Whisker Wars: TV Review

Although not exactly edge-of-your-seat viewing, "Whisker Wars" offers an amusing look at the subculture of competitive facial-hair growing.

Executive producers Thom Beers, Philip D. Segal and Jeff Conroy take on facial hair in IFC's new competition series.

“You cannot grow a beard in a moment of passion,” British author G.K. Chesterton once famously quipped. But on Whisker Wars, IFC’s new series about competitive facial-hair growing, there’s no shortage of passion for beards.

“The Olympic team has people who ski-jump for America or throw shotputs for America. Beard Team USA grows beards for America,” captain Phil Olsen explains during the show’s lead-in.

Selecting a squad from more than 80 beard-growing clubs nationwide, Olsen assembles a roster of furry-faced men he believes will give the vaunted German team a run for its money at the 2011 World Beard and Moustache Championships in Norway.

But he soon finds that putting a team together is not nearly as easy as sitting back and letting whiskers grow. Keeping peace between the team’s star — two-time defending world champion Jack Passion — and members of Texas’ upstart Austin Facial Hair Club proves a serious challenge, and a good portion of Whisker Wars involves trash-talking and squabbling at a series of competitions leading up to the world championships.

In need of constant praise for the bountiful blanket of red hair attached to his face, Passion irks the Austin crew — you quickly understand why — but whether any of the challengers deserves his hirsute title seems arbitrary. And when an Austin competition that ends in a tie is decided by a roll of the dice, you wonder whether beard-growing will, as Passion hopes, become the next Olympic sport.

Executive producers Thom Beers (Deadliest Catch, Storage Wars), Philip D. Segal (Ice Road Truckers) and Jeff Conroy (After the Catch) long ago mastered the art of mining subcultures and odd professions for reality television fodder. To be sure, Whisker Wars has no shortage of quirkiness.

“There’s this weird, tense vibe in the air,” says the girlfriend of a Brooklyn-based competitor as her hairy beau primps in front of a mirror, “and you see the strange, catty side of these jolly, hearty men to being these kind of prissy, delicate flowers.”

No, these aren’t your ordinary sitcom characters. But as you watch the first few minutes of the premiere, you can’t help but wonder if you’re watching something real or a faux documentary along the lines of Best in Show.

Still, even for champion beard-growers like Passion, there’s not a lot of fame or monetary reward to be had on the competitive circuit. So why do these men obsess over beards that make them look like long-lost Confederate generals?

Guest judge and ZZ Top guitarist Billy Gibbons has an answer: “March forward knowing that you’ll be separated from the millions,” he tells the camera, “with a certain personality and a statement of style.”

Although that dictum doesn’t fill Whisker Wars with Deadliest Catch levels of dramatic tension, this detour into the world of competitive bearding is worth a gander or two.