All that drama has made this sea­son the best since the show’s move to Life­time.

Los Angeles Times - - Sunday Calendar - Jon Cara­man­ica cal­en­

For the first time in a while on “Project Run­way,” feel­ings are raw. De­sign­ers are snip­ing at each other with fe­roc­ity. Even level­headed Tim Gunn is com­ing un­done. Af­ter a re­cent chal­lenge in which one team of de­sign­ers was un­fairly dom­i­nated by a peer, he ex­ploded. “I don’t know why you al­low Gretchen to ma­nip­u­late, con­trol and bully you,” he sternly lec­tured, in a voice that for the even-keeled Gunn qual­i­fied as yelling. “I don’t un­der­stand it.”

Each week, Gunn posts a video on­line re­cap­ping the pre­vi­ous week’s episode, and these are even more ex­plo­sive. Through Gunn’s lens, show pro­duc­ers are some­times hap­less, forc­ing him to in­ter­vene on be­half of rea­son. As for his thoughts on the judges: “I’m not go­ing to talk about the crack-smok­ing judges,” he said in one. “I promised I wouldn’t.”

Is “Project Run­way,” the foun­da­tional re­al­ity com­pe­ti­tion, fi­nally ac­cept­ing its destiny as a soap opera?

These con­flicts have helped make the show’s cur­rent sea­son the best of the three that have aired on Life­time, which picked up the show af­ter a strug­gle be­tween its for­mer home, Bravo, and one of its pro­duc­ers, the We­in­stein Co.

The new, im­proved “Project Run­way” is dif­fer­ent from the orig­i­nal, great “Project Run­way” in small but sig­nif­i­cant ways. Early sea­sons priv­i­leged craft as much as char­ac­ter, but it’s be­come clear that the lat­ter can be a wor­thy stand-in for the for­mer, elim­i­nat­ing the need for much fo­cus on the tech­ni­cal side of de­sign.

The ex­pan­sion of the show’s run­time to 90 min­utes from an hour this sea­son al­lows for more ex­po­si­tion, which seems to have gone largely to the run­way show and de­lib­er­a­tions. That watch­ing peo­ple sew isn’t much fun is a valu­able les­son pro­duc­ers have learned. That means more at­ten­tion to the back­stage room where de­sign­ers await their fates, in the man­ner of the “stew room” on “Top Chef.”

There’s also stronger cam­era work on the run­way, in­clud­ing shots that be­gin as the mod­els strike a pose be­hind the main scrim, for a shadow ef­fect, then fol­low them around the side of the set as they walk out onto the run­way. A mi­nor tweak, but it works, giv­ing the show more move­ment.

And of course there’s Gunn. As “Run­way” has be­come more and more pop­u­lar and fa­mil­iar, Gunn has evolved into a fas­ci­nat­ing char­ac­ter. On the show, he’s a deeply eth­i­cal pres­ence. Else­where, he’s a card. He’s taken pot­shots at the Kar­dashi­ans for their “ab­sence of taste.” He’s guest-starred on “Ugly Betty,” “Drop Dead Diva” and “How I Met Your Mother.” He’s just re­leased his sec­ond book, “Gunn’s Golden Rules: Life’s Lit­tle Lessons for Mak­ing It Work.”

His spinoff show, “Tim Gunn’s Guide to Style,” might have flopped, but he’s oth­er­wise done a strong job of cre­at­ing a fu­ture for him­self that doesn’t de­pend on “Run­way.”

Af­ter all, he’s the show’s con­sis­tent voice, its moral cen­ter. And what sur­rounds him varies in qual­ity and at­ti­tude. The last two sea­sons have suf­fered from un­der­whelm­ing cast­ing, a prob­lem that’s less a func­tion of its new home, Life­time, than of the process. When the show switched net­works, it also switched pro­duc­ers, from Mag­i­cal Elves to Bu­nim-Mur­ray, which ap­pears to only now have grasped the dy­nam­ics re­quired for this show.

This sea­son, there’s a vil­lain, the self-im­por­tant and im­pe­ri­ous Gretchen, who barely has time for her own clothes in be­tween telling other de­sign­ers how to im­prove theirs. There’s a pair of true ec­centrics — the manic Va­lerie and the art-piece Mondo, with his pre­cise, mag­i­cal out­fits. There was a warm den mother, Peach, who was elim­i­nated ear­lier this month. An­other re­cently elim­i­nated con­tes­tant, Casanova, was the show’s con­sis­tent source of hang­dog hu­mor. In one episode, he lamented that the judges had been stereo­typ­ing his clothes, moan­ing that they were for “old ladies, sluts, fla­menco dancers.”

Fi­nally, there’s Michael C., a chubby naïf from Palm Springs, and one of this sea­son’s stars. He lacks for­mal train­ing, a stick­ing point with the other de­sign­ers, who cam­paign mer­ci­lessly against him. (Ex­cept for Mondo, who, af­ter work­ing with him, pro­nounced him­self cured of his dis­taste.) To the other de­sign­ers’ faces, Michael is un­fail­ingly po­lite and re­spect­ful and naïve. To the cam­eras, he’s al­ter­nately wounded and know­ing.

And he has per­se­vered. He won two chal­lenges, in­clud­ing the one that re­quired the de­sign­ers to re­make a brides­maid’s dress into some­thing more wear­able and fash­ion­able. His re­sult, a jut­ting black num­ber with a lacy top, was par­tic­u­larly re­viled by his peers. On his post-show video, Gunn dis­missed it as a “hooker” dress. The re­union show this year should be a blast.


Bar­bara Nitke

Tim Gunn is key to the show’s suc­cess.

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