RECAP! Face Off: Foreign Bodies

Episode 5 and all we see is slime. Could the artists be recreating You Can’t Do That On Television?? Sadly, no. They’re just making scary aliens bursting out of people. I suppose that’s acceptable.

The remaining contestants enter the lab where they’re met with “Science!”-looking equipment – microscopes, vials, bottles of chemicals. Without wasting a beat, McKenzie dives right into the week’s Spotlight Challenge. Calling out films like Aliens and Invasion of the Body Snatchers, we learn this challenge will be about parasitic creatures taking over their host body, taking inspiration from a microscopic image of a real parasite.

And now I’m putting down my sushi until a commercial break. The parasite images are freaking terrifying, especially blown up on a screen. Yeah, that’ll haunt me for a little while.

Lance Henriksen, whose IMDb page is ginormous, appears as the special guest.

Now that we have an even number of contestants, we’re back to a team challenge, and the contestants choose with whom they will work. Only mere minutes into the episode, and we’ve already hit the Design Phase. Something’s up.

Anna and Yvonne have what might be the scariest organism, and their design involves the creature coming out of the side of the model’s face – like half-human, half-alien, judging by the sketch. Cory points out this is not “bursting from” but “transforming into.”

Katie and Robert have a tentacle-y, worm-looking parasite. Katie is not thrilled with her choice in teammate, referencing the difficulty they had the last time they worked together. Their design consists of a tumorous head where the worms will (theoretically) burst from. It makes sense, though it looks a little boring.

Rob and Kaleb, whose microorganism is maybe 2nd scariest, are making it so their creature can be “revealed” on the back of the model. Definitely dramatic, though I’m curious to see how the judges feel about it.

Before we get any further, McKenzie walks in with Mr. Henriksen. McKenzie’s in a smashing dress, by the way.

(Side note: I feel terrible when the only thing I have to say about McKenzie is what she’s wearing. She’s a likable host, and a lovely actress. But her wardrobe on here is always so noteworthy, it’s hard to avoid talking about it.)

Apparently, there is another step to this challenge. Mel is already mid-panic attack (I get it, girl! Been there.). Every good alien makeup, according to Bishop, must have SLIME. It’s funny, and a testament to my generation that when I hear slime, all I can think of is Marc Summers, Nickelodeon Studios, and a bucket of the green stuff. I know good horror aliens have slime, but that’s simply not my association. It’s not film, it’s my childhood TV that makes me feel like a slime expert.

Anyway, this slime element turns into the season’s first Foundation Challenge – and what a great way to do it! Foundation Challenges can sometimes feel like a waste of time and talent, just a way to get a famous face in as a “judge.” But by both interrupting the process and making the it apart of the main Spotlight Challenge, this one feels more integrated and necessary, upping the drama and the stakes. I like it.

The teams have 2 hours to develop a slime that will work for their character design. They’ll be judged on color, texture, and “if it works the way you intended it to.” The slime will be “tested,” — thrown, dripped, or otherwise placed on a model in a hazmat suit. The materials they get to use are wheeled out, and I spy lots of Gatorade, food coloring, and highlighters. (Every haunted house has used highlighter ink at some point. I’m also betting there’s laundry detergent and KY on that cart somewhere.)

McKenzie announces that for the first time ever, the winning TEAM will get immunity. I have mixed feelings about that. On one hand, it takes away that awkwardness of making one person on the team bear all the responsibility of a bottom looks makeup. On the other hand, why even let that team compete? Hm.

Mel and Melissa’s concept is an alien literally bursting out of their model’s face, where the human face will be draped around the neck of the alien. A pretty genius design, if the human face looks real enough. Mel wants their slime to be sticky, and here’s where I start yelling at the screen: Glycerin! Mel hears me, and uses that in conjunction with corn syrup and lube (called it).

Johnny and Walter have a microorganism that kind looks like a pig or a bear. Their design is a little confusing. Walter says the parasite will be shedding it’s human skin. They also want it bursting through the chest, where the slime will shoot out. Johnny’s using laundry detergent (also, called it) but he sneakily pulls flocking from the lab to give their slime a unique quality. But SSSShhhhh. Keep it on the down-low.

As the other teams work on their slime, I can’t help but want to be there. This looks like the coolest, messiest thing ever.

During the judging, Lance takes the slime very seriously. His favorites are Johnny and Walter, and Mel and Melissa. The latter win the challenge and immunity. Hopefully, this means Mel can relax and enjoy the creative process.

Back to the main challenge. Kaleb and Rob are working well together, and from what’s shown, it’s clear Rob has real leadership skills. After his win last week, I’m sensing a finalist here.

When Michael Westmore arrives, McKenize skips Mel & Melissa, given their immunity. But JK. Over with Robert and Katie, Mr. Westmore advises to limit the number of tumors on the head. We learn that Walter and Johnny are making their chest piece swirl using a drill, which is pretty clever. Anna and Yvonne are warned about the non-bursting qualities their piece has right now. Lots of torn skin advice.

Aaaaaaand Mel is upset now. She’s miserable with her face sculpt, freaks out a bit, starts over, and the day is done.

Day 2 is all about finishing these sculpts and molding.

Robert’s main focus is the alien worm, who he’s named Hans. Hans even has his own theme song, of course, which Robert sings on the spot.

Johnny is having trouble with polyfoam (surprise, surprise). The chest piece is just a pile of goo, so they must try again.

Rob is now uncharacteristically panicked. Afraid he spent too much time on the sculpt, he’s muttering to himself and throwing things around the molding room. Kaleb tries to offer help, but Rob stalks out, feeling “claustrophobic.”

Application Day will be Johnny’s bitch, or so he says.

Everything seems to be going relatively well, except for Katie and Robert, whose cowl is showing a huge edge right across the forehead, an issue that carries through Last Looks. Robert and Katie are very unhappy going onto the Reveal Stage.

My Amateur Impressions:

Mel & Melissa’s Face Melt Burst: Genius. The face skin on the shoulders just makes it work. The moving mouth is pretty creepy, too.

Johnny & Walter’s Drill Chest: My thoughts are the same as when I saw the sketch. The chest looks great, but I just don’t understand what’s happening on the head.

Robert & Katie’s Lumpy Skull: Ugh. That edge looks a million times worse under this lighting and now that some time has passed. Not helping the situation is the difference in skin tones between the face and the cowl piece. Bottom look. No question.

Anna & Yvonne’s Face/Off: It doesn’t look terrible, but it really is split half and half. No bursting here. The color palette is a little bland, too, but I guess that was intentional?

Kaleb & Rob: A nightmare. In the best possible sense. The front of the makeup is sickening, but the back? Utterly horrifying. Really well done. See, Rob? All good.

The Professionals’ Impressions:

Ve likes Mel & Melissa’s blue slime, Neville loves the human teeth.  Glenn thinks Anna & Yvonne’s doesn’t have enough detail, and Neville questions why they split the face right down the middle, while Ve says what we’ve all been saying – no bursting.

Top Teams? Mel & Melissa and Rob & Kaleb, with the boys taking the win this week, making it back-to-back wins for Rob.

Katie is headed home, which was justified given her choices with the makeup.

Overall Thoughts: A fun episode, despite a very specific challenge. A great use of a Foundation Challenge. We’re finally seeing more personality from the remaining contestants, and the real talent is showing itself.

Beauty in Words:

“I love what you did. You mastered… the chunk.” – Lance Henriksen, describing Johnny & Walter’s slime.

“It reflects San Andreas Fault in the middle of her head…” – a sarcastic Robert, offering a purpose for the glaring edge across the forehead of his makeup.

“I’m a lot happier with Robert’s worm than the rocks-in-a-sock Katie put on her head –” – Glenn. #rocksinasock

“I just wish it wasn’t bifurcated almost perfectly.” – #Nevilleism, showing off his fancy vocabulary.

RECAP! Face Off: Covert Characters

Episode 4. The contestants are on a mission – a mission to disguise.

Before the opening sequence, we get a glimpse of what’s to come, and there’s a lot that we’ve seen before: Michael Westmore throwing around the term “cartoony,” Mel with neurotic self-doubt. I’m already disappointed, so here’s hoping the episode has a little more to offer than the usual.

And we do start a little differently. Four of the contestants are sitting around an outdoor table, discussing their current status. We haven’t seen many out-of-the-lab moments thus far, so it’s a nice change.

The contestants walk into the lab, I think, where McKenzie is standing, all formal-like, in front of a mock government seal and 2 rows of metal chairs. In a slightly cheesy fashion, McKenzie does her best FBI impression, telling the contestants that this week they’ll have a “focus challenge,” meaning it’ll all about that face, ’bout that face, no fabri…. cation… sorry. These challenges entered the competition a few seasons ago, after the fabrication factor got a little out of hand. I think these challenges are necessary and can tell a lot about an artist, but they don’t always make for good TV.

This is also the first individual challenge (yay!), which is a TON of pressure – a focus challenge and individually? No blaming the teammate? Yikes.

Each contestant must develop a realistic disguise makeup, with an attempt to make their model as unrecognizable as possible. Damn. That is HARD.

McKenzie points out that this isn’t just something that happens in the entertainment industry. (Good, because at this point, all I can think of Mrs. Doubtfire/Ve.) In order to put people deep undercover, the FBI and other government agencies rely on extremely talented artists to assist with disguises.  Surprisingly, it’s Michael Westmore who has tremendous real life experience here. Mr. Westmore explains some of his experiences, including disguises for Michael Jackson, the LAPD, and… wait, did he just say he helped someone hold up a casino?

Mr. Westmore offers some sage advice, and then the artists are presented with their models. It’s also revealed that this week’s guest judge is Gale Anne Hurd. Before releasing them, McKenzie offers a stern warning that the judges will be looking for detail and perfect edges. Easy-peasy.

Njoroge decides he’ll be changing his blonde female model into an Asian male, a drastic change right off the top. I’m eager to see how Njoroge performs on his own, since he’s proven fairly useless on teams. He’s extraordinarily confident he can kill this, which leads me to believe the final makeup goes strong one way or the other.

Melissa is super stoked for the challenge, saying she’s got a ton of experience changing herself into a male character. In fact, when she’s discussing how she dresses up as Charlie Day from It’s Always Sunny, I honestly can’t tell if the image they pull up a picture of her or Charlie himself. Impressive. She’s turning her female into an older female, so this will be all about aging.

Robert is changing his female model into a male maintenance man. He immediately expresses my concern, that she is a tiny, tiny person. Making her a believable male will be difficult. Robert is just happy he doesn’t have to work with anybody else.

Yvonne is turning her average-looking male model into…. a heavy metal musician? Part of the challenge is to make sure that these “agents” can getaway without being noticed. Heavy metal musicians aren’t particularly average-looking… This is a questionable decision, Yvonne.

Just before we move on to Mel, I said to Cory, who was watching with me, that the artists who got females really lucked out. It’s much easier to change a small, feminine face into anything, as opposed to a larger, more structured male face.

Mel reiterates my exact sentiments. She’s turning her female into an elderly man, apparently something that brings her great joy.

Kaleb is looking to hit it out of the ballpark, so he’s planning to turn his white female into an Eastern Indian woman… And I can’t help but think that it would be poor form to turn any agent into a completely different race – putting aside the PC-ness of it, I would also imagine it’s incredibly impractical. It would probably mean much heavier makeup, more drastic appliances, making the odds of being spotted much, much higher. Just a thought…

Rob is going for the “blend into a crowd” look, changing his young model with darker features to a fair-skinned, strawberry blonde, middle-aged man.

Anna’s design is aiming for the hipster look, but… given her male model’s headshot, it looks more like she designed a costume. It’s gonna take some tough facial work to get this guy to look like a different version of himself.

Anna also mentions that the challenge must be completed today — did I miss that? Maybe those are the general rules for a Focus Challenge, and I just forgot. 10 hours in the lab Day 1, then 4 hours for application on Day 2 + last looks. Got it.

Mr. Westmore is back for a walk-through. He meets Walter first, where we see he’s changing his black male into an older, (white?) biker dude. Here’s where “cartoony” comes in, though it’s not nearly as drastic as last week’s situation.

Katie is going for an older, darker-skinned maintenance man, now making me forever question every maintenance person I see.

Johnny, who we hadn’t seen much this episode (meaning he’ll be safe, at the end), explains to the Westmores his concept. His model, who has very, very distinct features, will be turned into an African-American male (I think).

With Njoroge, McKenzie expresses her surprise at the concept, and Michael makes some very strong suggestions about the eye shape.

Melissa is working on skin texture, using a technique where she sculpts through a sheet of plastic, giving the sculpt softer, more natural detail. It looks pretty amazing right now.

Again, we see a rare scene of the contestants eating at said table, which I now realize is attached to the outside of the lab. How long has that been there?

Rob, who seems to be very nervous, asks Melissa about her past experiences. We see more photos of Melissa dressed as male characters, saying that she was the tallest in her costuming group, so she often got stuck as the male. She also explains how, when playing a male, it’s not so much the face as it is the body language. This is true. I’ve been in many an acting class where the sole activity was learning how to carry yourself like the opposite sex. It takes some practice, but it makes a big difference. Stuffing can also help, but that’s a conversation for another day. True though, because the girls then have a laugh at men adjusting themselves, something Walter seems to bristle at a bit. Sorry, Walter, I have no sympathy for your offense at sexist generalizations.

Mel, as per usual, is having severe doubts about her old age gender swap.

The day ends with minimal panic.

Application Day starts with Melissa punching hair into her piece to create eyebrows, but she’s not thrilled with how it’s turning out. Rob is spending a lot of time perfecting the bald cap, since his guy will have a receding hairline.

Mel’s confidence comes back as she’s painting, giving the model (and us!) a lesson in the vascular system of the human body, and how it creates our skin tone. Basing out the makeup in red seems very smart.

Njoroge starts laying facial hair, which he admits is not something he excels at. He’s not particularly proud of it, but when comparing himself to the others, he’s 100% sure he’s got it.

Katie has given her model an accidental spray tan, which she can’t seem to rectify.

Robert shares his tape trick to laying hair, and from what we see, it looks genius.

Kaleb’s East Indian skin tone is looking like The One With Ross’s Tan: 2016-02-04 15.45.09

So that’s problematic. Going into Last Looks, Kaleb is sad. At time an hour later, Kaleb is still very sad.

My Amateur Impressions:

Anna’s Hipster Dude: I have no idea how he looks in person, but he looks pretty terrible from the nose down on screen. The facial hair is falling strangely, and there’s odd texturing on his cheeks. Huh.

Katie’s Repairman man man man: Uh….. well… he’s looking a bit Wayne Newton-y. but with a sneer and a ‘stache.

Walter’s Biker Bro: Hm. It’s okay. The eyebrows seem a little too large, but the paint job is good.

Rob’s Tourist: I LOVE IT. Love it. Up close, on screen, there is nothing signaling that this man is fake. The skin texture and coloring looks right, the eyebrows and facial hair look good. Love it.

Robert’s Tiny Maintenance Person: She looks pretty good. The facial hair works.

Yvonne’s Rock Star: Um…. no. Well, not no. Just not yes. The face is bland, man. I don’t buy him as a rocker. An aging rocker would certainly show more signs of his lifestyle. And to be honest, he doesn’t look that different.

Njoroge’s Asian Kid: I don’t know. Still looks like a girl to me. The facial hair is a major distraction.

Melissa’s Boss Lady Agent: Whoa. So the mouth and neck look amazing. (My mom always says you can tell a woman’s real age by her neck.) But something disastrous went down with the eyes, and since the show spent so little time with Melissa once she started applying, I have no idea what happened.

Johnny’s Dreadlock Dude: It’s not terrible. The wig is questionable, but not detrimental.

Kaleb’s East Indian Woman: Yeah, there’s obvious problems with the paint job. The edges around the mouth are glaring, as well.

Mel’s Old Man: I kinda like it. The wrinkles and lips look good, although there might be some color differences between the top of the head and the rest of the face?

The Professionals’ Impressions:

Neville calls the Hipster “toy-like.” Glenn thinks Katie was trying to make her dude look sweaty, though he might be giving her more credit than she deserves there. After removing her glasses, Tiny Maintenance Person looks even better (ah, a classic make-over story). Gale, a very serious judge, questions the choice for Njoroge to go Asian. She also likes the neck of Boss Lady, while Glenn questions what happened above the eye.

Top Looks? Robert and Rob, with Rob taking the crown for this difficult, individual challenge.

At this point, I think it’s time for Njoroge to go home. He was a failure on a team twice, and hasn’t proven much on his own here. ….. Aaaaaand, he goes. Sorry, Njoroge. You seem nice. But it really was time.

Overall Thoughts: This was an episode where the challenge was really tough and important, but unfortunately, tiny detail work and skin tone struggles don’t make for interesting TV. Some of the editing choices were odd, too. Why didn’t we see what happened to Melissa’s makeup? It’s ultimately an episode for someone who really, really likes this show.

Beauty in Words:

“It’s like that scene from Scarface. Hey Clay, say hello to my little friend! …. It’s bliss.” – Robert, discussing his love of the power washer.

“The hair… it’s possible that somebody can have that big a hair –”
“I’m sitting right here.” Neville and Glenn, discussing Katie’s work. You decide who said what.

–Tonight’s #Nevilleisms happened as Neville was live-tweeting the show:

Screen shot 2016-02-04 at 3.59.03 PM Screen shot 2016-02-04 at 3.58.02 PM

The One Super Easy Fix to Save The Muppets

I adore The Muppets, who will be here out referred to as people.  I’ve loved them for as long as I can remember. And I’m certainly not alone on that one. So whenever “they” decide to bring The Muppets out – in film, TV, what have you, I’m excited. But I’m also nervous. Case in point: ABC’s The Muppets.

I was not a fan of this reincarnation of The Muppets. The humor was mismatched and it felt like they were trying to hard to make you feel like the Muppets were hip. That’s insane. The Muppets succeed because they aren’t hip. They’re real and genuine and eager. If they got big because they were cool, they wouldn’t have lasted this long. “Cool” changes. It’s ambiguous. Sincerity is well-defined. It’s constant. This is why the Muppets are legit.

So I watched, with bated breath, the “reboot” of a currently running series, which is bizarre but whatever. In short, they replaced their showrunner, since the series was bombing.

And… it’s better. It feels a little more Muppety. The plot of this first reboot was super meta, including how the show needs more joy, more Muppets, etc. The only time I felt real Muppet joy was during the impromptu Muppets Theme Song performance in the writer’s room. I also LOVED martini-swilling baby penguin Gloria Estefan and Uncle Deadly. They are my new favorite show.

But, okay. There are still problems. The biggest problem is with the format of the show. They’ve taken the loudest, most dramatic theatre folk, and stuck them in corporate. It’s the actualization of what happens to Kermit in The Muppets Take Manhattan.

But let’s go even more specific. There is ONE element to the new Muppet show that is precisely why the show doesn’t work yet. And it’s the talking heads.

Muppets are not meant for talking heads. Because they themselves are living (I know), breathing (I KNOW) talking heads. Here’s a breakdown:

The “Talking Head” shot has been super popular over the last 2+ decades, particularly in comedy. It’s become its own joke structure. A TH serves, in comedy, as a scene for a character to convince the camera, thereby the viewer, of their true feelings.

That means that what we’ve seen thus far of the character, has not been “true.” The TH serves as a “confessional,” like in the Real World days, where the character can finally say what they’ve been thinking, or maybe reaffirm their beliefs after some time to reconsider what they’ve said openly.

The other, simpler purpose of a TH is physically comedic. It relies on the actor’s delivery – tone of voice, body language, facial expressions. Clever use of these traits allow the actor to share with the camera how they actually feel – Are they being sincere and raw? Are they playing to the camera? Are they desperately trying to convince themselves? A TH with a good actor will let us know. This brings us to our first problem.

Problem 1: It’s not their strong suit for physical comedy.

I say this with love. But the Muppets do not always lend themselves well to facial expression and body language up close. Most of the Muppets are designed to emote with their mouths. The Muppeteers go to great strides to bring to life these foam creations, and for all intents and purposes, they are real. But up close, they’re boxed in. Some are lucky enough to have a second moving part – eyelids, eye brows, hands. And that works, to an extent. But it’s limiting. There’s only so much comedy that can be pulled from a Muppet in a TH shot. Attempts at physical comedy on such a minute scale feel stiff and underplayed.

Problem 2: It’s an energy-killer.

The Muppets THRIVE on energy. They’re the best when they’re interacting with each other. Even the drier characters (Sam the Eagle, I love you) are hilarious because they give their lines amidst the chaos. (Sam’s “Why am I here?” in the Muppet Family Christmas might be my favorite Muppet line ever. But it was funny because he said it surrounded by Christmas craziness. If he stared at the camera, by himself, speaking, sure it could be funny with the right timing. But not classic.)

THs are usually used as scene interrupters or buttons, intentionally placed to break up or cap energetic scenes. This works AGAINST the Muppets in every way. The Muppets are the embodiment of theatrical energy. Putting them in an office setting, under florescent lighting? Offices instantly bring with them tension. Tension is bottled energy. Talking heads are supposed to be a safe place to alleviate tension. The Muppets are not tense. They are open, honest, unbridled energy. Which leads us to…

Problem 3 – The biggest problem of them all: The Muppets have nothing to hide.

They emote openly. Whatever their feelings, whatever their attitude, there’s no shame, no fear, no protecting their reputation. They say what they mean. Every time.

This is what makes them unite as a group, as a family: Unabashedly being yourself,  speaking your mind, wearing your heart on your sleeve. Using THs implies there’s a distance now between them and us, and between the Muppets themselves. For some reason, they can’t just be themselves here.

Additionally, and along the same lines, THs make the Muppets too self-aware. Now they’re playing a game. This immediately depletes any sincerity or eagerness that made us root for them in the first place.

A well-used TH should not only be funny, but build emotional complexity. It should make characters appear more human, more relatable with lots of “That’s what I was thinking!” moments. This is just not the case with the current Muppets.

In fact, I might argue it takes away from them emotionally. In past productions, some of the most emotionally-heavy moments have been when any given Muppet (though most often Kermit, since he’s the one who bears the most responsibility) is in a scene alone or as a pair. These scenes serve as serious punctuation marks to the typically maniacal movement of the Muppets. Kermit, sitting at his big desk, in his giant chair. The camera pulls back as he looks down. He’s feeling alone. He doesn’t need to say it or explain it to anyone. We feel for him in that moment. And that heaviness, that weighty, real-world emotion is what The Muppets’ “realness” hinges on. It’s not ironic or deliberate. It’s a felt frog puppet emitting a wave of emotions without being asked to.


There are other issues with the new show, as well. Firstly, making Piggy the talk show host was questionable. Piggy is a diva. Divas don’t share the stage. A good talk show host shares everything. This puts Piggy in a position that in effect diminishes her character.

Denise is a problem. I know in this episode, they’re pulling her back for awhile, so we’ll see where that goes. But Denise made Kermit mean. And Kermit is not mean. He’s warm and emotional and frazzled and loyal. But he is not mean.

Ultimately, the Muppets need space. They need space to play, to run, to be free. Boxing them up, whether literally in a closed office space or figuratively in a one-shot, is the worst. It’s like keeping a Golden Retriever in a studio apartment. It’ll be fine. But it won’t be living up to its potential.*

So I say again – if a talking head is a scene where a character expresses their true feelings, either verbally or physically, to an audience, then each Muppet is a living (I know), breathing (I KNOW) talking head, living in an open world of dozens of other talking heads. Feelings and words and actions, all intermingling in a brilliant ball of buzzy optimism and fun.

Let’s ditch the talking heads, the cold, corporate environment, the sad need to be trendy. We’re the ones who must live in that world; the Muppets don’t.

We need the Muppet world more than the Muppets need ours.

Honestly – how else would a pig love a frog, a prawn and a rat be BFFs, and a Gonzo exist?

* I live in a studio apartment and desperately want a dog. This is what I tell myself every day I walk by the dog park.


Highs and Lows of Grease: Live from a TV Geek and Musical Freak

This foray into live TV musicals has been an interesting journey thus far. NBC’s been the only one taking it on (so much so, that  many on Twitter last night thought they were watching NBC), and they’ve been improving, as far as it goes. Sound of Music was a cardboard production. Peter Pan was confusing. They finally started to get their act together with The Wiz! But I think Fox has upped the ante with Grease: Live.

I was SUPER stoked, as a huge fan of Grease and live musical events. And I was really eager to see how Fox was going to pull it off. Here are some thoughts:

The High Notes:

The production quality. The sets. The costumes. The camera work. All of it was just stunning. Greased Lightning and Freddy My Love were real standouts, technically speaking.

Vanessa Hudgens. Damn, girl. I’m not the biggest fan of “Worst Things…” but she knocked it out of the park. And under such emotional duress. I don’t think I’d have the strength. Well done.

The energy. Keeping up the dance-y vibe of Grease is a tremendous undertaking, particularly during the dialogue-heavy spots. On stage, and to an extent on film, the lurid language keeps up some of the spunk, but, as expected,  much of that was cut in favor of a family-friendly presentation. And yet, the energy was still there, in part thanks to Patty and Eugene, serving as highly-caffeinated transitions.

Doody. Jordan Fisher. I couldn’t take my eyes off of him. And what a great way to incorporate “Magic Changes.” He was truly the stand-out T-Bird.

The women, in general. I know some thought there was over-acting, but … that’s how it’s supposed to be. All the Pink Ladies, Patty, Principal McGee and Blanche, Mrs. Murdock – the shop mechanic (an appropriate path for Jan Brady, btw) and the adorable Didi Conn — brilliant.

The Average Range:

The live audience. I’ve been BEGGING for a live audience. It feels like the biggest missing element in NBC’s shows. But due to the staging of Grease: Live, this was one production that didn’t seem to NEED it. Between the soundstage traveling and the fancy camera movement, there was a constant and energized flow. Not to mention that the cast seemed well stocked with extras, so if we ever had a moment that needed some audience noise, surely they could have provided it. It was just the wrong venue for a live audience. Some mentioned the live audience used as background extras was distracting, but I didn’t get that.

Frenchy’s new song. Carly Rae Jepsen wasn’t at fault, though. The song itself felt out of place, completely lacking any doo-wop, era-specific strokes.

Sandy and Danny. Oh, they were great when they were singing and dancing. But speaking…. not so much. Aaron Tveit has a great voice and looked swell in short shorts. But when it came to just speaking… let’s just say, it really made me miss Travolta. John made Danny a quirky cool, an oddball character with deliberate delivery. And Julianne Hough was… fine. Great dancer. Meh.

The Clunkers:

Kenickie. Kenickie is supposed to be the real cool one. The bad ass. I mean, come on, it’s why he and Rizzo work so well, and it’s why the Kenickie/Danny bro-ship is so good – Kenickie makes Danny cooler, challenges him. Danny, in turn, softens Kenickie, cools him down when he gets out of hand. Carlos PenaVega was way forgettable. Which for me, ruined the BFF drag racing scene a bit.

The golf carts. Some liked them. I did not. And I love backstage stuff. But this felt like too much backstage stuff during the show. I kind of wish it was a secret, revealed in a “making of” at the end. But it’s relatable to anyone whose done live theatre. I was in a Shakespeare play in college, where I had to exit upstage right, run up 2 flights of stairs, down a hallway, through the dressing room and costume closet, down one flight of stairs, through the lobby, through the pitch-black shop to make my downstage left entrance mere lines later. Blind, by the way. I wasn’t wearing my glasses and didn’t have contacts. But that’s theatre, folks. Save the backstage secrets for after the show, not during.

Mario Lopez. Why was he hosting? At that point, they should have courted Ryan Seacrest. Would have been funnier, anyway.

Apparently, during the actual LIVE broadcast, there were some tech issues. By the time it got to me, they had cleaned it up, so I can’t make any real comment there.

The Coda?

I really liked it. No, it didn’t replace the film. But boy, was it fun. This is exactly why I’m not freaking out about the upcoming RHPS remake, just sayin’.

NBC’s next musical is Hairspray, which is strikingly similar in energy to Grease, with even more of a social agenda. Hopefully, they’ll take some cues from Fox’s success.

RECAP! Face Off: Lost Languages

Episode 3 is upon us. We’re immediately teased with the drama about to unfold, including the Michael Westmore warning: “This is looking cartoony,” and some molding room disaster tease.

The competing artists are brought up to a desert-like area, and ahead of them are some ruins and statues. The special guest is David Peterson, a professional language creator, who created Dothraki and several SyFy shows. Huh. What a job.

Peterson explained how he won a competition for Game of Thrones when they were seeking someone to create the Dothraki language. That’s a pretty amazing story. Good for him.

The spotlight challenge is to create a member of a long-lost race based on a set of artifacts and its corresponding language. Interesting.

In the lab, Kaleb and Mel head in the ruins first. Props to the prop and set decorating department, as each of the artifacts are fairly realistic looking and covered in cobwebs. Nice touch.

David, as the 4th judge, recommends that they all listen for a phonetic clue to give their character the same look that he was thinking of when he designed the language. Tricky.

Now we get to hear the languages – Kaleb and Mel’s sounds like a combination of Dothraki and Klingon – and very angry and growly. They decide on a snake creature, which works for their artifact, but I didn’t really hear any hissing or lisp so unless they give the snake lips, I’m curious to see if David is cool with it.

Walter and Rob’s language sounds pretty hilarious. Kind of Dutch. They say Nordic. Something. But the way Rob describes it, it sounds Polish – K’s and vowels strung together. They’re working on a feline creature wearing a wolf pelt.

From the clip we hear of Johnny and Robert , it sounds French, complete with kissy sounds, until it yells angrily. They’re designing a squid-like creature, based on their artifact. Robert believes the beak of a squid would make the clicking sounds they think they hear in the clip.

Yvonne and Anna reveal a language that sounds just… fast. Like a fast, garbled (yet clear, if that makes sense), made-up language. They agree on a more human character who has deemed himself a god.

Katie and Melissa’s language has rolling r’s and speaks in a low, chanting tone so they develop of Lady of Death.

Ant and Njoroge’s is no doubt the least developed language – just full of clicks and hisses. They decide to create a reptilian creature, but judging by the sketch, Mr. Westmore’s comments about cartoony will be to these guys. It’s a bright green thing with huge eyes that don’t quite work with the head shape. Let’s see where this goes.

Mel’s having self-doubt about the ears she’s sculpted, and even though Kaleb does a great job of convincing her he loves them, she insists she’ll leave it up to Mr. Westmore.

Just before the Westmores walk in, we hear Njoroge ask if Ant is really sold on the eyes. Ant doubles down, saying they’re his favorite thing about the sculpt. WARNING. WARNING.

Upon their approach, Mel asks the Westmores what they think of the ears. They both respond with genuine enthusiasm. See, Mel? Why so worried? They inspect the other piece, and Michael reaffirms his positive position. Yay.

When it comes time for Ant and Njoroge, my prediction was correct. Mr. Westmore pulls the “cartoony” card, and in the talking head, Njoroge says he’s been thinking everything that Westmore’s saying (then speak up, dude!).  Neither Westmore is not cool with the eyes. Not good, guys. There’s pressure now, since both have been on the bottom already.

With Walter and Rob, Mr. Westmore says the wolf head must be “magnificent” in its paint job. And we learn Glenn is a cat person. Makes sense.

Yvonne has been working on the headpiece, which she has meticulously lined with pearls. Anna points out this method could be ruined in the mold, leaving them with a blank cowl, and now Yvonne, who’s been in the bottom in both episodes thus far, is panicking. She starts muttering about popsicle sticks and diamonds and ends the day happy, so that’s good. The day closes with the “Girls on Film” music, and we’re ready to begin anew.

Day 2 has Robert going on about calling his creature Octoman, referencing last week’s Game Board Man. This one’s even got a theme song. While Robert walks between entertaining and annoying, I’m betting he’s a much stronger personality, and we just see the tip of the iceburg.

Yvonne is putting that popsicle stick in action, and she’s pressing tiny diamond shapes into the headpiece, creating a stunning texture. When Anna holds her face sculpt up to it, it’s very clear the two pieces go together perfectly. Well done.

Johnny is attempting to mold the giant squid cowl, but the Ultracal is so heavy, it’s making the thin flaps around the head fold in on themselves. Johnny freaks, and he and Robert struggle to keep it flat. Eventually, they use sticks and shims to hold its shape, which honestly, they should have done in the first place. It’s better than Robert using his head to prop it up.

Later on, Johnny tries to create tentacles using cotton and latex, but that doesn’t work. I’m starting to wonder about Johnny’s technical knowledge here.

Application Day starts with Robert trying his hand at the tentacles, this time using polyfoam. While I understand they already have the molds, I just wonder why they didn’t try fabricating them out of something else – L200 wrapped around a stick or something.

On Team Feline, Walter admits he doesn’t have time to lay hair on the wolf pelt, so paint it is. How you make a pelt without hair is beyond me, but best of luck to you, sir.

Mel and Kaleb fabricated a bladder that works under the prosthetic to enhance the visual vocalization.  As they’re applying, we catch the model speaking in the language – oh good! I’m hoping this means all the models learned their language to speak on stage. Not sure why I didn’t assume that was happening. Now I feel silly.

Oh god. Frog Man is not looking good. At this stage, it might even be worse than last week’s disastrous Crayon Man. They’ve painted it a neon green with white and yellow elements… if that paint job isn’t toned down, there’s no way they’re gonna beat that cartoony vibe. Okay, Ant SWEARS that he goes over the bright colors with darker browns, reds, and black. I don’t see it — but maybe I will later. Still, Ant is defiant in their bright color choices.

Back onto the tentacles, and the polyfoam hasn’t set. Johnny is Mr. Miserable. He and Robert decide to scrap the pieces all together, losing something to their overall look. Johnny decides to focus on the paint job to sell it. By the time they leave for last looks, Robert is cursing instructions and Mr. Miserable is predicting certain doom.

During the commercial break, they play a promo for Face Off, highlighting the different strengths and backgrounds of some of the contestants – of course, showing Melissa laying a beard on a make-up that we haven’t seen yet, thereby narrowing down who could possibly be going home tonight… Not really a big spoiler, but come on now.

Last Looks, as per usual, was a mad dash of painting. Robert adds a mismatched red to their Octoman, Ant made their alien white-lipped, which Njoroge hates and paints over with brown. Anna and Yvonne are fighting with fake teeth, and decide to scrap the idea; the piece didn’t fit the model’s small mouth (Been there — with a small mouth and giant teeth, none of those Halloween fake teeth pieces ever fit me.) At time, Robert feels the piece isn’t terrible, it’s just unfinished.

My Amateur Impressions:

Walter & Rob: The Feline Warrior is interesting – the face looks natural and is well-detailed. But the wolf pelt looks ridiculous – like a rubber wolf head of this great face. The language doesn’t NOT work, so there’s that.

Anna and Yvonne: Egyptian King does a phenomenal job spitting out that breakneck language with confidence and force. The makeup looks great, too. Basing out the headpiece in black was a brilliant idea.

Katie & Melissa: I’m… not really sure what to think of this one. During the episode, all we saw was the work on the wing scars. She doesn’t look terrible, but there’s not a lot about her that really stands out. The language is great, though.

Mel & Kaleb: Snake Man looks — odd, but it works. The paint job and the eyes are really killer. The language doesn’t quite match the snake fangs, but it doesn’t seem too detrimental.

Ant & Njoroge: No. No no. From my couch, I’m not seeing those darker colors Ant promised (he promised!) he put in there. Neither the cowl nor the eyes look symmetrical, and when he tries to speak the language, it clearly does not work. Bottom look, easily.

Robert & Johnny: Well, it’s not Frog Alien terrible. But it’s definitely off. The paint job on the cowl is nice, but the face is strange – it’s hard to tell the black beak is a beak at all. When the model says his line, he makes that kissy noise, and I can’t help but wonder how that’s possible in a creature with a beak. Can birds do that? Though at the end of the line, it’s very reminiscent of Davy Jones a la Pirates of the Caribbean. Just sayin’.

The Professionals’ Impressions:

Right off the bat, Glenn points out the quality difference between Feline’s face and cowl. David is glad Egyptian God wasn’t impeded in his fast speech. Up close, the judges see the extreme detail they took in Snake Man’s cowl. Ve believes Frog Alien could’ve been saved by a better paint job. And David points out the beak is troublesome with Octoman’s designated langauge.

Top Team? Anna & Yvonne. Yvonne had a reversal of fortune and won the challenge.

Ant is headed home. Unsurprising, considering how Glenn and Neville ripped apart his cowl, though Njoroge better start speaking his mind soon if he plans to stick around.

Overall Thoughts:

This was a really unique challenge. Though initially confusing, the teams, for the most part, did a really great job. This week’s episode seemed to spend a ton of time on Days 1 & 2 on the sculpting phase, and I like it. Finally, some of the contestants are showing some personality, though there aren’t any real oddballs (except Robert, sort of) or divas yet, keeping the drama to a minimum.

Beauty in Words:

“I think it was fine to use squid metaphorically…” — #Nevilleisms

“… but his very close friends call him Sushi.” — Robert, discussing Octoman.

What do you think? Will you miss Ant? How’s the season going so far? Let me know!


RECAP! Face Off: Child’s Play

Woo-hoo! Second episode! I am so ready!

We’re immediately teased before the theme song that Paul Reubens will be a guest judge. This is both weird and unsurprising. Ve’s worked with him on many of his projects, so it makes sense.

We start at Culver Studios, (side note: How many viewers are familiar with Citizen Kane? I’m genuinely curious.) where the crew is met with a playground of over-sized children’s toys. The spotlight challenge – a “wacky, larger-than life character” inspired by one of the objects. Sweet.

Last week’s winner, Melissa, gets to join a team of two at her choosing, which is kinda tricky. It’s like inviting yourself to be a third wheel. She actually reiterates this point in her talking head, so at least she’s aware of the potential awkwardness, but joins Johnny and Rob anyway.

When given the go-ahead, they race to the objects. The first team of Jennifer and Njoroge choose the giant colorful crayon box. Yay! Until I hear Njoroge say, “Yellow? Why yellow?” Uh-oh.

Katie and Kaleb choose a giant key, which is kind of an odd thing to be included in the group of toys. After they explained their design, though, I could kind of see like a music box ballerina or wind up doll thing happening, so it might work out. Wait, why is Kaleb rambling about love?

Anna and Mel have the watch, which is mind-boggling because look at the phone! Why didn’t anyone pick the giant phone??

Yvonne and Robert are working with the big dice. Something about a board game man, which poor Robert struggles to say. Is there anything creepier than a German saying, “For the children”?

Ant and Walter went with the race car. Sure. A car-human hybrid. Right. No prosthetics on the face? Okay. Your beauty makeup skills better be on point — oh, they are? Alright then.

Lollipop King from Team Third Wheel comes with a complicated backstory about a kid taking over his father’s candy shop and the lollipops being the king of candy or … something. Hm. Well, the design looks cool.

The rough sculpt of Robert’s Board Game Man has a game piece on the top of his head and on his nose. It’s looking a little funky, and Yvonne is not a fan.

Njoroge and Jennifer are hard at work — whoa, wait. The design sketch for Crayon Man is not good. It’s solid yellow, with some kind of drawing pad hanging from his neck. Please tell me it’s not going to be solid yellow. And a crayon sharpener nose? Why, so he could sharpen himself? I am already deeply disappointed in this design, especially since it was a BOX OF CRAYONS. You could do SO MUCH with it. Okay, okay, hold up. It’s early. Maybe they’ll bring it together somehow.

Anna and Mel are at odds with their Watch Face Man, and Mel in particular is feeling the pressure, since she’s sculpting the face.

McKenzie appears with Michael Westmore in tow. Loving McKenzie’s brightly colored striped dress, by the way. With Ant and Walter, Michael questions their plans for the face, and tells Ant to let the judges see a really good beauty makeup if he thinks he can do it, which sounds more like a cautionary warning than encouragement.

When he gets to Board Game Man, he’s not a fan of the lips, telling them to use the nose to help disguise the human mouth. I hate to question a legend, but I’m not sure what that means just from that clip. Maybe he went into more detail in person.

Michael continues breaking hearts by telling Katie and Kaleb that he doesn’t get “key” from their Ballerina.

Lots of work ahead, friends.

On Day 2, Mel and Anna seem to be 100% better. Happy days.

And we’ve got drama in the molding room (drink!). Ant and Walter’s molds look like “Swiss cheese,” all full of holes. I’m taking their word for it, since there isn’t a good shot proving it. They’re panicking a bit because their Car Lady needs to be perfectly sleek and smooth.

We get a brief glimpse of someone digging through boxes of eyelashes (I think. Could also be contacts). And it’s shots like those where I kind of wish they’d spend some time showing us ALL of the cool stuff they get to use. I mean, don’t get me wrong, foam is cool. But, you know.

Katie is doing what looks like an extraordinary amount of work to help bring the “key” back into their character.

Crayon Man (still yellow) will have crayon wrappers for hair, which is the first good idea I’ve heard for this character. Though, shouldn’t his suit or whatever look more like a wrapper? I don’t know.

Application Day has arrived.

No one seems to be too far behind this week. Edge issues plague several teams, but they’ve still got time. Lollipop King’s cowl is being painted in gorgeously vibrant colors – super smart basing it out in white – something I commonly do with my UV paint. Game Board Man’s cowl is taking longer than Yvonne would like, so she eventually just grabs it and plops it on the model’s head. The game piece top is a little flimsy, making it look… well…. anyway…

Oh, Crayon Man. The plus side is he’s looking a lot like the design sketch – which is also the down side. Jennifer is expressing doubt in her talking head, saying he wasn’t looking quite like they had hoped.

The doubt continues at Last Looks, where both Jennifer and Njoroge seem stumped by their failing paint job. Now I’m just yelling at the TV – “Why did you use just ONE color to paint? Why didn’t you use multiple shades of gold and yellow to give him some depth? Why are you surprised at this result??” They know they’re in trouble.

Melissa is proving that Team Third Wheel is actually awesome. Despite the close quarters, nobody’s tripping over anybody and they’re all working well. Nice!

As the contestants take the stage, they all freak out a bit seeing Paul Reubens sitting amongst the judges.

My Amateur Impressions:

Ant and Walter’s Car Lady: She looks… okay. I was expecting something cleaner. The face is a little weird, too.

Jennifer & Njoroge’s Crayon Man:

Nope. Though the wrapper hair is kinda cute, the flatness of the yellow is just awful. It doesn’t help that there’s a fairly obvious seam down the center of his neck, too. Yikes.

Katie and Kaleb’s Key Ballerina: She’s pretty, but dark. It looks more steam punky than whimsical.

Yvonne & Robert’s Game Board Man: He might possibly be cousins with Ronald McDonald. Not sure if it was intentional, but it’s hard NOT to see the clown here.

Anna & Mel’s Watch Guardian: Awesome. First of all, the model sells it hard, blowing a whistle and leaping around the stage, then freezing. The face is expressive, but when I saw how the watch band carried through the neck — that’s amazing.

Melissa, Johnny, & Rob’s Lollipop King: Visually, love the color scheme and the cowl. Up close, at least from my POV, the face is kind of bland. And the model doesn’t really help, dancing stiffly around the stage. But it really fits the challenge.

The Professionals’ Impressions: 

Ve says EXACTLY what I said about Crayon Man’s need for dimension. Key Girl is grungy. Neville notes the scariness of Board Game Man and there’s some mention of nipples. Everyone loves the color palette of Lollipop King.

Top Team? Anna & Mel, with Mel taking the crown.

Poor Jennifer is going home. So much for lack of formal training.

Overall Thoughts: While there wasn’t a ton of drama, I loved the challenge. Whimsical or cartoon-y challenges are more difficult, I think, since many makeup artists come from haunts or effects shops, where their work is heavy in darker creations.

Beauty in Words:

“It almost does feel like … a corpse.” — #Nevilleisms

“I love the eyebrows… I’m not gonna marry them, but I like them a lot.” – Paul Reubens. Lol.

Let me know how you’re liking this season so far!

RECAP! Face Off: Wanted Dead or Alive

It’s baaaaack! Finally.

Syfy’s hit makeup effects competition series returns for a 10th (!) season and I couldn’t be more excited.

The season opens with the promise of bigger challenges and “mind-blowing twists” — no easy feat given the last nine seasons of escalating epicness. They also reveal a few special guests for the season, including… Paul Ruebens? Okay, then.

Oooh, a new opening sequence! It’s weird, though I like how they show some of the best makeups from past seasons. But I miss McKenzie’s blue face.

We’re being introduced to the new contestants. Many of them seem to have formal training and decent credentials under their belts, including at least one contestant from Kosart Effects, the school of season 4 champ Anthony Kosar. They all seem okay enough, but no one is really standing out right now. Aw, but Greg is from Allentown, PA – where I lived for the first 2 years of my life. Oh, and Oil City? Okay, PA representin’.

They jump right into a Spotlight Challenge, which is great, because sometimes those short Foundation Challenges seem like a waste of time and talent.

This challenge is to create an alien bounty hunter, using their ship as design inspiration. That’s a big one to start with. I like it.

Interesting. They seem to have skipped the age-old reality standard “let’s look at this awesome house we get sequestered into,” in favor of a few more seconds ooohing and aaahhing over the lab, which really is amazing. The colors! The wigs! The foam, oh the foam!

And we immediately see our first team start to fall apart – Ant and Johnny. Johnny is very negative immediately in the talking head, while Ant plays a little more polite. Noted.

Michael Westmore makes his first appearance of the season. I love his involvement in this show. It seems genuine, and like he really takes it seriously. He comes across like the kind of dad you would hate to disappoint.

Oh, Allentown is not doing well to start. Darn. That little nose and chin took all day? Oh, sweetie… Yeah, It’s pretty clear, 20 minutes in, that Greg and Yvonne and Ant and Johnny are the two teams in trouble.

Application day has arrived, and we get to see the results of these molds. Not looking good for Canada & Allentown. Oh my god those edges are brutal. Sometimes, when that’s said on this show, it’s hard to see. But if I can see those edges from my couch, that does not bode well.

Over on Team Jennifer & Mel, it’s Jennifer’s sewing to the rescue! She may not have as much formal training, but those mom skills can be an ace in the hole.

Side note – Last Looks music is probably my favorite.

The judges! I love this judging panel. Glenn Hetrick (originally from Bethlehem, PA!) is rocking some fresh ink and a new studio. Ve Neill is all smiles and Neville Page is classy as ever.

McKenzie, in a darling dress, let’s us know the judges have a one-time immunity option this season. Obviously won’t come into play tonight, but that’ll be interesting down the road.

My Amateur Impressions:

Kaleb & Walter: Hm. I like the horns and the color palette. His mouth looks a little Muppet-esque, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The paint job on the body is great.

Njoroge & Rob: Birdman. Woman, I mean. Feathers are gorgeous. Really like the profile. But the beak is weird. Maybe it should have been longer, or blended into the face?

Anna & Melissa: Face is interesting. Another one where I love the profile. The cowl looks incredibly detailed. Don’t like the mouth on this one. Looks unfinished from here. Perhaps in person it looks a little different.

Ant & Johnny: Oh boy. This one looks like an alien vampire of some kind with a fish fin and leaf ears. Bottom look? Most likely.

Katie & Robert: Hm. Orangey. Not really sure what to think of this one. It’s not obviously terrible, but it does lack some kind of cohesion.

Yvonne & Greg: Dear god. That’s just terrible. The nose is unenven, and doesn’t match the cowl. The cowl is blocky and it looks like they didn’t even attempt to blend the edges. Yikes.

Jennifer & Mel: Ooh. I kinda like this one. Paint job is fun.

The Professionals’ Impressions:

The judges love Kaleb & Walter’s lizard man and Anna & Melissa’s cowl-tastic alien. They hated Johnny & Ant’s blue vampire fish and Yvonne & Greg’s blob head.

Top team? Ann & Melissa, with Melissa taking the crown for the night.

Aw man, Allentown is going home. Though… it was kind of the clear answer. Oh, well.

Overall thoughts: A good start to season 10 challenge-wise. The contestants seem a little blander than usual, especially for a show built on unique creativity. But it’s early yet. Hopefully one or two contestants will break from the pack.

Beautiful moments in words:

“So… (sigh)… I’m kind of a Texas German mutant.” – Robert

“Form language.” – #Nevilleisms

What did you think? Anybody standing out yet? Let me know!

In Defense of the Rocky Horror Picture Show TV Event…

Cool your jets there, Columbia. Let’s not freak out.

Rocky Horror is a beloved cult classic, and it’s HUGE amongst my own friends and groups. (Theatre folk, haunted house workers, cult movie afficionados…)

The film has a special place in my heart, for certain. But I’m seeing a lot of my friends from all facets freak the fuck out every time a casting decision is announced. While I, of all people, understand the fiercely defensive position many are taking, I think it’s a little much for these two reasons:

#1. It has a new cast ALL THE TIME. Because it’s a play.

Rocky Horror’s tumultuous life began on stage as The Rocky Horror Show by Richard O’Brien. It was a funny take on genre B-movies. On the London stage, it was a success, but on Broadway, it only lasted for a handful of performances. By some miracle, it was greenlit as a film and thus, the cinematic beauty that is RHPS was born. And thanks to the bizarre success of the film over time, the stage version is just as popular among community and professional theatres. It’s brilliantly interactive, strangely captivating, and allows the individual theatre to play to their strengths. So while you can whine about how no one will ever replace Tim Curry (and let’s face it, they won’t), the truth is, he’s replaced every day. So don’t think of it as an attempt to replace or replicate. Think of it as a pyramid, with Curry sitting on top as Queen, and all the Frank-n-Furters beneath him, just trying to do their best.

#2. It’s a TV Special.

This isn’t a cinematic remake, where a big studio is sinking tens of millions of dollars on A list stars, shiny sets and costumes, and 2 new Oscar-eligible songs shoehorned into the score. It’s a Fox one-night only event. Laverne Cox and Adam Lambert are the biggest names attached right now, with Kenny Ortega directing. They’re all fine and on par with a TV event. Look, the worst case scenario? It’s somehow blandly mediocre and disappears into the bowels of TV history, referenced only in obscure trivia. It’ll be like it never happened.  Best case? It’s actually a blast, and pulls in a new, previously virginal audience who will most likely check out all they can about RHPS and fall upon the film. And if it is good, there will always be fans who insist that it’s better than the original, and you know what? That’s okay. Sometimes these things need to happen in order to bring in fresh blood.

No one will ever replace Tim Curry. And I don’t think anyone wants to try. But he makes the role look so damn fun, any actor with a little flair would want to try their hand at it.

So, chill. It’ll be fine.

Update 1/15: Tim Curry will officially be joining the event as Narrator. So, see? If he’s in, we surely can sit back and see what happens before losing our minds.

The ABSOLUTE DEFINITIVE Ranking of Frasier Christmas Episodes

In our household, both in my current home and the home in which I grew up, traditions often revolve around the TV. Around the holidays, this means nights full of Christmas movies and TV specials. One tradition that seems to cross past and present is Frasier Christmas episodes.

Though they weren’t constant or even necessarily a big deal, Frasier managed to pull off some of the most memorable episodes, without the help of special guest stars or musical numbers (usually).

Out of 11 seasons, they did 8 Christmas shows. I’ve watched each of them dozens of times. Which is why I am completely qualified to give you the absolute, definitive ranking of Frasier Christmas episodes. This is it.

#8. Season 8 – Mary Christmas

Terrible. Just awful. Season 8 is notoriously weak, so this one fits right in. Frasier pushes his way into hosting a popular Christmas parade like his broadcasting hero, only to find out he’ll be hosting with “Dr.” Mary, a fellow radio host who offers advice with a medical degree from “the school of hard knocks,” much to Frasier’s chagrin.

The majority of the episode dwells on Frasier’s selfish insistence that things go his way and his ever-growing frustration with Dr. Mary, culminating in an accident sending Santa to the hospital. There’s a somewhat redeemable moment where Frasier meets his hero, and they share some “banter,” but that’s about it. There’s only a minuscule B plot about Niles, Daphne, and Martin opening all the presents early.

Ultimately, it feels like a heartless episode, completely lacking of any real Christmas sentiment or laughs. SKIP.

#7. Season 7 – The Fight Before Christmas

While not an all out terrible episode, on the Christmas scale, it lands low on the list. The aforementioned fights are between Frasier and his upstairs neighbor Cam Winston, not seen on screen here, who are hosting competing Christmas parties. The other is between Niles and his girlfriend Mel, who catches Niles in multiple lies about where he was the night before.

The funniest moments are when Frasier gets enthusiastic about his own Elizabethan themed event. And there’s a sort of interesting point here where Daphne, who is aware of Niles’ feelings for her, panics when Niles gives her jewelry as a gift.

While not inherently bad, it’s just a forgettable episode that makes Christmas feel like a background detail.

#6. Season 1 – Miracle on 3rd or 4th Street

For a first season episode, this one is about on par. Frasier, excited to see his son Fredrick, is abruptly disappointed when he learns Freddie and Lilith are changing their plans. After fighting with Martin over the Christmas decorations, a common theme throughout the series, Frasier agrees to cover Bulldog’s Christmas Day shift at the station, unknowingly forcing Roz into work as well. After hours of miserable, depressing calls, Frasier leaves work, stopping at a diner for dinner. At said diner, Frasier, sloppily dressed and unshaven, realizes he forgot his wallet. The other diners take this to mean Frasier’s too poor to afford the dinner he ordered. Many customers are poor themselves, so they collect enough among each other to cover for Frasier.

It’s a  middle-of-the-road episode that’s heavy on the Frasier/Martin conflict, which was the main theme of the first season. Some clever jokes and well-laid punchlines lighten up the script, but overall it’s heavy-handed in its lesson-learning.

#5. Season 3 – Frasier Grinch

With a relatively typical Christmas plot (kid wants sold-out toy that dad didn’t think to get), this episode does really well with the little things. Frasier’s panic doesn’t come from not getting the popular toy, but not having all the brainy toys he thinks Fredrick will enjoy. It takes Martin to clue Frasier into his gift-giving issues. The B plot, where Niles is separated from Maris, who cuts off his credit cards and services, is wisely used a few times throughout the episode. It’s also the first time in the series we see Martin’s true love of decorating for the season. A great visual is Frasier walking into his own apartment, barely recognizable under the colored lights and plastic figures adorning the usually pristine space.

#4. Season 5 – Perspectives on Christmas

A fun episode with little vignettes of comedic situations each of the characters find themselves in, weaved together through their own individual recounts during a massage session.

Martin got talked into a Christmas pageant, which he keeps under wraps until his fear of hitting the high note in O Holy Night (ya heard of it?) gets the best of him, and Frasier and Niles offer their assistance. Daphne, still in the dark about it, notices Martin’s secrecy and she’s convinced Martin is dying. Roz is having a rough patch in her pregnancy, not helped by Frasier who lets the cat out of the bag to Roz’s mom. Niles gets stuck in an elevator and is forced to climb a Christmas tree in his brand new suit to save the day.

With tensions running high, Frasier’s original plans of a happy Christmas gathering while he tells each person how he feels about them do not go over well, so instead he arranges massages for all.

An interesting take on the comedy standard of different viewpoints of the same situation. And while there’s no overhanging emotional story or deep moral, the individual instances are comical and the cast plays them off ingeniously.

#3. Season 10 – We Two Kings

A delightful gem in the 10th season, We Two Kings takes classic farce with a Christmas twist. It’s another great example of taking a relatively common comedic trope and executing it with intelligence and nonstop jokes and asides.

After bickering over who will host Christmas dinner, Martin’s had enough. He’s just going to work that day, and blames Niles and Frasier for ruining Christmas. Feeling terribly guilty, the boys come up with a plan. They’ll celebrate Christmas with Martin at his job, a plan that includes swapping out the fake gifts under the tree for the real ones. In the ultimate comedic twist, on Christmas morning, Martin surprises them by having the day off. Meaning all the gifts are locked up in the building where Martin works.

This one’s B plot involves Roz’s major crush on the Santa Claus she’s elfing for. Not the guy playing Santa (who, by the way, is Dean Cain). No, Santa himself. Simple, not a big effect on the overall story, but seasonally and characteristically appropriate.

This episode falls higher on the list because it’s really about the Christmas spirit, and Frasier and Niles finally appreciating Martin’s love of the holidays.

#2. Season 11 – High Holidays

This decision was difficult. I LOVE this episode. I crack up every time, even though I know it by heart.

In its final seasons, the original creative team came back to give the show back some of its former life. It’s very evident in this episode.

There are three plots happening: Frasier’s now teenage son Freddie has come in for Christmas and to everyone’s surprise, he’s a faithful Goth kid, black eyes, black trench coat, chains – you remember the look. Frasier is horrified and confused, until we see Freddie’s new friend Andy, a Goth girl. Frasier is frustrated that Freddie wants to spend all his time in Seattle with his “little ghoul-friend,” as Niles calls her.

But Frasier manages to keep himself busy by filming a tourism promo. He’s attracted to the French girl organizing it, and after meeting Eddie, she insists Frasier bring the dog to the shoot.

The final, and perhaps “major” plot is Freddie’s appearance leads to a discussion about rebelling, where we learn Niles never had a “rebellious period.” This upsets Niles, so he decides to rebel now by “getting high on reefer.” Again, in a brilliant mix-up, Martin eats the pot brownie meant for Niles, unaware of its extra ingredient. He replaces the brownie with a normal one, unbeknownst to Niles.

True comic genius follows, as Martin has wandering conversations and laughing fits and Niles relies on research for his anticipated trip.

The writing is dead on here, as all three plots converge, Frasier’s promo dovetails into an amazing bit on stoned Martin, while Frasier’s eventual heartbreak over the French girl coincides with Freddie’s own heartbreak.

#1. Season 6 – Merry Christmas, Mrs. Moskowicz

One of the best Christmas episodes of television EVER, this genius take on the farcical trope on pretending to be something you’re not.

Frasier winds up on a blind date with Fay, arranged by her pushy mother. In the meantime, Daphne is directing a Christmas play and asks for Niles assistance.

On Christmas Eve, Fay and her mother stop by Frasier’s before their flight to Miami. Fay sees a tasteful wreath above the fireplace, and questions if Frasier’s Jewish. Turns out, Mrs. Moskowicz spied Frasier purchasing a menorah (for Freddie, who is half Jewish), and assumed. Frasier agrees to take the wreath down and play the part until they leave. Through circumstance, he ropes Niles and Martin into the charade as well. But Niles gets called into Daphne’s play at the last minute, so he disappears.

Just as Fay and Mother are about to leave, Frasier’s tasteful Christmas tree arrives, which promptly gets shoved into the powder room. While they are distracted, a beard-clad Niles bursts in, sniffling. The hay from the manager scene is activating his allergies. His surprise appearance allows for the greatest line in the whole episode, with Kelsey Grammer’s perfect delivery, “JESUS!”

Eventually, the jig is up, and Fay and her mom have a loud, emotional, but quick argument. Martin and Frasier try their hand at letting their feelings fly, but they soon realize they’re a bit too WASP-y for this.


And that’s it. The absolute, definitive ranking of Frasier Christmas episodes. Do you see a flaw in my reasoning? Let me know your thoughts!


Pilot Watch: Once Upon a Time – “Pilot”

I love Once Upon a Time.2014-07-25 22.37.03

My dad was the one who pushed me into watching ABC’s fairy tale-driven fantasy drama. I’m not sure how he stumbled onto it, but he was persistent, using the lore of my favorite Disney characters as bait. So one Christmas break, I couldn’t sleep thanks to a pesky cold, so I started watching Season 1 on Netflix. Binged the whole season in a matter of days. I couldn’t stop. Caught up by the middle of Season 2. Now well into Season 5, the series as a whole has had ups and downs. The Pan story and Frozen arc were not strong points. This season has been surprisingly fresh, thanks to the dramatic Dark Swan. But that’s not why we’re here. We’re here to look at where it all began, at that very first episode —

Once upon a time…

After a few cards giving some brief exposition, the episode starts with Snow White and Prince Charming at their legendary moment, with Charming breaking the deadly spell with true love’s kiss. Which leads right into —

Their wedding, though it’s immediately interrupted by the Evil Queen. Snow quickly draws Charming’s sword – a nice move showing her strength. This isn’t your typical Disney Princess. She’s not afraid of weaponry. And that’s pretty great.

Emma’s entrance is far more modern, in a form fitting pink dress. On a “date,” she identifies as a loner, without family. It doesn’t take long for Emma’s current identity as a bailbondsman (woman) trapping a guy who skipped out. She busts him, bashing his head against his own steering wheel after he makes a crack about her lack of family.

We follow Emma back to her apartment, and can I just say I’ve always loved Emma’s apartment door, with the writing scrawled across it. A little heavy-handed? Maybe. Still love it.

At this point, the writers go to great lengths showing just how alone Emma is, seeing her big, empty apartment, blowing out a birthday candle on her little cupcake.

Enter Henry. I’d forgotten how little he was. Precocious without being obnoxious, he’s a instantly likable.

We cut back to the past to see a pregnant Snow, worrying about the witch’s curse. There’s obvious chemistry between Josh Dallas and Ginnifer Goodwin (Congrats to them on baby #2!), so watching them is a delight.

With a storytelling tactic of switching between past and present storylines a la LOST, it’s interesting in this first episode that they use the illustrations in the book to transition from real world/present to Enchanted Forest/past.

Finally we get to meet Rumplestiltskin – slimy and volatile, even locked behind bars. He makes a deal with Snow, revealing Regina’s  spell, and why Storybrooke is the way it is (hello, more exposition!), in exchange for the baby’s name.

In Rumple’s explanation, the final battle will begin when Emma returns in 28 years (guess this is one big, long, epic battle, 5 seasons later…).

Back in real-time, there are signs that Emma’s return is shaking up the town already, as the power lines spark when she slams the car door. Henry’s theory is starting to look more plausible – Archie, Henry’s therapist, advises strongly against lying. When Henry tries to tell Emma Archie’s true identity, she brushes him off — and just as quickly, we’re brought into the Enchanted Forest, with Jiminy Cricket, who has Archie’s voice, speaking to a round table of fairy tale peeps.

There’s no shortage of Easter egg-level foreshadowing here, which is bold as a pilot with no promise of a future. As Regina flips through Henry’s book, the camera pauses on illustrations of flying monkeys and Wonderland caterpillars — a great idea to entice fairy tale freaks…. like me… to keep following along.

Later, in a burst of emotion that adults usually don’t express to children, Emma confesses her traumatic childhood to Henry, who doesn’t even bat an eye, and tries to convince Emma it didn’t happen the way she thinks.

Henry’s so innocent. He’s a great age for this story – old enough to be wicked smart, young enough to be innocent and full of hope. That innocence gives the whole show a wash of genuine storytelling, free from jaded irony and bitterness. It’s so refreshing.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t a few quips expertly laid out. Like when the Evil Queen describes where she’s sending the cursed kingdom: “Somewhere horrible. Absolutely horrible.”

In the Enchanted Forest, the last we see of Charming before the curse takes over is dead in the arms of Snow. In Storybrooke? Turns out he wasn’t quite dead. Now he’s John Doe, an unidentified man in a coma at the hospital.

As the episode comes to a close, Emma checks into Granny’s B-n-B, Mr. Gold/Rumple appears, collecting cash from Granny. He owns that place. The town. We’re now well aware of the power Gold has, and even this early on, it’s clear he knows more than the rest of the town.

And just after Emma checks into Granny’s, the clock tower, frozen forever, ticks back to life.

The episode slowed in the middle a bit, but picked up brilliantly in the end. Emma and Regina’s confrontation, resulting in Emma deciding to stay in Storybrooke for a bit, leading to the clock tower working again, with Henry’s big smile on his face — I couldn’t contain myself; I had to keep watching. Hooked. (Get it? GET IT?) Seriously, OUAT does a great job using mystery elements encoded in common fairy tales, not only providing clues to the viewers, but letting them think they’re one step ahead, figuring out who is who and how they’re all interconnected. A great story, indeed.