Project Runway Recap: The Pageant Problem

By
Photo: Courtesy of Lifetime

Last week, Cut commenter Pennywise observed that the judges "seriously had their bitchpants on." Fans of the show's choleric take-downs will be pleased to know that the judges not only haven't done laundry, but those bitch pants are riding up their cracks higher and harder than ever. Nina, Michael, and Heidi have gone from mildly derisive to downright hostile. Outfits are no longer just train wrecks — they're hideous, wacky, tacky, cheap, ugly, awful, and unflattering. Oh, and usually horrifically styled, too.

Sheesh. Why so angry, guys?

Is the goal to make the designers cry? To have someone auf themselves on-camera? Or is it just to make the last nine minutes of every show so rewardingly juicy, it compensates for the other 81 minutes' Second Coming–slow dialogue and close-ups of HP TouchSmart Notebooks? The judges, like Tom Colicchio on Top Chef, justify their crankiness by saying things like, "Well, this is the eighth season; we expect better." This makes no sense. It may be their eighth season, but the participating designers are just as new to this tiresome, stressful process as every designer that came before them. (Hey, Lifetime: If the judges are such hot shit, let's see them design a couture look all by themselves in less than 48 hours on Project Runway Masters. C'mon, MK, you remember how to sew ... right?)

This week's challenge is yet another marketing exec's wet dream: design a high-fashion look fit for Paris Couture Week ... inspired by this $7.99 L'Oréal Paris HiP Studio Secrets Professional eye-shadow duo. The product placement is nauseating, yeah, but the "unprecedented" prize in this case is pretty sweet: The winner gets $20,000 and their creation featured in a L'Oréal Paris advertorial in Marie Claire magazine. Of this, an enchanted Mondo reveals, "I've never made more than $12,000 a year, let alone $20,000." Surely that breaks a child-labor law somewhere.

The workroom drama is slow going: Gretchen is convinced Michael C. is copying her color scheme; Michael C. says, nope, they're both just addicted to bordeaux; Gretchen, wannabe judge that she is, then tells the cameras "Michael C. replicates; I don't see a point of view in his work" and later confides to Mondo that she knows, deep down in her icy-blue heart, that the two of them are destined for Lincoln Center. This goes back and forth, on and on, for at least three minutes, during which all we can think is, Gretchen kinda looks like Jim Carrey in a wig, no?

Halfway through day two, Tim pops by to tell the designers he has some bad news — a blow he tries to mitigate by saying he's loathe to deliver it. (Immediately, thoughts of Tim storming around behind the cameras, calling the producers words like ignoramus and featherbrain spring to mind — though good luck ever seeing that footage.) So the news is: The designers must create a ready-to-wear companion to their high-fashion runway look, with no extra time and only $100 extra. And suddenly — either due to the genius of editing or this truly deadening kick in the balls — a hangdog sadness drapes its joy-killing body across the room. Borderline suicidal thoughts are etched all over the designers' faces, and they look like they're about to snap. And, for the first time ever in Project Runway history, we kind of want to snap with them.

Why, for once, can't they just do a challenge without some cruel, debilitating, eleventh-hour twist? Would it be so awful just to see what they'd create if they actually had time to think? To sew? To make a piece under circumstances even remotely resembling reality? Tim Gunn, Harbinger of Doom, wishes the designers well on his way out the door, and that's when the expressions of gaping-mouth horror turn to panic. Plans change on the fly. Patterns are scrapped, others retooled. Christopher, who was originally going to hand-embroider the lace on his couture gown, goes "Psssh, forget that"; Valerie, meanwhile, scurries off to the bathroom to have a nervous breakdown.

Come judging time, it's Valerie, Michael C., and Ivy (a.k.a. My Fair Lady, Gone With the Wind, and The Little Mermaid, collectively referred to as "the pageant problem") on the chopping block, no thanks to ego-deflating guest judge Naeem Khan. After minor deliberation, the judges decide Michael C.'s dated ballgown and booby-legalicious RTW dress are offensive but not egregious. For Val and Ivy, though, "It's an unbelievably tight race of hideous today," scoffs Michael Kors.

Ultimately, the judges decide that Ivy's "bridesmaids under the sea" creations are the most insulting contributions to the fashion canon, and therefore she must be sent home. This leaves Valerie making a host of annoying "Wuh-oh" and "Whoopsie-daisy"-type frowny faces, lower lip jutting out and quivering like a child about to boo-hoo-hoo into her mommy's skirt. It makes us want to slap her — and we like Valerie. Ivy's lemon face is surprisingly non-sour when it hears the bad news, though her eyes seem to bore daggers through Valerie's soul.

Back in the stew room, Valerie tells the rest of the class, "I felt like it should've been me, I really did," and for a pregnant pause, you think she might actually stalk back onto the runway and demand that the judges reverse their decision. Alas, it's all talk. "Ivy, I wish I could go home for you, I really do," Valerie whimpers through tears. Okay. Then have some conviction and GO HOME. But this, like everything else about make-believe television, is an insincere gesture imbued with pseudo-sentiment.Valerie is no more willing to give up her shot at Fashion Week, 125,000 big ones, and HP whatever's technology suite than Tim is to convince Lifetime producers how senselessly destructive their last-minute twists are.

Our take? Doesn't really matter, 'cause neither Ivy nor Valerie seemed destined for the finale anyway. Hell, even Gretchen called that one.