4 Things GSN’s Steampunk’d Got Right

Today is a very special ÆtherFeature as our journalist, Tee Morris, is taking the helm and sharing his thoughts on a new offering in steampunk. Enjoy this spoiler-free review of Steampunk’d, the competition pitting teams of creative steampunks against each other’s imaginations…

makersThis morning, my social networks were humming with after-thoughts on Steampunk’d, the Game Show Network’s latest reality show competition pitting two teams of makers against each other in weekly challenges. With World of Steam’s Matt King, Steampunk Couture’s Kato, and Brute Force Studio’s Thomas Willeford as judges, steampunk takes center stage on GSN Wednesday nights at 9 p.m. EST to both praise and criticism from the steampunk community. Even before the show went live last night, makers, event organizers, and steampunks of all backgrounds dismissed the show as a colossal failure and waste-of-time that pandered to the lowest common denominator. Once again, it would seem, mainstream media would fall incredibly short in its understanding of steampunk.

And this was before the premiere of the show last night.

Let’s just get this out of the way first: Not everyone will be thrilled with Steampunk’d. It’s not set at a convention. It’s not centered around fashion. It’s not centered around prop design. There are going to be steampunk factions who will cast a glance at this show and focus with laser intensity on everything Steampunk’d barely regarded, completely missed, or totally bungled when it came to what steampunk is all about because what they do is steampunk.

I’m focusing on what Steampunk’d got right in their premiere episode.

judgesThe Punkyard. Without question, this was my favorite aspect of this show. The Punkyard is as a Maker’s Nirvana: a collection of odds, end, baubles, bangles, and technology old and new, all scattered and jumbled into one enclosed area where our respective teams loaded up with what they needed for the challenge and repurposed it for the task at hand. (If you remember the always-fun Junkyard Wars with Robert Llewellyn, it’s a bit like that.) The Punkyard is what I hope for whenever I hit an antique mall. All this retro-kitsch-obsolete-technology stuff collected in one place, waiting for makers to do something incredibly creative with it. I want a Punkyard of my own now!

The Manor. Challenge shows like this—be it Face/Off, Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, Chopp’d, Cake Masters, and the list goes on and on—are sometimes tough for me to invest in as their challenge and endgame seem completely random. “Okay, today we’re concentrating on Asian-Mexican-Barbecue Fusion!” or “Your challenge is capturing the mood of Turquoise.” It’s like playing a game of Dixit with Samuel Becket and Jackson Pollack. In Steampunk’d, the makers have the Manor: an empty house not only needing decoration, but style and story for every room. I find this approach refreshing. There is still a sense of random chance in that you have no idea from week-to-week what room will be next, but we now have an end goal in sight—the most epic steampunk manor ever built. I love this idea.

team-eddie_roomAccountability. In last night’s premiere, Team JW focused their energies on steering clear of the stereotypical steampunk color palette, an admirable goal; but in trying so hard to go in a unique direction, one of their objectives—a Rube Goldberg device—had been thrown into their design more as an afterthought. It failed miserably and while I may have personally disagreed with the elimination, Team JW did take a major hit for not only half-assing the Goldberg objective but also in not going steampunk enough in their design. These judges are there to push boundaries and abilities, sure, but they also want to make sure the “look” and “feel” are there as well. Not an easy balance to strike, but in the first episode Matt, Kato, and Thomas make it clear: Bring your A-game or go home.

Steampunk Makers of All Backgrounds, Working Together. Confession Time: something that has troubled me a bit about the steampunk community are the amazing amount of makers out there that exist in bubbles. I’ll admit it—sometimes, I’m one of them. I’m a writer, so I make words. That’s my maker ability. Some makers are fabricators that bend brass, iron and steel to their wills while other makers make incredible fashions and then pick up accessories (usually from the fabricators) to give their historical-convention-warping ensemble that final touch. Most of these makers, though, work alone. A stand-out from the premiere was watching people that are used to working alone compelled to work directly with one another to create a final project. While drama is the essence of reality television, not to mention the draw for an audience unfamiliar with steampunk, the friction I saw on Steampunk’d appeared more organic as one artist’s vision and approach to the projects completely clashed with another artist’s vision, all while struggling to work together because they had to in order to advance. This was most evident with “Team Eddie” as Eddie, blissfully unaware he was dismissing Ave with his laid-back but one-man-show approach to the Retro Kitchen challenge when in fact Ave believed more in clear-cut delegation, planning, and progress. I have always believed that creative personalities work better in multimedia projects, and that coming together of talent to turn a concept into a reality is steampunk by nature. A “can-do” attitude where anything you dream up is possible; and this happens most times when stepping outside of the self-imposed bubble and challenging your comfort levels. Steampunk is not just fashion, fabrication, and storytelling, but all of these things at once, which is why these makers succeed when working as a team as opposed to individual artists. I saw a hint of that in the premiere and hope to see more of that.


Steampunk’d shows a lot of promise, and I look forward to future episodes and future challenges. I also feel that the deeper we go into the competition, the more we are going to see how these artists think and approach their unique steampunk style. Remember, these are ten—no, wait, nine (and yes, I’m still pissed about that!)—artists and we as an audience need to get to know them in order to become emotionally invested in them. Steampunk’d still has some road to travel but I found the premiere episode immensely satisfying.

What do you think? Where did Steampunk’d get things right for you?

4 Replies to “4 Things GSN’s Steampunk’d Got Right”

  1. I watched the opening episode of Steampunk’d with my smartphone in hand, feeding off the Live Tweets from Tayliss Forge throughout. As a Steampunk author with (fringe) relationships to a few cast members, I am biased in favor of the show for exactly the reasons you mention in your blog- an investment in the personalities involved and their unique approaches to the genre.

    I can’t take anything away from your coverage- I love that it focused on the positive aspects of the show and added community context for those unfamiliar with the Steampunk crowd. I think there are two more key successes for the show as well:

    1) National Television. I know this is a sore spot with some, but its going to be good for all of us. After, “National Treasure,” there was an influx of people curious about Freemasonry, even with such a ridiculous portrayal. Every time an Army movie comes out, recruiting numbers go up. If Steampunk’d puts a wrench in the hand of one more person fascinated by the fantastic possibilities of the genre, I am in favor. Somebody saw Kato’s fashion, or Morgan’s robot, or Charles’ metallic paint jobs and thought, “that’s so cool, I wonder if I can do that,” and that means something.

    2) Functionality. Often in costume and prop design, aesthetic takes priority over making things that don’t actually work (for a million great reasons). The requirement to build a Tube Goldberg machine shows people at home that Steampunk isn’t just pretty, but pretty and purpose-driven, and I think that’s great. I’m happy it was done in the first episode, to demonstrate this key part of our little community.

    There is plenty to say about what could be better, but I am looking forward to the rest of the season!

  2. I think it’s more than a bit early to criticize this show to the he degree I’ve seen thus far online. I see a few saying they didn’t show enough building. But it’s not a how to show you should watch YouTube for that. Some said it enfisized personal drama to much. I say of course that’s how you get to know the individuals. I find a lot of steampunk artists (including myself) to be very fussy and sometimes I like what what the artist made a little more or a little less depending on how I feel about their brand of fussy. So sorry folks that’s steampunk and lots of other creative circles as well. Lastly it’s a competition. Like football but with art so… really what were you hoping for. They aren’t going to stand around holding hands it’s war.
    I’m going to hold my overall opinion for the long game. This was as good a start.

  3. Love the write up and analysis. I’d love to see them get away from dismissing people and keep it with picking the best overall design. I understand that there is a single winner in the end that wants 100grand, who wouldn’t, but that can still be achieved without getting rid of any of the makers. What it would accomplish is pushing each maker past their comfort level and make them better makers. This is more indicative of Steampunk (in my opinion). By eliminating makers along the way, it contradicts what most of us preach and that is community. I also think that three days is just not enough time to make good art but rather hasty, slapped together attempts that don’t give Steampunk real representation.
    I would like to see either additional judges or some replacements.
    My dream lineup for judges would be the following:
    Bruce Rosenbaum from ModVic or Jake von Slatt
    Thomas Wileford (pushing his role as the Simon “bad guy” as he can do it so well)
    Kato for the fashion aspect
    Crackitus Potts of the The League of S.T.E.A.M.
    All in all, I enjoyed the show and see tremendous possibility for taking our beloved art form to the next level.

  4. I’ll be sure to share this on my Steampunk Sunday post. I wanted to watch it then found out last minute we don’t have GSN! #fail I was so eager to judge the designs hahaha!

    Thanks, Tee!

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