That episode was about as good as Project Runway can get this early in the season. It had a difficult challenge, a bunch of fun story threads, a great guest judge—everything the show ought to do well. Jeez, there was even a medical emergency at the end. It was freaking packed.
We began at Atlas with a killer montage setting Gretchen up as the villain for at least the next few episodes, maybe the whole season. “It seemed like everyone understood why I won even before I won,” she said to the camera, “and they were really rooting for me.” If she had added, “...to get my scalp caught in a sewing machine,” she would have been closer to the truth, as we cut to catty designers bitching about Gretchen in their apartments. The editors cut back and forth like this for a while, as Gretchen kept upping the magnanimity of her self-praise with each subsequent clip. You could tell the field producer who conducted her interview was handing her rope with which to hang herself: “Could you talk more about your fellow designers, specifically in terms of how much they admire your grace and wisdom?”
Tim Gunn welcomed the designers to Brooklyn party-supplies store Party Glitters. “I wish we were here to celebrate that you’ve made it through two challenges,” he said. Hold on, what’s this about TWO challenges? Are we supposed to forget that the first “challenge” took place in a simulacral sub-reality where the only truth was that there was no truth? We are? Oh, thank God.
The task was, obviously, to design something using crap from a party store. Tim Gunn reminded everyone that “the judges don’t like it” when designers cop out by using fabric-like items—wrapping paper or tablecloths. Inside the store, Gretchen asked if there was any store staff around to help her, which was a reasonable inquiry. But the producers had already framed her so effectively as a snob that the question came off as hopelessly bourgeois—of course Gretchen wants to coast through this challenge on the backs of the party-store proletariat.
The staff couldn’t help elitist tyrant Gretchen because they were busy with Casanova, who was asking where he could find the “black table clothes.” The show cut to a flashback of Tim’s “don’t buy tablecloths” speech, with the caption “2 MINUTES AGO.” That might have been the most passive-aggressive chyron in television history.
A.J. was feeling some extra pressure because his trademark aesthetic is party-favor glam, judging by a glimpse of his audition tape. With the challenge right in his wheelhouse he dithered over his design, frantically asking Mondo, “I was going to do birthday. Are you doing birthday?” Mondo responded with his flat affect, “I’m doing Quinceañera.” Conversation over, thanks to the master of the accidental perfect comeback.
There were a lot of strong workroom subplots. Andy seemed to be making the classic Project Runway mistake of focusing on a time-consuming handcrafted detail at the expense of progress on the overall garment, but he got some last-minute help from April and Peach Carr Named Designer. This irritated Gretchen, an avowed social Darwinist who abhors the welfare state in all its guises.
Ivy also had a complicated construction, and she half-joked that she was getting woozy from the fumes of her glue gun—foreshadowing! Elsewhere, Tim Gunn discussed the relative merits of “animal wooly balls” and “real balls.” The winner: animal wooly balls, naturally. (It’s a shame that Jason wasn’t around to enjoy this moment.)
Runway show. Betsey Johnson was the guest judge, an ideal pairing of judge with challenge. She ended up loving most of the crappiest stuff, kind of like Selma Blair did in the season premiere, except Johnson wasn’t just mumbling about being “confused.”
The bottom three were A.J., Sarah, and Casanova. A.J. didn't quite belong there. Yes, his Barbie-on-meth dress had its problems, such as the Mardi Gras beads dangling from his model’s crotch, which functioned as a performance-art interpretation of venereal disease. There were worse designs out there, though, like Kristin’s mess of wispy plastic loops and Michael Drummond’s glitter dress with the sad plastic skirt.
Sarah, the eventual loser, was a strange case. Her painted palm fronds looked like an interesting touch early in her design process, and Tim was encouraging during his visit. After that, though, she lost her way—in part because of a critique from self-appointed Junior Mentor Gretchen—and produced a bland dress with scant, uninspired accents. Casanova’s gray-purple vomit gown, with its blossoming fart of gray ruffles, was a travesty, but the judges always prey on bland. So Sarah was gone.
I thought that April’s black-shard gown, sort of a noir Sonic The Hedgehog look, could have been in the top three. Her design got jumbled up in the back, though, so I see why it didn’t make the cut. Instead, the heads of the class were Valerie, Gretchen, and Andy. The skirt of Valerie’s napkin dress was great, but the gap in the chest was awkward—McKell was sent home for less egregious sideboob offenses. The other two designs were both excellent, but in a crushing victory for socialism, Andy’s braided-ribbon dress carried the day.
Finally, we got the ambulances we were promised in last week’s promos. Ivy collapsed walking out of the elevator back at Atlas, and certainly seemed in a bad way while the EMTs attended to her. It sure would have been nice to know whether she was OK, but why would the producers fill us in when they can exploit Ivy’s medical problem for a juicy cliffhanger? Aaand roll credits.
— It’s too bad that Jason’s model had to go; she was gorgeous. It must suck to be selected as a model for Project Runway and then get stuck with a creepy, talentless zero like Jason. I wonder what that’s like. They should make a separate show that tells the models’ side of WAIT OH LORD NO.
— “She looks like a transvestite flamenco dancer at a funeral.” Michael Kors Word Picture of the Season, so far.
— “I think you took a 360 on the styling!” (OK, people from last week’s “literally” thread, have at it.)
— Gretchen: “Remember you need to have time to make sure your station is all clean today.” What the hell was that all about?
— A.J. to Tim: “I think you think this is ‘my challenge’ because I work with these materials normally.” Yeah. Tim Gunn, you crazy.
— Annals of people not understanding why it’s called a "challenge”: 1. “Nothing about my design aesthetic is cheeseball.” 2. “It’s hard to find how to make a dress that looks like a dress with plastic stuff.” 3. “I don’t want to, like, experiment.”
Collier Strong Handlebar-moustache makeup guy is a goddamn tank.
— It would be nice for the show to have 90 minutes when it’s warranted, like it was tonight, and the regular 60 when it’s not (e.g., last week). A man can dream.
— “‘Ascot Gavotte’ would not introduce teal!”
— Re: Party Glitters. Is “glitters” a noun or a verb there?
— My wife had a problem with the non-Auf-ing of Casanova, but as long as it doesn’t victimize an especially talented designer, I love the insane judging decisions. The longer Casanova stays on for novelty purposes, the harder his presence is for Heidi & Friends to justify by any rational measure of fashion. It’s like watching the judges play chicken with their own credibility.
— I’d like to go glasses shopping with Mondo.