Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Ready For Takeoff - Project Runway

I never thought I'd be writing a review of Project Runway. The show airs in Canada on the Life Network but is about a season behind the American schedule so I've never bothered with it. Actually I rarely bother with the Life Network except on those not so rare occasions when they're talking about sex and even then I don't think I've ever watched a complete show on the channel.

That's one of the reasons why I didn't expect to be reviewing Project Runway. There are others, surprisingly none of which have anything to do with threats to my masculinity. I suppose the first of the reasons is that I have absolutely no fashion sense or worse no interest in fashion. If these people could come up with something that would keep me cool in this weather I might be interested but otherwise fashion to me is like TV - I know what I like and frequently what I like in fashion is totally out of style. Then two I remember last season's The Cut featuring Tommy Hilfigger as a fashion mogul version of Donald Trump. It stank to high heaven. All of the descriptions of Project Runway reminded me of The Cut but with Heidi Klum as the ersatz Donald.

And yet, because I had nothing at all better to do I watched it last week when NBC wisely used it to replace a rerun of the previous week's Treasure Hunters. I watched it again on Monday night, and while I can't say that I'd go out of my way to seek it out I also can dismiss it out of hand as another inferior Apprentice clone, because like Hell's Kitchen this show has it's own distinct personality and style which lifts it above the raft of shows that wanted to be "just like The Apprentice" and were.

The show follows fifteen (fourteen in the episode that aired on Monday night after the first elimination the week before) wannabe fashion designers. Each week the designers are give an assignment by supermodel Heidi Klum. During the assignment they are watched over by Tim Gunn of Parsons The New School of Design. At the end of the episode their work is judged and one the designers is sent home in disgrace. Okay, from that description it sounds just like The Apprentice or (ugh) The Cut. Aha, but there are significant differences. For one thing, although the designers may on occasion pair up to work as a partnership on designs, there are no teams on this show. It's hand to hand combat - or at least sewing needle to sewing needle. For another thing, unlike The Cut the designers are actually (shock, horror) designing clothes, rather than creating billboards or painting private airplanes. I mean letting the designers design? What will they think of next? Admittedly some of the tasks may not be conventional - in the first episode of the show they had to dress models in clothes made from anything they found in their living quarters. It's quite amazing to see people ripping the leather off a chaise longue primarily to keep it away from everyone else.

Then there's the judging. On The Apprentice George and the lovely Caroline tell Trump what they saw and how the teams did, and one person on a losing team names a couple of the others for elimination. It is left to Trump to be judge, jury and executioner when it comes to who will be sent home. By comparison Project Runway draws from the American Idol style of game Instead of one person picking the winner or loser there is a panel of three judges but with Klum having some input as well. In the episode that aired on Monday the judges were Nina Garcia of Elle Magazine, designer Vera Wang, and Tara Conner. The task had been to design a gown for Conner, the reigning Miss USA, to wear in the Miss Universe competition. The completed designs were judged based on the preferences that Conner had told each designer before the designs started. All but four of the designers were simply told that they were "in". The remaining four designers were told that they were either the "Best" or the "Worst". The designer designated as being the best at the task would not only have their design worn by Tara Conner at the Miss Universe pageant but would also be safe from eviction next time. The person deemed the worst would be removed. In the end the design from Malan was deemed to be the "worst" because it emphasized things that Tara didn't want emphasized in her gown and had the appearance of not being fully completed; Malan claimed that they ran out of fabric because their model was longer in the torso than the other models and he and his partner weren't able to adjust.

If Project Runway were to continue on NBC I'd probably keep watching it...unless there were something better on. It wouldn't have to be that much better. In fact it probably wouldn't actually have to be better it would just have to be new, or even just new to me. And yet I can't dismiss this show out of hand just because I am totally disinterested in the subject matter. It isn't a bad show. In fact the previous two seasons of the show have been nominated for the Reality/Competition Emmy (it lost of course to The Amazing Race in last year's Emmys). It takes a familiar format and if it doesn't turn it on its head it does at least deliver its own spin, giving the show its own distinct personality. Which is, as a certain lady who had her own reality competition show that failed in part because it never established its own personality) is a good thing.

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