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Project Runway - The Complete First Season

Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment // Unrated // November 29, 2005
List Price: $39.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Scott Hoffman | posted January 11, 2006 | E-mail the Author
I rolled over this morning and let out the typical morning sigh...another day, another dollar. Thankfully, my girlfriend Heidi Klum was there to comfort me. "It vill be alright, honey" she said in that reassuring German way that only the one who loves you more than life itself can express. Everyone thinks that this woman, the woman who defines perfection and beauty, has given birth to Seal's baby, was married to some old French guy, is washed up...but no, she's secretly been living and loving me for long these past 15 years. Well...that's how I see it anyway.

In reality (*sobs*) Heidi is currently glowing in the admiration of her series Project Runway and all the fantastic press it has brought her and the Bravo network. Project is a reality show hosted by (and shamelessly starring) the gorgeous Heidi Klum. The goal is to find the next great fashion designer, allow them to show off their creations, and give the winner the necessary funds to start their own line of clothing. The first season DVD chronicles the path trodden down by 12 designers who will sew and hem anything in their quest to win the coveted $100,000 for their own fashion line (and they'll take the honor of being named the next great designer, but they really don't care.)

The cast includes Alexandra, who is from Miami and that's about all she (or anyone else) cares about...Austin, who is a total enigma and would shock no one if he strolled in one day wearing a powdered wig...Daniel, the one with the 1983 hair...Jay, the provider of 60% of the shows entertainment...Kara, the "chosen one" that Vegas MUST have had as the winner from day one (but were they right??)...soft-spoken Kevin, who really "lacks leadership", apparently...Mario, who is an idiot...Gumby-haired Nora, the drama queen...Robert "I'm only in this fashion game to pick up models" Plotkin, who had a line in Russia named Trober, which I think is pretty creative...future lawyer and anorexic to the stars, Starr!?!...Vanessa, the saucy but very forgettable Brit...and THE bitch, Wendy.

However, the complexity and depth of the show did not end there! Indeed, there was an on-going competition within the competition in the form of a cover shoot up for grabs amongst the 12 models that were utilized each week to display the clothes put forth by the designers. The models were all already with agencies and young and beautiful, so their quest was viewed (rightly so) as a secondary story line. Of note though, were: Morgan, the drama queen/smoker/head-case who nearly cost Jay a challenge when she failed to show, but that led to a comedic resolve...Melissa, who at 17 was so full of self-confidence it spilled out of her dresses, right along with her boobs...and then Julia, Jenny, and Martinique who were the others that I could remember off the top of my head for some reason.

Anyway, in their quest to become the "next big thing" the designers are obviously told to design clothes. This is done in the form of weekly challenges that force them to think outside the box of what they may have been taught in their many years of designer training. I don't simply mean that they are forced to think up innovative designs for clothing ('cause I think that is the essence of clothes design) but they are given a very limited budget, very little time, very "interesting" (at times) supplies, and of course there's the pressure of everything you do being filmed for airing on national television. Along they way, they are guided by the leadership and opinions of Tim Gunn, Fashion Design Chair at the Parsons School of Fashion Design. He is very helpful for the designers along the way and often gives them tips that alter the final results at the judging panel.

As for the judging itself, it is done by Michael Kors, men's clothing designer...Nina Garcia, Elle magazine fashion director, and of course the lovely Mrs. Klum. The judges know nothing of the behind-the-scenes hijinx that occur during the creation process for the garments, they only see what is modeled (on a faux runway) in front of them on that day. After a brief fashion show of that weeks creations, the models are brought out and the designers stand next to their designs and field questions to help the judges determine "who is in, and who is out" (Heidi's catch phrase extraordinaire). Each week, one designer is eliminated until it gets down to the final three. Each following week one of the models is eliminated by way of not being chosen by the remaining designers to model the work for that week's challenge. In the end, three models and three designers get to strut their stuff at New York's Fall Fashion Week displaying fashion lines created exclusively by the finalists. The winner of THAT competition is declared the winner of the whole thing. Get it?

It should be clear to everyone that this structure is not unlike just about every other reality-cum-competition show out there today. The draw of the show is the personalities that compose the contestant field, and often not the contest itself. It is worth noting that while very little of the creations made by the designers will be a single force to compel them on to stardom, this show is undoubtedly a vehicle for them to be exposed and get further recognition. This is highlighted for several of the designers in the "Where are they now" feature tacked on as a supplement. Again though, the stars of the show are the personalities...not the clothes.

To that end, two of the designers clearly stood out above the rest as the entertainers of the whole season. One did it with his mouth (Jay) and the other simply did it with his personality and demeanor (Austin). Jay is a small town Pennsylvania fella who clung to no pre-conceived notions about the show and made sure to "let it all hang out" during the filming. It was refreshing however, to see him perform his crazy antics and make his offbeat comments in what came across as a truly natural manner. He wasn't posturing for the cameras, he was being himself. The rush to get one's 15 minutes of fame can be very persuasive to some individuals and lead them down a path of fabricated acting and over-acting with often times noxious results. Jay was a genuinely funny guy and his remarks about the others in the cast were almost always spot on with what I (and I would assume most of the other viewers) was thinking. Austin was simply someone who marched to the beat of a different instrument altogether. Standing at 6'0" tall and a waif-like frame of maybe 125 pounds, Austin had model-like dimensions (which would come into play in a later episode). More to the point however, was the fact that he wore make-up and had the fashion sense of an 18th century duchess. It is really quite difficult to explain, but Austin was simply born in the wrong century.

I find that most reality shows live and die by the personalities and quirks of some of its cast...Jay and Austin were two such members for this particular show. However, with good there is evil. Wendy epitomized evil on this show from the very beginning and managed to carry it through to her final episode. While many reality TV personalities can write such a type casting off as "bad editing", I happened to be watching an episode of "Celebrity Poker Showdown" (not coincidentally, also on Bravo) in which Wendy was a player. At the table, she not only looked like a whore who'd be ridden hard and put up wet, but she showed poor etiquette at the table and lived up to her "bitch" label. Other characters worth more than a passing mention are Kara Saun and Robert. Kara Saun seemed to come into this competition just to impress people and was really the ringer from the get go, often being referred to by other cast members as "the one who'll win." She had years of experience in Hollywood with costume design and while it showed, would it be good enough for her to take it all the way to the victory? Robert, on the other hand, was nothing if not charming to the ladies. It was actually mentioned by several of the cast members that if not for his charm, Robert would not have made it past several of the challenges that he overcame. A ladies man in every sense of the word, he is the most sexually charged heterosexual in the fashion industry...hands down.

One of the more refreshing aspects of the show is how, although it is hosted by a mega-super-model personality, the show really does center around the cast. It seems as though so many reality shows these days are supposed to be about the competition, but instead focus on product placement for the executive producers or some other interest of the creators or sponsors. While the L'Oreal Hair and Make Up area is mentioned before every runway portion, it is not harped on. The materials for almost every challenge are purchased at a local New York fabric shop, which is not shamelessly plugged, and Heidi didn't mention Seal or any of his albums once! Admittedly, Michael Kors hosts one of the challenges, and that is about the extent of the product placement during the entire season.

The 3-disc set delivers a rather lean 9 regular episode offering. The 10th episode is a special reunion show in which the contestants all return and basically bitch about how Wendy is evil, and then get emotional and leave the set in one of the more entertaining "storm offs" in recent television memory. I must admit, the reunion episode is pretty well done because the tension is SO evident amongst the whole's almost like watching a "Real World" reunion episode except that 82% of the cast didn't sleep with each other. Finally the 11th episode is the fashion week episode in which the 3 finalists finally have the opportunity to have their work shown on the runway, and the episode deals with all the work and preparation leading up to that point. Very solid entertainment throughout, for just under 9 hours of viewing.

Thankfully this show is new and fresh enough for me to be able to look at it with a truly naked eye and an unblemished palette as to where it may head in the future. If it's anything like every other reality show I can think of off the top of my head, it will eventually head towards the toilet. For the first season though, that was not the case at all. I'm not certain what makes it a winning formula, whether it's the inclusion of the most gorgeous woman on earth, or the introduction of the model "contest within a contest" or the creativity of the various challenges...I'm really not sure. I can tell you what the show does NOT have however: contrived characters. Again, it may be due in large part to the fact that the show is in its infancy at this point, but the camera truly does seem to just be there to see what the designers are doing, not to act as an ever moving vanity mirror with which the players can constantly check the clock that is their personal 15 minutes of fame.

All in all, this is a very well designed (pun fully intended) series and I know Bravo was pleased with its performance in the first season. The second season is now underway, and I'm confident that it will put up just the same, if not better numbers. My friends asked me why I, a heterosexual male, would be interested in a series about clothes design...and maybe some of you are receiving the same queries from some of your friends. Well you can tell them that it a) has Heidi Klum, b) has over a dozen hot models, c) has the same interesting characters as the crap they watch on MTV, and d) they can go to hell. Well, you don't have to say the last part, but do it anyway for dramatic effect. While the $40 price tag may seem a bit steep for most, it is worth the cost of admission. Gripping, entertaining, and results that satisfy...that's my kinda DVD purchase!

Video: Since I don't have a clue what I'm talking about, I'll make this quick. Full screen (1.33:1) presentation is the option for all of the episodes including the reunion. The extras are shot in the same manner and at the same ratio. I actually managed to watch this set on three different televisions (in two different states) and there was no major difference in picture on any of the three. Colors are clear and vivid and there are no major issues to speak of that would sway the viewer in one direction or the other. It looks fine for this type of reality themed contest show.

Audio: The set is presented in Dolby Digital Stereo, although as you can imagine sound isn't really an important aspect to the show. A variety of different instrumental musical interludes are used throughout the show to bounce from scene to scene, and music is definitely played during the runway portions, but that aside, audio plays a minor role. French and Spanish subtitles are also available for our friends across the pond, and below us, and above get the idea. I found the dialogue to be generally easy to understand although a handful of scenes (namely in the sewing room) would sometimes have conversations that I found myself leaning forward to hear. The one noticeable audio flub that is almost comical at times is the over-dubbing during the panel portion when Heidi is speaking to the contestants. There are certain lines that are said when her face is not on camera that are so clearly done in post-production that it sounds as though Heidi had taken hormone pills between the shooting and the audio editing. It truly is funny to listen to in certain spots.

Supplements: There isn't much in the way of bonus features on this set, but what is offered includes a series of rather interesting "WEAR Are They Now?" segments, as well as deleted "SEAMS" and a pictorial gallery of some of the designers work throughout the course of the show. The "WEAR" segment catches up with Jay, Kara Saun, Austin, Robert, and Wendy. Totaling 40 minutes in length (all combined) I found these to be fairly interesting, offering a rather extensive look into what the designers have been doing since the show's conclusion. The deleted scenes (with a total run time of 15 minutes) offer the typical helping of "the stuff we didn't show" scenes where the camera was too shaky for the footage to make the final cut. Nothing exceptional here, but worth one viewing anyway. Lastly, the designer gallery is simply a slide show of the designers work including final products of clothing they made, as well as looks at sketches of ideas that they may have had during the creative design process. There are no audio commentaries on this disc, although frankly I don't know how much more a majority of the cast members could have said on top of what was blurted out during the course of the show's run.

Conclusion: While I admit to being somewhat of a sucker for this industry's reality show offerings (Bravo's "Blow Out", UPN's "America's Next Top Model", etc) I am still happy to report that this shot has hit the target. I will be interested to see how the second season of Project succeeds as far as its ability to keep my rapt attention and have me coming back for more. I'm not the biggest fan of its 10pm time slot (not that it matters to me, but being on that late can't help) but I'm hoping it will overcome the poor scheduling and shine through. If you have an interest in the fashion industry, then this is a must have. If you just want some quality entertainment and the chance to look at hot broads in clothes designed in under 24 hours, pick this up. If you enjoy looking at Heidi Klum for any extended period of time...oh, who am I kidding, just get the damn thing.
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