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Hot Set: SyFy’s set design competition is a great partner for Face Off

SyFy’s new competition Hot Set, which is basically Chopped for set designers, has been paired with its competition series Face Off this season, and it’s a good match. The new show–which concludes tonight and is also produced by Mission Control Media–isn’t perfect, but it’s fun to watch what talented production designers and their crews create out of literally nothing.

Unlike Chopped, where all the work is done by one person, this really is a team effort, which makes for an interesting dynamic as the production designer works to implement their vision, which involves planning, communication, and construction. As a result, the prize of $10,000 seems a little cheap, since the production designer also has two colleagues who help out. Do they split it? Does the person who was cast get it all? (I assume the laborers who do the bulk of the labor are paid separately by the show.)

It’s really incredible how they come together to create fully-formed spaces and places. That they have both a budget and time and space constraints adds the requisite pressure and drama. The show could do better fleshing out characters and relationships as they work, so we get a sense of why the contestants chose their teammates.

Each episode has a theme, and I appreciate how the judges identify what they’re looking for in relation to the theme before the competition begins. That gives the designers some direction and the judges something concrete to comment on. All three judges have strong film resumes but are still finding their way into their roles as judges; they are not yet perfect at telling us, as viewers, what works and what doesn’t and why. At least they say more than the host, although perhaps it’s fine that he just says his lines and then getting out of the way.

If it gets a second season, I’d really like if the show used better scripts and actors, because the scenes filmed on the sets seem amateurish, even when the set is impressively professional. It’s sometimes even comical, and thus the set design seems like a waste of time and materials. Why do all that work for nothing? Why not have actual films use the sets? For example, the designers could create sets for student, non-profit, or low-budget productions. Or they could just use better fake scripts and hire actors who are more capable of making their interaction seem authentic.

These are small quibbles for a show that has only broadcast five episodes so far, and I look forward to the sixth–and hopefully to a new season, too.

Hot Set: B

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