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TV Recap: Project Runway Season Five, Episode Three

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“Bright lights, big city. Gone to mah bay-bee’s head”…

It’s the beginning of a blues song, the title of a bad novel, and of this episode of Project Runway, the hit TV fashion/game show. The episode begins at dusk – or dawn, hard to tell with all the smog – in New York City. So, big city but this morning, no bright lights.

The contestants’ moods seem to match the murky skyline outdoors. They groggily wake up, or roll over and beg for ‘ten more minutes’ sleep. One gamely puts on lipstick, already dressed. (And I’m betting she will make it to the finals, with that type of focus early in.) Stella Leathah is zonked out cold, looking every moment her age. I’m sure this show is exhausting. (It sometimes feels that way even to watch it. Well this season, anyway!) Kelli, all lipsticked and made up, interviews that she’s excited about the challenge and hopes it will show her “point of view”. Terri tries to zap Stellaleathah out of her funk with some funky dance moves. And, it’s off to Parsons for everyone.

Ms. Klum-Seal, clad in casual jeans and sweater, appears on the runway, velvet bag in hand. She brings out the winning and losing designers’ models from last week. Third Person Suede keeps his model. That means another model, Alyssa, is out. A shame because she really is lovely. We don’t even get to see her goodbyes backstage. So that is that – velvet bag gets no workout this week, and everyone else keeps the same models they had.

Heidi closes by saying they should go back to the Atlas (the apartments they are staying in while the show tapes) because Tim will come there later to take them all out for “a night on the town”. Back at the Atlas they all speculate what this could mean. Disneyland? A trip to Tim’s house? Stella thinks, “Maybe a bar or restaurant, one of his favorite places." (Maybe Red Lobster?) Tim rings a doorbell. It’s Blayne’s, and he tries to be funny by refusing to let Tim in without an appointment. Tim good-naturedly plays along and Blayne lets him in.

Tim’s clad in a navy pea coat and says they are all going out in the rain. So this is why the cast all wore rain ponchos in last week’s preview clip. And galoshes. The bright lights of the big city (see how I worked that in again?) look pretty reflected in the camera shots of the glistening sidewalks. I love rain anyway and there’s something so nice and unexpected about the show having to work with the weather. I wonder how it will impact the challenge.

The challenge, as two seasons ago, is to photograph things around New York City which inspire them. So the designers are given digital cameras, and get to work. But not before being given a double decker bus tour of the city. They all love it, even Stellaleathah, who vlogs that she thought she was above this type of thing, because it’s for tourists, but now that she’s taken the bus tour thinks it’s amazing. Others love the views they get from the top deck of that bus. I don’t know – is it that amazing or have they been cooped up at Parsons too long?

The bus stops and lets off four designers at a time. That’s kind of good, because this way there will be a variety of possible photographic choices. First, Suede, Daniel, Leanne, and Jennifer are let off at Columbus Circle. I wish I had a screen shot to show you; TiVo stopped at a hilariously unimpressed still of Suede and Daniel. We see the four taking super closeup shots of manholes, poles, traffic lights reflected in the wet pavement, etc. Suede’s so enthused as he vlogs later about the city that he forgets to speak in third person. Yay!

Stella, Kenley, Blayne, and Keith get off the bus at Times Square. Another hilarious mixed-reaction shot I wish I could show you. Heh. Blayne wants a tanning salon. Why, Blayne? You’re still orange, relax! Korto, Kelli, and Joe are let off at the New York Public Library. Sounds dull but it’s a grand building architecturally. Joe points out they are also near Grand Central and the Chrysler Building (which calls to my mind Jay McCarroll’s gorgeous Chrysler-inspired design from season one). I like Joe’s upbeat attitude.

Next stop, Greenwich Village (good movie, by the way). Terri, Emily, and Jerell are let out. And that’s all our designers out and roaming NYC. Oh, did I mention Tim also makes a great tour guide? Is there anything he can’t do? I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in the next Olympics. What would be his event? Whatever it was, he’d be fabulous. Work it out, China.

All the designers have an hour and now 45 minutes remain. More of the same types of shots – abstract images of graffiti, reflections, fire hydrants etc. Joe snaps a pic of the New York Public Library’s famous stone lions. A bit cliche but probably irresistible. Emily can’t resist snapping a photo of a sex shop dummy in a latex teddy. Jerell goes along with her and snaps a pic also. I think the designers are just filling up those memory sticks with random images for fun at this point. But who knows. Stella’s busy whining that she doesn’t know how to work the camera. Heh. (Well, I probably would ask too, but it’s still funny.)

Next, we get an odd voice-over monologue segment by and about Keith. It’s as if we stumbled into A&E’s Biography only it’s a guy we never heard of and who frankly doesn’t seem that fascinating. Keith says he is from a strict Mormon background and that it was difficult being gay in Salt Lake City. There are good documentaries about that which I’ve been meaning to check out. Thanks for the reminder, Keith. Somehow on the streets of NYC though, Keith is beginning to get squirrely about getting the perfect picture, and his castmates are noticing. Specifically, Kenley and Stella begin sniping and gossiping about him behind his back. Except it’s more like off to the side and Keith notices, too. It’s all a bit juvenile and I can’t help but think Kenley seems ragingly insecure. And Stella seems addicted to whine.

Photos done with, the exhausted, rained-upon group readies for sleep. Joe the Mellow is already tucked in and grins as Jerell and Blayne tease each other about their bedtime look. Jerell defends his facial mask, and jibes at Blayne’s little red shorts. Visually I’d choose the skin care regimen over the Richard Simmons Sweatin’ to the Oldies look, but then Blayne’s hardly my favorite on the show so far. They all turn in for some much needed sleep.

Morning! Parsons. They still all look really tired. Tim comes into the workroom and says he’s still damp from last night. I’m not going anywhere near that statement. Anyway, Tim tells them they have a half hour to view their photos and choose just one for the basis of their next design. Then, they get $100 and half an hour at Mood to buy materials. So now they choose. The images they snapped are pretty good: abstract, colorful for the most part. Kenley’s is a closeup of a blue and orange map. Blayne’s looks like it’s from a modern art museum. Keith’s is a waterlogged magazine page that is “ruined”. It looks more like one of those handmade greeting cards to me, a bit too literal.

This will be their very first trip to Mood. The first challenge used materials from a grocery, and the models chose the fabrics and notions last time. The designers run in and snap up their choices eagerly. All I can say is they sure seem to be doing a better job than those models did. As a reminder of that, in the next scene we see Wesley’s “short shiny and cheap” (TM Nina) losing garment from last week. It’s by the door as Tim walks into the workroom. He tells the group they have until 1 AM that night to work, which brings smiles. The group seems energised to actually be designing from start to finish with real materials for the first time on this show.

Next we’re treated to more of Third Person Suede. Only he mixes it up again, using “I” one moment and “Suede” the next. Proving it’s an affectation, not just a bit pompous. Random shots of the designers working and vlogging to brag about how great their design will be. Terri goes up and gives Leanne or Jennifer a hug and verbal support. I guess because she was almost out twice and this is only the third time up.

Just when things are seeming a bit boring, we’re treated to something truly bizarre. Kenley looks up from her work station and a dismayed bewildered frown crosses her face, then a confused grin. We see what she’s looking at: Blayne. Only he doesn’t just seem goofy and annoying this time. He looks psychotic. With a serious look on his face, he’s got his eyes bugged and is just staring into space but at Kenley at the same time. It’s very “Hello, Clarice” and not in a joking way. What the heck. Kenley, run.

And if that stare wasn’t odd enough, Blayne adds “I’m gonna eat you” in his best gravel-troll voice. It should be funny or amusing is what I’m guessing but it isn’t. It’s just odd. Kenley sounds nervous as she makes a joke of it: “That was freaky,” she begins. But Blayne is still holding that thousand-yard freakish gaze and not smiling. “Eeeat youuu,” he bleats, still not blinking. He looks exactly like 'the crazy' might, in an old slasher movie. If it was set among mutant dayglo orange beach dwellers in a postapocalyptic surfer troll society. And Kenley landed there from planet Vintage by mistake, while touring the galaxy for tap pants and Mary Janes. Run, Kenley. RUN.

Interchangeable work station clips next, add more, add less, ruffles, flounces, isn’t this gonna be great. Kenley has recovered enough from her troll encounter for a snark attack on Emily’s dress. “It’s been done” she says in her vlog. Well so has Bettie Page’s hairdo and it didn’t stop you, Kenley! Now quiet, before I feed you to Blayne.

Next, Stellawhinah grommets up her garment and writes another ode to leathah. As she hammers it up, annoying the others to despair, she vlogs that she will “die being rock and roll”. No, she may get drowned in a spray-tan attack instead, the way Blayne Trolli is looking annoyed at all that hammering. His station is right in front of hers. I would say ‘cannibal attack’ but she is much too stringy for that, being made of leathah. The whole group looks exasperated with Stella too, but her reaction is to say they can “get the F outta hee-ah.” Yes, that makes sense. One person making noise, but everyone else should leave. Seems to me there’s more logic in Stella finding some other corner of Parsons for her rendition of DIY.

Tim comes in three hours before the work day ends. He doesn’t like one of the Holly Hobbies’ “three hemlines”. Daniel thinks too that it looks “matronly and not chic.” Tim is next dubious about Keith’s magazine mess. Keith appreciates the input. All Tim has to look at of Kenley’s so far is the fabric and a sketch. Maybe because she’s been busy fending for her life, against Blaynnibal. Tim sees Terri’s dress plus pants outfit in progress next. He seems worried but backs off his concerns verbally, if not visually – his face shows every thought it seems – once Terri enthuses about her vision for it. The L or J twin (I still can’t really tell them apart) has a simple black skirt outfit planned. Her skirt seems done and looks really good. It’s got semi circular panels interwoven along the front and one side. It’s subtle and unique.

Tim minces no words with Emily. Her black sleeveless sheath dress with huge, fruit colored, flowery flounces stretching diagonally across its entire front is “disappointing”. It does look like a bargain department store clearance rack item. Just kind of aimless, made of cheapish ugly fabrics. Whatever Emily had in mind, it isn’t showing up on the dress form. It looks as if she just tacked some frilly fabric onto the front of that basic black. Unfortunately Emily does not hear Tim’s clear warning and interviews that she got a “mixed review” but has her own style and will not listen.

I wish we had the same luxury with Blayne. Scaring Kenley wasn’t enough, obviously. Now he seems content to corrupt Tim Gunn’s sense of locution and turn him into a walking urban dictionary. “Holla atcha, boy” is today’s lesson. Tim goes along with it. He asks what it means and how to say it: “holler or holla”? This feels a bit like watching someone get tricked at summer camp into rubbing a burnt quarter on their face. Now Tim’s gonna walk around saying “holla atcha boy” while the others might be laughing at, not with him. I don’t want Tim to ‘holla’ at anything; does he really need to sound like a tween on AOL? Still I can’t help admiring his good-natured flexibility.

The work day soon ends and we see the designers dressing the next morning. No one seems happy or energetic, just apprehensive and exhausted. Still. Someone needs a personality infusion and its initials are Season 5 PR cast. Or maybe production needs to give them a day off in between challenges, just to sleep? They are all worried their clothes won’t be finished in time for the judges. Keith is stressed and coins a nickname for the third person one: “Sueder.” Tim enters, impeccable in a charcoal pinstripe suit, and gives them one hour til models’ makeup. He reminds them in a casual way to be sure to use lots of things from the Bluefly.com accessory wall. Just as casually he informs Keith that his model is gone for good. Naturally Keith is stunned by this news. Now he has to refit the garment one hour before the runway.

Not fair but that’s how it goes on this show. In seasons past, designers have been hamstrung by models dropping out or not showing up or showing up late. It would be nice if production made an allowance for something that clearly out of the designer’s control, which has nothing to do with their talent or abilities but could cost them the competition. But, lots of things would be nice. No calorie ice cream would be nice. A machine that printed money would be nice, and cold fusion, and time travel (although the paradoxes are endless). But nice doesn’t mean anything, and Keith has to deal.

He’s given Alyssa, the model who was just sent home after the last challenge (because she was modeling for Wesley, who lost). Tim almost seems blithe, but Keith looks panic-stricken. He’s got that look one might have if one woke up having forgotten to study for midterms, or more like, if one didn’t realise one was even in school any more. Yep, it’s nightmare time for ol’ bandana-head. The show goes on, the models come in, and at least Alyssa is there. Remember season one, Jay McCarroll had to use Austin (another designer) as his model? What if all the designers had been Jay’s size? See what I mean? At least Keith has a model, but still. This is a hit show? A major production company? Why does this keep happening?

Runway time! Heidi goes over what happened in the past hour as if we hadn’t been watching. And let’s meet the judges! Judge Judy, and Judge Joe Jackson. No? Michael Kors and Nina Garcia. As usual. Heidi introduces the guest judge as “New York nightlife aficionado, comedian, and actress, Sandra Bernhard.” Talk about damning with faint praise. To me she’s a unique comic voice, who began as a standup, went on to the Richard Pryor TV show (it didn’t last long – you can find clips of it online) and had a breakout moment in Martin Scorsese’s King of Comedy. It’s too bad that her time as Madonna’s (ex) BFF has overshadowed her gifts as an entertainer. Netflix her, everybody. Heidi does mention Sandra’s one-woman show is currently touring. It’s called Without You I’m Nothing. Ms. Bernhard has a really dry, ironic sense of humor. I’m sure it will sell out. For now though, she’s got her note cards out ready to help choose the winning design.

Keith’s model is up first. He looks dismayed, but his voiceover claims to love his “outfit.” Alyssa is modeling a mess. If confetti sneezed, it would look like this dress. Or if Post-its were made of fabric and stuck all over his model. Blayne’s model is next and to me, his design isn’t that different than Emily’s: Black background dress with brightly colored fabric scrunched or flounced across the front in a sort of parade-float sash. Ugly. It does connect with his source photograph though, and he is more aggressive than Emily in front of the cameras. Which will help him in the contest, is my bet.

Joe’s model looks good. His source photograph was of a lighting fixture and the bodice looks just like it – golden background, criss crossed black strips. The skirt part of the dress is fitted but not tight, short but not indecent. Successful, I think. Emily’s dress has been described here, and I’m not sure if the thingy across the front resembles a party lei more, or an Easter table decoration, or Carmen Miranda’s hem. At any rate it isn’t good. At the opposite end of the achievement scale is – okay, the screen says Leanne’s – little black dress. The skirt we’ve seen already and it’s still flawless looking. She’s added a simple, sleeveless black top. Her inspiration was a photo of a manhole cover, with its iron black concentric circle design. Challenge met and then some.

Her (seeming) twin Jennifer is up next, and the dress is as unfortunately matronly and dated as everyone had predicted. Navy and cream and just blah. Her photo was of a clockface and it isn’t clear how it connects. Jerell’s got a green strapless gown with angled hem, flounces in layers across the bottom. It’s a nice, red carpet gown. As his model turns, the gown’s train adds some flair. It’s made up entirely of green flounces. His use of one color throughout keeps it from being an over the top fruit salad as Blayne’s and Emily’s were.

Kelli’s model is a little late 1980s Cher-like in an indescribable black mini dress. She’s styled in a mohawk, and her top has black panels, bare panels, and what looks like feather cuffs trimming the short sleeves. Her source was a photo of a black fire hydrant. I would have loved if she’d added a stuffed doggie as an accessory – too much to ask? Bravo could have done a product tie-in with Ty. Ty-in? Daniel’s design is out next. It’s an A-line cocktail dress. The fabric does reflect his photograph, which shows light and shadow on a greenish-grey slab of wet sidewalk. The top of the dress is made interesting with its angularity. One side is toga-like, the other simply strapless. The strapless half looks as if it has stripes but the garment’s color palette is all very alike. The overall effect is shimmery and shadowy. Points to him for sourcing the photo well.

Kenley Collins looks very happy as her model struts out and down the runway. Although her photo was blue and orange, the fabrics in the finished dress are aqua, purple, and gold. It’s got a high, almost Nehru collar, elbow length fitted sleeves, and a bubble skirt. The print fabric covers half the skirt at an angle. Deep purple tulle is visible under the print fabric, making the skirt complete. It’s unusual but a bit ugly in my opinion. I also don’t see a connection to the photo, other than both prints are slightly swirly. Suede’s dress comes out next and is an unfortunate reminder of last week’s “ugly brown fabric”. I’m baffled why he’d go anywhere near that bolt at Mood. The design is a very blah sleeveless shirt dress. The photo (neon blue and yellow lights on a black background) doesn’t resemble it at all.

I’d almost forgotten Stellaleathah. Stella peers out of half-lidded eyes as her outfit appears. It’s a shiny vest over what look like (again) leather lace-up pants. The model is styled with a skinned-back ponytail, some eyeliner and otherwise minimal makeup. Korto’s design is a black pantsuit, all one piece. It has a halter bodice, with a half circle making up the collar. The source photo seems a closeup of metal circles. Terri’s outfit is up next. I was doubtful when I saw it on the dress dummy originally. But her model Xaviera is rocking it. She struts out onto that Parsons runway as if she is a billionaire playgirl on the Riviera. Instead of walking as if unsure of this dress layered with regular pants, instead of telegraphing “do I feel stupid”, Xaviera’s done a very smart thing and acts as if everyone else is the one left out. Everyone viewing there seems to sit up rapt as if to say, “I get it, I get it.” Watching this I thought, “That model’s just won Terri this challenge.” Xaviera is styled with Jackie O sunglasses, straight hair, and attitude, lots of attitude.

After the middle scoring designers are excused, six remain on the runway. Kenley, Keith, Emily, Leanne, Jennifer, and Terri have either the three highest or the three lowest scores. Heidi asks each to explain their intention. Kenley’s was “artistic.” Sandra B says, “You have to be that tall and that thin to wear that.” Ah, but the judges are mostly fashion snobs and don’t mind conceptual. That might not matter to them. Still, Michael Kors joins Sandra in mocking it. He says you’d need one big and one thin thigh. Sandra says “goiter”. Kors adds that it is “very '80s Joan Collins.” (Is that good or bad?) Nina seems to add the only positive comments with, “Ungaro updated… adorable.”

Keith says he wanted to show there is beauty hidden within the city. The judges all agree that the white background dress makes the tacked-on fabric squares look unintegrated. Terri says that she sought out graffiti as her source and wanted her “girl” to “be the one everyone wants at the party.” Sandra’s descriptors are “fierce, sexy, and in control,” which Terri loves hearing. Sandra also thinks the design says “I will cut you up.” Sure it isn’t Blaynnibal’s, then?

Emily says her inspiration was a long-exposure, streaky-lights snap from Washington Square Park. She might’ve done well to snap somebody’s track marks. Her design just isn’t working for the judges, isn’t working, at all. The color and style of the ruffles kind of make it look like some alien life form is eating the model, in the camera closeups. The judges critique the unflattering, across-the-bust placement of the ruffle banner also. “When in doubt keep it simple” Kors advises. Keith, as usual, looks downcast but Leanne’s up next. Judges all love and praise her little black dress, with its very couture looking skirt. It looks very finished. “Impeccable,” Heidi calls it. The judges all hate Jennifer’s baggy navy and cream dress. Her model looks a little afraid and a lot unhappy. Kors points out that the hem is uneven. A glimpse in closeup shows its sloppy hemline.

The judges caucus, saying much the same as they did to the designers’ faces. They spend more time on Emily’s, hating it. Nina refuses to even comment on it, which the others deem the harshest form of criticism. Decisions made, the six are recalled. Terri is the only one who looks happy and relaxed. Her design did get the biggest raves, after all. The others look either tense or tearful. Seems like it will be Terri for the win, right? Wrong. It’s Kenley Collins! So goiters and mismatched thighs will be big this year? Good to know.

Leanne is excused with praise, and Keith is dismissed backstage. Emily and Jennifer are left and their designs are both insulted. Just a little humiliation ritual the production seems to enjoy. And, Jennifer lasts another week. (Well, maybe they can’t separate her and Leanne without an operation?) Emily is out. Emily blows a kiss at the judges and smiles. She still likes her design. She handles her goodbyes with fair grace. Kenley scowls at her. (Why, Kenley? You won, remember? Quick. Look up what the word gracious means.) Emily, maybe you shoulda heeded the Gunn.

Vague hints of next week’s challenge in the preview clips. Perhaps an office building. Daniel “isn’t used to this.” Terri thinks Keith stole her fabric, but she’s smiling. (Oh, how I miss Jay and Wendy.) Tim explaining who Sgt. Pepper is to Blayne – or trying to. Just don’t holla atcha boy Tim, or Terri’s dress will cut you. See you all next week!

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