Hey y'all. Let's rant about Project Runway some more! Though I'll try to avoid spoilers, for the time being.
Okay, so season 6 is the first season where Project Runway showed on the Lifetime network. It's a bit of a strange channel choice, as Lifetime is more about propagandizing women than plain being entertaining (there's a reason why people make fun of Lifetime original movies, much in the same way everyone makes fun of Syfy channel fare). On the other hand, it makes sense in one way, as women are a huge part of the Project Runway fanbase.
However, this is part where producer manipulation becomes much, much more evident. Not only are there questionable judging sessions, but there's questionable winners, manipulated circumstances to promote certain contestants, and obvious favoritism. While this is not as extreme in some seasons as in others, it's there, and it only gets worse past season 10.
Then again, I'm someone who became a fan of the show when season 9 was on air, and that didn't stop me from watching as much of this show as I could. There's entertainment to be had here, and you can enjoy it, especially if you watch seasons 6 through 10 before watching the previous seasons.
This season suffered from various things. One is a location change to Los Angeles, despite the show having been filmed in New York for all seasons before (and since). Apparently there was also some kind of lawsuit going on, either with the channel or with the producers of the show. I don't know the details, but there was some question of the show not airing. It eventually did, but this ghost still haunted the season. There's a sense of unease in the season that's there even despite the fact that the lawsuit was never mentioned on the show.
To make it worse, the attendance of Michael Kors and Nina Garcia as judges got iffy. Kors was gone most of the season, and Nina was on and off. Probably the Los Angeles setting is responsible for this, but it had a huge affect on the judging of the show, which, combined with Lifetime's manipulation, ended up making this one of the most personality-dry seasons of all the show.
One judging problem was clearly Lifetime's fault, as, if you notice, more beautiful contestants lasted longer in the competition rather than purely talented ones. Gordana, the oldest contestant on the show, was clearly disdained by the judges despite the fact she was talented. It's clear the judges wanted to create a bias against her because she wasn't a gorgeous twenty/thirty-something.
The other judging problem is more of a subtle one, and one you wouldn't have thought about given the personality-rich nature of the past seasons. In any artistic criticism, a person has to choose which is worse, being bad or being boring. This is the season where the judges learned that boring is many times worse. I don't know why it was such a problem this season rather than earlier ones, but the kookier contestants with both stranger clothes and personalities were kicked out sooner, rather than ones who simply did poorly. And the later episodes suffered for it. Presumably Lifetime's quest for pretty people knocked out some genuinely creative people in the running, but also during the show, people who did crazy outfits were kicked out over people who were lazier.
The judges did learn their lesson. Either that, or Michael Kors' return the next year fixed things. There is a time to chose boring over bad, but when a show is as dull as this one, sometimes you just have to take the bad, especially if the person in question was just having one-time trouble with a challenge.
Another factor of the boring was questionable editing. Apparently, one model got mad at her designer for dyeing an outfit in the toilet. Why wasn't that ever shown on the show? Don't you think that's something that would draw a lot of attention? For whatever reason, it was simply cut out.
And finally, the challenges. The challenges were not great. They were a lot of making nice clothes for various people: their models, pregnant women, Macy's, Christina Aguilera, etc. Few of the challenges seemed challenging on their own, and forced designers to think outside of their comfort zones. No lady wrestlers here.
I don't quite know how to judge the talent level of this season. It wasn't quite as high, I want to say, but since the questionable judging choices prevented viewers from seeing the true talent of some contestants, maybe that's not right. What is clear is that there wasn't as many top tier designers at the end. They were all fine, but few had the wow factor. I wasn't looking forward to seeing the clothes as much as I was in other seasons.
All in all, the season wasn't too bad. A talented person won, and her competitors did decently. The only trouble for the show is, which is worse, bad or boring?
Notable challenges: Making clothes out of newspapers, designing every day outfits from the wedding dresses of divorcees.
Talent level: Okay, I guess. Not so great on the creativity, risk-taking side of things, though. Maybe they saw the pattern in the judging.
Personalities: The longer it went on, the more yawns happened. The crazy people didn't stay on long enough, and the other people were just there to make clothes.
Notable contestant: I don't know if I can pick one without spoilers, so I'll just say Gordana again. While she wasn't my favorite designer of the season, she was pretty good and deserved more respect than she got.
This is one of my favorite of the later seasons. Sure, I've been reading some assessments of this season, and people have accused it of having boring challenges, but I liked it. Maybe it helps that this was one of the earlier seasons I saw. However, this show does have a better collection of personalities. There's the crazy Ping, lovable big kid Seth Aaron, self-loving Emilio Sosa, and Anthony Williams, one of the funniest guys to ever be on the show.
I'm pretty happy with basically everything about this season. The best people stayed, the outfits were interesting, and there was even an episode where all of them but one completely lost the plot again (the magazine cover episode -- seriously, you would not believe how many of them went off on their own tangents that week. Even the second place guy didn't quite get it). Though I can understand why people would complain about the challenges. There were too many "be inspired" challenges. Be inspired by New York, the circus, the four natural elements. While these challenges are okay in and of themselves, they don't really entail the kind of jumping through hoops we want our designers to be forced into.
Also, this season features another strangely edited-out drama scene: Tim is visiting one of the designers, and apparently he and this designer had a really bad argument. While a few tense moments are shown on screen, there's nothing shown that the huge argument that Tim Gunn spoke of on his vlog. Strange, that.
All in all this season is pretty fun, and is probably one of the two that could be called the best among seasons six through ten.
Notable challenges: making dresses out of burlap sacks, hardware store fashion, dresses for the Campbell soup company.
Talent level: Pretty good. Definitely better than the year before. It's not the best the show's ever seen, but not at all horrible. The top four were all definitely good.
Personalities: We could have used more on this front, but there were some pretty good ones, especially on the passive-aggressive side of things.
Notable contestant: Anthony Williams, of course. He's the kind of guy you can just spend all day listening to, even if he's just saying weird stuff about Beyonce's music.
This is the season where people think things really went wrong. While everyone points out the move to Lifetime didn't turn out so well, things really got messed up, and permanently so, during this season. This is a season where the talent was definitely sacrificed for the personality aspect.
On one level, it worked. Peach Carr was almost as sweet as season 3's Michael Knight, but she...well, wasn't the greatest designer. She seems definitely more like the kind of person who needs longer than a day or two to bring together a look. But hey, she was fun to have around.
Another very questionable choice was the inclusion of Ivy. Her lack of creativity is very apparent. Most of her work came off as derivative, when it wasn't outright ugly. There's no denying the drama she provided, but her type of drama was different from the earlier seasons. Not even Jeffrey Sebelia (season 3) was as mean spirited as her. Jeff was just some schlub who thought too much of himself. Ivy both directly and indirectly antagonizes people, and it's obvious to see that she changes her behavior based on how she feels people perceive her. While her behavior would be somewhat defensible if she'd had the goods to back it up, Ivy just....I don't even know what's going on with that girl. Hopefully she's changed since the show aired. Some designers have.
Gretchen is another person people don't like. She's not as directly antagonistic as Ivy, but clearly is not aware of how she appears to others, often saying and doing things that are rude, awkward, and just plain out of place. She doesn't appear to mean any of it, but...it's just weird. She, however, does have some talent. More at least than Ivy.
But the biggest problem with this season was the judging. While they made questionable choices before, it's like the judges just lost their minds for the entire season. It's debatable if boring or bad is worse for artistic endeavors, but when the judges choose to keep both and eliminate a designer who had actually done something worthwhile, you know it's going to be a rocky road ahead. They keep not so-good designers too long, reward dresses that are simply alright and....create the biggest controversy the show has ever had. The ending of this season is a slap in the face, and one that makes everyone wonder what the heck these judges were thinking.
On the positive side, up until that ending, the show's watchable. Most of the drama is entertaining, there's still a few wow outfits to see, and there's some good challenges in there. In fact, had the ending been better, then the season on the whole would have been salvageable. Perhaps all the manipulation worked, to some degree.
Notable challenges: Being inspired by couture hats, designing one's own fabric, and the team challenge from hell.
Talent level: Not really as good. There were many middling designers, not so many wow designers, and well, I just hope Ivy's drama was worth it.
Personalities: Everywhere you looked, there was someone being a drama queen. Crying, yelling, lying, whining...it's all there. And for some reason the pointless bickering wasn't as annoying as in season 3, despite the more annoying people involved.
Notable contestant: Casanova was something else. He was very funny, mostly because he's native to Puerto Rico, and his english wasn't quite there yet. He ended up saying the most amusing things, and had the exact personality that works best on a reality show too: dramatic, but still likable.
This season was even more off the rails than the last. While for the most part, producer manipulation in the past season worked pretty well for entertainment value, it didn't work out so well here. For one thing, the viewers already knew by now that the producers were messing with them. For two, producer support of weaker designers was insultingly obvious.
For three, the fun, likable people like Casanova were replaced by vicious, dramatic, unlikable people. Bert Keeter gave a good first impression, but quickly steamrolled other designers in team challenges. Joshua McKinley was even more vicious. While I saw Josh on All-Stars and liked him there, it was a shock to see him be so completely different in this season. While many other designers weren't as obviously vicious as these two were at points, many of them were quietly manipulative, unable to handle others' drama, or simply the type that quietly did their own thing and let the drama fly without them. In short, there was no warmer, friendly person to take down the harsh edge of the more dramatic designers' personalities.
There were a few good challenges, but the seriousness of the season was taken way down when they suddenly decided to do a stiltwalker challenge. While the whole stiltwalker thing might have worked on a more talented season, it felt super gimmicky, and not at all fun. Stilts don't naturally take to fashion, because stiltwalking outfits have to function in certain ways without interfering with the stilts. Add into the mix a bunch of designers who are bickering at each other and have probably never designed for something like this before, and you get a hot mess. I can't even watch the online episode of this again.
Probably the most disappointing aspect of this season is the lack of "wow" designers. It was so difficult to root for anyone because only one of them continually showed talent in every challenge, and that designer wasn't particularly showstopper every time. It's really hard to talk about this without spoilers, but it was probably the least inspiring finale on terms of fashion for the whole first ten seasons. There were just too many contestants who, for one reason or another (taste level, the past, over-experimentation, etc) weren't quite ready for a competition like this yet.
The first episode I saw of Project Runway was perhaps the best episode of the season (in terms of design, anyway): the avant-guarde challenge where they were inspired by in-school artists. It wasn't until I sat down and watched the whole season through online that the sheer unlikable-ness of everything really came through. Maybe you're into watching vicious people tear each other down, but some of us just want to watch good clothes come down the runway and learn about things like different seams and techniques.
Notable challenges: Designing for Nina Garcia, being inspired by birds, clothes from pet store supplies.
Talent level: Way, way down. While many of them had potential, every single one was plagued by one flaw or another: narrow range, old fashioned taste, lack of taste, lack of creativity, too much experimentation, inability to edit, weak sewing skills, etc. There was only one or two designers competent enough to compete on better seasons.
Personalities: They're there, certainly. Maybe I don't appreciate cranky, egotistical personalities enough, but there's no fun in their conflict. It's all just a reminder of all the aggravating people the viewers have had to work with in the past.
Notable contestant: I'll pick Kimberley. She's not vicious, she's there to work, and while I don't respond all that well to her aesthetic, she directly attempts to experiment with form and volume. She's more of the kind of person I like to watch on a design show. And nobody can call her work boring.
This season felt like the point where Lifetime seemed to make a breakthrough. There was less producer manipulation (that we could see) and the designers weren't hideously unlikable -- except for the season's villain. However, this designer was more tolerable simply for not being screechy or the type of egotistical that has to have attention all the time. And the judges didn't ignore the villainy. That alone makes the show feel more fun to watch.
What makes it better is that there truly was more talent there than in the past two seasons. The designs were more interesting, and since the drama level was somewhat quieter and friendlier than before, things were a lot more about the clothes and about interpersonal relationships, rather than just bickering at each other all the time.
And for the viewers that like the drama, that isn't gone either. Elena, Elena, the Ukrainian nutjob. She really struggled remaining calm, but all the same, she had a clear design perspective and a heart. Too bad she pissed off basically every other designer in the workroom.
The only downside to this season is the finale. While I had a lot of fun watching the main episodes of the series, the finale collections weren't that exciting. The time period the final designers have to create their collections is apparently only slightly better than the time they had to create designs during the main part of the season. And it shows. The later collections were just dreadfully tedious, and while season 9's wasn't inspiring, this one wasn't interesting. There was, apparently, a decoy collection that blew the real contestants out of the water. Too bad that designer didn't make it.
Notable challenges: Designing for the Rockettes, the friend makeover challenge, designing from candy.
Talent level: Actually, pretty good. There was a lot of interesting stuff to look at, before the finale collections.
Personalities: Pretty much a perfect blend of kooky and professional, with just enough drama and nonsense to be fun. This is probably the season with the most contestants I wouldn't mind meeting in real life. For the Lifetime era, at least.
Notable contestant: Kooan Kosuke. I can't believe the show didn't have a Japanese street art designer on the show before now. He's so strange but so interesting. His perspective is really something else.
Alright, so that puts a close on the second half of the first ten seasons. This half of the show was clearly a rocky ride, one where you have to decide exactly how much reality show drama you want in your life. While I recommend seasons 7 and 10, and season 8 can be fun if you edit it in your mind, the boring, dry nature of season 6 and the frenetic, just plain unlikable nature of season 9 makes watching these season more of a chore than entertainment.
Huh, that's strange -- the seasons that are multiples of 3 are the ones I like the least. This pattern probably won't hold out, given what I know about the next three PR seasons.