Friday, April 11, 2014

Under the Gunn S1 E13: "Finale"

On Monday, I finally got the chance to attend a weekly screening here in Seattle of Rupaul's Drag Race, hosted by Ben DelaCreme, a local drag queen. Luckily, this week was also co-hosted by last year's winner, the amazingly awesome Jinx Monsoon, who was a local drag force.

Stay with me for a little while, and I'll tie in the relevance of Drag Race to Under the Gunn. First, I'm not a normal Drag Race watcher (Bad Gay!), so this story is about a first time watch for this season. Anyways, if you watched Rupaul's Drag Race this week, you know that there was a total of THREE HOURS of Drag Race this week, with 2 back to back full episodes, followed by 2 episodes of Untucked. And, if you watched this week, then you know that Dela was on the chopping block in the first episode and almost on the chopping block on the second episode.

What was amazing when watching Drag Race with a local crowd who all knew and loved Dela was the sheer amount of caring and relief that happened this week. The event is a free event, with a cash bar and dinner, please tip the volunteer staff. It happened in a huge ballroom, and the whole house was standing room only. I stood for 2 of the three hours (because people needed to leave before midnight, instead of the usual 10:30pm), plus an additional 90 minutes before the show in order to secure my section of the wall. Doors were open at 6:30 for a 9:00 showtime. People were lined into the hall. Of course, this was in Seattle's gayborhood, where we all know and have loved Ben Delacreme. We've seen him perform. He does theatre shows here in Seattle. 

Everybody in that packed ballroom was charged when Dela was on the chopping block and had to lip sync for her life. When Darienne, the chopping block teammate, was declared the lip sync winner the house was on the edge. And, when Dela got a pass, the whole room cheered and was practically a riot. Namely, because we were invested in the contestant who was on the chopping block. 

While watching Drag Race, I realized just how intimately Drag Race allowed us to get with the contestants. One of the things that Drag Race does is give all of their contestants the room to breathe and to tell their life stories. We see them relate to each other as they are working to create. In the two hours, I learned that Joslyn was a young queen who idolized Courtney because they were from the same scene, and that Courtney felt she was above Joslyn. Bianca is a mother hen who took people under her wing and criticized people in order to help them develop throughout the show. Laganja is a very young queen (24) who, like all the other queens, used her persona in order to project a powerful image...but was also rather fake and constructed drama around herself. Trinity was an insecure queen who was taken under Bianca's wing and finally gained the confidence to fly. In 2 hours, there were enemies, friends, constructed plots, and drama...all while they were also working on whatever bits they were working on and creating their costumes for the next day.

The same care was not given to Under the Gunn and its editing. Throughout this season, Under the Gunn has struggled with being overstuffed and trying to minimize the drama. Which is OK considering the mega drama that happened with last fall's Project Runway. But, what Under the Gunn didn't keep in, at least until the last minute, was our designer's personal lives. In turn, Sam's reveal last week of his bullying felt more than manipulative. The other thing that has happened is that, of all the designers left, the only two that have a point of view are not the ones that make good clothing. Sam and Asha both are trying to have distinctive looks to their clothing, but they're both inconsistent. Nobody has a singular style like, for instance, Patricia (like her or not, she had a vision), or even Portland's steampunk style. 

I know I'm beating a dead horse one last time, but the construction of Under the Gunn is overstuffed for its running time. It wants to focus on the creation process, focus on the designers' interpersonal team relationships, and focus on the mentors and their relationships. Of the mentors, the only one who had a positive learning arc has been Uncle Nick, who learned to let his designers breathe...over and over again. And...there wasn't much room for anything else. Mondo didn't learn. Anya didn't develop. The designers had emotions from exhaustion but...they didn't lead to anything

Who am I rooting for, while going in to the episode? Oscar. He's a great tailor and has made some really good outfits, even if I can't quite see a running throughstyle. He has time management, and probably could be a decent businessman. And, he's genuinely nice. Second choice would be Shan. Sure I've been ribbing him for being one of the femmiest straight boys on the show, but he's good people and he also makes solid looks for the most part, though generally I haven't seen much of a throughline. Sam is too underdeveloped as a designer. And, Asha...well...admittedly I kind of like some of the pieces she does, but she really pulled one out on Natalia.

It is with this mindset that I sat down to watch the final episode of Project Runway: Under the Gunn.

It seems that it's not only I who thinks that the designers aren't well drawn, nor are their character arcs. The show opens with a brief series-long recap of the designers. But, even these brief pre-credits recaplets stays rather shallow.

  • "Asha has been improving all season, and winning one challenge!" 
  • "Sam has been a judge's favorite, but has recently begun struggling with self-confidence." 
  • Oscar is a "charming Cuban-American" who was "once a long shot." 
  • Shan "has impressed not only with his designs, but with his speed and skills."

But, we only have an hour to get through everything, and there's a LOT stuffed in this episode. There's 3 days of designing, finishing the designers' stories, 4 runways of 5 outfits each, finishing the mentors' story arcs, getting in all the marketing, and a couple additional marketing bumps we've not seen before.

So, today's is sponsored by a car company, who loans the designer groups use of a car to go to Mood. The designers have 3 days to do 5 outfits in a mini-collection. So, it's an All-Star styled finale as opposed to a full season finale. Just in case you didn't guess.

During the initial sketch period, we're also attempting to solidify people's story arcs through their clothing. Sam wants to do a story of a girl whose armor disintegrates throughout the five looks, reflecting the breakdown he put on last week. Nick encourages Oscar to tell his story of being a Cuban-American and the struggle to get here. Shan needs to pull from his heart because he's exhausted. Asha wants to do an Egyptian Queen in Brooklyn...because she has an ego. Or something.

We head off to Mood where the designers have 1 hour to spend $2500. ZOMG. And, then, there's a brief in-show commercial for eyebrow waxing or sculpting or something. Whatever. It lasts all of 17 seconds, and you barely even notice that it existed. Because, we don't have time!!!

Next we get reintroduced to the last designers eliminated, because the designers get helpers. On Day 2, the designers get a visit from their families. Because the designers aren't robots, despite them not having much of a story, and have families and boyfriends and wives and whatever. Oscar's mom is so adorable, but she only is on for a brief shot. But, they're only there to say that these people have families as their back stories aren't highlighted, but the designers' success are highlighted because...I dunno. Family segment: 2min 15sec.

We end our first block by doing one half of a mentor critique, for Asha.

And, it's time for our first commercial break!

DAMN!!  So, when I wrote the first part of this recap, I hadn't yet watched the episode. I wrote it earlier in the day today, and was truly my feelings about the show overall. I didn't realize that the Finale episode would exacerbate and highlight and underline all of the issues that I have with the condensed over-filled format that Under the Gunn took on.

So, the mentor critiques are interestingly buzzy. Asha is regressing back to costumes. Sam gets a confidence boost from Tim Gunn when Mondo was critiquing. Shan is basically told to find himself. And, Oscar is making a greatest hits collection.

We don't get any time for model fittings. We don't get any time for interaction between designers. We get some confessional critiquing of each other's work, and defense of their own work. And then it's time for our second commercial break. Whole time of second block: ~5 minutes.

The third segment begins with 40 seconds of fellating the theater and stage. We get a brief period with makeup and hair. And then another 20 seconds of fellating the event/red carpet. And, it's time for runway already!! Jebus!

Tonight's special guest judges: Heidi Klum, Neil Patrick Harris.

His runway really started off strong and slightly experimental ready to wear. But, as the armor elements fell away, the clothes just started getting more and more normal. The first outfit is a glam showstopper for a winter collection with a glinty hard-edged look that just looks gorgeously asymmetrical. The second continues, but has an interesting green highlight tab. It's almost a bit Christmasy and overly simple, but the vertical graphic of the stripes really sells the look. Then, it goes straight into off-the-rack. The third look is pretty, but it's a shirt and skirt. The fourth look is the same, but the fifth look is the worst because we've all see that dress time and again. So, much like the competition, he started off strong but then petered away. I don't think he intended the petering part.

Hard and Soft. Leather and Lace. This collection was ALL over the place. I really liked all of the individual pieces but there was a lot in each piece, and their color disparities just was all over the map. What he didn't really do was spend time crafting a runway show, even by choosing the order correctly. He starts off with a bad-ass warrior bitch goddess outfit straight out of Tomb Raider or Resident Evil, jumps into earthy and brown leather and lace that's just hectic, goes straight into a booming red simple outfit, which leads back into a medium simple beige look, which comes back to red and black leather with a bomb ass jacket. It feels like a cohesive collection that could have been helped by a lot of reordering. Open with the second look that has all of the confused elements that make up everything, lead that into the fourth kind of boring look, have that bleed into the red simple dress, which leads into the bombing leather jacket look with then finishes with the video game heroine look. It tells a better story at least. A lot of these elements are damned awesome (A LOT), but it's all a bit much and confused.

Costumes. I thought they were IJ costumes. But, Studio 54 did cough up many of these outfits. There isn't much that I like about any of the pieces. The best piece were the awesome red leggings under the caftan that everybody was going gaga for.

It's a cuban-tinged greatest hits look. His collection suffered because of his first look, which is dull. and should have been hidden much later in the collection. Pieces 2-5 were kind of amazing. The second look especially. But, I keep wanting one more piece after his final look. He needed to end on a showstopper, and his final look was sort of dull. He needed one more wow moment at the end. But, he only had 3 days to create the whole collection, so mad props. However, other than the lace, this collection didn't feel all that cohesive. It was just a lot of really good fashions from a bunch of different designers.

Not so surprisingly, I found myself constantly agreeing with both Heidi Klum and Neil Patrick Harris. Sam had the most cohesive collection, but it was really ready to wear and started fading after look 3. Asha was a complete miss. Shan was good, though it was a touch much. And, Oscar had great pieces and was a good designer, but he didn't have a solid point of view. So, who do you choose? They were all deeply flawed in a way.

Personally, I would probably have given it to Sam because he has a point of view, but I don't know that he had that adventurous of a style in order to make it in his own line. Oscar is good, but he doesn't have a point of view. But, I don't feel disappointed in the choice they made, which was to give Oscar the win.

And, so ends Under the Gunn. Oscar wins. Which, yay. And, is surprising to me because I underestimated him at the beginning due to his tendency to overdesign. But, I can't say that this format worked for me. There was too much time spent on the mentors who ended up not having much of a character arc, and not enough time getting to know the designers. By the time Under the Gunn realized that we didn't know who the designers were, it became too little too late. This format would have been better in a 90 minute format.

What allows The Voice to work more than Under the Gunn is that The Voice has 3 hours every week. A two-hour episode on Monday and a one-hour episode on Tuesday. Or, maybe that's Tuesday/Wednesday. It gives everything room to breathe, and doesn't feel so overstuffed. Maybe with a 90-minute format, at least, the show would have been afforded more time to get to know the designers in the beginning and thus let the viewers invest in the designers, even if they didn't have specific design voices.

And, it seems the Project Runway year is over. One of Project Runway prime, one of All Stars and one of Under the Gunn. Whew. Good luck. Thanks for reading!

Random Observations

  • "Your son's hands; I am in awe." Teehee!
  • "He makes clothes that are functional and believable." - I'd hope so...
  • "I hate coutour" - Oh, Sam.
  • "I call my collection 'Hipster Nonsense.'" - Ugh
  • "I was getting 1920s circus carny coutour. Not my favorite." AMEN!!
  • "I also liked Sam!" - Heidi Klum, always being difficult. Love you, Heidi!

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