Hey, did you know that the 5th season of Project Runway started tonight? No? Well, that's funny. I mean, usually the publicity onslaught in the weeks leading up to the premiere of a Bravo series is overwhelming--suffocating, really--especially here in New York. Before the premiere of the second season of the horrific hair-cutting boredom carousel that is Shear Genius, I couldn't escape visions of those oversized scissors, and it felt like Jacklyn Smith's hollow eyes were trained on me at all times.
And Project Runway is the network's flagship reality competition series, so when a new season of the show is poised to premiere, it's almost impossible not to know. There are posters, billboards, entire buses sheathed in Project Runway ads. There are numerous breathless news stories and interviews with Tim Gunn and Heidi Klum. There's a new, fairly idiotic PR slogan (a la "It's Sew Time") that, once coined, is tattooed almost permanently in the corner of all Bravo programming. Last year, I even received an "It's Sew Time!" Project Runway sewing kit (Get it?!?) along with a screener of the first episode of season 4 a couple of weeks before the air date. This year: nothing. And aside from one lonely Heidi Klum interview on The Today Show this week--during which Matt Lauer all but came out and asked her, "Why would you want to leave our happy Bravo/NBC family?"--there hasn't been much in the way of PR publicity. Looks like Bravo is taking the whole Project Runway-moving-to-Lifetime-next-season thing really, really well.
Bitter, bitter, Bravo. And not only are they barely promoting the show (which, honestly, I think is a good thing, even if it is self-sabotage), they're spoiling the show as well. This week, Bravo posted re-caps of all 14 of Season 5's as-yet-unaired episodes (don't click that link unless you want major spoilers about Season 5), including info about upcoming challenges and revealing who the celebrity guest judges are in each episode. The re-caps don't include winners and who got kicked off, but what the hell, Bravo? They might as well have just spraypainted, "Fuck All Y'all" on the Bluefly.com accessory wall, lit a match, and burned the whole 5th season to the ground.
It is from deep within this thick atmosphere of putrid resentment that the first episode of season 5 was issued forth tonight. And, I'm not sure if it's because of the Bravo bitterness, or if it's because of my lingering distaste for Christian FierceFace and his sack o' leaden catchphrases, or if it's simply because it's the first episode of a new season and I'm not used to these contestants yet, but the show seems like a husk of its former self.
This episode felt a bit like the first low strains of an elegy for Project Runway, especially at the beginning: Heidi's pin-voiced "Ha!" during the rooftop cocktail party was hollow; the fact that Tim Gunn is now the "Chief Creative Officer" at Liz Claiborne is only depressing; and the designers (with the exception of Joe, Jennifer, Leanne, and Kelli) were a little too attractive, and/or a little too well-cast. At times it felt like I was watching a full-on personality parade, with the majority of the designers peacocking across the screen like the little reality TV showboats that they want to be. After all, a 37-year-old man doesn't dye his hair blue, adopt the name "Suede," and consistently refer to himself in the 3rd person unless he's trying with all of his strength to be a Character with a capital C. The same goes for Jerrell, aka My Shirt Is Unbuttoned This Far On Purpose, and Blayne, who has managed to irritate me more in one episode than Christian FierceFace did throughout all of Season 4. Never have I wanted a TV with ThrottleVision so much as when I heard that Overtanned Chris Kattan chirp, "Girlicious" at every possible turn. Blayne, if you're going to crib a catchphrase from the title of an unfortunate CW show, at least do it all the way. Say, "This dress is The Pussycat Dolls Present Girlicious." It's more honest.
Also adding to the elegiac atmosphere was the fact that the challenge was one that "brought it all back to where it started," Gristede's. The supermarket challenge is a good one, although it is a little lame to do a repeat challenge right off the bat. Still, it was the fact that this challenge was a repeat that let me realize the full depth and breadth of the void from which these well-cast designers sprung. Judging by the superfluous amount of tablecloths they chose to use in a challenge about innovation, the only thing that was also in that void with them was their own grim laziness. From Suede's sad picnic table sheath, to Terri's horrific tablecloth skirt (complete with horrific mop-head halter!), to Emily's ugly faux-lace tablecloth mini with balloon neck, to Keith's dull gingham tablecloth halter, to Korto's yellow tablecloth Kimono with salad necklace--it was all hopelessly boring and uninspired. I know these people have seen this show before, considering that they're trying so hard to be the next big Project Runway personality, so why don't they know that this challenge is about using weird items to make something that looks somewhat passable--not about using tablecloths to make passable tablecloth dresses?
Of course, some of the designers knew exactly what was expected of them, and they delivered: Jennifer's tiered paper towel and lipstick frock was adorable, as was Kenley's cool dodgeball and lawn chair skirt and bustier. Joe's oven-mitt and pasta dress was hideous, but it was also made out of pasta and oven mitts. Daniel somehow managed to make melted blue plastic cups look chic (if a little robotic). But it was Kelli's marbleized vacuum cleaner bag and coffee filter dress that rightfully won. Yes, the burnt edges and sickly green color made the dress verge on ugly/pretty, but it was held together by thumbtacks and notebook rings, which is what you'd expect from a Project Runway winner.
As for Jerry's terrible shower curtain labcoat (with rubber gloves!), and Blayne's awful junkyard leotard (with frontal diaper), both were spectacularly ugly--which is definitely something you'd expect from a Project Runway loser. Ultimately, though, the hideousness of Jerry's "hospital plumber" look couldn't be denied, and he was sent home. And, Bravo can try, but they can't ever spoil what it's like to see something that entertainingly ugly as that shower curtain rain ensemble for the first time.
--Instead of "Auf Wiedersehn" Heidi should have just told Jerry, "Stella draped a garbage bag around a model, and you're going home. That's how ugly your outfit was."
--"I was blown away by my crochet mop top." If only you were, Terri.
--Early favorites: Jennifer, Kelli, Kenley, Korto
--Early Hatreds: Everyone else
--Seeing the return of Austin Scarlett, a pure, natural, and true Project Runway character, only made people like Blayne and Jarell seem more pathetic.
--Speaking of Jarell, when he did that half-assed Tim Gunn impression, I wrote in my notes, "Too soon."
--Also, Jarell's outfit looked like something a colorblind saloon girl at a theme park would make for herself. Just thought I'd mention that.