Reel TV is a column at Movies.com that takes an ongoing look at the growing intersection of movies and television. If there's a big-screen talent making the move to small screen, even temporarily, we want to tell you about it.
There's plenty of promising television with ties to feature filmmakers worth watching this fall. Reality TV, however, is a whole different ball game. If anything, its contrived interpersonal dramas and noxious attention span-fearing editing that assumes everyone has the memory of a goldfish, are the antithesis of cinema. There is one exception to this rule, though. It's called Face Off, and if you have even a passing interest in movie magic, you should give it a shot.
No, Face Off isn't a TV version of the John Travolta/Nicolas Cage classic (though that'd undoubtedly be must-watch television), it's a reality TV show that pits aspiring special-effects makeup artists against one another. Each week their efforts are judged by industry pros Ve Neill (Pirates of the Caribbean), Glenn Hetrick (The Hunger Games) and Patrick Tatopoulous (Silent Hill)-- though this season the latter, due to heading up production design on 300: Battle of Artemisia, will be periodically swapped out for the magnificent creature designer Neville Page (Prometheus).
Yes, it still has plenty of the pitfalls of reality TV, but if you can get past the repetitive nature of the editing and the occasional bout of obvious misdirection, it offers up unique insight into the creative process of turning actors into all manner of inhuman beasties and beauties. Take tonight's season three premiere, for example. The first elimination challenge finds the contestants working in pairs to create an alien that would fit right in to the Cantina scene from Star Wars. The results bring out one of the worst makeup appliances that the show has ever seen, but also one of the most creative and one of the most professional.
It's not exactly mind-blowing television, but then again, what reality TV shows are? At least Face Off challenges the creative side of budding artists, while also giving average audiences a weekly peek into the minds of some of the greatest artists still working in the field today. Show host McKenzie Westmore (daughter of original Star Trek makeup artist Michael Westmore) is often joined by interesting, though occasionally industry-irrelevant, outside personalities, but regardless of what celebrity is on the show that week, or even whether the contestants deliver outstanding work or not, there's plenty to learn and discover about makeup effects.
Past seasons have kept the manufactured drama to a minimum, an increasing rarity for programming like this, while finding new ways to push the contestants. If season three can keep that pace, Face Off will continue to fill the void of film-based reality TV left by Project Greenlight. It airs Tuesdays at 9/8 p.m CST on Syfy; set your DVRs accordingly.
Follow along on Twitter: @PeterSHall and @Moviesdotcom.