Jim Henson’s Creature Shop Challenge: Project Muppet Makes it Work

Jim Henson's Creature Shop Challenge (Photo: SyFy)
Jim Henson's Creature Shop Challenge (Photo: SyFy)

Jim Henson’s Creature Shop Challenge Episode 1: What Lies Beneath — 10 designers compete to become America’s Next Top Monster…maker.

Show

Jim Henson’s Creature Shop Challenge — Tuesdays at 10pm on SyFy.

Premise

10 puppet/creature/animatronic designers compete for a job with the fabled Jim Henson company.

Pedigree

You may have seen Jim Henson’s creations on Sesame StreetThe Muppet ShowDinosaurs, The Dark CrystalGremlins…and those are just the properties mentioned on this episode. The format is your standard artisan-based competition series. In other words: Project Muppet.

What Works

The contestants on Jim Henson’s Creature Shop Challenge are not aspiring designers. These are people at the top of their game participating in a televised interview process. Because the Creature Shop operates with a sense of whimsy, the contestants are not Type A personalities like you would find on The Apprentice. Instead, we have ten people who enter the workshop with wide-eyed wonder.

The challenge brief provided to the contestants offer more of a story basis than you would get from a Project Runway dossier. In the opener, the challenge was to work in pairs to design a sea creature discovered by a submarine searchlight landing on it. The other parameter required the creature to completely hide the puppet operator, so the end products will not be tiny. The designers took the concept and ran with it, with the more-successful teams building upon the story and incorporating biological concepts in the design. I can’t immediately recall the last time I’ve heard the term “vestigial eyes” used in a runway critique.

The segment that sold me on the show was the screen test, which is the runway presentation for the creations. After two days of building, the teams consult with their performers to fine-tune their creations and work through performance ideas. We then get to see each creature in action in a display matching the challenge brief scenario. As a result, the ability of the performer to function becomes part of the evaluation. Although one team did not work well together, it was the team whose performer had to belly-crawl and couldn’t breathe inside the creature that faced elimination.

What Doesn’t Work

This may be a result of being the first episode of a new series, but there was not much time spent on the collaboration/initial design process. We did get a quick rundown of the creature construction process (design, fabrication, painting, finishing), but I would have loved to see more discussions and sketches as the pairs developed their initial ideas.

Verdict

Although the first episode of Jim Henson’s Creature Shop Challenge starts a little slow—which I attribute to first episode-itis—the creature creations were marvelous. Now that the reality competition pre-requisites have been covered, I am eager to see more about the design process and the inner workings of the Jim Henson’s Creature Shop. Set your DVR—you are in for a treat.

A Brief Word From Our Sponsors:

About Mike McComb 656 Articles
Mike has been writing about TV online since 2008, when he started the blog WTF Little House on the Prairie? The blog was a project to practice writing about television analytically prior to getting an MA in Television-Radio-Film from Syracuse University, or as he likes to call it "TV Camp." After a lengthy stint at TVLatest, Mike wanted to launch a site that brought in classic TV, diamonds in the rough, and the shows everybody watches. E-mail: mike@whatelseison.tv