I'm officially of the opinion that Project Runway might be in crisis. Or maybe on it's last legs? Or maybe just in the midst of trying to reinvent itself a bit. Some of the changes work and have injected a bit of life into the long running series. Other changes have felt more like someone's been pushed from a plane and is trying to flap their arms in an attempt to stave off the inevitable: it won't help, but with the end only seconds away, it can't hurt either. It was mentioned in the comments on the last episode that some of what we're seeing could be due to budget concerns for the show, and the more I think about it, the more I think that that's the case. or at the very least it's one of those things where once you see it you can't unsee it, and now everything that happens on the show gets brought back around to that central issue.
Take this week for example. The challenge is the Heidi As Client staple for the show, but instead of making a nice Red Carpet look for her, or something sleek and elegant, the designers are asked to design underwear for her lingerie collection. At this point, let me pause and ask something that I wasn't sure about while watching the episode: is this the first Lingerie challenge we've had on the show? It's certainly the first I remember, but that isn't saying much as my memory is notoriously faulty. First time or not, the challenge in and of itself doesn't speak of budgetary concerns, but then the designers head back to the workroom and find that they've been provided with bras and fabric and basically they're just supposed to sew fabric over the provided bras (if that's how they want to do it) and add their own touch.
I've mentioned the dearth of Mood trips this season already, but this is a bit ridiculous. Not only do they not go to Mood, they're only given this scant amount of fabric to work with? This feels very much like the show is scraping the bottom of the barrel to get as much mileage out of its last few bucks as possible. If this season ends with the last five or six contestants going to Mood left and right with huge amounts of money to spend, I think the writing will be on the wall; they didn't have enough money to send everyone to the store each week like usual, so they waited until the end to send a few people with the money they had on hand for the occasion. But I guess we'll cross that bridge when we get there.
The rest of the episode feels off. Or was it just me? It was oddly stock but also just a bit weird feeling. The show and the producers more so than the designers feel like they're just going through the motions of what's expected of them. I got the impression that the producers expected that asking everyone to design a bra and panties set would be just the juiciest and most dramatic thing ever, and then were let down by the footage they'd amassed and just threw something together at the last minute. Partially, this is because the designers are adults, and so designing underwear shouldn't be some big dramatic and crazy thing for them to do.
Or, they're all adults except for Blake I should say. Blake carries the brunt of the episode, which was an odd choice, I thought, until I reached the end of the episode and saw why. In the wake of what happened with Ashley and the mean girls last week, you'd think that would be the current that could carry this episode through. It couldn't have been setup better if it had been scripted: Plus sized girl is more-or-less bullied and abused by the skinny girls on her team one week, and then is asked to come back and design some sexy lingerie for some skinny model the next week. Two weeks in a row where some of her insecurities and traumas are just laid bare for all the world to see, and all she has to do is rise above it, create something spectacular, and get a win and all the validation that comes with it. It's honestly the outline for an after school special as is. But aside from a brief mention of the discomfort in the house that morning, nothing more is said about Ashley and she's only on the outskirts of the episode at best.
Instead, we focus most of our time on Blake and his comical (read childish) lack of understanding about basic female anatomy. Let me say, in the interest of full disclosure, that I, like Blake, have never come face to face with a vagina either. Out and proud gay man here and I've never had sex with a woman. Which is good because I don't think I'd be all that good at it, and it'd just be a waste of both our times; ladies you deserve so much better. But, unlike Blake, I know women in real life, I've even taken basic human biology classes a time or two, so I certainly know what a vagina looks like, where it sits on the body, and if need be I'm sure I could at least know how wide to make a piece of fabric in order to cover it. So what the fuck is this kid's problem? Once again his ignorance, whether feigned or honest, is met with derision from Laurie at least, and from some of the other contestants as well. But I can't help but to wonder if this isn't the first time he's been faced with such a reaction. It's not that he's as surprised by it as he seemed to be the first time around, but he's so unaware that it's baffling. Either way, by the end of the show he's made it painfully clear that he doesn't understand how boobs or vaginas work, and the rest of us are left thinking "But you want to design clothes for women?"
Heidi and Tim's visit brought to light two other things I hated about the episode: Tim reverts back to his useless self from earlier in the season as if the only way to impress the pretty girl on his arm is to be as ruthless and useless as possible. And so much of the rhetoric of the episode makes me uncomfortable. I'm not a prude, far from it really, but there's something about the talk of this episode that had my skin crawling. It wasn't until Jake's model fitting that I realized what it was.
Jake has a moment towards the end of the day with some of the other designers about how his model didn't want to be in a thong on the runway, so he had to change his design to have a fully covered bottom. And my initial and immediate reaction was "Oh suck it up, lady, this is your job and you have no choice but to do it!" and then in the second after that thought hit me, every bit of my feminism slapped me in the face and made me feel like shit. The problem is that the job of "model" is already about as problematic as it can be, and now here we are actually having these women who are praised only for their bodies in the first place parading on national TV and in front of everyone in as little clothing as possible. It's a job the model chose, that's for sure, but no one should be made to feel uncomfortable at their place of work, and this is one episode that really toys with that. It's one thing for a model in a full on dress to stand in front of the judges while Zac paws at them and insults every aspect of the dress. Then it's easy to divorce yourself from the comments which are clearly only about the clothes which you didn't even chose to wear. But when you're in as little clothing as these models have to wear this time, is it as easy to divorce yourself from those comments? My point being this: this episode had a way of taking something about the show that's always been a problem (these girls wearing the clothes are nothing more than coat hangers) and made it into something that I couldn't just ignore or gloss over. I guess that's all I'll say about that, either way it left a bad taste in my mouth out of what was otherwise a standard if not good episode.
It's also interesting to see how confident Merline and Ashley are in this challenge even as they put together looks that left me a bit uncertain on the model form. There's really no telling who will be confident in their abilities week after week on any given assignment, but it's refreshing when someone feels as though they've got something in hand and then turn out a look that proves they were right all along. For more on that, let's go to the runway. Bella Thorne was the guest judge this week and when I heard that and saw her on screen I decided immediately that I disliked her and didn't want to hear what she had to say, but then she gave critiques and she was intelligent and thoughtful and knew what she was talking about, so I felt a little bad.
Swapnil: There's an interesting kind of superhero vibe to this look that I like. There are two strips of the nude fabric on the back of the coverup that I hate and think look thrown on at the last minute, but other than that I like it. I also think the fit looks a little wonky in places, but I could just be crazy. There's movement, and flow, and it all feels like the kind of thing your wife would turn the corner in and your jaw would drop, so I'm impressed while not thinking it's the best thing we've seen of him thus far.
Ashley: This I love. If I have a complaint, and I promise you it's a small one at best, it's that I think the coverup could have been done a bit better or given a bit more thought. But I love the bra and panties set. They look extremely well thought out in a runway show that had a lot of things looking thrown together last minute. The set is well constructed, and a beautiful color, and fit perfectly. I love everything about this.
Jake: The fit is all off, I fully understand that and don't want to excuse it, but this is another of the better looks I think I've seen from Jake thus far. I like that he went with the polka dots and the lace accents look great, and there's a youthfullness to the look without it being juvenile no matter what Heidi says to the contrary. The coverup is a tragically sad afterthought, but so many of them are that I can't help but to wonder if that's a flaw on the part of the designer or on the part of the challenge itself. It's not that I think the whole look is good, just that I think it's good for Jake, so I'm grading on a curve, but still.
Edmond: I like everything about this except that horizontal line across her vagina. Honestly, can someone who wears panties explain to me if that serves some kind of a purpose? Because I find it horribly distracting and it makes me hate the rest of the look.
Lindsey: Hate it. Hate the styling, and the color, and the...fuck it, I hate it all.
Candice: My very favorite thing about this look is that the minute it stepped out, I knew it was Candice's! Not because I'd seen what she was doing on the dress form or anything like that, it just screamed her. And I mean that in the very best way possible. I think it's sexy and tasteful, and while I don't think it has the universal appeal of something like Ashley's look, I still think a lot of women would like to wear it. I love this!
Joseph: Get the fuck out of my face with that bullshit! Ok, I'll give him one small scrap of praise for this horror show: Heidi said it was matronly in the workroom and he changed it appropriately. Much like Edmond, he got a bad critique and responded by turning out something worthy of being safe at least. but holy hell do I hate this. It's boring!
Merline: I think I like this, but I also think that I want to like it more than I actually do like it, so it's a weird thing. Her model is about as flat chested as they come, and there's nothing at all wrong with that, but it makes this look like more of a lacey tube top than sexy lingerie. But I don't want to place the blame for that on Merline. Simultaneously, I don't think a bustier woman could really pull that off, someone please correct me if I'm wrong. Other than that, I think it's well thought out, well constructed, and easily marketable.
Blake: Oh dear God. Really, dude? Really?
Laurie: While I probably know more about a woman's body than Blake does, this is where I might have to show my ignorance of women's under things because I love this look. High in the front or not, I think these are adorable. I love that bra like it's nobody's business, and I think it's a technique that more bar manufacturers should probably start using, I think the color is beautiful, and I think it's all pretty sexy. I also like how the panties are more modest in the front but open in the back; it felt purposeful and I respect that. I also like her coverup more than most of them, so yeah. I like this.
Kelly: This is my favorite look of the night though, and someone smarter than me about these things is going to have to tell me why this look isn't in the top! The color, the construction, the fit, and that coverup, my God that coverup! I will say that I think the panties are a bit simple and probably not as taxing as they could have been, but the rest of it looks great. And I think it would go well on the website. This is the best look on the night hands down.
And so Swapnil, Ashley, and Merline find themselves on top while Blake, Jake, and Laurie find themselves on bottom. Switch Swapnil with Kelly and Laurie with Joseph or Lindsey and I think they'd have gotten it perfectly right. But that's just me.
Nina mentions that Swapnil's look verges on costume-y and confirmed my superhero observations. They all had mostly great things to say about Merline and Ashley though and it's clearly between them. The judges also point out that without an underwire to the top on Merline's look, there's no way a bigger busted woman would be able to wear it. So my assumptions on that front were also right, but it left me wondering about how big would be too big for that top? If a woman had a solid B cup, would she be able to fit it? If she could, would it be at all comfortable? Obviously, anyone up around a D or bigger wouldn't have any hope at all, but where would you say the cut off is? I expect the ladies to sound off in the comments about this. Either way, the universality of Ashley's look coupled with how great of a story it would be to have her win here after being thrown under the bus last challenge left me thinking she'd take this one and get her third win.
Over on the other side of the aisle, it's really between Blake and Jake for who goes home. Jake's look is called boring, though the judges like the scalloped lace on the bra, while Blake's look is just bad all over. He tries to pull his cutesy "But I'm just an idiot, and I don't know nothin' bout no boobies" routine for the judges and Zac quickly shuts him down saying if he has any real desire to be a designer he needs to learn to design for real women, and real women wear bras. It was a wonderful moment that I enjoyed rewinding and watching over and over again the same way I did on Game of Thrones whenever Joffery got slapped. And so it's the age old question: do you get rid of bad or do you get rid of boring? Zac suggests getting rid of both and they tease the fabled double elimination; which at this point would be a blessing as they can really start thinning the herd a bit and it'd all be for the better. I'm of the opinion that we'll never see anything truly great from Jake, Joseph, or Lindsey, and while Kelly and Candice have nice styles and the ability to turn out something great here and there, neither of them seem strong enough to actually win the whole thing. So killing multiple birds with one episode would be a blessing really.
In the end, however, I was shocked on both counts. Merline wins and Blake goes home. Blake's got an undeserved win under his belt already while Jake's been lucky to be safe most weeks so I thought for sure he'd be going home. Meanwhile, Merline's look could clearly only be worn by a small subset of women. If the looks weren't going to be produced and sold, this outcome wouldn't bother me so much. Merline's look is certainly nice, and a win wouldn't be surprising. But Ashley's look is both beautiful and sellable to a wide range of women. How does that look not win? It reminds me of the challenge Blake won as well: not because I think Merline is equally as underserving, but because it feels like the judges didn't take the reward for winning into consideration when they decided on a winner. It's the same as some of the designers not finishing a coverup for their looks: you have to take then entire thing into consideration before making a decision.
--Can someone please check and let me know how many consecutive weeks Swapnil's been in the top without winning? This is getting a bit absurd. I feel like we need one of those work place "this many days without an accident" signs.
--The sleepover thing in this episode is what I was referring to with my pushed out of a plane analogy. It wasn't horrible, but it also wasn't necessary.
--Did anyone else think that Lindsey getting stabbed with her scissors was karmic in some way for being such an asshole last episode? I don't even believe in karma and that's what I thought.
--I think everyone knows by now that I never watch the hair and makeup sessions, but this time I had the show on while I was at work at my desk (because for some reason I 100% forgot it was on last night) and I couldn't skip it the way I normally do with a trip to the bathroom or something, but anyway; holy fucking shit, how hot is the hair guy? How long has he been on the show? What's his name? And how much would it cost me to run my fingers through his awesome beard?
--I almost set out to write this review as a kind of redemption tale for Blake. He was pretty sweet last episode, and I enjoyed his "I don't wear underwear" line in spite of myself. But after multiple instances of his not knowing anything about the female body and making up words for vagina, I decided I was right to hate him all along.
--Ashley's moment of "Hold on, let me go try these on" when talking about Blake's panties though was HILARIOUS! I love that girl so much!
--When do we get the equivalent of this challenge but in men's wear?
--We're slowly getting down to the wire on this season, so where does everyone stand on the top 4? My guess right now is Ashley, Swapnil, Edmond, and Laurie in no particular order.
--And I'm thinking Laurie, Ashley, or Kelly might be candidates for a Tim Gunn save at some point. Ashley has that bad habit of being up one week and down the next, and it wouldn't surprise me if she got down so far one week that the judges sent her home. Laurie, on the other hand, has been sending down consistently good, but not good enough stuff and she could also be sent home on a whim. (Or does Laurie have a win that I'm not remembering and don't feel like looking up?) And though I said Kelly isn't strong enough to win, I'm thinking much the same about her that I do Laurie, and it wouldn't surprise me to find out that Tim believes in her more than the judges do at some point.