Friday, September 18, 2015

Project Runway: S14 E7 "Haute Tech Couture"

I said last week that I thought Project Runway was in the midst of a change or some kind of identity
crisis. This is mostly due to the odd choices they are making on a week to week basis. It's not that the show is bad, and at a certain point in time, I should probably stop pointing that out. It seems like I might be trying to convince myself of this truth more so than convince the rest of you, but I also think it's true. In the past, we've seen this show be really bad, and it looks very different from this when it is. The right people are still going home from week to week, and there's no Sandy here racking up unearned wins. The judging's been consistent, and the fact that they've locked in Zac and Nina on each week is for the better. But there's seriously something odd about the small things they're doing here, or is it just me?

For example: this week the designers wake up and find an old school boombox in their rooms with a cassette tape from Heidi featuring a recorded message. The message is basically congratulating them on figuring out how to work this ancient machine, and then dropping a cryptic hint about what their challenge is. Why? What purpose does this serve? What follows is a short moment of speculation from the designers about what their challenge might be, but then they all just leave and immediately head out to find out what their challenge is.

Allow me to digress here for a bit onto one of my very very favorite topics ever. In the fourth Harry Potter book, Harry and the other Champions in the Triwizard Tournament are given golden eggs which contain hints about their second task in the tournament. The champions are tasked with figuring out the clue, solving the riddle, and then creating a plan of attack for the next task. They have months to do so, and presumably the quicker you can figure out what the next challenge is, the more prepared and better served you'll be to tackle it. So in this case you can see how the early cryptic clue is meant to work: it challenges the Champions' mental faculties to figure out what it means in the first place, and then gives them time to come up with a plan of action. To get back onto the topic of Project Runway, when have we ever seen the cryptic message from Heidi prior to a challenge have that kind of effect? The contestants get it, and then moments later are told outright what their challenge is. So what's the point of it at all? At this point the show is just doing it because they've always done it, and that's not a reason to do anything.

So they all meet at the dump and Tim tells them they're going to use outdated technology from the dumpster to create a modern and fashionable look. It's simple and straight forward and everything before this moment was a waste of time. I know that PR doesn't think time is valuable, but I certainly think that my time is valuable, so maybe don't waste it?

Added into the odd, but maybe not detrimental, choices is that while everyone's running around to get their supplies, the producers decided it'd be cute to put up these odd and ugly 90s inspired flash words naming the outdated supplies they were rifling through. Words like "Floppy Disk!" and "Vinyl Records!" It's like the "Bam!" and "Pow!" flashes from an old Batman show, and it serves no purpose. Is it the worst thing ever? No. But what purpose does it serve other than being an ugly distraction?

The overall feeling of these last two episodes in one of the producers being out of ideas. They're trying to throw stuff at the wall to see what sticks, and they're failing. Last week, it seemed like they thought asking the designers to create a bra and panty set would be just the most scandalous and dramatic thing ever in and of itself, but when they didn't get the desired effect they kind of said, Oh shit, and then panicked a bit. The sad thing about it this week is that the episode actually opens with a nice bit of natural drama. The team wakes up and debriefs about Blake leaving, and Jake is conspicuously absent. It's a prime moment for a sit down about how he feels having made it through the cut while Blake didn't, but we don't hear from or see him at all. He's there when they head to get their supplies, but he's in the background mostly and seems a bit despondent, but while everyone else gets confessional moments about where they are and what they're doing, the man from the bottom two last week doesn't get a moment.

The designers get back to the workroom and spend what seems like an inordinate amount of time working before Tim comes in to just remind them of the rules, and remind them of what's expected from an unconventional materials challenge, and that's when Jake speaks up for the first time and asks Tim for meeting. Turns out his dog is in bad shape and will need to be put down. As a result of that, he feels the need to go home and spend these last moments with him. I might be biased as a serious dog lover, but I think this is totally the right choice to make. Project Runway is a big deal and a great opportunity, but it's not worth missing last moments with a loved one. Had Jake come out and been like "I miss my boyfriend, and want to go home!" I would have rolled my eyes and moved on. This is a perfectly reasonable reason to back out of the competition to me, and it's a very emotional and important moment with grander implications for the competition. This is the better and more naturally dramatic point of the episode, and could have created a bit more of an emotional center for things if they'd used it as such.

But the thing is it's fleeting at best. It's one quick moment and then it's done, it's not touched on or talked about again until we get to the runway. On the one hand, the editors and producers of this show have to work with what they're given. Jake's exit comes at a moment when everyone's too focused on the challenge to really engage with it, and perhaps he wasn't the most loved contestant to begin with, so even if he had left after finishing half of a look, they still wouldn't have talked about it too much. Either way, I was left thinking it didn't get the attention it deserved.

Tim comes in and is mostly impressed with where everyone's going. Ashley spends time talking about what she's done to the pictures she found and what she's thinking about doing with them, and I was left thinking that she might honestly be a genius. The closest thing to this that I think we've seen in awhile was Sean's rainway dress from last season. It was well thought out and if it's as well executed, it could be a wow moment. It won't be quite the jaw drop that Sean's look was, but it bespeaks the same level of thought, innovation, and creativity that that look did.

The interesting thing about Tim Gunn visits on unconventional challenges is that so much of what's going on will depend on final execution. He tells Lindsey that he likes the fact that they can see the type on the keyboard buttons she's using for her top, but that's not an early critique on her look, just this one aspect of it because that's all he's got so far. When you look at something like what Joseph and Candice are doing, it's easy to say you're impressed with their ideas and the direction they're going in, but it all will depend on the final execution. We'll circle back around to that.

It's at this point that the episode takes an odd turn though as Swapnil gets the strangest edit we've seen in awhile. After he finally figures out how to make his cord and wire do what he wants it to do, he doesn't do a damn thing for the rest of the episode. He takes a bunch of smoke breaks, dance breaks, food breaks, and just generally spends time goofing off, but he doesn't do anything at all in an effort to create a skirt. It doesn't seem like he's lacking for ideas on a skirt, but it seems like he's lacking for any desire to go about creating one at all. He mentions to one of the other contestants that his strategy thus far has been to just be safe each week, then get into the top, and then end out on a string of wins. There's two ways to look at this: 1) if he hasn't been giving his top effort in hopes of just being safe lately, and yet he's been in the top so many weeks in a row, just imagine how great he'll be when he really turns it on! 2) If he hasn't been giving his top effort so far, then is he actually taking any of this seriously, and if not then why should he stick around?

Jake leaves this episode because of some serious personal trauma he has to deal with, but the whole time you can see how tough it is for him to choose to leave this great opportunity. Meantime, Swpnil seems to think this is all fun and games. It's an odd disconnect for a contestant to have, and it left me wondering if he wasn't getting a loser's edit early on. In the end, he paints some stuff on a piece of muslin for the skirt and rests on his well constructed top to carry the look.

The day ends with no one really having anything finished, and then the morning of the runway sees a lot of people working to finish, but without the usual frantic energy that comes from this point in the challenge. Everyone's just kind of walking around languidly, and for all of their talk about how unfinished they are, no one at all seems to have a fire under their ass to complete their looks. It added to the odd discordant note of the entire episode. I don't know who to blame for this, but it all just felt off. On to the runway.

The Runway:

Swapnil: Is it pretty? Sure. But does the skirt look like he haphazardly painted all over some muslin? Yes. Does that detract from the entire look? I’m not sure. There’s so much work that went into the top that I think you can give him a pass on the bottom, but still. It’s a nearly perfect look if only he could have dedicated enough time and attention to both pieces.

Edmond: Not going to lie: I love it. I really like how controlled but random the keys on the bottom are. For it to look more thought out and symmetrical on top and then just go into that pattern on the skirt is pretty brilliant. And that plunging neck is super sexy. 

Lindsey: Boring, and the skirt is hideous.

Candice: I question the construction. And the hardest thing for these unconventional material challenges is to get any kind of movement whatsoever, and she fails in that. But are the cords or whatever she used well placed? Yes. And that creates a look and a textile that really works and I appreciate. It’s not great, but it certainly looks like her, and it’s not boring, so that’s good. 

Laurie: I want to like this so much, and there’s a lot about it that I do like. I like the top, and I like the little peak of skin between the top and the skirt, but that cummerbund looking waistline is horrible and I hate it so very much that it makes me hate the entire look. I don’t know what she should have done differently with that, but she seriously should have done something different! Yikes!

Kelly: Love it! This is wearable right now, and I can see a real life woman who'd love to wear it. The way she put those pieces together to give that look such a texture is really amazing. It's not just the metallic sheen of it all, which is also great, it's really the texture of it that makes it look really well thought out and wonderfully executed.

Merline: This is another one that I want to like more than I actually do. I think it’s honestly just the flat color that I don’t care for. The shape of it I’m ok with, but I think the flat black of it all just doesn’t really work for me. I think the color scheme of the runway so far has been a lot of blue and black, and this is a look that also could have used a bit of the blue as accents. 

Joseph: My initial thought was that it’s the youngest and sexist thing he’s done so far, but the skirt was too long. But then I looked closer and saw where it fell on the model and I realized it isn’t too long, it’s that it makes her body look weird. I think maybe in separates or with some way to break it up around her tummy instead of just that one long piece would have been better? Or maybe just break up the pattern around there somehow. Either way, the continuous kind of just blue and black stripe all the way down made it look oddly proportioned to me. 

Ashley: I don’t want to downplay this at all. I think she did a great job of creating a print out of the pictures. And I certainly think that it’s cute and fun and kind of flirty, so I like all of that. But I also think it looks like she just glued a bunch of  pictures onto a muslin base. She thought a lot about where and how to glue them, so that’s good, but in the face of what Edmond or Laurie or even Joseph did in creating an actual dress out of their materials, it doesn't stand out quiet as much as it could. I love it, and I think it shows her brilliance and proves just how much she deserves to be here, but I'd like to see her push herself in the construction of it all just a bit more. 

Ashley, Kelly, and Edmond are tops, Joseph, Lindsey, and Swapnil are bottoms. Joseph and Lindsey are ripped for being boring while Swapnil is ripped for being lazy and not putting forth any effort. During the closer look at the clothes, Zac goes on and on about how upset Swapnil's lack of effort makes him. He sounds almost offended that he's here if he isn't even going to try. No mention about the multiple top three appearances aside from the judges talking about this being the reason why he hasn't won one yet. To his credit, when he's criticized and asked if he didn't have enough time to finish the skirt, he owns up to the fact that everyone had the same amount of time and put down some great looking outfits, so he won't make that excuse. While his lack of effort annoys me as well, his lack of making excuses and his ability to still say all the right things is something I continue to appreciate about him. He's got to step it up if he's going to stick around though; he's been exposed and he's on the judge's radar for the wrong reasons now. 

Ashley, Kelly, and Edmond are all praised for the reasons you'd assume. Ashley is brought to tears on the runway, which is moving but also kind of her go to at this point so it might not have the full effect it could have. Kelly is really the standout from this week. I've said before that I don't think she has what it takes to win, but I'm now starting to think I might have been a bit hasty. She might be the kind of dark horse contestant that peaks at the right time and goes all the way to the end. The oddest comment comes during the closer look at the dresses when the judges start to see that Edmond's dress is glued together and falling apart. What the fuck did they expect it to look like? He glued a bunch of keyboard keys onto mouse pads, what else can it look like close up?

In the end, Kelly gets a well deserved win and Joseph gets a well deserved Auf. The place where I think they dropped the ball a bit is when Heidi tells Swapnil he's safe, she didn't add that they're very disappointed in him and if he doesn't step up his game, he might not make it through the next challenge. It's probably implied by their critique, but in much the same way that they aren't shy about telling a safe designer with immunity that they were only safe because they had immunity, this could have been an opportunity for that as well. But oh well, hopefully he gets the hint and comes out stronger for it next week. 

Loose Threads:

--I don't know if we've got any younger readers, but if so, I've made sure to include wiki links for the outdated tech from the start of the episode. You're welcome. 

--Because Jake left on his own, it seemed that certain people thought maybe there wouldn't be an elimination this week. When Joseph comes back form the runway, Edmond asks him if he's safe too. No buddy, that's not how it works. Looks like we finally got our double elimination though. 

--Swapnil's edit this episode comes so far out of left field. Did we even know he smokes before this episode? This is my ultimate point about trying to form some kind of season long edit for the characters. If we'd known about the smoke breaks, or just knew about his smoking a bit before now, this episode might have felt like a more organic episode. 

--I got home late and missed the beginning of the episode and it wasn't until the runway that I realized someone was missing and had no clue what that was about. So I had to watch the beginning of the episode on the encore showing that happened immediately afterwards. Which is just my way of saying that I'm really surprised by the editing of this episode and the fact that someone leaving didn't have any kind of lasting impact whatsoever. 

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