Happy birthday to me! In honor of my 30th (good God it sounds horrible saying that), Project Runway has decided to start their 14th season a bit later than usual it seems. But oh well, here we are at season 14, and here we are at another year spent with the best Runaways on the planet! I hope everyone's having a great 2015, and I hope no one's too burnt out on PR and all it's (pointless) spinoffs to come and join us for another season of the program that started it all! Because if this first episode is any indication, we could be in for one of the better seasons we've seen in quiet some time! So buckle up, Runaways, and away we go.
The first thing I noticed about this season of PR is just how racially diverse the contestants seem to be. It's not that PR has had a huge problem with racial diversity in the past. Indeed, with a healthy helping of women and LGBT peoples, it's long been one of the more richly diverse shows on Reality TV. But it feels like even a bigger effort has been made this season to vary out the racial makeup of the show. Or maybe the stars just aligned and the talent that went out for this season just so happened to be more racially diverse than usual? Either way, a big thumbs up from me!
While everyone looks right on the outside, this first episode left me wondering about whether or not we have a really diverse group of characters in the mix? Early on, Lindsey seems to want to paint herself as a kind of a villain. She did the typical "Not here to make friends" thing we've all heard a million times, but her cute-blonde-hipster styling didn't make it very believable, and the outfit she ended up sending down the runway makes me think she won't be around long enough for any of it to come to fruition. Blake is likewise a bit full of himself in a stereotypical young (white) gay boy fashion, but it's also obvious that he thinks he's better than he actually is, so I don't know how much weight to give that either. Both of these contestants could end up being an example of people on a reality show trying to write their own narrative and define how the world sees them only to fail in the face of the strong editing that comes along. Merline is one of the more interesting contests to be spotlit in this episode, and she seems to be the one most poised to fall into the Reality TV trope of someone who, just by being her most authentic self, ends up looking a bit like a caricature of someone else. There's still some question about how much of her constant talking, singing, and speaking in Twitter-ese is real and not just a show for the cameras, but if we take it at face value, the shows can pretty much edit themselves around her being her and everyone being annoyed by it. Far more interesting than her loud, constantly-open mouth, is the work she sends down the runway, but I'm getting ahead of myself.
The episode opens with the contestants walking around New York and heading towards Madison Square Garden. There's no "last minute plea" to be on the show like last year. The team is assembled already, there's no manufactured drama to it, just a small amount of time to get a quick primer on most on them before the challenge starts. Before I go too far, allow me to say that in a pre-birthday excitement, I totally forgot to watch the episode on Lifetime last night, and the version I found on Lifetime's site was only an hour long. So if I got a different version than the rest of you, sorry about that, and please let me know in the comments what I missed. But if this was the version that they aired last night allow me to say THANK GOD! It's almost as if they're learning and have finally figured out that 90 minutes is too long. Or at the very least they've remembered how to make a great one hour long episode, and I couldn't be more grateful!
On the way to the arena, Blake makes a statement about thinking some kind of sport takes place in The Garden, like baseball or something. And I decided definitively to hate him. Look, Sports don't have to be your thing, if you don't like watching hot and sweaty men run around playing with balls and patting each other on the ass, then fine. But as a gay man who loves sports, I tend to take umbrage with gay men who disrespect sports just because that's what they're supposed to do as gay people. In the same manner that I would hate any straight guy who didn't like fashion because it was too gay, I can't help but to hate a gay man who hates sports because it's too straight. But there, I hate him, he sucks, I hope he's gone soon, rant over.
When they arrive, they meet Heidi and Tim and are told that the seats in the arena are all draped with fabric (provided by Mood of course) and everyone has three minutes to run around, grab four textiles, and then take them back to design a dress that tells the judges who you are. It's a simple and straight forward challenge to kick things off; complete with a situation for the possibility of drama as people fight over the best fabrics. To their credit, none of the fabric offered was horribly hideous to the point where the only thing that could work would be to burn it and salt the earth. So it's basically a one day challenge where you make whatever kind of dress you want just without the millions of options Mood generally has to offer. I respect it.
Surprisingly, there isn't nearly as much fighting over fabric as I imagined there would be. People, for the most part, seem to be cordial and if someone else gets their hands on a piece they wanted first, they just let them have it and move on to the next spot. It's the first piece of evidence that this season won't be filled with big and aggressive personalities like we've seen in the past, and I for one found it a welcome breath of fresh air.
Everyone goes back to the workroom, introduces themselves to one another, is told by Tim that they have until nine that night, and gets to work. Merline's chatterboxiness annoys everyone, but other than that everyone seems to get along great. it's during these moments that we get our first tears of the season though, and I don't know if I'm getting soft in my advanced age, or if the stories just worked for me, but I didn't find the crying nearly as annoying as I usually do. Candice relays the story of having her daughter and is moved by a very fitting amount of motherly emotion over how her kid saved her life. It's not an original story, but it's something I can support 100%. They're happy tears instead of sad, and I think that goes a long way towards gaining my sympathy. Either way, she's now an early favorite of mine...damnit, I'm totally turning into a big softy. Our other cryer is Ashley, who I have to admit is also an early favorite of mine. Ashley starts out the show by pointing out her weight and drawing attention to why fashion is both important to her and why it's been hard for her. While working, she has a moment where she's a bit overwhelmed by the pressure of the moment as well as lingering feelings of not deserving to be there born of (I assume) a life time of being told or at least feeling as though she's worthless or not deserving because of her weight. I don't know if it was just the outsider in me (grew up gay and black, so that's always hard) that connected with her, or what, but I felt what she was feeling in that moment and I just wanted to wrap her up in a big hug and tell her it would all be ok, she's beautiful (because she is just totally fucking adorable!), and she's going to rock it. And rock it she does, but more on that in a minute. Her fellow contestants make those points well and inform her that she's one of 16 people here out of the world of people they could have chosen; she's more than worthy!
But all of that is just a run up to my personal favorite of the episode, Duncan. From the moment the camera cut to him while they were heading to The Garden, I was in love. And then he opened his mouth and showed off that accent, and I was even more in love. Duncan was put on this show just for me. He's ginger (my own personal favorite), bear-ish, with a killer beard and an Aussie (he's from New Zealand) accent. When I go to the Build-A-Bear, he's exactly what I'd want to walk out with. And then he starts designing what (and Tim Gunn, I might add) think is a beautiful dress, and I found myself imagining our long future together. You know, at least for the rest of the season where I'd write reviews each week gushing over how beautiful and perfect he and his designs are in the same way I did with Sean last year. In fact, given that they're both from the same region, I think Project Runway is trying to tell me I need to move to New Zealand.... But still, it was a wonderful fantasy, and I can't see how anything could possibly get in the way of it. So onwards!
Tim visits and it's about what you'd expect at this point. he has positive things to say for some of the designers, gives a great piece of advice to Ashley about her dress, and has less than positive things to say about others. His correcting Merline on how to pronounce "muslin" was a nice moment of "Jesus woman, if you butcher this word one more fucking time, I'll kill you!" but in Tim Gunn's sweet and measured and always polite way. He leaves saying he's really disappointed, but that surprised me; I didn't expect anything better or worse than what we got for the first episode. It's probably just his way of trying to push them to go a bit harder.
Edmond and Kelly are two contestants with very unflattering critiques from Tim and both of them scramble to come up with new designs in the last four hours or so until the day ends. To his credit, Edmond at least just tries to edit his existing look. Kelly goes for the "Scrap it and start all over" technique we've seen work a million times before. Or, wait, no, not work, I meant to say fail miserably. I always get those two confused. More power to her since we all know how horribly embarrassing it is to go home first, right? I mean whoever goes home first must just be the biggest loser of all losers. I'd never want to be in that position...... So yeah, Runway, it's a long runway, so I'll try to be brief where possible!
Blake: One the runway, before the camera pulls in for a close up, I don't hate it. The color pops, the dress moves well, it looks vibrant and exciting. Then the camera pulls in and I hate it as much as I did in the workroom. It's overwrought, over designed, and contains just everything it possibly can. Less is more, kid. Though it maybe plunges a little too deep, I honestly don't mind the plunging neckline.
Amanda: Cute. Good, but not great by any means.
Laurie: I honestly loved this. The color was simple, but the dress was still elegant in a lot of ways, but damn was the split high. I don't think it's a big detractor from the rest of the dress, but anyone feeling a bit put off by it wouldn't surprise me.
Hanmiao: No! Just No! A million times No!
Swapnil: I love this look! I think there's a simplicity to the design, or maybe just the construction, of the skirt that either pairs perfectly with or totally detracts from the well crafted and beautifully designed top. I personally liked the two, but I think both ways of looking at it could work.
Duncan: YES! I love him! I mean I love his dress. I'm a sucker for beautiful draping. I love how elegant but effortless it looks. I don't like the color on his model, but I don't think he chose to have a ginger model (though it's fitting, gingers of the world unite and make more gingers, damnit!). That color on a black woman's skin would be perfect though. I do think maybe a bit more skin in the back would be a way to go, but I love this dress!
Edmond: I like this a lot. Though I'm not sure if I like it on its own merits, or because I know he had to scramble to get it to do what he wanted. So maybe I like the work he put into it more than I like the dress itself, but I like it nonetheless.
Merline: This is one where I know I like it because of how much work and how quickly she got it together. To think that by Tim's visit she didn't have a skirt at all, and then she put this down the runway? I love that! The outfit itself is nice, not great or perfect, but certainly strong and unique in a way I like and want to see more of.
Joseph: Cute. Safe. But not great by any means.
Kelly: Remember she scraped her first look and went with a whole new dress in the time after Tim left? Well this is the dress, and holy shit is it great!!! I love a designer who maybe just needs a little push or a fire lit under her ass to get it in gear and then can turn out something of this caliber. I love it a lot!
Jake: Ok, I guess? Mostly boring.
Gabrielle: I think the design is good, but construction and execution are lacking. She's harder on it than I am, mostly because I love the back! But I think if she'd taken her time and cleaned up some of the lines and seams it would have been a lot better.
Ashley: WHAT THE FUCKING FUCK?!?! This girl thought she didn't deserve to be here? Are you fucking kidding me! This is breathtaking! The top is bold and young and sexy, the skirt is just to die for. I can see who she is and I can see a lot of people who would love to wear that outfit. Yes, more of this please, and thank you!
So ours tops for the evening are Edmond, Merline, and Ashley (of course), and our bottoms are Blake, Han, and Duncan....wait, what? Yup, my ginger love bear is an endangered species. And I'm shocked. The judges remark on looks. They seem to be fairly split on Edmond's look with some of them liking it and some liking it just a bit less. Guest judge Hanna Who-Ever-The-Fuck doesn't like the pop of neon green from the train, which happens to be my favorite part of the dress and the only element that probably puts him in the top instead of the bottom for creating a boring black dress. They ask Han who she thinks would wear her outfit and whe she says someone young and in her 20s, they all look like she just declared World War Three. And rightfully so, I don't know a single person in their 20s who's want to wear that. When they do finally get to Duncan, they commend his draping, but also deride the dress for being simple, directionless, and seriously unsexy. I think Heidi makes the point that an open back would have meant the difference between being safe and being in the bottom, and I can't disagree with that, but still. I think Zac complained about the color, but fuck him what does he know? All around they mention that they can't get a clear idea of who he is as a designer from this dress, and he admits that being fresh out of design school, he's not even sure himself. Immediately, my fantasy about the two of us features us going on a journey as I allow him to get in touch with who he really is deep down inside. It's a journey of love and self discovery, the voice over guy from every movie trailer would say; the feel good movie of the year, obviously. But I digress.
As soon as the designers make it to the greenroom, everyone is shocked to find out that Duncan is in the bottom and rush to assure him that he's not really going home. Their surprise I share, their assurances that his time isn't over yet I'm more dubious on. Because here's the thing, I love Duncan's dress, I really do, but even I have to admit that you get a clearer picture of who Han and Blake are from their shitty looks than you do about who Duncan is from his beautiful look. On the one hand, this show is about finding the best new designer, but on the other hand this challenge specifically is about making your mark and telling the judges who you are. Did Duncan do that? In a way, he did; he told them he's not sure, but he's capable of producing strong work while he finds out. In the end, Nina points out that too many ideas (as is the case with Blake) are better than no ideas (as she thinks is the case with Duncan), and Zac and Heidi point out that Duncan's work still feels like school work and Project Runway isn't school time. So Duncan's out and Ashely racks up her first win. I don't agree with the decision in the scheme of the entire season, but I don't disagree with it in the scheme of just this one episode. My heart breaks that we won't get to see his handsome bearded face and hear that sexy voice for the rest of the season, but it also soars over a strong victory for Ashley. I love her, I loved her look this week, and I can't wait to see what's left to come. All in all, my broken heart aside, this was a really strong episode of a new season of a show I think we all were kind of counting out for awhile there. Maybe we should start out season 14 with a big bold statement that Project Runway is back, baby!
--Welcome back to Project Runaways, again. I haven't heard anything from Julius (if you read this, fearless leader, chime in a let me know how you want to tackle this season), so until further notice, I think I might cap each episode? I feel like I've taken over the blog, and that's not fair because Julius is great and this was all his brilliant idea. But we also do need a space to talk about this show each season. Along those lines, someone should probably pimp us out to AV Club in case anyone looking to watch this season wants a place to chat it up....
--Over on my own personal blog, this summer I'm also reviewing So You Think You Can Dance each week. So feel free to check that out if you like. But more importantly, on that show I've talked a lot about what makes a good reality show good, and long lasting. This is because I think SYTYCD is on it's way out in the midst of its 10th, and weakest, season. Meanwhile, PR is in its 14th season and seem to be resurging. How long do we think we've got with this show? Is it the sort of thing that could just be on the air until Tim and Heidi get bored with doing it?
--Anyone else think Merline's statements to Swapnil were kind of racist? Or am I being overly sensative? Either way, shut it down, Merline, shut it down.
--Duncan being ousted also means we lose someone with a background in Menswear. Which is always bothersome to me because I always think the show could use more Menswear challenges and I like to see how designers with the background tend to work in women's clothes. But that's just one more thing that I'll have to miss with him gone.
--Personally, I'm hoping that Ashley sticks around long enough to be here for a "Regular women" challenge and I hope she calls this show and it's past contestants out for their inabilities to work on normal (read plus) sized women. Carry the torch, girl!
--Who are you guy's early favorites? Also I never quiet got around to making nicknames for everyone, so I figured I'd let you guys do that. I was going to go with Ginger Bear for Duncan if he'd stuck around, and I think I'm sticking with Han for Hanmiao, but that's all I got.