Text by: Cyndi Seidelman
It's not that much of a surprise that GSN would try to capitalize on the runaway success of Skin Wars. I mean, with powerful ratings ranging from 550k-800k in viewership, who wouldn't want to capitalize on that. With that and piggybacking off of the Season 2 Finale of Skin Wars, we are given Steampunk'd. Steampunk'd purports to be a whimsical reality show competition focusing on the Steampunk style of art. Look, I'm not that much into current trends. I mean, I still watch The McLaughlin Group religiously like those who fondly remember the Reagan and First Bush administrations, but I know when something is being used as a cloak for another badly done competition show which gets everything wrong where its sister show got everything right. Let's start the comparisons right now.
Host: Rebecca Romijn as a host is pretty darn good, modeled from the Padma Lakshmi style from Top Chef. She's adept at what she does and is actually passionate about the art that is being presented and as we see in the Season 2 intro, isn't afraid to become part of the show. I wonder how they are going to top that intro. Jeannie Mai, the host of Steampunk'd is the other end of the spectrum and reminds me too much of miss personality herself, Madison Michelle from Chains of Love. The only difference between those two is that while monotone and boring to watch, Jeannie's voice is a higher octave. Aside from that, she rips off everything else that made Madison cringeworthy: bland, forgettable and being there for the check. Another thing that bugs me is her outfit. Look, I get this is supposed to be steampunk and all of that, but unlike the 10 contestants who live and breathe the art form, Jeannie just puts on the outfit and pretends to be steampunk.
Format: Skin Wars whole thing is who is the best artist out of the group of contestants and each week gives them two chances to prove it over the episode or risk being eliminated. The first challenge earns the contestant an advantage in the main challenge and the main challenge is used to determine who moves on and who has to wash off their canvas. It's a breath of fresh air on the tired old forced teams routine that has permeated the genre in the last few years. Steampunk'd has 10 artists who are forced to team up and build one of the rooms for the "Steampunk'd Manor", which looks like the house from Finders Keepers. They are given 3 days to build the room and the judges determine which design goes in the house and the losing team has to face the judges and one of them gets eliminated. It's both a slog to sit through and also too fast because you miss out on a lot of interesting moments that instead are filled with swerves and surprises that take away from a showcase of art and instead make the show more about the drama. It's poor execution in that aspect and let's talk about that now.
Execution: Skin Wars succeeds because the focus on the show is the artist's work. You feel a bond with the artist because of how they express themselves on their subjects and you see what makes them tick. Plus, you have beautiful forms of artwork right in front of you that you want to look at, even if you're not really into body painting. Not only that, the panel of judges know what they are talking about and do look at each of the contestants work and grill them a little bit while they are creating. It pulls you in and makes you want to watch the entire series. Steampunk'd instead focuses on the interpersonal drama between the two teams under the guise of working together to build a room in the house. Not only that, we don't see what makes the artists tick besides short 15 second clips that are weirdly edited into the show. And on the subject of editing, the editing on this show is the worst. The first half is the building of the manor, which shrinks 3 days of planning and building into 15 minutes of actual show. With that being said, a good chunk of that is arguing or Jeannie springing a swerve into the mix during building, which is something Skin Wars rarely does. Then we get to the judges deliberations and the showing of the house. They tease the announcing of the winners twice and cutting to commercial break before actually getting to it and kicking off the loser. After the first commercial break, we have the judges deliberations intercut with the contestants bickering about certain things. Then we get to a second commercial break and then the winner and elimination being decided. When the show was being advertised, we thought it was going to be all about the art, but instead it was all about the conflict and I feel burned on that.
In short, Steampunk'd is bad. Very very bad. And much like the actual Steampunk style, I believe the trend will be short lived and be gone shortly. I look forward to Skin Wars Season 3, but I don't think the appeal of Steampunk'd will last that much longer besides piggybacking off the Season 2 Finale of Skin Wars. Everything they did about the show was wrong. The wrong host, a botched format and terrible execution. I also can't find contestants that are likeable and aren't pretentious douches. I'm starting to think that Lie Detectors may very well be the second worst show of GSN this year. Steampunk'd has eclipsed it in its badness.
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