Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Project Runway Junior: S1 E2 "An Unconventional Carwash"

After two episodes, I can't tell if I think PR JR is finding a rhythm or if I think I'm becoming used to its hectic fast pace. In a lot of ways, I think PR JR is a purer more distilled version of it's senior partner. There's significantly less product placement and wasteful filler interludes. Gone are the extended hair and makeup consultations for every designer. Gone are the long scenes of designers eating lunch so we can make sure the sponsor's fridge is somewhere in the frame. And since the kids are all adorable and seem to love each other with the reckless abandon that only kids tend to find in these cases, gone is the silly manufactured drama and squabbles that tend to crop up. At least that's the case so far, maybe after teams are formed next episode we'll be seeing a different side of everyone. But for now, PR JR is relying on the genuine wonder and talent of these young contestants (and a very natural and organic kind of pathos that comes of simply working with young people) in a way that makes me feel like this is PR at it's best. The scant amount of time we get to spend with Tim's visits and on the runway not withstanding.

This week's challenge hits the ground running with the contestants being told to get ready for a limo ride the following morning. No telling where, or for what, but everyone gets dolled up for a fun and unique experience. And here's the wonder I mentioned before. These kids are honestly excited and interested in being in this large limo. And that's without the aspect of a limo that we adults like most: getting wasted while someone else drives you around! There's a fun and a beauty in watching them get wide eyed at something as simple as being in a limo. It's a reaction that extends to them going through a carwash, and admittedly that can feel a bit put on in ways, but still. They're cute and precocious, and it seems like the producers understand that that fact alone is enough to carry a portion of an episode. I enjoy it.

Thus begins the group's first unconventional material's challenge. It's a PR staple, but something about it feels all the more daunting because you just know that it's going to be so far outside of these kid's wheelhouses. Granted, I don't think contestants on PR Senior spend much time working with Hallmark Greeting Cards, or Outdated Technology Hardware, but you tend to assume that they've worked with multiple different kinds of fabric and materials in their time and they have years of experience and creativity under their belts. So you assume a PR contestant should be prepared for anything that gets thrown at them while maybe a 15 year old will be significantly more out of their depth. Either way, they have a small span of time to grab as much stuff from the car wash as they can and then just create a look from it. It's pretty standard, and for all of the "I want to grab stuff so no one else can" talk, the materials snatch is pretty simple and everyone seems to leave with much of what they wanted.

In the workroom, my concerns about everyone being out of their depth came up again as we see a lot of people creating looks that mostly consist of materials being glued to the muslin base. It's something that maybe we can give these kids a pass on, and the looks they end up with are still pretty stellar, but it's something that could never fly on Project Runway.

Tim doesn't mention it on his visit, which suggests that it's something they're more than willing to overlook here. Instead, Tim steps into his role as mentor in a way that I feel like we rarely saw him do in this last season of PR. When he meets with Bridget, it's clear that both he and her have reservations about her look. Tim expresses them, but then after a commercial break is quick to offer the kind of guidance and advice that pulls her look together and gives her a path forward with it. Same goes for him telling Matt to cut the tubing he's using for his skirt in order to make it more cooperative.

The next big event is of course the model fitting, and I have to say I was very unimpressed with seeing these looks on the models. There were still a couple hours left in the challenge, and clearly the time they'd have before the runway, but everything we saw being fitted seemed to be horribly underdone. Samantha's dress was a good idea, but the way the orange crept up onto the shoulders made it look like she was wearing an orange cape. Of everything we see during the fitting, Jesse's is the only one close to being worth it. Which leaves us in a position where they'll all have to pull it together and in some cases (such as Jaxson's) actually finish their looks before the runway.

The Runway:

Zachery: On the one hand, this is just pinwheels glued onto a muslin base, so I don’t want to get too excited over it, but it’s also really freaking gorgeous. The movement is nice, the use of the floor mats is really intelligent and well done, and the color on the top pairs well with the silver and black of the skirt. 

Peytie: Kelly’s reaction to seeing this walk is close to my reaction too. That movement is stunning, and the top is so well made and intricately wrought that you can’t help but to be wowed by it. I do think the top is better than the bottom which she clearly didn’t have time for and amounts to little more than mops hanging from the model’s waist, but still. The two of them together work. It’s enough to make you wish she had a little more time for the bottom. 

Victoria: There’s something about this the moment it turns the corner that’s stunning. I think the black and blue go super well together, I love the length of the skirt, and I love what the belt (tie?) is doing in the back. I do not, however, like the cut of the bust. The material she used is unforgiving, and so I think on the top, less would have been more. Maybe a V neck kind of cut would have hidden the inflexibility of the material more? Or at least it would have been sexier. But still I like this more than I dislike it. 

Ysabel: The first thing I notice as she’s walking is the way the back of the skirt flares out like a little ducktail. It’s horribly distracting, and the rest of the look is seriously unflattering. Her materials are not the best, but even so, the color combination strikes an odd note to me, and the top isn’t something anyone would want to wear. This look is neither wearable nor fashionable.

Bridget: I honestly love this. Not so much the red, white, and blue color scheme, but I like the tiled top a lot, and I think the skirt is cute when you ignore the way the material stiffens and doesn’t really move properly. But I find that to be a material problem and not a construction problem, so there’s no big deal there. I like the black tiles on the back of the top, but the back of the skirt is a bit of a problem. Too much muslin showing through. 

Maya: I think I want to like the cut of the top more than I actually do. But I also don’t think it detracts from the rest of the look at all. The skirt is fun and really fabulous. Maybe a little too short? But I don’t mind it. And I do think the stark contrast of the business of the skirt and the simpleness of the top works very well. So I’m a fan. Maybe pair it with a necklace? (Addendum: I didn't see the back of it when I watched the episode, because again they aren't showing the looks turning around on the runway, but having seen it now I can say it makes me like the top a lot more!)

Matt: She can’t walk in it, and the back of the skirt where you can see so much muslin is really bad. With that being said, I like the top. You can tell he thought about this and had a plan and then the materials didn’t behave like he thought they would. 

Jaxson: I love him, but this is a miss for me. The skirt I like a lot, and the top I think could have worked if it weren’t so ambitious, but as is I’m not impressed. The top just looks messy and haphazard. If he got rid of the strips hanging down, it would be a lot better, but it doesn’t look purposeful. The shorts are cute though. 

Zach: I like this. It’s a massive improvement from his previous look. And this is one of the few that doesn’t seem to have relied too heavily on a muslin base, which I’ll always appreciate. I also think the necklace he chose was 100% the way to go, so great styling. I could do without the clutch, but I’m generally not a fan of clutches so hey. 

Samantha: I like this mostly because I think it’s a vast improvement over what we saw during the model fitting. Scaling the shoulder’s back the way she did was the right way to go. I still think bringing the orange around makes it look a bit like she’s wearing an orange cape from the front, but the mostly monochrome front paired with the color blocked back is a win for me. The specific colors she chose go wonderfully together.

Jesse: Sheer perfection. Constructed well, the key chain bits on the arm add movement that attracts the eye, and you can tell that the placement of each of the colors is well thought out. And that’s not even to mention the beauty of the rest of the outfit. That open back! Oh man! I love everything about this.

The judges are so impressed that they say there are four tops (Peytie, Samantha, Zachery, and Jesse) and only two bottoms (Matt and Ysabel). Typically when this happens it's easy to see where there's at least one look in the top that they are just lukewarm about and could probably have been safe in favor of putting another look in the bottom. But here, I don't think that's the case. The judges honestly have solid compliments for all of the top designers and really it would be hard to pick one of the safe looks that would be honestly deserving of bottom three honors. To be fair, once the closer looks happen, it's clear that the win is between Zachery and Jesse, so the stratification of this episode is really just about two really bad looks, two really great looks, and a bunch of looks that are mostly in the middle. 

In the end, Zachery wins, which I can understand but I also think Jesse's look is overall better than Zachery's, and Ysabel loses. It's this decision that brings in the natural pathos I was talking about earlier. These kids have honestly connected in a way that their adult counterparts tend not to. We've seen friendships develop on this show before, and even outpouring of emotions over a designer getting sent home (who can forget Jeffery Sebelia crying when his friend was auf'd?), but there's something about it here that's heightened. And it's clear that some large part of this is because everything is heightened when you're a teenage, but also because you can think of these relationships a lot like summer camp relationships. These kids met and within a day or two became really good friends because that's what kids do. Anyone who's spent any kind of time around young people, or who remembers being a young person themselves, knows that this is the case. And these relationships hit hard and come on fast. 

But there's another part of it as well: Ysabel mentions in her last confessional that she's said to being going back home because there it's just her and her sewing machine, but here she got to be surrounded by a group of cool and likeminded peers. This is an experience that most of these kids have never had before. They're passion isn't the passion of their contemporaries. Even amongst other young artists, their interests are probably unique. It's been a long time since I was in high school, but my guess is that kids who are into painting, drawing, photography, or sculpting will easily be able to find people at their schools who are into the same, and even clubs that cater to those interests, but will the kids who are into fashion design? And so we see that this is important to these contestants in a way that it doesn't often feel like it's important to the adults on Project Runway. There's a good chance that most of the people on PR have already gone to design school, or fell in with a crowd of likeminded people when they were in their 20s or so. This is the first such experience for these contestants and so when someone goes home and everyone cries and hugs them goodbye, it feels genuine and we understand it in a way that I haven't felt it in the other show. On the one hand this could get taxing after too long; someone should be going home each week until we've got a final three or four finalists. But on the other hand, PR JR brings an emotion and a pathos that PR has long been lacking in its dealings with jaded, cynical, and overly competitive adults, and that's enough to set it apart in a good way. 

Loose Threads:

--Jesse’s statements in the carwash about how the other kids need to get a grip were pretty on point really. 

--One other aspect of Ysabel going home that hurts so much is just how kind and perky and just all around good she is. She was smiling and happy throughout her critique and just a ball of sunshine, and seeing her face crumple as she falls into tears upon hearing that she's out was just heartbreaking. 

--Also in the great personality category is Samantha. She's so personable and quirky when they come to her on the runway that it brought a smile to my face. That girl is going to go far in life and hopefully this competition. 

--It's only been two episodes but I'm still wondering about the overall collection of talent here. Don't get me wrong, I think all of these kids are good; as evidenced by two weeks of pretty glowing reviews on their final looks. But I'm wondering if it isn't that a select few (Samantha, Jaxson, Jesse, Maya, and Zachery) aren't lightyears ahead of the rest of the pack. 

--Though to be fair, Jaxson's stumble here might call into question his placement on this list. I think he was just a bit too ambitious, and I do think it would have been great if he'd been able to finish it all properly, but I think the others have been more consistently good through this small sampling. 

--In keeping with my comments about how close these kids are, Maya finishes her look early and offers to help Jaxson finish his as well. It's adorable! Zach points out that he wasn't going to help because it's a competition, and his points aren't incorrect, and they're what we'd expect to hear from an adult on the other show, but something about them here felt discordant to me. Maya's far more the example I'd like others to follow since it gives me a higher esteem for this show than for PR.

--Sorry for the extreme delay in getting this up, the truth is I totally forgot it was even on last Thursday, and by the time I remembered it this week, I was already busy with holiday plans and such. But here, my Thanksgiving gift to you. I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday!

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