I started by asking people how they started watching the show and what kept them watching. I'm pretty sure I started with S2, which started in early 2012 while I was on maternity leave with the Pip, and while I don't know what brought it to my attention, it is exactly the right level of engaging for infant-caretaking (and now, folding laundry or stitching, that kind of thing). Other panelists mentioned that it's "competence porn" (one of the great contributions of John Rogers to the critical discourse), that it's family-friendly, that the creative process and technical details are fascinating, and that it's interesting as a writer to see how people react to each other and the challenges.
I asked about the changes over the seasons tweaking the format. S1 is the most stereotypical reality show: the winner recommending someone to be eliminated was a feature in other competition shows. (I hated it, and was so glad it only lasted a season.) No-one seemed to be a fan of the public voting in S3, though one person liked S3 the best just for the contestants and makeups. I had mixed feelings about S5, when they brought back veterans to compete: I loved Laura (who was a runner-up in S3 and who I thought was robbed by the public vote), but it must've really sucked to be a newbie that season. Also, one of the great things about the show is the possibility that a less-experienced or non-professional person can get their start, like the fabulous Dina in S7 (a baker! Who used piping at least twice to great effect in her makeups!), and I think most of the veterans had been working professionally even more since their seasons.
Also, there was a pilot episode of a show following former contestants opening up their own shop, but the series apparently never went anywhere.
(Somewhere in here I mentioned one cool thing about the show was learning the wide range of job opportunities for special effects artists: theme parks, haunted houses, advertising, conferences, not just movies, TV, and theater.)
We were cautiously optimistic about the new season, in which former winners come back but as coaches not contestants, because the mentoring (yay Michael Westmore!) and teamwork aspects are very interesting, though sometimes the teamwork can be difficult to watch--I yelled at the TV so much in S7 when Sasha refused to stick up for her own ideas in the first two group challenges. Mark said that his daughters were telling her to get more confidence toward the end of the season, which other panelists pointed out was a valuable lesson, just like working productively with other people.
In terms of reality and reality TV, I mentioned how it's hard for me to tell if S1 and S2 had more drama on-screen because the contestants hadn't realized yet that it would be preferable to be cordial and maintain good relationships for later (when S5 came out, there were a bunch of where-are-they-now interviews on SyFy's website, that I now can't find, about how they all worked on projects together and whatnot), or because the show now cuts things to minimize that because it knows it's not what the audience wants. And it's not like things have been entirely free of personality clashes in the seasons since. We also mentioned people helping each other out, which there's a fair bit of. Someone, I think the audience, pointed out that there's plenty of drama between the creative process and the ever-ticking clock, there's no need to manufacture more.
We talked about the judges and were generally in agreement that they were reasonable and interesting, though there was a little discussion over whether contestants' past bodies of work were being weighed reasonably in various seasons. I said since I don't like horror much as a genre, the judge's comments help me see merit in things I find aesthetically displeasing.
I also asked about things people liked least. I mentioned mine was the way people would fall into terrible stereotypes as storytelling shorthand, like birth defects = evil or the master-slave makeup with a white and black guy (Supermobile, pictures 3-4). An audience member pointed out that people needed to use visual shorthands to convey things, and that often when they tried to go too far outside that, they didn't do well; I said yes, but that's not the same thing. Other people mentioned the Japan episode (which I did not watch) and the terrible non-anime makeups that resulted, and the repetition (which is doubtless to make easy entry points for new viewers, but), and I can't remember what else, sorry.
I asked if it had changed the way people looked at movies & TV. For me, it was my reaction to the aliens in the movie Attack the Block, which was immediately, "Oh, that's a very effective way to deal with a super-low budget!" (Here's a page with a picture, and also a video about the effects, which I haven't watched because hotel wifi.) Other people said they were more likely to watch DVD extras about makeup, or to watch zombie movies because they could see the zombies now as "here are the artists having a lot of fun." An audience member had an awesome story about watching the show and deciding that a college? theater production should try prosthetics and more advanced makeup techniques for, IIRC, a Phantom production; and at least one person said they were inspired to want to learn makeup--which at least one person in the new season also said, so, go for it!
I also asked about people's favorite makeups. It was fascinating the number of ones mentioned that I had no memory of--I always love the variety in people's reactions. Mine: Rayce's cellist and RJ's bellhop from Burtonesque, Laura's cubist from Living Art, and half the makeups from the Swan Lake S5 finale: Laura's two and Tate's swan. Possibly some of Dina's from this last season will add to that list, too.
Okay, that was a lot and now it's nearly time for dinner! What do you all think?