Makeup competition ‘Face Off’ needs a makeover

10.29.14 3 years ago

Jordin Althaus/Syfy

The seventh season of Syfy's “Face Off” ended with an epic choreographed battle between knight characters created by the final three makeup artists. Judge Neville Page said, “This is like Game of Thrones.”

If only! Yes, the battle was fun, and the characters who were battling were mostly creative, well-constructed, and had details that made them look like they each belonged in the world of a fantasy film or TV show.

But where “Game of Thrones”–which also debuted in 2011, just like “Face Off”–has changed and evolved over time, “Face Off” has not, even though it has aired more seasons.

It is, of course, unfair to compare two totally different series in different genres. But let's look at other reality TV competitions between talented artists. All those that have survived past a few seasons (oh, “Work of Art,” where did you go?) have all managed to retain their core mission but have changed the competition over time.

“Project Runway” is a very different show than it was when it first aired on Bravo, and not just because one of the main judges has changed. It's dropped some elements (bye bye, models) and added others (longer critiques with the judges examining the clothes and hearing from Tim Gunn). “Top Chef” did the same. Even lesser shows, such as “America's Next Top Model,” have embraced change.

“Face Off” is more rigid than a Halloween mask made out of concrete.

The series has basically not changed since it debuted in 2011. Sure, it now fast forwards past the model selection, and skips over the repetitive exposition explaining the phases of special effects make up, but episode to episode, season to season, it is painfully the same.

For some reason, the majority of the challenges seem to be about fantasy and horror, which adds to the repetitiveness. (There was a terrific season-one challenge where the contestants had to create realistic, human makeup to disguise themselves so that their own family members wouldn't recognize them. We need more of that.)

Each episode even breaks at the same moments, such as when host McKenzie Westmore says the same thing at the same time every single episode.

Which is why it's terrific that Syfy has announced a significant format change for season eight, which debuts early next year. But it may not be enough.

All that we know now is that “three former champions, Rayce Bird (Season 2), Anthony Kosar (Season 4) and Laura Tyler (Season 5), will return in the premiere and select teams of five new artists who they will coach throughout the season.”

“Face Off” does need more mentoring. The addition of Michael Westmore as an unbiased mentor in season four was nice; he certainly knows his stuff, and it's fun that he's the host's dad. But he is no Tim Gunn, which is to say, he's not terrific television. At all. That may explain why his appearances are brief and his advice condensed to a single comment for each person.

Perhaps as a mini-preview of the next season, Tuesday night's season-seven finale actually brought back three former winners (including Rayce) to assist the finalists, but there were all but ignored after they were introduced and their prior work was praised.

That doesn't bode well for season eight. The producers need to figure out how to use the mentor/coaches so that they're there for a reason, not just there to do labor or offer platitudes. It'll be tricky to find that balance: They can't just sit idly by, but they also can't control everything, either.

The finale also felt underwhelming because each finalist had to two helpers but only had to produce two makeups. Their work was strong, but compared to some of the work they've done this season by themselves, it felt like they should have been able to do more with so much help. (To be fair, though, this season's winner was chosen in part because of the amount of work involved: Head judge Glenn Hetrick cited Dina's “swing for the fences volume of work” in addition to her “incredible detail.”)

That's what “Face Off' needs: a swing for the fences attempt to transform a special effects makeup competition as much as its contestants transform their models.

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