'Jim Henson's Creature Shop Challenge' review: Cutthroat Muppet makers

New reality show "Jim Henson's Creature Shop Challenge" New reality show "Jim Henson's Creature Shop Challenge" premieres March 25, 2014 on SyFy. Photo Credit: Syfy / Justin Stephens

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REVIEW

COMPETITION PREMIERE "Jim Henson's Creature Shop Challenge"

WHEN | WHERE Tuesday at 10 p.m. on Syfy

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Why just "face off" over special-effects makeup when you can invent entirely new species? Thus does Syfy step up in "Jim Henson's Creature Shop Challenge," which boasts not just the imprimatur behind The Muppets, "Farscape" and "Where the Wild Things Are" but also the artisans who've sustained the Henson name since patriarch Jim's sudden death in 1990.

Their 10-person contest has son and current chairman Brian Henson as its head judge and lead voice, aided by "Farscape" babe Gigi Edgley. Longtime Henson creator Kirk Thatcher ("Dinosaurs") and fabricator Beth Hathaway ("The Chronicles of Narnia") weekly join Henson to hash out which competitor will exit the gates of Henson's historic Hollywood lot, born a century back as Charlie Chaplin Studios.

But first, the premiere sets five teams of two designers to work toward landing that prize Henson job. They're assigned to produce from scratch in just two days a full-body underwater creature that completely conceals the performer inside it. The contenders bring plenty of design experience from theme parks, commercials and indie film. And they'll have Henson's studio to work with. But also at play are egos and personalities. Or this wouldn't be a "reality" show, would it?

MY SAY Yet it's one whose episodes might be made even longer. The pace seems to race through five different creature-builds evoking snakes, crabs and manta rays, as well as the "screen tests" by which they're judged. Likewise are mere glimpses of the human drama lent mostly by talky Tina and sulky partner Russ, whose conflict primes the meltdown pump.

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But that means we ultimately get to spend time with Henson's judges hashing it out. That brings insight into what makes things work, into creature logic, proportions, movement, performance facilitation, and letting the creation "emote through its environment." We don't just watch art being made, we come to understand the process.

While also seeing players throw each other under the bus.

BOTTOM LINE What else do you need? How about a shocking denouement!

@Newsday

GRADE A-

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