Secret Identity Show’s Fun and Unique Take on Superhero Life Is Still Searching for Its True Identity
NOTE: The following impressions and review are based on an advanced screening of the first five episodes of the show.
The “transmedia” online video series, Secret Identity Show, offers a fun and unique take on both superhero (impersonator) life and Las Vegas, although uneven tonal shifts hint at an identity crisis.
What if Superman, Spider-Man, and Batman lived together in an apartment in Las Vegas? So goes the elevator pitch for new online series Secret Identity Show (SIS), a labor of love brought to life through a successful Kickstarter campaign and the hard-work and self funding of its creator and director, Jillian Austin, as well as the efforts of the members of Murder Mitten Productions.
An indy production through-and-through, SIS is at its heart a tale of two brothers: handsome, muscular Kal Lee, a professional Las Vegas Superman impersonator and owner of Being Superman, LLC; and his younger brother, Stanfred “Fred” Lee, a directionless slacker who has traveled from Kansas to move in with his big brother at the beginning of the show. The initial storyline follows the brothers – both together and separately – as Kal performs impersonation jobs, fends off the forcible recruitment efforts of a mafioso-esque Robert DeNiro impersonator, and tries to convince Fred to join the “family business” as a Spider-Man impersonator; Fred deals with his own lack of direction, the unrecognized affections of his next-door neighbor, and his efforts to decode the strange life of their third roommate, the mysterious and physically imposing Wayne Knight.
The show is at its best when it sticks to the core duo of Nathan Ferrier’s Kal Lee and Ryan Eicher’s Fred Lee, along with their immediate supporting cast of friends. Nathan Ferrier portrays Kal Lee as a blend of the square-jawed handsomeness of Jon Hamm with the obtuse earnestness of a typical Patrick Warburton role. Much of the show’s humor is derived from Kal’s bluntness and obliviousness to more subtle social interplay and niceties, as if he himself is more alien to routine social interaction than the son of Krypton he portrays for a living.
As the foil to Kal, Ryan Eicher portrays Fred Lee as if Jason Schwartzman and 90s-era Jason Lee were fused in a teleporter accident. He’s simultaneously diffident and manic, clueless and obsessive. His plotlines bounce around somewhat haphazardly, as he struggles with his pent up frustration at his older brother in one scene, tries to impress the enigmatic Wayne Knight (portrayed by former NFL lineman Melvin Fowler) in another, and struggles with his attempts at superhero impersonation in another. He seems to represent the viewer as the “normal” everyman of the group, but his characterization five episodes in remains somewhat hazy and under defined.
A B-story to the main plot revolves around third roommate Wayne Knight’s efforts as a nighttime vigilante and strongarming AA sponsor, as he fights crime dressed up as Batman and abducts junkies to forcibly clean them up. Unfortunately, the tone of his storyline is so dissonant with the rest of the show that it feels like a separate series during these segments. Played with taciturn aplomb by Melvin Fowler, Knight’s character and story could be interesting on its own, but it currently lacks a sense of connection with the rest of the show.
Of the supporting characters, Breon Jenay’s Katie Steele shines the most, portrayed on the surface as a somewhat mousy comic book clerk and employee of Being Superman, LLC, but whose character beats hint at some underlying mental or emotional issues. Her plotlines revolve around her unrequited attraction to new neighbor Fred, her tensions with her older sister Scarlett (as portrayed by actress-singer Savannah Smith), and her efforts to fend off the creepily harrassing advances of Adriel Roman’s Ben Malone.
With the character of amateur documentary filmmaker Ben Malone, the show makes a major tonal misstep. It can’t quite decide if Ben is a comic supporting character or a sinister antagonist, an indecision highlighted by Ben’s obsession with Katie. Ben’s possessive crush seems to be simultaneously played for laughs and dread, and in one particular exchange falls squarely into the realm of “dangerous stalker,” with Ben angrily grabbing Katie by the face and attempting a forced kiss before backing off at the last second. It felt shockingly out of place with the rest of the show, and I’m not sure if SIS will build upon his unhealthily aggressive obsession moving forward, or simply brush it off as an eccentricity of a self-described film “auteur.”
Granted, much of my criticism likely stems from viewing what is still the introductory stage of the story. This review is based upon just five episodes, and the unique quirkiness of this mockumentary-style show about Las Vegas superhero impersonators holds enough entertainment and future promise to be worth a watch. There are some good laughs to be had, and Nathan Ferrier and Breon Jenay’s charisma and performances in particular make me want to see more of them and their adventures on screen. And while the production values are quite good – especially considering SIS’ limited budget – there are some issues with uneven sound production in certain scenes. And while the story is enjoyable, I feel like it could do more to leverage the unique and rich sense of place that Las Vegas has to offer.
Ultimately, Secret Identity Show is off to a good start, and it is rife with potential with its unique and engaging premise, but this early in its life it’s still experiencing some issues finding its footing and settling on a consistent tone. My verdict is that it is worth watching.
Secret Identity Show can be viewed on its website at http://www.secretidentityshow.com/. It is defined as a transmedia show, in that you can supplement the episodes by reading and viewing blog posts and tweets from the show’s characters.