Star Wars or Star Trek? DC comics or Marvel? Tupac or Biggie?
If you’re at all passionate about pop culture, there’s a good chance you’ve touched on topics like these. Premiering Thursday, June 18, the new SYFY show SYFY WIRE’S The Great Debate frames these types of arguments in a format that’s fun, funny, and fast-paced.
“That’s what nerds do, we only debate these things because we love these things. And we have such passionate opinions because we love these things,” the show’s host Baron Vaughn told SLING in an interview. “The point of it is not to actually attack people, it’s to have spirited, loving debates. I heard someone put it very well: We can disagree, but not be disagreeable.”
In an era when too many fans take criticism of their favorite pop culture too seriously, The Great Debate feels like a refreshing reminder of why we fell in love with them in the first place. Each episode finds Vaughn moderating a panel of four guests, who then argue in favor of a variety of topics. With comedians like Brian Posehn, Orlando Jones, Jonah Ray, Amber Nash, Colton Dunn, Aisha Tyler, and Reggie Watts making appearances, the debates are more humorous than heated.
“Passionate opinions about nonsensical subjects. That’s probably the biggest thing we’re looking for,” Vaughn says when asked what makes a good panelist. “Luckily, we are in a section of this industry where we get to create things and work with a lot of people that we like. This show was a dream in that sense. It was a bunch of friends who wanted to make jokes and talk about nerdy things. That was true behind the scenes and in front of the [camera].”
That comradery is apparent not only among the panel but between Vaughn and his robot sidekick, DB-8, who he refers to as his “Transistor from another mister.” As the voice of Tom Servo on the Netflix reboot of Mystery Science Theater 3000, Vaughn has extensive experience working with wisecracking robots. In fact, Vaughn says his relationship with robots goes back “as long as I can remember.”
“Back in the day, I made a robot out of some pieces of stuff that I found, I named him Johnny 5. It was a hilarious adventure. Let’s just say that in the end, our circuits were shorted.”
Aside from this possibly plagiarized anecdote, Vaughn prepared for his hosting duties by leading a popular Great Debate panel at SXSW and NYC Comic Con, an experience he describes as “wetting my feet, up to my knees.”
“Little did I know, it was an audition,” he says with a laugh.
As a comedian himself, Vaughn expertly guides his guests from topic to topic with a light touch that allows everyone to improvise. Still, as host, it’s Vaughn’s job to award points to the more persuasive argument. But given that debates around art are, by definition, subjective, the points are meted out in a way that often feels delightfully arbitrary.
“Sometimes it’s who moved me the most, sometimes it’s who made me laugh the most,” Vaughn says of his scoring system.
Although a winner is declared at the end of each episode, The Great Debate is ultimately more of a celebration than a competition. And because our passions are inextricably tied to our personality, a good debate is often insightful.
“Anytime you’ve been to someone’s house — back when that was allowed — you might look at their books, at their comics, at their CD collection when that was a thing…even looking at someone’s Netflix queue is very revealing about who that person is,” Vaughn explains. “So this is a similar thing. We’re basically opening our heads and letting our fellow debaters see the Netflix queue in our head of all the crap we have stored in there because it made us happy.”
In this respect, The Great Debate acts as a window into some of the funniest minds in Hollywood. And for the record, the correct answers are: Star Wars, Marvel, and Biggie.
SYFY WIRE's The Great Debate airs Thursday nights at 11pm ET on SYFY