If I’m known for anything ’round these here Topless Robot parts, it’s my particular brand of disdain for a lot of SyFy’s reality programming. It’s a natural fit, really – SyFy’s Face Off, a terrific reality challenge show wherein makeup artists compete against one another for a cash prize and makeup glory, is one of my favorite non-guilty pleasures on television. And for the past year or so, SyFy has tried to leverage Face Off‘s success with a string of inferior knock-offs and infuriating product placement.
So when Jim Henson’s Creature Shop Challenge was announced, I approached with caution. To my surprise, though, this is a terrific show, and in honor of the show’s season finale tonight, I’m going to run down why I think this show is *finally* a successful follow-up to Face Off. And a few ways I think they could make this show even better.
1) ‘Tis a Far, Far Better Thing Than Other SyFy Reality Shows
Not to put too fine a point on it, but, in case my previous two articles excoriating SyFy’s last few forays in the covetous post-Face Off timeslot weren’t already evidence enough, SyFy has had a tough time of it these days leveraging their goodwill with audiences after Face Off is over. Heroes of Cosplay was a mess, and Fangasm was a Hellish landscape of ego-stroking tripe.
(And in case any of you are wondering whether or not I’ll be watching the second season of Heroes of Cosplay, don’t worry; I doubt Luke would let me off the hook that easily.)
The simple fact of the matter is that Jim Henson’s Creature Shop Challenge actually feels like a real show, as opposed to SyFy desperately grasping at nerdy straws with only the barest of ideas as to how those nerdy straws work. Heroes of Cosplay was a melange of misinformation, while Fangasm was a parade of butt-naked promotional material; Jim Henson’s Creature Shop Challenge is at least structured and intended to be an actual reality show. In the sense that there’s stakes, there’s an idea that’s followed through, and it’s produced as such.
2) The In-Depth Look at The Construction of These Puppets Is Fascinating
The brilliance of this particular show, much like Face Off, is how it shows to the layman like you and me the intense amount of practical construction that’s necessary to make these insane puppet creations. From the initial designs to the final mold, every step is shown to at least some degree of critical evaluation.
But after several seasons of Face Off, there’s not a lot of unchecked material in the realm of professional make-up. Jim Henson’s Creature Shop Challenge fills that void by allowing the viewers at home, those ignorant unwashed masses, to peer into the stressful void that is puppet construction with at least amount of clinical explanation. I couldn’t tell you how in the hell to mechanize a servo system that allowed a set of puppet eyes to blink and move; Jim Henson’s Creature Shop Challenge at least pays lip service to how tricky these things are to make and develop.
3) The Creatures They Create Are Inventive and Awesome
The big draw of Face Off to me, and a lot of other like-minded nerds, was how simply cool a lot of the end products were after the contestants finished their challenges. This show is, in a way, superior to Face Off, in the sense that these poor kids have only a few days to completely create an entirely original fucking puppet. One that people have to clamber into and control with their hands and bodies and remote controls.
And a ton of the things they make are super fucking cool.
4) The Cast Is Talented Beyond Compare
As cool as the puppets themselves are, those puppets wouldn’t have been cool were it not for the undoubtedly diligent work done by the producers behind Jim Henson’s Creature Shop Challenge to dig up some truly talented puppet designers. Nearly everyone on the show, since its debut, has been able to rig up some truly spectacular work.
It’s a real nail-biter here in the finale, and none of the people sent home so far were sent away in shame for their terrible artistry; it all comes down, as these shows often do, to who can withstand the pressure.
Sadly, all is not entirely perfect in the Creature Shop. As with any puppet, there are a few strings that need tightening. Read on to see what I, some guy on the internet nobody knows, thinks could fix this show up good!
1) The “3 Day Timeline” Thing Gets a Bit Old
I know this is a reality show and all, and the word “Challenge” is in the title for a reason, but the show takes its inspiration from Face Off a little too literally here. Like in Face Off, each contestant – occasionally working in teams – has only three solid days to finish each challenge. While that works in Face Off, where makeups and molds and fabrication could conceivably come together in such a compressed amount of time, Creature Shop Challenge requires its contestants to bear the burden of Atlas himself as they fucking CREATE AN ENTIRE GODDAMN PUPPET.
I had a little over three days to work on this article, and it probably hasn’t turned out that good. How the hell do we expect a talented, albeit human, group of artists to create a complete and concrete original puppet character in such a compressed amount of time?
2) Format Is a Bit Too Similar to Face Off
And that leads to a bigger issue: the “3 DAY TIME LIMIT” thing is obviously a nod to Face Off, but that bears the question: why is Creature Shop Challenge taking so many nods from its SyFy lead-in?
The concept might be similar, but when it comes to simply creating a fantastic set of film makeup, to creating an entire fucking puppet character, it’s a night-and-day comparison. And taking so many cues from Face Off can get a bit old, and makes the show seem too much like a stale retread. Even though it totally isn’t; Creature Shop Challenge deserves to be its own wonderful entity, and not a pale shadow in SyFy’s Tuesday night lineup.
3) It Could Stand to Be a Little More In-Depth
And because of that difference, the producers of Creature Shop Challenge could actually do a bit of due diligence in educating viewers on the ins and outs of building these massive projects. I do like what they’ve done as far as presenting every aspect of fabrication, but there are still so many nitty-gritty details that I’d love to see displayed on TV. Such as: how in Christ’s name they manufacture from scratch the mechanisms to remotely control things like eye-movement, how they instruct the individual (and sometimes multiple) puppeteers to perform within these things they’ve made, and the general process of construction from being a twinkle in the contestant’s eye to becoming a functional, camera-ready puppet.
4) WHERE’S THE FREAKIN’ MUPPETS?!?
And speaking of camera-ready puppets, my BIGGEST complaint is this: WHERE ARE THE MUPPETS?
Every episode references all the Brian Froud-y designs from The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth, but let’s be honest here; only sad people like you and me remember those movies. For every two-bit Dick and Larry out there, Jim Henson means MUPPETS. So where are the Muppets?!?
And don’t tell me “Well Disney technically owns the license to the Muppets, so…” THAT IS NO EXCUSE.
Just show me how to make a God Damn Muppet, Jim Henson’s Creature Shop Challenge. Is that so hard to ask?
Previously by Brian Hanson:
Seven Reasons Why Heroes of Cosplay is Terrible
Seven Reasons to Avoid Comikaze Because of Fangasm