes, select shows (and then segments) and check out extras (where accessible.) There are no audio options or subtitles, but closed captioning is included.

The Quality
The anamorphic widescreen transfers on this series look good, but not great, looking like the many imports from the UK that sport a film-like look, with slightly dull colors and an overall softness that makes the video look older than it is. Though the level of fine detail isn't particularly impressive, there are no issues with dirt, damage or digital artifacts.

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 Extras
There are 15 minutes of bonus footage included on the second disc, taken from five first-season segments, but don't get excited about that, because they are essentially just digest versions of the full-length segments, with a few alternate angles included. It's more like a sampler than bonus footage.

The Bottom Line
Mix a little human interest with a bit of freak-show curiosity and top it with a hint of Stan the Man, and you get Stan Lee's Superhumans. While some of the people profiled are fascinating, others are far less interesting, which makes the show a bit uneven, but all eight episodes offer something worth tuning in for. The look and sound is appropriate for basic cable, though there's nothing impressive in terms of extras, so you really need to be desperate to see a bit of Stan Lee or a fan of human oddities to own this DVD set.

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