'The Wil Wheaton Project': TV Review
Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on Syfy, beginning May 27
For nerds, by nerds, the Syfy show is a funny and frenzied look at the week that was for fantasy, comic book and sci-fi series.
Nothing says the geeks have inherited the Earth (on TV, anyway) like geek hero Wil Wheaton (also known as actor, blogger, podcaster, avid tweeter and former nerd pin-up Wil Wheaton) being given his own show. The Wil Wheaton Project is essentially The Soup for nerds, with an identical setup: Wheaton stands in front of a greenscreen and riffs on a weekly roundup of jokes and edited segments in front of a live audience. The difference here is that the content is geared specifically for fans of series like Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead and movie franchises like X-Men.
Unlike The Soup though, there's more of a requirement to be familiar with the material first. Viewers don't have to be intimately acquainted with reality programming to laugh at the clips Joel McHale lampoons or already be aware of the viral Internet videos Daniel Tosh offers up for inspection. Instead, The Wil Wheaton Project is betting on an audience who is coming in fully prepared, so if viewers get the joke behind a line like, "I saw more survivors at the Red Wedding," the results are suitably hilarious.
Nerd culture seems to be at an all-time-high saturation point, so Wheaton has plenty to comment on during the weekly half-hour show -- so much so that the pace is at a whirlwind. In addition to alighting on worthwhile TV moments from the week (including from shows like Penny Dreadful, Salem and Vikings), there are also fun tweaks to shows like Cosmos, where the editing team slows down Neil deGrasse Tyson saying deeply philosophical things, making his seem heavily under the influence.
Some of the best moments though are the ones that don't require any repackaging, like John Malkovich's narcoleptic approach to promoting his upcoming NBC series Crossbones, or the incredibly bizarre commencement speech P. Diddy gave where he called everyone unicorns. And as if all of that wasn't enough, there are two segments -- "Wil's Memo" and "Shoutouts" -- that do quick clip-rolls of bizarre Internet content, in addition to weekly appearances from Wheaton's friends (next up: Felicia Day). If some of the jokes don't quite land, there's no time to dwell on it.
Wheaton also isn't afraid to take some jabs at Syfy, "the hand that feeds." Saying that the network doesn't know what it's done by letting him have a show because "they're too busy tying to combine a shark and an earthquake," was funny, but even funnier was a fake "Syfy Showcase" promo later in the show that is too strange to explain, but was pitch-perfect.
Despite a strong inaugural episode, there are still some kinks to be worked out. Wheaton, channeling a nervous energy, only appeared to relax fully during a few of his jokes, but much more of the material felt stilted. It's a small thing that will surely only get more streamlined as Wheaton settles into the role. For now, his energy translates mostly into a geeky exuberance of the Chris Hardwick variety. In fact, contentwise, The Wil Wheaton Project feels more like a competitor to Hardwick's Nerdist empire than that of The Soup of Tosh.0, but a visit by Hardwick (a longtime friend of Wheaton's) in the first episode neutralized that angle. The two Internet curators just want everyone to be laughing at and enjoying the same nerdy things (even if that means getting #PoopWheaton trending).
Wheaton has been commenting on nerdy pop culture for a very long time on the Internet, building up goodwill and an audience who will want him to succeed (for their sakes as much as his). His shift to Syfy is one that has been a long time coming, and his excitement and depth of knowledge regarding the material he's collating and presenting makes The Wil Wheaton Project unique, even if its format is largely cribbed. And despite a few hiccups, the ultimate takeaway is what Wheaton himself said to kick off the series: "Nerds, we got a show."
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