Jim Henson’s Creature Shop Challenge Episode 8 “Tavern at the Crossroads” — Ben, Melissa, and Robert take part in one final challenge to win their dream job at the Jim Henson Company.
Brian Henson meets with the contestants one-on-one for advice and to give a hint about the upcoming challenge, which involves managing a team. Each designer has to design a traveler creature. The three creatures will interact in a tavern and share their backstories. Along with designing a prop, the creatures have to enter the tavern full-figured (disguising the performer) and demonstrate some sort of special effect. Lots of elements in play.
The creature designers have help from eliminated contestants. Robert gets paired with Russ and Ivonne, Melissa gets Lex and Chaz, while Ben gets Jake and Tina. Although the main designers have creatures in mind, their new teammates present liabilities. Melissa has no idea what Chaz is capable of because he was eliminated first. Robert has two people that did not leave much of a positive impression. Ben has to get out of his own way. Nothing too exciting happens in the build, but the designers get surprised by their loved ones before the screen test. The screen test features a studio audience made of the Jim Henson Company staff. So, you know, no pressure.
Melissa’s creature reminds me of the beast from Beauty and the Beast. His prop is a cursed elixir which grants the holder 100 years of life, but it must be passed on at the end of the term. His special effect is smoke exiting his nostrils (he smokes a pipe). Ben’s creature is a sad alien, carrying his son’s fetus in a lantern because they are the last members of an infected species. His special effect was supposed to be tears, but I couldn’t really see them when the creature started to cry. Robert’s was an eight-foot gorilla with a Russian accent. He has a crystal ball that needs to be passed to a protector, which ends up being Melissa’s creature. The special effect was some dry ice that was in the crystal ball case, but I don’t think it worked quite as well as Robert would have hoped.
Melissa’s creature had the best entrance of the three, and the pipe effect worked well. However, her creature had a “muppet mouth” because it didn’t have teeth. Also, her story and mechanization were okay. Ben’s story was the best as was the use of special effect, but there were some design issues. There was a gap between the creature’s neck and a cowl, and the color was described as “monochromatic.” Robert’s story didn’t connect with the story, but his creature delivered a completely believable sneeze and sneer. Ultimately, Brian Henson and company decided on the basis of ability to film the creature that Robert is the winner.
Overall, Jim Henson’s Creature Shop Challenge was a fun behind-the-scenes field trip. As a competition I found it to be somewhat low stakes and not as informative as I had hoped it would be. If there were to be a second season of this show, I would love a documentary of Robert’s first year on the job. If it were to continue as a competition series, I would like to see fewer team challenges, more time with the puppeteers, and a judges deliberations that didn’t rehash what was said during critiques given just moments before.
Enjoy the new gig Robert—you did good work during the competition.