Sunday, December 6, 2015

Project Runway Junior: S1 E3 "Teamwork is Hard"

Is PR JR getting better with each passing episode? I ask this honestly, because I can hardly express how good I thought this episode was. We'll talk extensively about the ending and how that's either a mark against the hour or a point in its favor depending on where you stand, but everything prior to that felt like a kind of culmination of three episodes worth of toil. The progress of this season isn't surprising to anyone who watches PR on a regular basis. There's been an introductory episode, an unconventional materials challenge, and now a team challenge. Honestly, if we got a Heidi as client episode and a Real Woman episode in the next two, I'd say we'd have hit all of the PR staples in the first four hours. But there's something special here that we just don't get from PR anymore. And I'm sure everyone's tired of hearing me say this by now, so I promise I'll try and make the next review less about comparing this show to its predecessor, but it still rings true. These challenges are smarter, simpler, and thusly more entertaining than what we see on the other show. The quality of the finished designs might not be on the same level, but that's a given and a small enough consideration when you're dealing with contestants in their teens.

Take this week's challenge. The first thing we find out is that it's a team challenge. Fair enough. Hannah comes out with the button-bag-o-doom. She tells everyone Zachery has immunity for this challenge, but stops there because his win last challenge doesn't give him any other kind of leg up in this one. He doesn't get to pick a team, or start off a school-yard pick. No, PR JR is actually concerned enough for the mental wellbeing of its contestants that it doesn't put them through the potential hurt and embarrassment of a school-yard pick. Gone is also the "Who should win? Who should go home?" questioning we usually see on the runway, but we'll get there.

From the early going, it looks like one team is stacked and the other is the underdog. A team that features Matt, Samantha, Maya, Jesse, and Peytie simply feels stronger than one featuring Zach, Zachary, Bridget, Victoria, and Jaxson. Not horribly stronger, but the trio of Samantha, Jesse, and Maya sees contestants who have been consistently great to this point. Whereas Zachary and Jaxson are probably the strongest on their team with the others having been mostly safe, or even in the bottom as was the case with Zach in the first episode. But the picking was totally random, so there's no complaints to be made.

From there, it's off to see Tim where the designers are told that their being given three fashion eras to choose from (the 40s, 50s, or 60s, though I don't see why you don't replace the 40s with the flappers in the roaring 20s, but that's just me), and they're to be inspired by those eras to create a five piece cohesive collection. They're also told that only two people from each team will be going to Mood so the other three can stay behind and get to work. They'll be in communication with the workroom through FaceTime. I have to say, I like this as well. It shows a dedication to making sure there's time enough to get to work on the product, and also gets into the core of teamwork: having to trust members of your team to have your back and not screw you over when you aren't there to guide their hand.

One team picks the 40s, the other the 60s, and it's off the sketch and come up with a plan. From the start, it looks like Team 1940s has stronger communication and a more democratic kind of leadership while on Team 1960s, Samantha steps up and takes the leadership role almost by force. Matt comments that her consistent spot in the top three makes him confident in her abilities as a leader, so they're in good hands. The team seems to go through the motions of gaining consent, but there's something in the way that Samantha kind of (I say kind of because we've seen much worse) steam rolls people, and makes a "suggestion" and asks if everyone agrees that suggests she's not really looking for consent so much as expecting the others to just agree with her superior idea. Either way, everyone knows what they want to do, Maya is pretty set on her idea to make a vest, and it's off to Mood. Samantha and Peytie are going for Team 1960s and Zachary and Bridget head out for the 40s.

If Samantha's steps toward leadership in the workroom were tentative (and I'm not even sure that they were), then her actions in Mood are nothing but overt. It becomes clear that this is the Samantha show and everyone else on her team is just going to have to get in line. While she and Peytie are looking for fabric for Maya's vest, she blatantly says "I don't think we really need the vest, right? She can do something else." and after something of a beat, Peytie agrees. She either agrees or capitulates, I'm not certain which, but it's a problem either way. They have phones, they have the ability to call in to their team and check with them about these things instead of making unilateral decisions and declarations about what the people back at the workroom will do.

This isn't without its pratfalls, of course. Zachary FaceTimes his team and has a great conversation with Jaxson without a problem. But when Peytie tries to contact Jesse, they have a bad connection and lose the call. One of the things I loved about the idea of having the kids call back to the workroom to communicate fabric choices was that it seemed to fit in perfectly with this our 2015 world. These kids are probably on their phones constantly anyway (as are the rest of us to be fair), so this felt like a way to get at them on their own level to a certain extent. But of course when you rely on technology to such an extent, the option for that tech to crap out on you is always there looming over everything you do. Who hasn't had a meeting or an interview scheduled over Skype just to have your internet go down or Skype decide it just doesn't want to work today? But even so, I can't be the only one to think that Peytie could have tried a little harder. If Zachary can have a clear conversation with his team, there's clearly a sweet spot in Mood that she could have gotten to and got stronger reception.

Everyone gets back to the workroom and, surprise surprise, Team 1940s is happy with the fabric choice and already had a considerable amount marked out with muslin. Conversely, Samantha walks into the workroom and starts everything off with a "Here's how's it's going to go down" pronouncement, and everyone's miserable, Maya is especially upset about having to come up with an entirely different design since her vest was the focal point of what she was doing before and that idea got scraped without her knowledge. So when they do finally get fabric, almost everyone on the 60s team has to start their designs over from scratch because none of them got what they wanted.

Tim comes in and has one of the least effective visits of this short season. Gone is the harsh-but-ultimately-helpful Tim Gunn we've been seeing so far, and back is the mostly condescending and insulting Tim Gunn we saw in last season of Project Runway. He doesn't like much of what's happening with any of Team 1940s looks, or at least not the ones we hear him talking about. He thinks Jaxson's stark white top is horribly discordant to the rest of the collection, but he doesn't remark on the cut of it, so there's no telling if simply changing the color would be the way to go. He doesn't have anything overly negative to say about Zachary's look except that using the zippers as the hem of the pants is the wrong idea. And this is where I was most confused. While I agree with him about not using the zippers, where was the compliment to how great the top was on its own? Probably left on the cutting room floor, but still.

But that's nothing compared to Team 1960s critique. He likes Maya's dress, but hates the neckline of it and then spends all of his time talking about that one element. He's also not a fan of Matt's hunter green look, which I thought was the best thing the team had created. And he hates the tope colored fabric most of the looks are using. He also doesn't like Samantha's jacket, but it's the sole piece she's got going for her, and she likes it so she isn't changing it. Everyone else, however, scraps their looks and starts over yet again! Everyone except Maya who just reworks her neckline. I don't think we've ever seen this many start overs bode well for someone, and there's no reason to assume it'll all work out here.

The Runway:

Peytie: I’m not so concerned with how short it is, minus the fact that this is the 60s and there should be a little more modesty, but I am concerned with the way the print seems to carry the dress more so than anything else. It doesn’t look innovatively designed so much as just a simple dress with a cool print. I’m not impressed. 

Jesse: Not a fan of this either. The color blocking at least feels 60s inspired, but the dress is simple, and the cut of the hem looks sloppy and uneven to me. The addition of the pink at least pops and doing it in black and white would have been a massive failure, but I’m still not impressed. 

Matt: That head scarf has got to go. I don’t see Jackie O in that at all. There’s no way in hell this simple and basic look is better than the green dress we saw during Tim’s visit. All in all, this collection looks like exactly what it is: looks thrown together at the last minute. 

Maya: This is the best look so far. The color is perfect, the shine and the movement of the fabric is great, and the details along the neckline are fabulous. Does it say 60s to you, though? I’m still unsure. I love the swooping open back, and it’s pretty sexy, but there’s something about it all that I feel is a bit too edgy for the 60s. Still, this is great!

Samantha: The white dress gathers and bunches up in a way that’s horribly distracting, the coat still has those eyesore flyaway threads that makes it look messy and unfinished, and on top of all of that, it’s all horribly boring too. This is a massive failure from Samantha. 

Victoria: I’m going to say that I’d like to see something from her in colors other than blue and black. But with that being said, I still like this a lot. I think the pop of blue catches you off guard when you do see it. I think the peak-a-boo slit in the back of the top is really striking. And I think it’s all very tastefully done. 

Zachary: I love love love love this. The slits in the front showing off those spectacular pants! Another keyhole open back! The cut of the neckline! It’s all so sexy and sophisticated, and I like it that he says it’s modern because that’s what I think of it too. Idk that it screams 40s, but I also don’t know enough about the fashion of the 40s to be able to say one way or the other. What I do know is that it’s a great look!

Jaxson: I like this look. My complaints are in the messy construction of the top, and in the fact that the ribbon detailing on the top is black instead of in the same navy color of the dress. But other than that, it’s OK. His back isn’t open in the same way as the first two, which I think throws off that one element of cohesion, but we’ll see about the rest of the collection. 

Zach: I echo Kelly’s WOW on this one. That jacket is crazy great. The whole thing is streamlined and elegant and professional looking. It looks expensive. The neckline is sexy as hell too. I’m a fan of this!

Bridget: OK I like this a lot, I honestly do, but does it look a bit bath robe, or like a nightgown to you? Something about it takes it out of the glam I think she was going for and puts it more in the bedroom. It’s still nice, and the fabric and movement are great. I just don’t know that she achieved what she was specifically going for. 

No one's surprised to find that Team 1940s is in the top and Team 1960s is in the bottom, though Hannah is quick to point out that it's not that the 60s looks are bad so much as the 40s looks are really great. She can play lip-service to that idea all she likes, those 60s looks are pretty horrible. They talk to the 40s team first, and spend most of their time focused on Zach and Bridget. I love it that Aya is so quick to point out the evening gown quality of Bridget's look that I thought I might be alone in noticing. But as they point out, the collection goes from day to night, so Bridget's look works even better than I think she actually anticipated. But Zach's look is my favorite. They compliment the fit of the pants, and the impeccable tailoring of the whole thing. I think Zachary is short served with no one pointing out how great his look is and how impressive it is that he could pull this out even when he already had immunity. 

Maya gets the lions share of the compliments for the 60s team as her neckline and the open back are stellar aspects of the look. For some reason I simply don't understand, they seem to like Samantha's jacket (though I don't think we really hear from Aya about it), and then when she's asked to take the jacket off, everyone collectively gasps at the sight of the horrible and unfinished dress underneath. Kelly seems to like the frayed edges of the jacket itself, but to me it makes Samantha's clothes look cheap and it never feels purposeful or strategic. So when you couple that with the cheap and unfinished aspect of the dress she paired it with, you've got this consistent problem of Samantha putting cheap and unfinished looks down the runway. I forgave it in the first challenge since it was the first challenge and I figured they'd all need some time to adjust. Plus the design of that first look was strong enough to surpass any construction issues. That's not the case here though, and I find everything about this outfit to be a horrible problem. 

We don't get a closer look at the dresses in this challenge, but we do get a fairly extended conversation between the judges about who should win and who should go, and I honestly would love to see more of this in the future. It's clear that the decision on who to lose is between Samantha and Matt, and if you're anything like me, you assumed it was time for Matt to go since he's been safe-bottom-bottom through the first three challenges while Samantha has been win-top-bottom. But the judges explanation for each were really fascinating. Hearing Christian almost excuse Samantha's crappy dress in favor of the jacket they all like, and the intelligence to at least leave the jacket on to hide the horrible dress is fascinating. Couple that with Kelly's vehement anger over the state of Samantha's dress, and you can see that there's a really solid case for sending this girl home. 

Bridget wins which I can't be upset over though I like Zach's look more. Everyone is dismissed from the runway except for Samantha and Matt, and the looks on their faces say it all. Samantha is told that she's in, and she breaths a clear sigh of relief and starts to walk off the stage before anyone tells her to. Hannah stops her and sends her back to her spot before saying that Matt is safe too. No one is going home, but there will be a double elimination next week. 

Here's why I think this decision doesn't work so well: a lot of what we've been noticing thus far has seemed to be in favor of coddling these kids to an extent. A lot of what I pointed out in this episode alone suggests they're playing with kid gloves in certain places. One place where I'd like to see them not really do that is in the eliminations. I know I complain each week that these eliminations are harder to watch than the eliminations on PR, but they're still needed both to keep things moving and to perhaps teach these designers something. You can't have an off week and still be successful here. Plus, while I like Matt a lot, I don't think we've seen anything from him yet that automatically suggests we need him to stick around. Not sending anyone home here feels like a bit of a cop out. 

Here's why I think this decision works perfectly: if we take Hannah's statement that they really did like both teams looks, and didn't feel as though either team truly deserved to be in the bottom, and the arguing back and forth through the judging certainly seems to suggest that was the case, then why should anyone have to go home? I don't think they should make a habit of this by any means, but if there was ever a moment when it makes a level of sense, it's this one. Also, the conversation between the judges seems to suggest the biggest problem for the 60s team was a lack of inspiration. They bring up multiple times that it's odd that they didn't go psychedelic, Woodstock, hippy wear for this one. And while I can understand wanting to, I don't know that you can fully justify sending one person home for what is ultimately a failure on the part of the whole team. 

Either way, whether you agree with the decision or not, this is where we are. No one goes home, and yet we have a double elimination next week meaning no one except Bridget is safe. If they cop out again and only send home one person, or if they send home two and Tim saves one, that could be a problem and shed an even more negative light on this development. But if they stick with it, it could be the most stressful and dramatic episode thus far. 

Loose Threads:

--I forgot to mention that the winning look with have its pattern produced on which is a site I'd never heard of before. It's for this reason that I certainly think Zach should have won since I thought his design had a little more thought and complexity to it than Bridget's did and fit in with that aspect of the challenge more. 

--Once again Zach is the only person upset by the outcome of no one going home. He seems to be the only person going hard on the competition aspect of the show. He's not wrong, but I maintain that he makes for a blight on the otherwise cute and friendly nature of the show that I've enjoyed so much. 

--With that being said, it's to his credit that he doesn't complain about not getting the win that I think he deserved. Even Bridget on the runway said she thought Zach was going to win, and he just holds his tongue. Gotta respect that. 

--Tim tell Jaxson that he doesn't like his top, and that leads to him changing it, but once again we see Jaxson's time management issue come up. Even when the team was talking about going to Mood, it was pointed out that Jaxson needed to stay in the workroom because he's constantly pressed for time. I'm happy to see them acknowledging this, but I'd like to see him get better. I'm hoping Jaxson sticks around for a long time. 

--Christian seems to be the main judge taking these kids to task on the runway. he doesn't seem to hold back much in his comments. There's one moment here where he says something and we catch the briefest shot of Kelly's "OMG! I can't believe you said that!" face before the show moves on. Kelly is quick to point out that Samantha's dress looks like shit, but she waits until everyone's in the greenroom before saying so. I've been fascinated with the judging thus far. 

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