Idiot Box: One Day You're In ...
 Alibi V.17 No.30 • July 24-30, 2008 

Idiot Box

One Day You're In ...

“Project Runway” on Bravo

Here's a weird criticism: "Project Runway" is too much like ... itself.

I had high hopes. The fashion reality series is probably one of the only shows I take in religiously, waiting each week for the next episode. But the premiere of season five offered no surprises.

As the contestants introduced themselves and did their first interviews, it was hard not to compare them with past designers. Clearly, these people have all watched the show and thought about how they would behave on it; they've prepped catchphrases and personality quirks to be rehashed at the reunion show. They're all perfectly coifed in clothing that probably represents the types of outfits they will make. One says "wackadoodle." One says "girl-licious." Another tells us she's going to win. And at this point, I find myself wondering if any bookstores are open.

There's the flamboyant gay man with the pink Mohawk who somehow manages to gesticulate wildly with his head and speaks of himself in the third person. Two or three contestants describe themselves as "urban" designers. A couple more mention they're influenced by "rock" fashions. This one is "loud" and likes conflicting patterns. This one's a dad out to make his kids proud. This guy is overly tanned and trying way too hard to have a "point of view" by crafting an ugly, impractical, diaper-bathing suit monstrosity.

My floppy heart finally deflated as Tim Gunn uttered an unconvincing and self-conscious "make it work" that the producers probably forced him into, as it's become the show's own catchphrase.

I don't watch heaps of TV. I've gone through years where I saw none at all, rendering me completely useless in most prolonged chitchat. I find myself drawn into shows where people are asked to make things under strange constraints. (Note to executives: I, personally, would love to be on a show where one must write songs rapidly. The first challenge could force the songwriters to use kitchen appliances only.)

Adding to the lack of "wow factor," as they say in the fashion biz, was that this "Project Runway" episode used a rehash of the very first challenge of Season One. Contestants went to a grocery store and got materials to make clothes—which, of course, translates to teeny dresses that fit on tall, stick-figure models. The guest judge was a flamboyant designer who won that challenge the first time around. Self-referential, much?

The judges say the same things they always say. Heidi Klum is as grating as ever. And we all knew who was going to lose. Of course, it wasn't the person who was convinced she was going to lose.

It was Bravo's highest-rated premiere ever. I even knew a few people who rushed home to catch it as it aired. But with such an uninspired opening, the show seems to be appealing more to new viewers and forgetting all about the rest of us old faithfuls. I wonder how long I'll hang on before jumping ship.

The most profound moment was when Gunn told a roomful of designers that they're all slackers for choosing tablecloths at the grocery store to make dresses with. The point, he says, was to choose a material and take it beyond what it is, transforming it into something fresh. Word to the wise, "Project Runway" producers.

“Project Runway” airs Wednesdays on Bravo at 8 p.m.