What’s Worth Watching: ‘Face Off’ on Syfy for Tuesday, July 28

Face Off - Season 9
Justin Stephens/Syfy
FACE OFF -- Season:9 -- Pictured: (l-r) Jason Hendricks, Jasmine Ringo, Ben Ploughman, Stevie Calabrese, Kevon Ward, Ricky Vitus, Sidney Cumbie, Meg Wilbur, McKenzie Westmore, Melissa Stell, Evan Hedges, Libby Rose, Scott Fensterer, Nora Hewitt, Omar Sfreddo, Brittany Leslie, Jordan Patton -- (Photo by:

Face Off, “Intergalactic Zoo” (Tuesday, July 28, 9/8c, Syfy)

Necessity is the mother of desperation on Face Off, my current favorite of all skill-based reality competition shows. Featuring an eclectic but generally well-behaved batch of contestants with a gift and passion for extreme makeup, and sharing a taste for all things ghoulish and wondrously fantastical, this series is one of the few reality shows where I believe the players are there not just to win the glory and the cash prize ($100,000 and a car, among other goodies) but maybe even to make friends—and certainly make connections in the business of show.

Most seasons, the artists are too busy creating something amazing to waste time scheming against each other. If there’s gloating when someone wins, we don’t see it. Losers tend to be consoled with group hugs. And when the chips are down—usually involving a mold that won’t open—it’s not uncommon to see an artist drop everything to help a brother or sister out. The show’s beats conform to the genre almost too predictably, but it’s in the inspiration of the creature designs, and the frenzied rush to see these visions realized in the short time allotted, that make Face Off such a joy. And the judges are terrific: the intimidating scowl of Glenn Hetrick, the beaming warmth of Ve Neill, and the wise counsel of Neville Page, this week’s mentor, who cautions the teams: “Don’t think literally.”

The ninth season opens with one of the toughest, and largest, challenges ever: dividing the 16 contestants into teams of two, each assigned to create an animal creature of alien origin that will incorporate two models instead of the usual one. As the clock ticks, one player moans, “The amount of work is just shy of soul-crushing.” But once the finished results take the stage for judging, the sense of pride wipes away all (or most) of the anxiety, because there’s always next week. For those lucky enough to stay.

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