The latest Syfy reality entry to tap this particular vein, “Jim Henson’s Creature Shop Challenge” is a run-of-the-mill elimination contest, distinguished almost entirely by the cool creatures the players — none of whom are novices, given the particular nature of the enterprise — get to create as part of their weekly showdowns. Whether that’s enough to merit sitting through yet another makeup/design/effects-oriented playoff likely depends on how many Henson-produced properties beyond the Muppets one can name. At the least, the low-key series seems well timed to piggyback (or if you prefer, frogback) on the release of the latest “Muppets” feature.
Produced by the late Henson’s company and featuring his son Brian Henson among the judges, the eight-episode series features teams of competitors trying to fabricate utile creatures on extremely tight deadlines. Hosted by actress Gigi Edgley (and five points to those who immediately said, “Farscape”), the show features the contenders being mentored by Creature Shop artists before having their work evaluated by Henson, creature fabricator Beth Hathaway and designer Kirk R. Thatcher.
In the opener, most of the attention naturally falls on contestants Russ and Tina, who almost instantly butt heads and snipe as they go about trying to create a full-bodied sea creature on a tight 48-hour deadline. The judges do a credible job of articulating what works and doesn’t, but the genuine lack of drama or suspense denies viewers any rooting interest, which leaves one’s curiosity level for the process itself to determine watchability.
In short, they might as well have titled this “Project Nerdway,” considering the ultimate prize is a job at the Henson company. In this digital age, it’s nice to see the Muppet-maker still hiring, but there’s simply nothing special enough about this “Challenge” to warrant another show the next time there’s an opening; better instead to go through plain old human-resource channels.