Jay and Silent Bob’s Secret Stash—or simply “the Stash,” if you’re down—is a comic book shop in Red Bank, New Jersey. The sheer existence of the store when so many others are closing, in and of itself, might be noteworthy but what really gives this place some cachet is its owner: Kevin Smith. A comic book shop is a comic book shop, but when it’s in some way connected to the tour de force that I (and other people, probably) like to call Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, who isn’t going to want to visit?
The new show Comic Book Men’s appeal is similarly tied to the Jersey Girl director—the unscripted series is set in the Stash and produced by Smith. I like Clerks, I like Chasing Amy, I like most of Dogma, I’ve gone to (and enjoyed) one of Smith’s live Q&A shows, so I think I fall within AMC’s target audience here. Despite being a part of this demographic, or maybe because I’m a part of this demographic, the network shouldn’t have put all of their eggs in the bespectacled, be-bearded, be-hockey-jerseyed filmmaker basket.
Comic Book Men is a shaky mélange of a couple of different formats. It’s a reality show, documenting the totally natural-not-at-all-staged shenanigans (impromptu hockey games, Jason Mewes visits) and comic book talk of the Stash’s employees—manager Walt; put-upon Ming; guy-who-just-stands-around-smiling Mike; and beardo Bryan who doesn’t work at the store but, as editing would have you believe, hangs out there all day long like some kind of sarcastic, jobless transient.
It’s also a bit like Pawn Stars or Oddities with a decent portion of the show’s way-too-long run time (one hour!) devoted to people trying to peddle their vintage comic books and pop culture collectibles. Interspersed throughout is a studio podcast hosted by Smith (who wears the same hockey jersey every week), giving the guys a platform to discuss some of the items that were brought into the shop and ponder life’s big questions (if you could have any super power, what would it be?). While any one of these things on its own may have worked, together they’re just confusing and make for a disjointed viewing experience.
This structure suggests that the entire series was based on a loose idea—”let’s pander to the fanboy crowd and capitalize on the success of the comic book adaptation craze by setting a show in Kevin Smith’s comic book shop”—and then was given the go-ahead even though the concept hadn’t been fleshed out because of the director’s perceived popularity and ties to geek culture. The mindset here being, “people will watch this even if we’re super sloppy about what we’re doing because they’re into Smith and geekery and Comic-Con or whatevs.” But as anyone who has ever read any kind of Internet movie message board knows, Kevin Smith fans are not apologists.
When he releases something horrible (or just something not as great as Mallrats), these people (yeah, I said, “these people”) will go straight to that keyboard, they’ll use that caps lock key if they have to, and they’ll blast him. (Something like, “Cop Out? More like SELL OUT!” is common with “I’m through with Smith” being the customary, overly passionate sign-off.) This guy isn’t the greatest filmmaker, nor is he the worst, but his fans expect certain things from him. What those things are, no one really knows, but when Smith doesn’t deliver, you’d better believe they’re going to call him out on it. Comic Book Men needed to be good, not just because that’s something that all producers should strive for, but because the intended audience is known for being shrewdly critical. This series is the product of a huge miscalculation.
Comic Book Men won’t draw any ire, at least not from this Smith fan, but it’s tepid, without anything beyond Smith’s appearance compelling fans to watch. The negotiating that goes on when “passersby” sell their memorabilia is forced and odd because it appears to be the only business that the Stash does (no one comes in to buy anything ever). Beyond that, the ordinary banalities of comic book shop—the stupid, overly analytical conversations that can occur in this environment—are the things that would have, maybe ironically, made this show exciting.
The podcast segments are the most enjoyable. They still feel manufactured but the wit of the “comic book men” comes through here. That being said, almost everyone involved with this series has their own podcast (Smith has his whole SModcast deal and Walt and Bryan co-host “Tell ‘Em Steve Dave!”) so why not just listen to those instead of bothering with this mess? AMC must realize the disconnect between their inspired show idea and its boring reality because they air previews for upcoming episodes of The Walking Dead during Comic Book Men. And there we have it. Who’s watching Comic Book Men? People who want to find out what happens next week on The Walking Dead.