The steampunk community had a World’s first on 19th August 2015 with the airing of reality “maker” show Steampunk’d. Hosted by Jeannie Mai, the contest features ten well known steampunk creators that have to design, build and fabricate their way through to the judging section at the end, featuring Thomas Willeford, Kato and Matt King. The winner of the overall show gets a grand prize of $100,000.
The show opens with all the glitz and glamour of a typical American game show with lights and a dramatic introduction from Jeannie Mai. A quick montage shows some arguably weak illustrations of steampunk examples while a description is given about what steampunk means and represents. Sadly, the example of steampunk fashion is a photo of a lingerie model on a runway. This is despite the vast amount of steampunk clothes makers and even having one on the judges panel. I like the line “In a world where the past is the future and the future is the past, anything is possible.” We then meet the group of makers with another montage of scenes that are to come from the later episodes.
We get introduced to the ten contestants and interestingly, despite steampunk being the most close knit global community I’ve ever experienced, the makers didn’t seem to know each other. After meeting the judges and finding out about this week’s task (a retro futuristic kitchen with re-purposed appliances including a Rube Goldberg machine to serve breakfast and an outfit to compliment the room), the contestants get divided up into two teams. I had to laugh when Mai slowly and concisely announced team one but then also took the time to announce who was in team two. Despite it being a no-brainer as they’re the ones that weren’t called out a few seconds earlier.
As the teams get to work, we get the usual interview segments as the contestants chat about the stage that we’re viewing. Immediately, JW Kinsey comes across as arrogant and bossy. I’ve not met him, so this could be an act for the show. I don’t have a problem with that because there have been many successful contestants in other shows that have put on an act in order to win. Nasty Nick from the first UK Big Brother series isn’t actually nasty, for example. However, JW is the one I’m keeping an eye on due to my previous opinions on the fact that he and Kato have worked together before and are good friends.
Sadly, the first views of the show came out online in a blaze of disgust and revulsion. So many people immediately hated the show. One lengthy thread was based on the fact that the show is more based on the drama than the actual making. Here I am thirty minutes in, though, and aside from the intro and a slight nod at JW being bossy and Steampunk Eddie making Ave cry, the show has been about the designs and the talent of the contestants.
Indeed, getting to the end of the show, I didn’t see anything that wouldn’t be out of place in a normal show where people are competing against each other while also working together. When Mai asked the judges who they liked the most, Kato immediately jumped in with JW (yes, I am purposefully looking for these indicators). I don’t want to go too much further in case you haven’t seen the episode yet. I don’t want to spoil it for you.
The show is dramatic and to a degree the contestants are purposefully making it so. For example, Ave saying at 15min “Wait a minute, he still hasn’t started working on the mechanism yet?” This isn’t something that you’d say out loud. You may think it to yourself, but it’s not natural language and was clearly said in order to get the audience ready for a confrontation or to make them aware that the team members aren’t happy.
The great thing about steampunk is that it’s completely individual and because of that, I have no problem with saying that I didn’t actually like either of the rooms that were created. I thought the purple and red stripes were gaudy and the robot hashed together in a last minute attempt at completing the brief. I’ve seen much better work from JW and the other makers. I did like the sink and the worktops, but maybe it’s just me that likes the Victorian theme more than the futuristic. I thought Team Eddie’s attempt was cleaner and more fitting with the brief, but looked roughly put together and like a toy version of a real kitchen. I didn’t like the frames with the clouds in.
There are some issues I saw by the producers, such as a shot of Steampunk Eddie in the montage at the beginning of the show of him lowering a globe half. That isn’t in this episode, which means he gets through to the next episode at least. We’ve learned that before the show even really gets started.
I felt that the actual judging section was weak. It didn’t really cover much discussion. It would be great if they took inspiration from the UK Masterchef show where the judges sit down and discuss each person on merit. They then say throwaway comments such as “OK, so she’s going home”. While that precise format wouldn’t work with only one person leaving in each episode, it’s refreshing to see how the judges work out what they decide and not all left in secrecy. On Steampunk’d, it seemed to be:
Mai: “Have you made a decision?”
This seems like a steampunk version of the Apprentice. The premise is exactly the same even down to the losing team each giving a last pledge on why they should remain in the game. This opens up a cat fight and is counter productive. That’s not what I see as a steampunk ethic.
I liked the show, I thought it was entertaining, well made and with a few tweaks ironed out, could see a second series. The contestants are likeable and passionate about their work. The way they [have to] act isn’t very nice. Their demeanour reeks of producers telling people to be a certain way. Maybe I’m wrong or maybe the NDA will mean it will be denied, either way, that’s the feeling I get. I will be watching further episodes though, because the initial bad guys – Steampunk Eddie and JW – actually happen to be really nice guys, so I’m interested to see who will be portrayed as the bad guy in the next episode and how that will end.