Wednesday, November 14, 2007

"Project Runway 4"

The fourth season of the runaway hit from the Bravo channel debuts tonight at 10:00 PM EST. I first saw the show towards the end of the first season, and I've been a faithful fan since. I was pleased to see Chloe Dao win the second season, and sad to see Uli Herzner lose the third season. Heidi Klum returns as host, along with mentor Tim Gunn and judges Nina Garcia and Michael Kors.

It's hard to explain... no, actually it is simple to explain why I like PR. I guess it's for the same reason that I initially liked Survivor: the mix of personalities, the competitiveness, the prison-like setting, and the sometimes shocking exits. I've given up on Survivor lately because it seems to be the same thing repeatedly, and I hope that's not what's going to happen with PR. I'm also intrigued by the glimpses into the fashion industry: how the dresses are constructed, how the designers find inspiration, how critiques are made, etc. How many reality shows are out there which have contestants who are required to have an actual talent (in this case, the ability to construct beautiful, wearable clothing)?

Robin Givhan at WaPo wonders if the show is becoming too predictable (which is fairly common for reality shows, especially competitive ones, that have multiple seasons):
The competitors wear their eccentricities on their sleeves. They are audaciously odd-looking or self-consciously hip. Siriano's hair is styled in an asymmetrical cut that looks as if it were executed with a pair of gardening shears. Carmen Webber -- that's Carmen A. Webber if you're nasty! -- wears her hair in a Flock of Seagulls meets Angela Davis blown-out, cornrowed, not-quite 'fro. The heavily tattooed Sweet P has her nickname inked on one arm and her alter ego "Mean P" on the other. And don't we all know that "Mean P" will be making an appearance before this season is over?

All of that makes the contestants visually interesting, which makes good television, but none of this inspires immediate confidence in their taste level.

Most problematic, however, is that by the first episode, too many of the competitors have settled into well-worn archetypes. Were these 15 men and women chosen because they have such instantly familiar personalities? When the cameras are off, does Siriano really embody every single fashion cliche? Or do these players adjust their personalities to fit a preconceived ideal? In short, who exactly is having a crisis of authenticity: the show's producers or the cast?
Winning Project Runway doesn't necessarily bring instant acclaim. Just ask Jeffrey Sebalia, season three's winner.

Added: Play the game!

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