Project Runway 4: Episode 4 - Shouldering the Blame

>> Saturday, December 8, 2007

Time to break down Week Four - the week in which one of our favorite designers was axed. We've been putting this off, mostly because we hate to relive the moment. It's not quite like when Austin was auf'd, or when Nick was auf'd, or when Kayne was auf'd--we'd had lots of time to know and love those guys, and we wept bitter tears and broke things when they were booted. But this time we knew we were losing someone we would have grown to love just as much. Heck, we were already half way there.

So this week's episode began at New Gotham, where Sweet P tells us she feels bad about Carmen going--but better her than me! That's all right, we suppose, but then saying it was nicer having one less person to trip over in the apartment . . . too far, P. Too far. One day someone will be moving into the empty space you have vacated, and it will feel pretty rotten. (For you.)

On to the runway, where Week Three winner Jack gets to keep his model or swap her for a new and improved clothes hanger. He wants a trade-in--and takes Ricky's model! Jack was Ricky's teammate in Week Two, and raved about how beautiful Ricky's model was. Now she is his, all his! Mwahahaha. Ricky is pissed . . . but, um, Ricky? Didn't you steal your model from Elisa? Turnabout is fair play. But cry for us again, won't you? The camera loves you, even if we do not.

We fully expect everyone to get to play Dirty Santa with their models, but no! Jack gets Ricky's model, Ricky gets Jack's model, and the girls are sent marching. Hmm. A one-for-one swap? Was this done for time, so we could see more of the bickering to come in the workroom? Or is this just the producers mixing things up yet again with the models? It seems like every season we see something new with the models, and we always curse the screen time wasted picking them or bickering over them or worrying where one is or if one has been hit by a car bicycling to work. (Seriously, we don't make this stuff up.) Show us more runway! More workroom!

And it's off to the workroom, where Heidi tells the designers they will find Tim Gunn and an old friend. In a behind the scenes interview, Sweet P makes a prediction: old people! Well, she's half right - it's Nina Garcia! (And we'll let you decide which half of that is right.)

Nina Garcia, in the workroom!? This is not natural. This should not be. This is like fire and brimstone coming down from the skies. Rivers and seas boiling. Forty years of darkness. Earthquakes. Volcanoes. The dead rising from the grave. Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together. Mass hysteria! (And thus, with that movie reference, we begin what will be Eighties Night here on the Gratz Industries Report.)

So. Yes. The Nina is in the workroom to hand down this week's challenge. The "old friends" she's brought along with her are photos of trends that have (mercifully) gone the way of the dodo. We have zoot suits, poodle skirts, neon, shoulder pads, overalls, dance wear, over-sized sweaters, 70's flair, fringe, pleather, underwear as outerwear, and cut-outs. The designers aren't told what they will have to do with these, but their names are randomly drawn out of ye olde velveteen bag and they're told to choose one of these hideous fashions from the middle ages. At least it wasn't a scramble, Season Three "Fashion Icons" style. We had enough of the Filene's Basement Sale Day madness in the Season Four premiere, thank you very much.

And where, oh where, are the parachute pants? The painter's caps? The Member's Only jackets? (See there--three more Eighties references for you. It's becoming a theme!) But we suppose there wasn't room for every past fashion disaster, and these will do. Some are far worse than others, and though the designers weren't told what they would have to do with this, it isn't hard to guess that they will have to incorporate their extinct fashion statement into something new.

In what has to be some kind of cosmic synergy, Jillian, who just happens to be wearing overalls, gamely chooses overalls as her fashion don't. And something tells us she did not plan this, like creepy Laura from Season Three wearing those damn riding pants and riding boots all the time in anticipation of what she was sure would be a challenge involving horses . . . however that was supposed to work. ("Designers, our special guest judge this week is Prince Charles, and your challenge is to design for him a new polo outfit--and a matching one for his horse. Here are your shovels.")

Some fashion don'ts--like pleather or fringe or 70's flair--are vague enough to be workable. Others, like shoulder pads, are not. Oh Chris, why oh why did it have to be shoulder pads!? Chris makes some joke about Joan Collins and Dynasty (check out the URL of that fan site!) and we have our next Eighties reference of the night. And a very, very bad feeling.

As we guessed, the challenge is to incorporate each fashion don't into something fashion forward, but the twist we didn't anticipate? They'll be working in teams of three but with each designer designing his or her own piece, which must be part of a cohesive collection. Aha! So that's why it was so difficult to figure out who was in charge sometimes from the previews. Everyone will be doing their own thing, like in Season One's "Design a Collection" competition.

Even more surprisingly, the designers are given a few minutes to assemble their own groups. Some choose based on like trends. Some choose partners they think will be fun to work with. Others choose based on talent. Rami says he and Jillian just turned around and, oops! there they were. Yeah. Right. Kevin, meanwhile, sees two of the better designers teaming up and rushes over to cop a free ride to Week Five. Kit thinks it will be fun to work with Christian and Jack, and they get together to form what Christian, seven year old girl in a man's body, immediately christens "Team Star." Apparently "Team Rainbow Unicorn" has already been taken.

In perhaps the oddest grouping of the night, Ricky, Victorya, and Elisa end up together. (Don't they look happy in the picture?) Somebody had to take Elisa, after all, and Sweet P took one for the team in Week Two, so she certainly wasn't going to volunteer. But why Ricky and Victorya chose each other is a mystery. And what does it say about Kevin that he ran straight for Rami and Jillian this week, rather than head the other direction to work with Victorya again, after the two of them won Week Two together?

And then there is our final group. Sweet P, Steven, and Chris. Oversized sweaters, dance wear, and shoulder pads. The last three fashion don'ts selected, and their designers figure, "What the heck, let's team up!" Oh dear. Worse, the team choses Chris as its leader. (And seriously, it's not like the other two would have worked.) Each of the teams must choose a leader, and Chris, Jillian, Christian and, oddly, Ricky, are chosen.

Serious contenders Victorya, Rami, and Kit have clearly done their Project Runway homework. If you want to make it to next week, never, ever volunteer to be a team leader. Yes, some team leader is going to walk away with a win this week and immunity for next week. Swell. But the other three team leaders are going to be sweating it out. Their heads are on the chopping block, and one of them is going to get sent home. Early on, it's anonymity that sees you through, allowing mediocre (and sometimes downright bad) designers to hang around for a long, long time. (See Season One's Robert, Season Two's Kara, Season Three's Vincent.)

At this juncture, we have to ask--why isn't this just an individual challenge? Why force the designers to work together and bring all their designs to a blah middle ground? Yes, yes, we know all about how drama makes ratings. Haven't we watched a week of previews focusing not on talent, but on bickering between Ricky and Victorya and Rami and Jillian? Pshaw. We'd much rather see a new take on a poodle skirt than a new take on a Frankensteined poodle dress overall outfit with 70's flair. Let the designers do their thing! Release the hounds! Let's see what they can really do!

All right, we'll get off our soap box. And we won't even start on how this is already the second team challenge in four episodes. (Rassin-frassin, mumble-grumble.)

So, on to the drama--er, designing. Ricky talks down to Elisa like she's a five-year-old, and Elisa just goes with it. Yes, we get it, Elisa is from a different planet and it's fun to joke about her speaking a different language, but we do not require translation services, Ricky. Nor does she. Victorya snipes at Ricky for being a bad leader, and Ricky snipes at Victorya for not following his lead. In a behind the scenes interview, Vicorya tells us she doesn't want to be a "bossy cow." Um, too late. Victorya sure acts like she's the team leader, and Ricky tells her she can have it if she wants it. No thanks, Victorya says. Yes, definitely a student of Project Runway, and, in this case, wise beyond her years. This ship is going down fast, and what is that old saying? Oh yes, "the captain always goes down with the ship." Ironically, the only person who's really getting anything done in most of these bickering scenes is Elisa, who can be seen climbing around on tables in the background imbuing her cut-out baby-doll dress with her life essence.

Team Star is having a good old time--and cooking up something interesting looking. Team Rami/Jillian (oh yeah, and Kevin) is finding Kevin lagging a bit, and Jillian doesn't want to push him. Strange . . . we've seen Jillian getting all Jeannie Bueller (80s ref!) on somebody in Mood in a clip from a future episode, but here she's not a monster. Points for Jillian--and to Rami, for agreeing to disagree and not really bickering. Yes, this was a red herring, a bit of fake conflict built up by the teasers. Yes, Kevin is behind, and yes, his team is freaking out, but they're not exactly fighting over it. Just whispering about it when he's off in the bathroom or the sewing room.

Meanwhile, as pointed out in our Week Four Preview, Chris is getting the "Overconfident Loser Edit." He's stoked about his almost-bolero, massively-padded jacket, even though teammate Steven tells us behind the scenes that he thinks they're in trouble over this one. Yes, Steven and over yours, too. For his dance wear don't, Steven concocts something that looks a little too much like the outfit I wore in karate class when I was in seventh grade. And it's brown.

The more successful teams realize that regurgitating the fashion don't in a new dress isn't going to get them anywhere, and they combine all three elements into each piece. This has the added benefit of making their collections more cohesive, which was one of the mandates. We confess, we're a little confused about what makes a collection "cohesive." We remember a final (Season Three?) where Michael Kors said that he could see all the pieces being in the same woman's closet, and we think that's perhaps the best explanation of a cohesive collection. It's not just color. It has to be something more, a style that is unique to the line or to the woman who would wear it.

Under these criteria, what we see come down the runway from Jillian, Rami, and Kevin qualifies. As does what "Team Star" sends down the runway. The teams that are in trouble? Surprise surprise--Chris's team and the team run by the two headed dragon of Ricky and Victorya.

Donna Karan, who we've heard has had a little success in fashion, is this week's guest judge. She and Kors Light and The Nina and Fraulein Fashion (eh, we're still working on a nickname for Heidi) sit in judgment. First, because there was one "clear winner," that designer's team gets to go chill in the holding cell offstage. It's Jillian! The little designer with the squeaky voice brings the heat and announces her presence with authority. Another Eighties movie reference!

And here's another Eighties reference: Over on Manolo's Shoe Blog, one of the commenters this week likened Jillian to that little robot girl in "Small Wonder," an 80s sitcom often rated among the worst of all time. We couldn't find a good photo, but we'll keep digging. All season long we've been trying to figure out who Jillian reminds us of. This might be it. We think it's close, but not quite right. Regardless, we shall endeavor to find photographic evidence to share here at Gratz Industries.

The one thing we regretted about the quick winner send off was not getting to hear more about their line. Why, exactly, was this the "clear winner" over Christian's group? We have to agree with Christian just this once--we thought Team Star's output was "fierce." Or at least fierce enough to merit more serious consideration. After Jillian's group was given their gold stars, Christian's team was given the silver and sent off just as perfunctorily. Both quick send offs felt like overt excuses to bring the drama with the loser-candidates.

So on to the losing designs we go. Chris takes a beating on the runway. Not only is his team's collection schizophrenic, his piece, they tell him, is the absolute worst. That bad feeling we had has just gotten lots, lots worse. Steven's non-matching Bruce Lee ensemble comes in a close second, but as TEAM LEADER, Chris is the one who will feel the panelists' wrath.

Next we turn to Rictorya's group. Suddenly-sane Elisa (at least by comparison) gets the most props of all the designs, winning Donna Karan's seal of approval. Ricky, as TEAM LEADER, gets dissed for his choice of material and his poor leadership skills. But Victorya wouldn't listen to me! he cries. To which Victorya says, he's a bad leader! The snake eating the tail, kids. One thing we can all agree on, this was an unholy alliance from the start. But will it be enough to get Ricky auf'd?

It would be a small mercy, we feel, to put Ricky out of our misery. But we've already seen Ricky in the teaser scenes from next week's very dramatic "Jack has an announcement" episode, so we're not feeling very good when he and Chris stand on the runway alone at the end. The judges gave Chris's outfit the business, but Ricky has been weeping on the runway as a part of the bottom three for three of the four weeks now. Can it please be him that goes home instead? Please!?

No. Oh Chris, how little we knew thee. After only four weeks, fan favorite Chris is auf'd. Being the down-to-earth, grown-up good guy he is, we don't get tears in the exit interview, we get jokes and a laugh. And, according to previews for next week, some really kind, funny, and inspirational last words pinned to his vacant dress form. Like we said, we didn't know Chris well enough yet to scream and yell, but we definitely felt the show lost a kind soul and a good designer. And we still think that Week One dress he did deserved more attention.

And we really dislike Ricky.

And that mesh hat.


Laura K December 9, 2007 at 11:11 AM  

Fabulous Recap, Alan. I've been having a tough weekend and you just turned my frown upside-down!

Derick December 10, 2007 at 4:27 PM  

While I am thinking of this at work and do not have a good picture to cite, Jullian reminds me of Angela from the two Sleepaway Camp sequels (played by Bruce Spingsteen's sister). Check it out.

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