Ryan Dosier – On Tuesday night, Jim Henson’s Creature Shop Challenge, the hit show from Syfy and The Jim Henson Company, came to a close. You should be forewarned that SPOILERS about the winner of the season will follow in this article, so if you’re not caught up, you might want to stop reading now.
The first season of Creature Shop Challenge was a major, major triumph. Not only did the premiere episode set a ratings record for Syfy, it was also creatively in line with the Henson spirit and is perhaps the best project out of The Jim Henson Company in twenty years. The show not only highlighted the history of the company (with the Skeksis Creature Brief in the best episode of the season) while also showing how the company and the Creature Shop are still relevant today. The team of artists assembled as contestants on the show are unendingly talented. The outpouring of creativity and fun on display in every episode every week was phenomenal and unlike anything else on television.
My favorite aspect of the show was the fact that we got to see Brian Henson and Kirk Thatcher and other important Creature Shop personnel on TV every week. It was really cool to get to know influential Creature Shop designers and builders through the show with the Master Sessions and guest judges every week. But how can you resist seeing and hearing from Brian Henson every week? The show only highlighted how incredibly brilliant, wise, and fun he is. I didn’t realize how much I loved hearing Brian Henson’s perspective on things until I was getting it every week. But the real MVP of the season was Kirk Thatcher, master Muppet director and creature designer, who showed up every week with a huge smile on his face, a goofy piece of wardrobe, and some sage-like advice for every contestant. He’s a joy and I’m so glad this show has brought him into the mainstream.
The contestants on the show were all such unique, wonderful personalities that it made it hard to say goodbye to any of them when one would be eliminated. It was such a blast to see each of these creature designers in their element, rocking the buzz-saw or the sculpting tool or the paintbrush to create magic. The creature they made week to week were pure magic. They came alive and they were real–just like all great Creature Shop creations. Quite frankly, all of the contestants deserve to work at the Creature Shop and that’s what made it so hard every time one of them was eliminated. The pool of talent assembled for this show was simply unreal.
My favorite creature designer, and seemingly everyone’s favorite, was Melissa. She embodies the Henson spirit extremely well. She is optimistic, happy, talented, and never says die. I was very disappointed that she didn’t win the job, but I’m hoping that somewhere down the line she is hired by Henson before somewhere else snaps her up. She’s a joy and would bring so much to The Jim Henson Company stable. Plus, her talent is undeniable. Her creatures were almost always my favorite every week, with her swamp creature and her black-light bird standing out the most in my mind. I’m still incredibly impressed by the winner of the Challenge, Robert, who brought an intense talent week after week. All of his work was top notch from beginning to end.
While I adore the show, it isn’t perfect. The biggest offense, to me, is that every week a horde of super talented “professional puppeteers” came to help perform the designers’ creatures, and every week the names of these puppeteers was never mentioned. This is a slap in the face to these hugely talented individuals who gave life to the creatures. A simple name tag added in front of the puppeteers when they come onscreen would’ve been enough for me. What’s worse is that it seemed like the producers actively avoided mentioning the names of the puppeteers. During the talking head interviews, the creature designers always referred to them as “my puppeteer” or “my professional puppeteer” and it seemed rather forced. This is the main issue I would fix if the show returns for a second season.
I would also love it if the show could somehow showcase other aspects of The Jim Henson Company. Yes, it is the Creature Shop Challenge, but I think it would be really exciting to show off the digital puppetry, regular puppetry, and other departments of the Henson Company. I’m sure that this season of the show really helped define for people what exactly The Jim Henson Company does, but expanding beyond the Creature Shop in a potential next season would help that even more. It would also be nice for host Gigi Edgley to have more to do. She’s a delight and only seeing her once or twice an episode for a few minutes isn’t enough.
Overall, Jim Henson’s Creature Shop Challenge was a total blast from start to finish. By no means is it standard reality show fare. Instead, what Brian Henson and Syfy brought about is a sophisticated and hugely entertaining look at how some of film and television’s most impressive creations come about. I was so impressed by this show–especially since I expected to be very underwhelmed. Every week I was blown away by the creatures put on screen and I’m endlessly impressed by what the show accomplished. Bring on another season!
The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier, firstname.lastname@example.org