Friday, November 13, 2015

Project Runway Junior: S1 E1 "Welcome to New York"

I have not watched a single PR spinoff since the very first All Stars. If I'm remembering correctly, it wasn't a season, but like a one-off episode where some of the previous loser got to come on and try to get a kind of gratis win? The only thing I remember is that Korto was on it and I really wanted her to win because I thought she got shafted in her own season (the fifth) and I wanted her to finally get her due. She didn't, and I never watched another PR Spin-off again. Mostly, this is because I don't feel like the shows ever really justify their existence. I'm not a big fan of people coming back and competing again on a reality show. Contestants getting a second chance at Survivor has always been a pet peeve of mine. And I think that the judges, Heidi as the host, and Tim Gunn are seriously important elements to the show. Clearly, these things can change for the better (getting rid of Michael Kors in favor of Zac has proven to be a massive upgrade for the show), but the consistency is important to me. After watching the first episode of Project Runway Junior however, I'm a bit on the fence but leaning way more over into the plus side than the negative.

There's a fairly straight forward and simple reason for that: These kids are way more talented than they have any right to be! But let's get to that later. I want to start with the first thing about this episode that leaves me feeling more ambivalent than I thought it would. PR JR is working with an hour long runtime. If you guys have been following us for awhile, you know I tend to lament PR's current 90 minute timeframe, and I always hate it when the show crosses into the two hour mark. I've written ad nauseam about how well and poorly the producers have used their ever fluctuating, but generally increasing, runtimes over the years. So the assumption would be that I'd unreservedly  praise the shorter time here. But I'm not so sure. On the one hand, the episode is clipped and sparse and taken down to its bare essentials in storytelling. We get brief introductions to some of, not all of, the designers. This works in part because PR grownups has worked to introduce these kids to us a bit during commercial breaks in the last couple episodes of its previous season. But even if you hadn't been paying attention to those, it's fine because you get everything you need to know in this episode and the rest will come later. When PR edits a first episode to only showcase a handful of designers, namely the ones likely to be in the top or bottom of that particular episode, it stands heads and shoulders above an episode trying to introduce you to everyone.

But then there's Tim's mentoring, the runway, and the final judging which crack through at a breakneck pace. I was taking notes, so it makes sense that I had to pause and rewind multiple times just to get an impression of the looks coming down the runway, and I didn't even try to remember what all the judges were saying about the top and bottom looks. I can't imagine if you watched it in real time that you got the ability to have a lot of that portion of the show stick to your bones. I don't want to blame the hour long runtime for this because bad editing is bad editing, but the producers have to find a better place to shave time than in the final moments of the show. We didn't even get to the see the backs of most of the dresses because the catwalk was edited so it was one look walking towards the camera and then a jump cut to the next look walking towards us. At least give us a quick glimpse of the turn around, guys!

This blends in with another problem I had (the execution of the first challenge) to make me wonder how invested the PR producers are into this show and, by extension, how invested they want us to be. So the first challenge is a simple introductory challenge. The kids are brought up onto a roof top in Manhattan(?) and told to get inspired by New York to create a look that tells the judges who they are as a designer. It's fine, and it's not the first time PR has pulled out this kind of challenge, but they don't actually give the kids an opportunity to get inspired by New York city so much as being inspired by this one particular skyline view of this one particular place in New York city. And if you rewatch the episode, please don't take a shot for every time one of the kids says the skyline because you'll die of alcohol poisoning in no time flat. Don't get me wrong, the skyline is a very important and iconic aspect of NYC, but if the title of the episode is "Welcome to New York" and the point of the challenge is to be inspired by New York, then maybe (just maybe) you should take them around to actually see New York? To her credit, Sami looks down instead of up or just out and she sees the taxi's all in a row and is inspired by that, but pretty much everyone else just sees the tops of buildings, and makes a go of it.

But that's enough about the bad or the uncertain. The majority of the episode was fun and enjoyable so I'd rather talk about that. They're given one day and $200 to spend at Mood, and seeing these kids be overwhelmed by Mood, which again is a freaking warehouse of fabrics, is so touching. I think I've gotten so jaded by seeing designers just kind of in Mood like they own the place that there was something refreshing about this shopping trip. Zach remarks that $200 sounds like a lot of money, but at the end of the day it really isn't. Which as anyone who has bills to pay can tell you, is totally true, but ultimately not everything in Mood is $50 a yard like the fabric we saw him looking at, and the truth is it would be easy to find something more or less equivalent to it but at a lower price.

Jaxson, who is just cute as a fucking button, goes straight for the neoprene and I cringed. It's a great fabric as it has a very specific weight and texture to it, but I had no faith at all that he'd be able to work it into the flattering shapes he'd need it to be. It's not the only time I doubted these kids abilities given their ages and I doubt it'll be the last time this season, but I think these potentially low expectations are something the show has going in its favor. It'll allow us, or at least me, to be blown away more regularly each episode.

Tim's visit shoots by in a blur, but I was really happy to see he wasn't pulling his punches with these kids. His critique of Victoria's look isn't as mean and ugly as we've seen him get in the past, but neither is it the sugar coated gentle letdown I was worried it might be. He tells her in no uncertain terms that the leather strips are too much, need to be paired down or at least look way more purposeful, and then leaves her to her devices. Personally, I'd like to trade in the multitude of checkins we see here for just a handful of more in depth meetings with Tim, but again the editing is something they'll have to figure out as the season rolls on, or not at all, what do I know?

There's a cute moment the morning of the runway where Tim tell Zach who's scrambling around to get his dress finished that the look would give him a lot less trouble is the dress were shorter. I think whether or not this feels like favoritism is a point that will be uniquely subjective, but it was fine for me. It felt like a kind moment where a mentor simply provides the small push and a shift in perspective that someone would need to get their look over the hump. Not that it would make the look either better or worse, just that it would ensure something finished went down the runway. I loved it.

The Runway:

Bridget, 15: Ok, it’s simple, and maybe a bit boring, but I think it works for here. I’d make it safe. 

Peytie, 15: She made that print work a lot better than I expected it to. I’m impressed. It’s still a fairly simple dress though. 

Zach, 15: Making the dress shorter took this out of being elegant and into being cute. But with that being said, I think it’s cute. The free-standing top is nice, but I think it could be sexier. The whole thing, except the belt which I hate, is cute to me, and I can’t tell if that’s good or bad.

Victoria, 17: This is the first solid miss for me. The strips on the bottom never really were incorporated into the design as a whole. The fact that they don’t even go all the way around the skirt is a problem and looks tacky. And there’s something about the zipper in the back that I find horribly distracting. The top is at least OK, but I’m worried about the proportion here. I feel like the skirt comes up too high and the top doesn’t come down low enough so it makes her midriff look all wrong. 

Ysabel, 17: That top is to die for really. Those darts look good, but there’s some puckering on the right side that I don’t think is purposeful. The back took my breath away. I love this. I think the skirt is a bit more simple and paired down, though her fabric choice adds a lot to it all. But yeah, this is all wonderful to me. 

Matt, 17: The movement of the gold chain in the back sells this for me a lot more than anything else. I don’t think the velvet adds much to the overall look, though I can understand it adding a lux element to the design. And the gold on the front is something I find tacked on and distracting. The black velvet doesn’t photograph well so I can’t see anything special in the cut of the dress itself, which makes me think the selling point is the fabric and the gold chain, which isn’t enough for me. I like it, but I can’t love it. 

Samantha, 16: YES! A million times yes! Esp when you take into consideration the fact that she had to remake the pants in the 11th hour. The tie in the front is a very unique and innovative detail, the neckline on the top is just fascinating, I can’t stop looking at it, and there’s something wonderful about the baggy fit of the pants that I love. And she kept the color scheme simple in a way that makes this feel elegant to me. This is the most innovative and well thought out design so far, I think. There are some fly-aways on the waistline of both the top and the skirt, sadly, but that can be forgiven. 

Jesse, 16: The first thing I notice is how clean his lines are. I respect that. And the little details at the neck are a nice touch to set this just to the right of “simple little black dress.” I also like the slit in the skirt which is tasteful. But this whole thing isn’t wowing me. 

Sami, 16: Hm…. I like the fabric. The simple truth here is I like the top, and I respect what she went for with the back, but I don’t like the skirt. I think the skirt is both poorly constructed and conceived, but I’d need to see an example of that kind of skirt done well to know for sure. 

Maya, 13: I think the color, the movement, and the back are all fabulous on this one. I don’t like the detail on the belt. I think it would stand out more if it was only done on the back instead of on both. The belt just looks messy to me. But other than that I love this. 

Jaxson, 15: This is the other really smartly designed look out there. I was worried about him working with that fabric, but clearly he knew what he was doing. It’s got a weight to it that works, and the flatness of the color is really remarkable. And I think the cutouts on the bottom, both in front and back, are striking. I’m impressed. 

Zachary, 16: This is great too. I like the two fabrics and the transition from the heavier one into the lighter more flowing fabric on the bottom. I also think the amount of skin showing is perfect. it’s not a sexy look, but the cutouts go a long way towards making it one of the sexier things we’ve seen. 

Ok so Sami, Zach, and Victoria are on the bottom, while Jaxson, Samantha, and Maya are on the top. I don't recall the judging as clearly as I should because, like I said, it went by way too quickly. After all the pausing and rewinding I had to do just to get something to write down about each look on the runway, I was too tired to keep up the trend for the judging. But from what I remember the judges chastise Zach for poofiness of his skirt making his model's butt and hips look big. They say the same thing to Sami while also pointing out that her look is poorly constructed, but they don't hate the taxicab influence. Victoria is told that the strips are tacked on and lazy since they don't go all the way around the skirt. 

For the top looks, they compliment Maya on the color and the movement and the guts it took to make a jumpsuit like that. The truth is I had forgotten she'd made pants when I watched it on the runway; the fabric moved so well that I thought it was a dress. They do call Samantha out on her poor finishing of the hemlines on her garments (though I think Christian mentioned liking those elements), but ultimately can't limit the amount of good things they have to say. Kelly hits on the intended androgyny behind the whole thing, and there was something refreshing about it being noticed. Christian's points about the belt being big but not functional, and great because of all that were also really nice to hear as I loved that belt. They also all love Jaxson's look and the amount of thought that went into it. Someone points out that he didn't really intend to use the grey fabric on the front until he saw the back of the colored neoprene he bought and realized how well it would work, and how you can still see some of the color just peaking out on the front adds dimension to it all, and it pointed out just how much this kid was thinking in the moment to be able to create that look. 

In the end, Samantha wins and Sami goes home. Personally, I would have sent Zach home this week because I think Sami's look at least told us a bit more about who she is as a designer and I tend to think that the holding of ideas is better than no ideas, and that's the difference to me between these two looks. But I think Tim might have saved Zach with his comments to the judges that he whipped out that skirt in like an hour. It wasn't a good skirt, but he was at least capable of doing it quickly, so maybe that was worth keeping him around for another week. But either way, my main impression of PR JR is that it stands to be able to justify it's existence in a way that no other PR spin off has. Certainly, it's still Lifetime trying to squeeze every dime out of this series that it can. But these kids are all adorable and talented. They're personalities are bigger than the contestants we just spent the last couple of months watching, and the show has kept enough of the strong PR elements that the transition shouldn't be jarring. In short, I'm watching this until it gives me a reason to stop, and I'd love it if you guys watched along with me. 

Loose Threads:

--Let's get this out of the way early: Hannah Davis does not have Heidi's stage presence at all. She's beautiful, and she at least delivers her line as well as can be expected, but she's not charismatic or compelling. I don't remember having a problem with her criticisms at least, so she might make a better judge than host. But still, she might be the weakest link of the show. 

--I'm curious to see what the biggest flaw and drop off is between this show and the regular PR. My early guess is in construction issues. The number of darts that were off center and Samantha's messy hemlines were some of the early warning signs, but we'll see. 

--What I don't expect these kids to have a problem with is a lack of ideas and creativity, but we'll see about that too. A lot of these first looks were fairly simple and straight forward dresses and silhouettes we've seen before. I'm hoping that has more to do with first challenge jitters than anything else.

--If this isn't just jitters though, I think there's a big gulf between the talent levels here. Seeing how Jaxson and Samantha seriously thought out their designs and executed them well compared to just about everyone else's simple dresses was striking. 

--The winner will get a full scholarship to FIDM and $25k! Not to mention a spread in Seventeen magizine and some sewing stuff. It's a great prize since it's age appropriate, has the ability to seriously change these kid's lives, and shouldn't lead to nearly as much stupid product placement. 

--Samantha spent like $40 on her entire look! I'm seriously impressed by that. I said it looked elegant to me, and I stand by that even though I wish she had cleaned up the hems. 

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