So we're two episodes in to season two of SyFy's makeup challenge show Face Off and already (this isn't just local pride) Austin's own Matt Valentine is looking like one of the top contenders.
But this being the standard reality TV competition, he's not alone in this. In one corner, we have the 'old folks' i.e. those that can legally buy liquor. However, they fall into two factions. First, the makeup artists, like RJ, whose touching story about having to give up his LA job to become a teacher in West Virginia is overshadowed by his suspect facial hair; Brea, who provides fake body parts for accident re-enactments; High-fiving broster Greg; And Heather, so suspiciously stereotypically Texan that she'll be squealing "Y'all" at some point. Then there are the wannabes/aspirants, like body painter and bizarre moustache aficionado Nix; Tattoo artist and family man Rayce; Ukrainian body painter Athena; Beki, who brags she can turn anything into a piece of art; And Tara, whose admittedly homemade work looks from the photos, er, a little homemade. Then there are the fresh-out-of-makeup-school whippernsappers, like Ian and Miranda who can come back when they get some personality.
Huh. Ya gotta wonder what the contestants actually think of how they're being edited. As Valentine told me before the series debuted, he didn't really want to watch the show when it aired. "It’s not insecurity," he said. "it’s just that’s the work part, and now that’s up to the editors and the rest of the show to portray my work to the rest of the nation. But it is weird seeing that person on there, seeing the hat and the tattoos. It’s very surreal." Seems he's not alone: Midway through live-Tweeting the first episode, one viewer DM'ed me to say, "I always blame the film editors. They have to create 'drama' to keep people interested in the show who aren't artists."
And drama we have. We already have our obvious bad guys: Sue, who is edited to look like "token bitchy Asian sorority sister"; And Jerry, whose "20 years of experience" seems to have been happily translated by the editors into being a massive, massive dick. That said, we're expecting a huge heel turn from Heather before the season is over (seriously, no-one is that nice.)
This is all primer and so, of course, there's a quick preview of some future challenges. Some time this season the contestants will be doing makeup in what looks like a haunted house (seriously, with five years in the Halloween industry, that's called "a day at the office" for Matt. I've seen him do a running patch job in lighting that would make a mole strain its eyes.) We'll also get a full body design that has to be submerged in water: We've been seeing that teased in the trailer for weeks, and I swear that the weird, elegant fishbeast we see is a Matt design. The sculpt is the giveaway, but let's see.
As for the celebrity judges, last season we had industry icons like Greg Nicotero: This time we'll get LeVar Burton, Catherine O'Hara Vivica Fox and Asher Roth. Wait, what? Yup, looks like he's judging tonight's body painting challenge, so tune in at 9pm Central to see what Roth has to say. Yeah. OK. Moving on.
And back again are our celebrity professional judges: Multi-time Oscar winner Ve Neil (here as a cut price Tim Gunn without the charm or sincerity): A Hall of Presidents' version of Underworld: Rise of the Lycans director Patrick Tatopoulos (I think the servos in his completely immobile face have stopped working); And makeup artist Glenn Hetrick who, since last season, has picked up the additional title of "costume designer for Lady Gaga" and you can bet that will come back to bite us all in the ass. He looks like someone threw a hobo in a pile of prostheses and hair extensions. Last season, one of his most regular complaints was that the artist couldn't stick with one design: Now his new role as an arts-and-crafts Sinister Minister could mean we see some whacky choices.
Oh, and that's exactly what we see in the foundation challenge. Host McKenzie Westmore (who got the gig as part of the Westmore screen make-up empire) drags the competitors to the Universal Studios back lot, where each artist has to create a 'look' in two and a half hours. Neil and first season winner Conor McCullagh emerge from working on Twilight replacement/Freeper fantasy The Hunger Games and decide that Jerry's cosplay elf queen earned him immunity, with RJ's green zombie biker chick (very early Buffy the Vampire Slayer) coming second.
On the positive side for local viewers, this is where we get our first (if too brief) glimpse of Matt and a quick clip of his signature creation, Mr Creep. What we get too much of is Brea and her horrible, horrible design for a zipper-skinned man, but that's just to build up some dramatic tension.
And what did Jerry get immunity in? Oh, well, here's a misfire. It's a boys against girls challenge of reinventing the Lion, the Tin Man, the Scarecrow and the Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz. Er, series writers? A quick side bar. You ready? Everyone has done a modern update of The Wizard of Oz – Wicked, Alan Moore, even Todd McFarlane – so there's nothing left to say. OK, back to your corner.
Both teams knock the Scarecrow out of the park, the men get the lead on the Lion, and both botch the Tin Man and the Witch. So it's farewell to Greg for his contribution to the men's rusty Tin Man (yeah, don't get too attached to his project partner Nix either. Sorry, fans of waxed facial hair.)
And the winner is Brea for her Witch? What the hell? The clear winner was Tara's brilliant Scarecrow, followed by Ian and Rayce's emaciated Cowardly Lion (someone was paying attention to what the character should be, rather than just other people's interpretations.) Instead, it looks like Hetrick and Neil got all caught up in Brea's use of warts on the witch. The most interesting moment is when Hetrick tells Matt he should have kept with his original spiky, bizarre design for his Scarecrow, and that's true.
Frankly, if we get to the end of the season and it's Matt and Tara going head to head, then no-one should be shocked. So, of course, they get teamed up for episode two: A trip to the Aquarium of the Pacific to be inspired by the life aquatic. Heather starts grinning because she went to college for marine biology. The teaming ceremony is the best moment for personality beats so far. Tara's scarcely-disguised look of "Really? Eh, could be worse" when she gets Matt is a hoot, while there's been no finer moment than Jerry's disdain at being hooked to Nix.
So guess what happens when you put two of the top talents together for episode two? Matt and Tara's design, inspired by the Lyretail Fairy Basslet, is season-winning stuff. The iridescent material they use to cover and mask the edges of the prosthetics and, yes, it was the submerged delight from the season trailers. The big shocker was how good Heather and Athena's Lion Fish was (maybe the gorgeous paint job was Athena's way to redeem herself after her horrible lion paws last week.) Next most shocking? That Sue is no longer getting edited to look needlessly catty, and just ends up weirdly gushy when Tatopoulos drops by the studio (seriously, Sue, no-one "loves" Underworld, except maybe White Wolf's attorneys.) However, zero shock when Nix and Jerry end on the chopping block: First, their turtle boy (or, as Ve puts it, turdle) was very off-the-peg costume shop; And second the head prosthetic (Jerry's work) almost drowned the poor model. But it was Nix's crappy paint job (and his willingness to blame Jerry for the epic fail) that got him sent home.
And who wins? Drumroll please Matt! Yup, although there are extra points to Tara for telling the judges that he was the real conceptual driver. That said, check out Brea's barely-suppressed snarl of annoyance and disappointment. Anyone that can catch that in latex gets double points.
So, two down, 11 to go. Couch and popcorn, 9pm Central, here we come.
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