A brief bit of backstory: I caught a grand total of two episodes of Project Runway this past summer when Bravo was running one of those all-weekend marathons. I had heard good things, but there's "heard good things," and then there's experiencing the particular combination of fascination/revulsion/joy that comes from spending some TV time with the likes of Wendy Pepper, Jay McCarroll, Austin Scarlett, and the rest of the Runway freakshows. It was lovely.
So, I had made the determination that I'd catch up on the entire series via DVD before the second season begins (Wednesday at 10pm). We'll take this disc by disc.
What We Learn:
The competition pits the following twelve aspiring fashion designers against one another:
Robert Plotkin – Smarmy, overly familiar, well-intentioned, would-be ladies man.
Wendy Pepper – Stripey-haired, middle-aged mother grasping fiercely at what she clearly sees as her last chance at making something of her life. Unnecessarily, and ineptly, Machiavellian. And, from the looks of it, sets her makeup gun regularly to "whore."
Kevin Johnn – The extra "n" is for "not a big part of the storyline, at least through four episodes."
Daniel Franco – Dykey-looking male designer obsessed with creating his own Harry Chapin-by-way-of-Tony Robbins story for the cameras. He's gonna be back for season 2, it looks like. Great.
Starr – The single-named result of what would happen if Karen Carpenter and Evanescence's Amy Lee created a perpetually trembling offspring.
Vanessa Riley – Raven-haired, Brit-accented, and kind of a crappy designer.
Jay McCarroll – Large, queeny, brilliant designer who blows right past obnoxious and lands safely in the hilarious zone.
Kara Saun – It aint Kara. It's Kara Saun. She generally kicks ass. She also generally doesn't care much for covering up her models' naughty bits.
Mario Cadenas – Self-conscious slacker who started off annoying, got cute real damn quick, and then got booted even quicker.
Austin Scarlett – The name says it all, as he's pretty much Scarlett O'Hara with Farrah Fawcett-Majors' (aka, Mrs. Steve Austin's) hair. He's ready for his closeup, Ms. Klum. Also: crazy/brilliant.
Nora Calguri – Teeny, sweet, talented, and reminiscent of America's Next Top Model winner Naima.
Alexandra Vidal – Silver medalist in the "Whose name would sound coolest spoken by Nicole Kidman on the red carpet" Olympics (Austin takes the bronze, Kara Saun the gold). Teeny, blonde, and subtextually attracted to Robert.
Oh, and there are also models who get picked each week by the designers, with one superfluous lass getting musical-chaired out of the show. None of them are interesting, aside from the one who was late and got dumped by her agency. And even then, it was like, "eh."
What Kicks Ass:
First off: the judges. Specifically, hostess Heidi Klum, who proves herself to be a) prettier, and b) unintentionally funnier than I ever expected her to be. The show's elimination catchphrase ("You're out.") gets beaten to death, resuscitated, and placed gently in a German children's hospital by Heidi's accent.
Michael Kors is the ostensible Simon Cowell, except (as far as I've seen), he's neither cutting, clever, bitchy, or devious. Thank god, then, that Elle fashion editor Nina Garcia comes through in the clutch with some choice bitchicisms. Man, did she ever hate Wendy Pepper's licorice dress.
The first challenge is to design a dress made up of nothing but what could be bought at a local supermarket. Genius. In between the wildly varying quality of dresses made out of aluminum foil, shower curtains, butcher paper, socks, and the aforementioned licorice whips, Austin rocks out a dress made out of corn husks and wins the challenge. Daniel Franco and his "follow your bliss" bullshit get tossed.
The second challenge is to convey "Envy," which Jay does with grafitto-tagged denim, Mario does with the illusion of homicide, and Robert does with the illusion of a penis. Oh, and Starr designs a dress with these bulbous tumors, which are intentionally supposed to be tumors, and yet she still doesn't get eliminated. No, it's Mario's nonchalance that gets him the boot. Which makes Jay cry because he lost his bitchy smoking buddy.
It's not even that the challenges are so compelling (though they're interesting enough). The beauty is in the cast who are either funny, crazy, cool, or some combination of the three. And I haven't even gotten to the point where Wendy's train jumps the tracks yet. Gooood times await.
Stay tuned for disc 2. And watch the second season. Maybe Michael Kors will actually do something interesting.