Strip Search Season 1 Finale Review: Previous Comic, Next Comic

Back when Strip Search began, I googled around for reviews of it, and didn’t find much. That didn’t mean it was an unknown show–nothing Penny Arcade does will go unpublicized. No, it was just under the radar of the TV critic review machine. They review everything else. If the AV Club hasn’t at some point mentioned a show, there’s a good chance it never existed. I did the same thing after the finale aired yesterday and didn’t find anything. See, I have this itch that, after a finale, after some sort of TV event, comic, whatever, I want to read something, to see what other people thought, and move on slowly. And since I think Strip Search deserves a review, a look back, and a look forward, here we are. Spoilers and thoughts after the break.

As a non-watcher of reality TV, I constantly astonished myself at how invested I became in the contestants. Strip Search has an advantage over other reality shows in this arena: many of the contestants have ongoing webcomics. Watching the show was more than just for the competition and character, but to broaden your horizons. I scored some new webcomics (Abby Howard’s Junior Scientist Power Hour and Skadi from Katie Rice, the winner). I followed a bunch of artists on Twitter from the show. They’re out there, in the world. As much as I’d like to, I can’t eat the things from cooking reality shows, or hang out with Anthony Bourdain in the Congo. But I can read comics. And I know that every single artist on the show benefited from being there, a sentiment Mike echoes in a post looking back on the series.

That’s the beginning of what made Strip Search so good. First, let’s talk about the finale, and why and how I think it succeeded.

The contestants (and viewers) didn’t know what the format of the final challenges would be, or whether there even would be challenges. Each previous set of episodes (social challenge, competitive, elimination) followed the same pattern, and all we knew was that the finale would be different. The decision to ask the remaining contestants to create a webcomic idea from scratch, over a two-month period, including t-shirt designs and logos, brought together many elements of previous challenges, and, most importantly, finally allowed us to see the contestants working on a real webcomic idea.

stripsearchimgs

Click the image to check out the art from the finale

Some of the weaker challenges throughout the show were too far afield of comics (the go-kart challenge being the worst offender of the bunch), and none involved actually creating comics. So the simple directive of “go create a webcomic” brought out the best in the contestants and the creators, who were themselves a big part of each elimination.

The creators were at their best when judging comics and interacting with the artists, creating an atmosphere somewhere between a stand-up show where you’re constantly being heckled and an amazing mentor-student relationship. In the finale, their questions to the contestants leaned slightly away from the absurd, and more toward the practical. Winning Strip Search meant moving to Seattle and working out of the Penny Arcade offices for a year, plus $15,000. Throughout the hour, we learned how the contestants felt about that, what they’d do with it, and whether they were ready or not for the challenge.

He likes cake a lot

Also, Jerry pushed his head slowly to the bottom of a chocolate cake.

The criteria for judging in the finale elimination was also much clearer than previous weeks. Gone was the focus on “Is this funny?” Gone was questioning whether the contestants put enough or not enough emphasis on the themes. (They didn’t once mention the themes, Creation, Morality, Good vs. Evil, during judging.) We also got to hear about the background thinking of each comic. The creators asked Maki about his predilection for “did you know?” panels. They asked Abby about starting in medias res of her story.

And Katie confessed that she had a runny nose.

Strip Search, for all the heckling, challenges, and eliminations, was a positive experience. Challenges were always meant to improve the contestants, force them to learn or demonstrate and practice their skills. This is what kept me watching the show after the initial premise and amusing name drew me in. I hope the show continues onto a second season, and more. I’ll be watching.

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