Season Premiere: Project Runway Season Five – “Episode One”

“Episode One”

July 16th, 2008

You may have noticed that I have never quite blogged about Project Runway in the life of Cultural Learnings, which is for two main reasons. First and foremost, I’m late on the uptake, having only discovered the series in its fourth season. And, second, the strange lack of a Canadian simulcasting means that I’m always delayed in getting my hands on the more recent episodes.

But I won’t let that be a barrier to the only reality competition series to ever win a prestigious Peabody Award. There is something about Project Runway that just clicks in this genre, primarily because these people are actually capable of creating interesting fashion design for both those who know what’s good (Not me) and those who have no idea beyond their own personal taste (That’s me, FYI). It’s got just the right balance of interpersonal conflict that’s expected from reality television and, more importantly, people being outright challenged to complete the tasks at hand.

And for the show’s fifth season, there’s no surprises: it’s the same Heidi, the same Tim, the same diverse/crazy group of contenders, and the same types of challenges and editing. All of that might change for the show’s eventual shift to Lifetime in the Fall, but for now? Familiarity is a darn good thing.

Like all of the opening episodes of Project Runway I’ve seen (Fittingly, I haven’t seen the first season, so that worked out interestingly here), it’s completely impossible to really get to know these people. We get such brief glimpses of some of these people, and as usual the ones we get to know are the ones who suck and the ones who do well. Which would be fine if this was a small competition, but there’s a lot of outfits that looked really interesting that we know nothing about.

It’s a reality show conundrum – we want to know as many of these people as possible, but yet there’s the usual pressing need to create drama at episode end. This requires that of the 15 outfits sent down the runway, only six of them really get much screentime. The show was actually quite lucky that the challenge ended up being quite homogenous, something that I guess they could bet on considering the availability of tablecloths at the local grocery store.

Yes, we’re returning to the infamous challenge that started it all…which I have never seen. I do know enough to know that it was a real challenge, and that part of the reason they haven’t gone back to it is because it doesn’t do much to show a designer’s real style. Yes, no question that some of the better designers saw this as an opportunity to display something original or unique, but for the most part it just let people run and grab tablecloths and then make a dress that was their style but with no engagement with the challenge. I think that’s part of the reason why they changed things: so few people will manage to both pay attention to the judges’ challenge and their own personal style to create something like Kelly’s winning dress.

We do get to learn a bit about their various thought processes in their trip down the aisles, and it’s interesting to see how they all gravitated to certain areas. The large propensity of tablecloths was actually quite genius, because the second most people picked them up they wrote themselves out of the episode. It gave the producers carte blanche to ignore them, outside of those who absolutely failed with them. Tim’s big dramatic speech was bullshit, to be honest: it was clear even at that point that enough people were making outright hideous designs that a well-made tablecloth dress could easily skirt by (Heck, Korto’s even made it into the Top 3 based on its craftsmanship).

It did, however, create just the right amount of panic – we see one-named Suede desperately sewing on small squares, or “urban designer” Keith adding more netting to his dress which probably suffered the most from really just looking like a bunched up tablecloth. But those garments were, at least, well made – the trade off of using established fabrics was that they could actually create something wearable. For example, Terri used more traditional fabrics for her skirt and therefore could spend more time on her crocheted mop top – it didn’t raise her into the Top 3, but it did more than enough to keep her safe for the time being.

And the Top 2 dresses were both great examples of not just idea but execution, which is at least two examples out of the whole cast. Both Kelli’s self-made vacuum cleaner bag pattern and Daniel’s plastic cup dress were not just thinking outside the box but having to adapt their normal methods – Daniel was ironing plastic cups like he’d done it before, and Kelli’s Dye/Bleach concotion worked far better than anyone actually expected.

And the Bottom Two was similarly totally off the map: Stella decided to pick the thing that looked closest to her normal fabric (Read: Black), and didn’t pay enough attention to realize that it wasn’t what she wanted or expected and put in a below average submission as a result. Jerry, meanwhile, was rightfully eliminated for completely ignoring the point of the challenge. If the actual challenge had been “April Showers bring May Flowers” as he titled his concept, then perhaps he wouldn’t have gone home for that ugly thing – however, since the actual challenge was about engaging with the grocery store itself, he was doomed from the beginning (And especially after condemning everyone else’s material as his “garbage”).

But of all of the contestants, the one who made the most impact was Blayne. His “dress” was just completely and totally ugly, and that he wasn’t in the Bottom Two is only due to the incompetence of the above two. He at least did try, and did use unconventional methods. However, the outright hideous (to use Austin’s word) nature of the dress should tell us something about what we can expect from the tan-obsessed competitor in the future. And, I’m with Jerell – this “Girlicious” stuff needs to stop, immediately.

And, unfortunately, I can’t tell you much else – I like Jerell, and felt that we still have a lot to see of quiet but oddly quite heavily featured Leanne (Who also used the tablecloth to good use by building upon it with the chocolates and thus playing it nicely safe). Jennifer Diedrich also had perhaps the most understated presence in the eisode, along with Ruis, but both of their garments came out really well (or at least better than I had expected having not seen them for a long time).

So heading into next week’s episode, what we know is very limited – and that’s the problem with this type of challenge, because we don’t even get a good sense of their design skills. Yes, some of them proved they had certain skills, but in terms of real design we’re still completely in the dark. I like the idea of the challenge, but considering how many people phoned it in was it really worth it? I’d almost rather see what they could do without the limitations in the first challenge before seeing them thrown to the wolves in the second, but that’s all preference.

For now, I’m glad to have my favourite non-Amazing Race Reality Competition Program back just in time for its inevitable Emmy nomination in the morning.

Cultural Observations

  • I think I even predicted her grabbing a nomination, but Heidi Klum really doesn’t do much hosting this show – it’s a very limited role, and if she’s nominated with someone like Jeff Probst isn’t I’m going to be frustrated despite my enjoyment of the show.
  • Korto through Michael Kors teaches contestants an important lesson: if you make something “impeccable” despite being derivative, it will get noticed. Her garment was done very soon, and even then looked like a strong piece of design. Her addition was gimmicky, but in a complimentary way.
  • For those who’ve seen it, is there much reason to pick up the first season considering that I know the end result? The opening of the series ruined that season for me, as Jay was just too memorable – I’d say I’d save it for a break, but considering we’re getting more Runway in the fall such a break might not exist.

1 Comment

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One response to “Season Premiere: Project Runway Season Five – “Episode One”

  1. Pingback: Season Premiere: Project Runway Season Five - “Episode One” | Vacuum Cleaner Parts and Supplies

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