In the times I've been to Comic-Con, what I've been most struck by is how nice everyone is. Day after day, people wait in lines, sometimes without reward, milling around the San Diego Convention Center in crushing masses of people -- and yet, I've never seen tantrums (okay, maybe when someone brings a baby, but that's it). I've never witnessed the truly bad behavior you expect at, say, a crowded amusement park or other kinds of convention. You can easily strike up conversations with the people in line, ask questions, compare notes. It defies logic how nice everyone is, but that is the glory of self-described nerds.
For "Heroes of Cosplay" (Tues. 10:00 p.m. on Syfy), that niceness may, in fact, be the show's Achilles heel. We are introduced to a group of talented cosplayers (only one of which is male at this point), who put together amazingly detailed and complex outfits in order to compete in the costume competition at the latest convention. They must race against time, their own insecurities, and the stress of pulling off the perfect look in a quest to win a sometimes sizable check.
While paths cross, the cosplayers largely seem to be in competition with themselves. Promos suggest their might be conflict in the future (and God knows we don't need to see ridiculous arguments and girl-on-girl bickering), but I'm not sure the show has found a way to bring all of the players together yet. Instead, they operate in their own bubbles, sometimes getting together for drinks, but mostly sitting alone in their studios, sewing and stressing out. That the end results are so miraculous is reward enough for viewers, but may lend each episode a certain sameness.
That may be tolerable, given that so many of the heroes (or, if you prefer, heroines) are such intriguing (and sometimes witty) characters. Holly Conrad and Jessica Merizan stand out as two bickering partners whose shared goal of reaching a seemingly impossibly high standard lends itself to eye rolling and barbed repartee, while Victoria Schmidt's struggle with focus is, at its core, very relatable. Of any cast you'd want to join you for a drink, this might be the one most of us would pick.
This isn't to say there aren't niggling problems that become harder to overlook on further examination. The dynamic between female cosplayers and male fans/ogglers is a complex one. While male nerds seem eager to embrace the idea of female empowerment, the packaging they prefer it in is the stuff of Playboy centerfolds. As much as this world seems to embrace the idea of strong women, they're also frequently scantily clad. The women who dress up enjoy the attention as much as the guys seem happy to give it, but I wonder if all the players involved would feel the same way if the scifi elements were stripped away and all that was left were just hot chicks in bikinis, maybe striking poses at a Hooters.
Looking at the resumes of the women on the show, clearly they've found a way to make their passions rewarding both emotionally and financially. There's no arguing that they're not empowered. But I have a hard time ignoring Yaya Han's improbable measurements, which likely wow comic book fans but make real women groan in empathy thinking about how hard it must be to find bras that fit and how much her back aches.
In the first episode, Becky Young regrets how much weight she's (apparently) gained, forcing herself into a lung-poppingly tight corset to transform herself into Merida from "Brave." While we're cheered by the fact that she scrounges up the confidence to place in the competition, I have to wonder how many guys are moaning they're too fat to be Han Solo this year.
To an outsider, all of this may smack a bit of "Best in Show," grown-ups playing dress up in an encapsulated world. But I think any cosplayer would tell you fantasy is a safe and rewarding outlet, a way in which to be all your imagination dictates. It can be a source of income, an outlet for exceptional talent. It may take the way women are objectified in day-to-day life and twist it into a source of empowerment.
Most importantly, cosplay brings people of similar interests together. "Heroes of Cosplay" may need more of that connection, but in the meantime, man, those are some costumes.
Will you be watching "Heroes of Cosplay"?