Jan 23, 2014

[TV] Face Off (SyFy)

I rarely indulge in "reality" television when it comes to figuring out what to watch. Don't get me wrong - I can understand the entertainment value these shows bring. I guess I just prefer my shows to be more open about the fact that they're scripted - and yes, I say this in jest.

The few shows that I do watch from time to time focus on actual merit or achievement more than anything else. And I guess that's why I was drawn to SyFy's Face Off, along with shows like Project Runway. They're not about a person looking good or managing to be on the winning team. They're (theoretically) about the quality of the creative output of the various contestants under fairly high pressure situations.

And the fact that we get to see a lot of geeky characters brought to life is pretty fun, too.

Face Off is a SyFy reality television show that has various prosthetic makeup artists competing against one another in a series of challenges. The show is presented by McKenzie Westmore, whose connection to the show's premise is due to the fact that she's comes from the Westmore family of Hollywood makeup artists. As a host of the show, I can't help but find her manner of speaking to sound oddly scripted and wooden.

As of the time of this blog post, the show has just begin its sixth season, which is a pretty respectable run for any reality television show. The show's regular hosts initially included Academy Award-winning makeup artists Ve Neill, TV and movie makeup artist Glenn Hetrick and creature designer and director Patrick Tatopoulos. Starting Season 3 Tatopoulos was replaced by creature designer and concept artist Neville Page.

Each episode typically consists of two parts: the Foundation Challenge and the Spotlight Challenge. the Foundation Challenges are typically short contests testing a particular make-up skill with the winner gaining immunity for the Spotlight Challenge or a prize of some sort such as cash or a showcase package. The Spotlight Challenge is the main focus of the show with the artists working on their designs across several days.

The first season was still a little awkward with the show trying to find its niche. The challenges were a mix of the truly creative and the somewhat cliche. But over the seasons, the challenges have gotten more and more interesting and appears that some movie studios and TV networks have started to explore using Face Off as a venue for promoting their shows. And I'm definitely not complaining about that - it's a great way to get the artists working on projects with greater relevance to the entertainment industry (which now includes video games) and of course it also means more interesting creations for us viewers.

I think what's most fun about the show is the fact that the judges don't just sit at one side of the room and view the final creations from afar. During each judging, they're allowed to come up to the models and examine the detail of each makeup. So if cooking shows lament how the judges can figure out small errors based on tasting the dishes, here the judges are constantly inspecting the quality of the application, the strength of the materials and how clean the edges are.

And the judges can be pretty brutal - which is always rather fun. But they're not mean or harsh just for entertainment value - they do try to provide legitimate feedback for the contestants and they are able to explain why one makeup wins over the other. And in that regard I like the pool of talent that they've gathered for this show, including the various guest judges that have joined the show.

But without a doubt, the main focus of the show involves all the amazing creations that the contestants come up with. Whether working in teams or individually, it still amazes me what they all come up with in so short a time. Just watching them sculpt the initial clay models is a wonder in itself and it boggles the mind to contemplate how they can do that at all. So yeah, I really get a kick out of the show's production value.

Face Off is a great competition show that still has a little drama involved, but not too much to overshadow the makeup work and various creature creations. No real sense in evaluating each season individually, so the franchise as a whole gets a respectable 4 out of 5.

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