A Multi-Cam Hero: James Burrows and My Favorite Episodes

On Sunday, NBC will air a two hour special honoring a man that not many may realize has had a hand in creating some of the most beloved sitcoms over the past 40 years: James Burrows.

The Internet has been freaking out since the Television Critic’s Association meet-up in January, where NBC announced it. It’s not that everyone is crazy about James Burrows, at least not consciously. No, it’s because news sites used misleading headlines… like “A FRIENDS Reunion is Finally Happening” or “Will & Grace Reunion Special to Air on NBC Next Month.” That’s what made the Internet lose its damn mind. And yes, many of these casts got back together. But not for us or for themselves. For one man. The man who had a huge part in their careers.

Mr. Burrows is THE multi-camera sitcom director. Starting on such hits as The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Bob Newhart Show, and Laverne & Shirley, he found his first moment with a little show called Taxi, where he directed 75 episodes. A few years later, he co-created Cheers, directing 237 (out of 271) episodes. He favors pilots, giving him the opportunity to help a fledgling show find its voice. NBC is honoring him for directing his 1,000th episode of television.

James Burrows has been an idol of mine for 15 years now. Not long, considering his massive career. But his style of directing multi-camera comedy cannot be matched. He knows good writing and respects the theatricality of filming in front of a live audience. Since Mr. Burrows is behind 3 of my all-time favorite shows, I decided to put together my own list of my favorite episodes of those shows, in no particular order, directed by the man of honor.

The BIG episodes: Pilots, Season Finales, Weddings, and Break-Ups:

You know the ones. They’re important to a series structure, sometimes an arc that writers have worked on for months. And networks know they usually could bring in big ratings. No pressure, there.

Cheers

Give Me a Ring Sometime (S1.E1): Most likely the greatest pilot of all-time, and a constant threat to my own attempts at penning a pilot, this episode set the stage without feeling like it. The actors instantly own their roles, nailing delivery, many times in a subtle way, setting the tone for Cheers’s natural, bar-banter humor.

Show Down Pts 1 & 2 (S1.E21-22): The season one finale that gave us all that we wanted from Sam and Diane – a memorable fight culminating in a passionate kiss we’ve been waiting for. And though it could’ve been easy for the rest of the cast to allow Ted and Shelley to carry the entire thing on their own, they give it their all with the subplots: their love for Sam’s (unseen) brother, Coach’s attempt at speaking Spanish, even the ladies ordering their drinks (“I haven’t had a beer since I don’t know when”). It feels so effortless for such a big moment. There would certainly be more moments, but none that top this one.

I’ll Be Seeing You, Pts 1 & 2 (S2.E21-22): A brutal break-up episode, we see the dissolution of Sam and Diane’s relationship. Sam’s ego and vanity and Diane’s impossible expectations where never a match – we love them apart, but they’re a terrible couple. They had to crumble. Christopher Lloyd, whom Burrows worked with extensively on Taxi, plays an aloof artist infatuated with Diane. It was almost too easy. The arc’s pinnacle moment is the difficult argument between Sam and Diane, that begins with childish slapping and nose pinching, but quickly delves into the seriousness of their emotions. The weightiness of their relationship is powerful. There’s a long silence between Diane walking out and Sam opening the painting, giving a simple, sincere “Wow.” That one word held so much, and was an impactful way to end the season.

An Old-Fashioned Wedding (S10.E25): A classic farce that could pay well on stage,  it has everything a farce needs: a wedding, a dead body, a drunk uncle and a jealous German husband. The revolving door of issues means timing is everything, from Sam’s exits and entrances to Carla’s unfortunate dumbwaiter trips. While it seems absurd that so much can go wrong on one day, the actors never miss a beat, so you don’t get too caught up in one story.

Frasier:

My Coffee with Niles (S1.E24): Not always ranked high on usual best lists, I always loved this episode because of its dark underside: Frasier may not be happy. It’s a deep topic, particularly for a sitcom character, and both Grammer and Pierce pull it off brilliantly. The entire episode takes place in the coffee shop, practically in real time, as Roz, Daphne, and Martin come in and out, bringing out different sides of Frasier during their interactions, along with the poor barista attempting to get his coffee order correct. For a series that so often looks at others’ internal psyche, it’s a rare meta moment of introspection and a quiet way to end the first season.

Friends:

The One with the Prom Video (S2.E14): An instant classic, and the reason why so many sitcoms afterward delved into character flashbacks. Monica and Rachel, in typical ’80s fashion, are preparing for prom. Unbeknownst to Rachel, a nervous Ross was ready to step in as her date, at the encourgement of his parents. When Rachel’s date shows, they leave Ross heart-broken, holding the flowers he just pulled from a vase. The killer moment is Rachel’s long, slow walk from the living room to the apartment door, as she realizes what Ross did for her, all these years later.

The One with the Morning After (S3.E16): This one is tough. I have to really gear myself up to watch it, but that’s because it makes me feel so strongly. The episode wisely puts us in the position of the rest of the gang, trapped in Monica’s bedroom, unable or unwilling to interrupt this blowout. Ross and Rachel were at an impasse, and their hours-long argument feels real and painful for both sides.

The Regular episodes that left a mark:

Season openers and closers, big break ups, and wedding episodes naturally lend themselves to good TV, if all the players are present, of course. But it’s the middle of season episodes where it’s harder to stand out. So when they do, they’re even more impressive.

Cheers

Diane’s Perfect Date (S1.E17): What seems like a typical sitcom set-up (two characters who are obviously into each other deflect by setting each other up with somebody else) plays with hilarious consequences here. Sam’s sly cockiness that Diane is setting herself up with him is both dumb AND revealing. When he sees he was wrong, we’re introduced to the unassuming, homicidal creep that is Andy Andy. The double-date that ensues is comical and terrifying. The final scene, where Sam and Diane engage in school yard “I’ll say I like you if you say you like me” tells us all we need to know about this relationship.

Pick a Con… Any Con (S1.E19): Harry Anderson plays Harry the Hat as a smooth if geeky conman, at once a throw back and completely relevant. He’s a known swindler, but when it looks like Coach is being taken advantage of, Sam knows who to call. This episode is wrought with tension, as the gang is trying their damnedest to win back not only Coach’s money, but his dignity. When Harry reveals how he pulled the ultimate con, it’s a testament to the directing that we in the audience are just as shocked as the gang.

The Triangle (S4.E15): Frasier has lost his mojo. Diane and a reluctant Sam scheme to help him out, but their assists result in an unexpected emotional explosion from Frasier, where he calls the pair out for their infantile, petty relationship. As a teeny-tiny subplot, there’s Norm and Cliff’s argument over Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner, which is brilliantly executed by comically punctuating the very serious situation happening with Sam, Diane, and Frasier. Though Kelsey Grammer’s monologue is one of my favorites, it’s the following scene that shines. Sam and Diane sit in awkward silence, sneaking glances at each other. Diane fidgets, Sam leans back, then they tepidly discuss what the good Doctor has revealed. It’s yet another moment that’s heavy with emotion, and it’s what makes Cheers the sitcom by which all should be judged.

Abnormal Psychology (S5.E4): At five seasons in, it’s good to see Cheers wasn’t afraid to create a budding new relationship. With Sam and Diane on a clock, it was time to find a new pair to exchange testy banter. Enter Lilith. Kelsey Grammer’s Frasier was already well-developed, but Bebe Neuwirth matches him line for line, heated glance for heated glance. To frame their contested conversation within the bounds of a TV screen at the bar makes the sexual tension even more palpable.

Thanksgiving Orphans (S5.E9): Crescendoing to an epic food fight, this is episode takes the cake. One of the original “friendsgivings,” the Cheers gang ends up spending the holiday together because they all have no where else to go. They prove, however, that friends ARE family, complete with family-sized arguments over football, turkey, who’s really thankful. The food fight is just plain fun.

Everyone Imitates Art (S5.E10): A personal favorite, because it reveals a side to Diane we don’t often see: intellectual inferiority. Shelley Long brings a manic obsessive energy to the episode, while Ted Danson perfectly underplays (as usual), giving Long the power to control her scenes. Diane goes through a whirlwind of emotion here, and we, like the rest of the bar gang, just sit back and watch.

Frasier:

The Innkeepers (S2.E23): An episode that highlights the delusions of grandeur the Crane boys suffer from, it’s so fast-paced, you don’t really have time to consider just how unrealistic it might be. David Hyde Pierce and Jane Leeves are particularly great here, working together in the kitchen.

The Show Where Diane Comes Back (S3.E14): Again, a personal favorite because of how much I love Diane Chambers. She’s written a play that’s being produced in Seattle, which she convinces Frasier to help support. Frasier thinks he might actually be falling for Diane again, and it’s interesting how the series handles Frasier’s past here, recognizing how painful it was for him to be left at the alter. The slow-build during the first act, where Diane admits her troubles leads to a brilliant pay-off, and an epic rant performed by a still-bitter Frasier. Considering Long left Cheers nearly 10 years prior, she falls right back into her role easily, as does Grammer with her.

Friends:

The One with the Blackout (S1.E7): A standout for Matthew Perry, as we get to see his nerdy awkwardness without nerd-stereotyping. The rest of the gang is huddled in Monica’s apartment, doing what you do in a black-out – swapping stories, having singalongs, and getting attacked by stray cats. It’s also one step forward and three steps back for the Ross-and-Rachel relationship, an episode that brought “friendzone” into the pop-lexicon.

The One Where Nana Dies Twice (S1.E8): Death and comedy can go hand-in-hand. This episode handles the death of Ross and Monica’s Nana with poignancy and laughs. Ross helping pick out his grandmother’s burial clothes, Monica’s difficulty with her mother, and Joey sneaking in the football game all make the funeral events feel believable.

The One with All the Poker (S1.E18): A fun episode with a basic premise, it’s chock full of quoteable lines. Even though it’s tad bit sexist that none of the women know the game, it lends itself well to some great comedy and the girls finally do come around to playing with some skill. The final showdown between Ross and Rachel is incredibly revealing, since unlike Rachel, we as the audience know how Ross really feels. Did he let Rachel win? Maybe. “But look how happy she is.”

 

“Must See TV: An All-Star Tribute to James Burrows” will air Sunday, Feb. 21st at 9pm on NBC.

 

RECAP! Face Off: Death’s Doorstep

It’s episode six and like a first-year journalism intern, we’re neck-deep in the obits.

The contestants are brought to a printing facility. After a brief, somewhat unnecessary history lesson on the facility, McKenzie segues into the real challenge, which stems from the obituaries. McKenzie stresses these “freshly minted ghosts” must comically reveal how they died through their appearance.

The Spotlight Challenge is simple: They must create a “whimsical ghost,” using the obits provided. In other words, they’re creating a character who would be found in the waiting room of Beetlejuice (even though, in Beetlejuice, which I LOVE, Barbara and Adam show no signs of their presumed drowning… ). And to reinforce that concept, they’ve even included the “Take a Number” machine.

The characters include:

Sally Slopes – Mel’s person died skiing, so Mel developed a character whose bottom half got twisted around to her front side. Could be funny.

Thomas Watts – Robert’s electrocuted dude, complete with rubber duck, was taking a bath when his hair dryer falls into the tub.

Wendy Wand – Rob’s designing a magician’s assistant who was sawed in half. But the real unique aspect here is he’s making her in grayscale – “As if she walked right out of a black and white television.” I don’t have the heart to tell him that there was no television in the ’20s, but it’s fine. I know what he means.

Rose Mary – Anna’s grandma cook died in an explosion while she was making pasta. Is that a thing? Can that happen? Now I’m scared.

Jerry Rig – Yvonne’s DIYer will get a holesaw in the face. She’s a little worried, since her last crack at whimsy didn’t go over too well.

Finn Waters – Kaleb’s victim was a scuba diver who died under “fishy” circumstances. (Hey, Face Off, who wrote these obits? Can I do it next time? Seriously. Let me know.) Kaleb decides to take the fish part literally, designing a fish on the top of the guy’s head.

Sarah N Geti – Johnny’s safari explorer got trampled, and he starts sculpting hoofprints to go on her face. His sketch is just a headshot, so it’s unclear how whimsical this will be, though Johnny believes he can do it with the paint job.

Suzanne Stitches – …who died from some kind of sewing accident? Melissa struggles a little with a concept (while I’m thinking — sewing machine! Her arm got caught in a sewing machine! Or her hair — pulling her face into… okay. Sorry. It’s writing season at the haunted house). Melissa concocts a story about Suzanne falling into her sewing supplies and having pins stuck all over. I’m about as excited as Melissa is about that. Not very.

Seymour Sharp – Walter’s amateur juggler will be a clown, who dropped everything he was juggling, including bowling balls, chainsaws, and knives.

During Michael Westmore’s rounds, he wisely advises Mel to include some twisted skin around the midsection that the judges will see, because apparently she decided to sculpt the entire lower half. He also warns that this is a time-consuming piece, so she better get it done today. And Mel promptly enters panic mode, which might be warranted this time. With Walter, McKenzie blinks in confusion at his concept. Mr. Westmore advises against the bowling bowl idea, but Walter doesn’t agree with just one appliance.

Johnny has decided to add porcupine quills to the face, thinking that it’s whimsical. To be fair, when he describes the scene about the girl being trampled in a stampede by zebras and all, followed up by a lone porcupine who wandered over her — it’s funny. But the end result appearing on the model? Not really funny. Kinda confusing.

Mel’s FrontButt piece is huge, and she’s freaking out about it. I can’t, for the life of me, understand why she molded that giant piece if no one will see it under the pants. She could have padded the costume to get the same shape, and it would’ve taken half the time creating and no time applying. I guess once you’re committed, it’s hard to think outside of that.

Day 2 shows Robert making some changes to his face sculpt. Johnny explains his very complicated process of sculpting his hoofprints. Mel needs an army to carry FrontButt to the molding room. We see Robert’s duck and bar of soap. Sadly, the duck doesn’t seem to have a name or a theme song. Robert is slacking off, man.

Anna’s working on a wig for her grandma, using a Kryolan product, of course. Yvonne makes a smart comedic decision, making the holesaw larger than in reality — something Johnny could’ve taken notes from. He’s just now realizing that he might have spent too much time on the hoofprints.

On Application Day, Mel’s thrilled with FrontButt. Rob’s model has a tiny waist, so he adjusts his midsection piece and seems happy with it. Walter’s knife, on the other hand, is not working. It’s too heavy, so Walter uses just the tips of the blades, as he has no other choice.

Anna plugs for Kryolan again, this time using their old age stipple to get, well, an old age effect. Yvonne wants a whimsical paint job, so she goes with yellow, and I’m immediately having flashes of Crayon Man. But at least she applies several shades of yellow for depth and shadowing. There’s hope.

Mel wants to do a frostbite makeup, but it’s coming out more of a zombie green. Going into Last Looks, everyone’s a mess over their paint jobs. It’s Rob’s turn to plug for Kryolan, using their aqua colors to get a good gray going.

My Amateur Impressions:

Yvonne + Jerry Rig: I actually laughed out loud. It’s truly funny. The swirl of the face going into the holesaw is brilliant, and yellow color isn’t nearly as distracting as I thought it would be.

Johnny + Sarah N Geti: Well, she’s… pink. From my couch, I can really only see one hoofprint. Shouldn’t the other side of her face be smushed and dirty? I’m not sure this is nearly as whimsical as it needed to be.

Kaleb + Finn Waters: The fish cowl is well-painted, I think, though it’s shape is weird. Not sure why he went up instead of out. But it’s whimsical.

Melissa + Suzanne Stitches: Looking like Sally’s older sister (of Nightmare Before Christmas fame), Suzanne is okay. The face looks whimsical, but is it enough? I’m can’t say.

Rob + Wendy Wand: She looks exactly like his sketch. The vision was clearly successful. But her injury seems a little too subtle here.

Mel + Sally Slopes: I’m so sorry, Mel, but this is kind of a hot mess. The ski suit doesn’t lend itself well to the FrontButt, and the paint job doesn’t make sense. There’s no sign of snow or ice.

Robert + Thomas Watts and Duck: Meh. It’s okay. I’m not sure he went far enough into the electrocution element, but the duck and soap pieces stuck to him are clever. Have we seen a really killer piece from Robert yet? Feels like he’s coasting through.

Walter + Seymour Sharp: Honestly, the best part was when he smiled and teeth fell out. I like the clown makeup.

Anna + Rose Mary: Well, it’s kinda whimsical. She could have gone heavier with the explosion aspect of it.

The Professionals’ Impressions:

The judges are confused by Johnny’s porcupine. They are not impressed with FrontButt. Glenn wants to know why Thomas Watts wasn’t wetter. And he and Neville note the lack of story with Rose Mary.

The winner? Yvonne, hands down.

With Mel, Kaleb, and Johnny in the bottom 3, it’s Johnny who bit the dust. A tough one, because his makeup wasn’t terrible. He just made some questionable decisions. But sometimes, that’s enough to send you home. Sorry, Johnny.

Overall Thoughts: Loved the challenge. They spent quite a bit of time with the artists as they worked, which was good. But the initial scene at the printing facility seemed like a waste; it had very little to do with the actual challenge.

Beauty in Words:

“But where’s the angler? Where’s that funny thing that could be hanging out there and he’s constantly going ‘pfffff’ ‘pffff’ ‘pfffff.’ …… It’s funny.” — #Nevilleism, an explanation of comedy, about Kaleb’s character.

“I really wish the splits were more of a gaping maw…  like fun, family-sized guts and gore.” — Glenn.

“It looks like Blue Man Group gone elfish.” — Ve, discussing Finn Waters’s fish hat.

 

What did you think? Was it Johnny’s time? I wanna know!

 

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!