TV Roulette: Face Off

In All, Television by David

As reality television grew, networks slowly began to realize that they didn’t need to limit their competition shows to singing, dancing, and the right to be Donald Trump’s employee. Instead, shows began to look at somewhat overlooked professions that the normal viewer might not know much about. These shows would allow viewers to get a glimpse into a different world and learn something new. SyFy’s Face Off is one of this type of show, and has been rather successful in pulling back the curtain on film industry make-up artists and the awesome works they create. The roulette wheel has decided that I, too, should take a look, so let’s see if such a show can be compelling television right after the rundown. 

TV Roulette Week 2

Face Off Season 9, Episode 13 ‘Movie Magic Part 1′

Air Date  

October 20th, 2015 

Have I Seen This Show Before?



It just has never been able to draw my interest, so I have never found a reason to watch it.

Ahh, a time when I thought the episode might not be boring.

I really want to get more into the particulars of this episode than I have in my previous few Roulette posts. But first, one thing I have always found fascinating about certain reality shows is how they create challenges for the contestants that will also allow the audience to have some idea of what is going on. In singing shows this isn’t that hard, because everyone can physically sing, even if they’re not good at it, so people can generally tell whether someone is skilled or not, or at least have an opinion on whether one person sounds better than another. When you watch a show like Face Off, however, where even fake expertise is a stretch, it gets harder and harder to design challenges that allow the viewer to see for themselves which of the contestants are better or worse (assuming none of them completely screw up). These contestants are all highly skilled and awesome at what they do, so you are generally trying to figure out which one is slightly less awesome, relying on the judges to help you form opinions. The most extreme example of this are cooking shows, in which the audience is almost entirely reliant on the judges’ expertise, because how food looks doesn’t really tell you how it tastes. Face Off is more in the middle ground, as you are judging the same thing the judges are, but without the expertise that would allow you to really understand differing details.

So to an extent I have sympathy for Face Off in its efforts to make entertaining challenges, and admittedly the one in this episode is pretty cool. The final three contestants, Nora, Ben, and Evan (that’s right, the roulette popped me into the first part of the finale for this season), each get do the make-up for a short film being made specifically for the finale. There were three different scripts for each artist, and each artist had to help design the two characters in the script. The big thing about this challenge is that it allows each contestant to get the feeling of working on a real film set and seeing their creations on camera. The challenge has a lot of potential to show off each artist’s creative side in a practical setting, and should offer a lot of intrigue. Especially because in typical reality TV competition fashion, each eliminated contestant was brought back to help the finalists with this last, daunting challenge. Unfortunately, due to how this episode is structured, a lot of this challenge falls flat.

The world of make-up artists is so cool. I just wish the show had done a better job showing that.

The basics of the challenge are, the final artists each create the make-up for their characters for a screen test, and then get to go back and revise for the actual shoot, and are only judged on how the characters look in the finished film. Now, this is something that would happen on an actual set, as the director and make-up artists need to see how their creatures will look on camera and with proper lighting in order to create the best look possible, and one thing Face Off should be given credit for is that it feels real. There is no manufactured drama. If problems occur, there are no massive freak outs or meltdowns; instead the contestants simply shrug and go with it. Things are not going to go perfectly on the job, so to lose control every time something does is simply unacceptable. Problem solving is of paramount importance. The thing, is the show does a poor job of showing how problems are fixed. A contestant will say there is an issue, and then it is just fixed, making you almost wonder why it was even brought up. Coupled with the fact that the stakes in this episode were effectively nonexistent because all this episode showed is the screen test and not the actual final product, there was a decided lack of tension in the episode. Syfy really dropped the ball by not just showing the finale on one night so that it could feel like one experience instead of two. In its current form all the drama of the finale is really only going to be in Part 2 of this episode, while Part 1 was stuck with a lot of the less interesting bits.

I am really torn about this fact, because I can’t emphasize again how refreshing it is to watch a reality show that cares more about the craft than the drama, but that doesn’t mean there should be no drama at all. To be fair, a lot of this comes from having not watched previous episodes, so I know almost nothing about each finalist except what is shown in this episode. This lack of attachment means that the show’s inability to make what is happening on screen interesting is a problem, and seeing as much of this episode is the nitty gritty work necessary to complete the make-up job, the show really dropped the ball by not structuring the episode in a way that would allow the work on screen to pop more.

The finalist themselves all seemed cool, though, so let’s get into their work from this episode.

Nora, Script: ‘The Prey’

  • Nora is the most fun of the three finalists. Her passion and work ethic is infectious, and she is very easy to root for. She pops back and forth between each of her designs, and is smart enough to realize when she has worked on something too long and needs to get away from it so she doesn’t waste time fixating on every detail.
  • She also problem solves on the fly; at one point she realizes the prosthetics for one of her characters are getting quite big and will be really heavy, so she alters how the horns are made in order to make everything more comfortable for the model.
  • Nora handles the three-day workshop process the best, and both of her designs are rather amazing. The director, Patrick Tatopoulos, really likes most of her designs, and all she has to do is make some final touch-ups to get her characters in really good shape.
  • Overall, Nora feels like she is in the best shape going into the final episode.

Ben, Script: ‘Resurrection’


  • Ben’s a pretty mellow dude, and he does a good job working with his partners. He doesn’t micro-manage as much as Nora, but is still in complete control.
  • Ben probably suffers the most from the show’s inability to express the drama in a situation. On the final day, he discovers that his molds have seams showing, and has to spend much of his time fixing this issue. This ultimately means he doesn’t have time to do any of the painting of his creatures, and has to do all of it in the one-hour touch up session before the screen test. The show really could have benefited from using more of a ticking clock aspect to help emphasize how difficult this will all be, and how impressive it is that he and his teammates pull it off. Instead, there just doesn’t feel like there is any tension, and thus there is no real feeling of accomplishment for this feat.
  • Tatopoulos mostly likes Ben’s work, other than the fact that part of the make-up job isn’t finished, as some of the model’s back can still be seen. Ben is a little behind compared to Nora, but also seems in pretty good shape going forward. 

Evan, Script: ‘Quarantine Zone’


  • Probably the least interesting of the three finalists. Evan struggles to connect as well as Nora and Ben do. It doesn’t help that he is so unsure of himself the entire episode. Doubt can be used quite effectively in reality competition shows, but in Evan’s case it just makes him look wishy-washy and less in control than Ben and Nora. Ben and Nora both felt like leaders guiding their teammates, while Evan had trouble asserting himself in the same way.
  • There is a moment where, because of the time crunch, Evan rushes pulling a mold off, and there is a crack in it. This could be a really big deal, but then it is basically dropped, as Evan simply says later that it didn’t appear to be an issue. The show really should have emphasized why this could be a problem, and the steps Evan took to make sure it wasn’t, but instead it came off as a meaningless detail.
  • The show did a decent job of showing the problems Evan’s doubt caused, though. Evan redid a lot of his initial work because he didn’t like the design, but then struggled to come up with a cohesive vision. This meant that Tatopoulos had the most criticism for Evan, as his make-up jobs definitely needed the most work. Evan is in by far the worst position going into the finale.

What’s sad is that there is a lot to work with in this episode. All three artists are pushed to do something they have never done before, each had challenges he or she had to overcome, and all of their designs were awesome, but the episode felt so meaningless. That can be okay if it is entertaining (just ask The Voice and Scream Queens), but all this episode succeeded at was being boring. Tatopoulos didn’t help, because his criticism lacked teeth. It’s one thing to be nice. It’s another to not offer enough guidance, which is really what it felt like at times, especially with Ben and Nora. This episode didn’t allow for enough reflection, and felt really rushed, as if they wanted to pack all the less interesting stuff into one episode so the final episode could have all the awesome. Scripted shows do table setting episodes like this all the time, but usually they find a way to make the episode work in some way on its own, which ‘Movie Magic Part 1’ fails at. It is very likely the final episode is going to be pretty awesome. It’s just too bad the penultimate episode had to be rather mediocre in order to make that happen.

Man, look at these two. They look awesome. Too bad the show almost doesn’t deserve the work created during it.

Notes and Observations:

  • So, there is a twist at the end of the episode: each artist has to now create a third character on top of fixing the two already made ones in the next two days. This should have felt like a bigger game changer than it was, but it happens right as the episode ends, and feels so tacked on that it didn’t land with the impact it should have.
  • With that said, Evan is super screwed now. He already had way more work to do in order to basically re-imagine the two characters he already created, and now he has to make a third character. If he rises to the occasion for this challenge, it will be really impressive.
  • Ben is probably best able to handle a surprise like this based on how he handled adversity in this episode, but I think Nora just seems to be in the zone right now. She would be my pick to win.
  • Make-up artists really are awesome. What they can create is truly a sight to behold.
  • Sorry this is late. My DVR exploded, and I had to scamper to figure out how to watch the episode.

Episode Grade: C+ 

Would I Watch More?

I might check in to see who actually wins, or to see if the next episode can wipe the bad taste of this episode away, but I find it kind of hard to believe I would watch much more than that. Even a really good episode of this just isn’t my cup of tea.

That’s it for this time. The roulette really has liked giving me Halloween adjacent or themed shows so far. Will that continue in the final edition for the month of October? Find out next time. Until then, try not to make your eyes too cartoony.