Actor Wil Wheaton (Star Trek: The Next Generation, Big Bang Theory) is a nerd royal and recognizable TV personality with a congenial attitude and 2.6 million Twitter followers. It makes absolute sense that Syfy would try to align with him in some way, but as the host and namesake of a semi-late night comedy series that both echoes and has compared itself to E!’s The Soup, Wheaton’s selection seems a bit off.
A large part of the charm of The Soup comes from host Joel McHale’s outsider status as he skewers the world of unscripted TV and its most witless and ridiculous inhabitants with occasionally palpable disdain.
Wheaton is, on the other hand, very much a product of the “nerd” world. He is not an outsider; in fact, The Wil Wheaton Project has been partially sold on its host’s status as a nerd insider, and insiders don’t often bite the hand that feeds them.
In an interview that Wheaton did with Vulture in advance of the series premiere, he said that on The Wil Wheaton Project, they “will highlight the stuff that we love” and “gently mock the things that need to be gently mocked” while “celebrating nerd culture.” But in the premiere episode, the “gentle mocking” felt mostly restricted to elbow nudges and inoffensive prattle about barely adored or remembered shows like Dracula and Star-Crossed, rendering the self-authored comparisons to The Soup ill-fitting, save for the show’s green-screen backdrop.
Worse still, The Wil Wheaton Project really doesn’t shower its audience with insight or a “celebration” of nerd culture this time out, just a bland recitation of the week’s pop-culture news, a few bad puns, and uninspired comedy bits like an ’80s sitcom-influenced theme song for the Walking Dead (How many mashup videos have their been over the last few years of TheWalking Dead and an ’80s sitcom’s theme song?) and a slow-motion video of Cosmos host Neil DeGrasse Tyson months after similar slow-motion videos of Neil DeGrasse Tyson became an internet phenomenon.
The Wil Wheaton Project comes closest to reaching its potential when Wheaton briefly questions the central wisdom of the Gotham TV show during a segment called “Wil’s Memos” – but sadly, that ember burns out when the writers tack on a Bat-nipple joke and some Batfleck mockery to an altered trailer before later running another slow-motion Neil DeGrasse Tyson video.
Mostly devoid of laugh out loud moments, bite, and depthy commentary on nerd-culture, The Wil Wheaton Project premieres as a disappointment with ample room for improvement over the course of these next 11 episodes. It’s also a poor style match for a host whose talents (as demonstrated on TableTop) might have been better served by a different format.
The Wil Wheaton Project airs Tuesday nights on Syfy @10PM ET