Friday, January 6, 2017

Project Runway Junior: S2 E3: "En Garde Avant Garde"

This is what Project Runway Junior has going for it: young, talented designers who don't get handled with kids gloves. I mentioned this last year while reviewing the show's first season. Dealing with kids automatically heightens the emotions of a thing. We're genetically programmed to further our species. This means we're genetically programmed to want to protect the young of our species. Reality competitions are hard. They're stressful and emotional powder kegs. Spending time with a group of people, growing close to that group, but always knowing that at the end of the day you're competing against one another is hard and stressful and confusing for an adult. You know it's harder for a teenager. So PRJR comes equipped with heightened emotions that PR simply can't match.

But there's more than just pathos in this show. The fact of the matter is PRJR wouldn't work if the kids they found weren't so damn talented. Project Runway has never not been about art and fashion. As such, you need great artists at its core for it to be compelling. This was never more on display than it was last season when everyone was pretty much equally (middlingly) talented. The complaint that would have quickly sank the PRJR ship would have been if the quality of the clothing produced had been significantly lesser than the quality of clothing on its parent show. Luckily, that's never been the case. I don't know if we're more impressed with the fashion on this show because we have lower expectations due to the youth of the contestants, or because it's genuinely masterful. All I do know is that I've never failed to be impressed with the fashion on this show.

And this season hasn't been any different. I've watched all three episodes even though I didn't review the first two. I needed a bit of a break in the wake of PR, but I have been impressed so far. Through three episodes, I would proclaim Tieler, Rene, Izzy, and Cartier, as the contestants to beat. I'll be keeping a close eye on Allie, Molly, and Chris as they interest me but I think they've been a little inconsistent thus far.

The Challenge

This week sees the remaining ten designers broken up into pairs and asked to create an Avant Garde look inspired by fencing gear and armor. It's an interesting way to introduce us all to the fact that Tim's taken up fencing in his old age. Most people celebrate a mid-life crisis with a sports car, Tim Gunn started learning a new sport with a phallic weapon. C'est la vie!

The button bag continues to be the decider of teams on PRJR. If I remember correctly, the show completely avoided any aspect of the school yard pick last season, and it seems like they're doing so again. When your contestant base is made up of a bunch of artsy, queer kids who have probably been on the harsh end of a school yard pick their whole lives, it makes sense to save them from that when you gather them together in doing something they all love.

From the start, the trouble team is Hawwaa and A'kai. As a quick aside, between those two, Cartier, and Tieler, we've got some of the most interesting names reality TV has ever seen, but I digress. Both Hawwaa and A'kai were in the bottom last week, and with good reason. Hawwaa points this out and makes it clear that they're the underdogs. But we've seen underdogs bounce back and be made stronger by their union on this show in the past.

And then they start working together and it's clear that this isn't going to be one of those stories. Team challenges are always hard, and communication is always the problem at the center of each poor team. Hawwaa and A'kai simply cannot communicate. Admittedly, A'kai's problems with clear communication were showcased all the way back to the first episode when he had the oddest exchange with a Mood employee that we've ever seen. He's also been shown to be a sensitive boy who cries under a very limited amount of stress. So he cries multiple times and always looks like he's mere seconds away from crying.

Then there's Hawwaa. As I was watching, I kept trying to figure out who came off worse in this episode. In the end, my money's on Hawwaa. At Mood, she goes on about how she has to be the leader because A'kai is younger than her. Then in the workroom, when he asks her for her input on sometime, she tells him to just go off and do it on his own. Then before the runway show, he makes a change without telling her and she goes off on him about not including her in the decision. Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't think you can have it three ways. Either you fall into the leadership role and you offer the guidance needed to accomplish the task, or you shirk that responsibility and just allow your team to sink or swim on its on accords. Either way, once you've chosen, you don't get to complain when the team makes a choice that's in accordance with your decision. The moment she said she didn't care anymore and A'kai just needed to finish the skirt however, was the moment she lost all right to be upset about him making a choice and not including her in it.

Everyone else seems to work together quite well and it shows in their final looks.

The Runway

Chelsea and Allie: Wow! Now that is one hell of a way to kick off a runway show. The neck line going so high up is stunning, the shoulders and those points are amazing, and the manner in which they employed the same technique on the pants is really smart. Love it.

Chris and Rene: Stunning! It's maybe just a little more wearable than I'd like for an Avant Garde challenge, but it's still exceptional and far out there. That jacket is to die for. The hood, the back of it, everywhere you look there's something stunning to behold. I like the jumpsuit a lot too. The way Rene loves showing skin continues to be impressive. At some point I wonder if his taste level might falter. It hasn't so far, and I love anticipating what he's sending down each week. But if this is the winning look, I think the win goes to that jacket!

A'kai and Hawwaa: It's poorly constructed, and the two pieces don't go together well, but it's not horrible. The top is striking, and there's a play on hard and soft that I can appreciate. It's not very good, and it may turn out to be the worst thing on the runway, but I've seen worse in PR history. 

Izzy and Cartier: I think this is beautiful, but I don't think it's very exciting. I think the poofy hips technique is an easy and lazy way to go when you do Avant Garde. But it's done well here. She says they have three pieces, but I thought I only saw two. 

Molly and Tieler: I love it. It's weird and out there, but wonderfully well constructed and thought out. I thought the back might be a little more open than it was, which would have been an interesting touch, but it all comes together wonderfully well. For someone with immunity, Tieler certainly didn't play it safe. 


Allie and Chelsea are in the top along with Molly and Tieler. Hawwaa and A'kai find themselves in the bottom with Chris and Rene. 

It's pretty obvious that Chris and Rene aren't in danger of going home against what A'kai and Hawwaa did, but I was surprised by just how much the judges didn't like their outfit. Admittedly, it's more wearable than an Avant Garde look should be, but that's the only complaint I had about it. Aya calls it safe, which I don't agree with, and Christian simply doesn't like jumpsuits. I can't disagree with his point that the jumpsuit might not be where fashion is going, but I don't know that I think a general prejudice against the idea means you don't get to engage with the look on its own merits. I neither love nor hate a jumpsuit, but this one was at least well made and interesting. Or at least I thought it was. And the jacket was the selling point of the outfit to begin with and simply doesn't get the attention I think it deserves. 

The two winning teams are commended for how well they worked together and collaborated on their different ideas to create a new whole. As anyone could have predicted, Hawwaa and A'kai implode on the runway. It doesn't take very much of them trying to explain how hard it was for the judges to get the picture and pretty much tell them to just stuff it. 

Tieler and Molly get the win, and since the jacket was the bigger deal, Tieler gets his second win in a row. After a really difficult deliberation, and with Kelly in tears, A'kai is sent home. But anyone who was watching the episode and knew enough about the show knew what was coming next. The moment A'kai went to Tim during the workroom segment of the show to confess his struggles with Hawwaa and to ask his advice was the moment that sealed it in stone. If A'kai was to be sent home this episode, Tim was going to use his save on him. And he did exactly that. 

The looks of shock within the greenroom aren't without reason. It's the third episode of a long season, and already Tim Gunn has used his save. Here we go with yet another discussion about what the save is for; it seems like we touch on this every time he uses the damn thing. The truth of the matter is that A'kai isn't ready to be at this level of competition. He managed to escape the bottom three in the first episode on the sheer luck that there were three worse looks than his on the runway. Admittedly, three looks isn't a very large sample size, but what I can see for sure is that I have no real interest in seeing anything else from A'kai because I don't really think he has much more to show. He stumbled on the team challenge, but that's no more of a reason to save him than Lucas' failing on the unconventional materials challenge was basis to save him last week. Indeed, after Lucas' stunning dress in the first episode, there was more cause to save him last week than there was to save A'kai this week. 

But Tim liked him, and he asked Tim for help, and Tim helped him out about as much as it's within his power to do so. A'kai talks a big game about making sure everyone knows he was worth the save, but we'll see about that. Honestly, I don't expect him to make it to the midpoint of the season, but who knows. 

Loose Threads

--As much as I think Tim made the wrong choice in using his save, I did enjoy the scene between him and A'kai. Tim Gunn as mentor is one of the other things this show has going for it. Hannah is an alright host, but clearly she's no Heidi. Keeping Tim on and finding three really great judges is a choice that will keep this show afloat. 

--On thing this show has as a mark against it, however, is it's editing. The runway on the first episode was horrible. Each look was cut before you could get a good look at it. And there's something about the judgement sections that feels impossibly rushed and I've been noticing the music during them for some reason. Either the music needs to be lowered, or they need to pick something that adds tension but doesn't draw too much attention to itself. It's all rather disconcerting. And the makeup section of each episode needs to go away. The designers don't seem to get hair and makeup consultations, so why there's any time spent on that is beyond me. If it's the same set of producers behind this show as are behind PR, then this show really confirms that they've totally forgotten how to make a good hour long episode. 

--I mentioned Rene's aesthetic briefly but I must say, I'm really quite impressed with it. For a 17-year-old, it's really interesting how well he can make flattering, sexy clothes for a woman's body. With that being said, I feel odd looking at him with his many sleeveless, v-neck shirts and oddly short shorts. Put some damn clothes on that kid already so I don't have to feel like perv. 

--One thing I find interesting this season is the manner in which these kid's beliefs seem to matter to them and seep into their clothing. Allie and Hawwaa both admit that they come from religious and strict backgrounds, so neither of them really like to design revealing clothing. Allie's been able to do some interesting things without having to show much skin so far, and I'm curious to see if she can keep it up. Hawwaa made some comments about Rene's first dress that I'd like her to keep to herself from now on.  

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