Why can’t ‘Project Runway’ get a decent spin-off?

12.08.11 7 years ago 3 Comments

Tonight we’ll be treated to another episode of “Project Accessory,” which is likely being met by a tepid sigh of not-quite-anticipation by those who bother to tune in. Admittedly, Lifetime has done its level best to copy every element of “Project Runway” to ensure the spin-off’s success. The judges, the challenges and even the hostess are eerily similar to the original hit. So why doesn’t it work better than it does?

It’s not that “Project Runway” sports some rare and unique formula. Really, it seems as if one could just slap down the template (hot hostess, three snarky judges and lots of bitchy but talented contestants) and copy it as easily as a dress pattern. But both Lifetime and Bravo (remember “Models of the Runway”? No? We don’t blame you) have fallen short of the mark in squeezing a little extra milk out of this cash cow. However, I will give Lifetime props for getting a little closer with its show than “Models” did (that was like a small-screen version of “Waiting for Godot,” but with half the intelligence and none of the humor). Here are the issues I have with “Accessory.” Some of them can be fixed, but others the show just may have to live with — at least, for as long as it lumbers along.

1) Lovey-dovey contestants One of the great joys of watching “Project Runway” is the sense we get of how much these contestants want to win (and contestants who lack that gut drive are usually sent packing pretty quickly). There’s grit, determination, and usually a fair amount of jealousy, schadenfreude and, yes, cattiness on display. With so much at stake and with such stiff competition (and with so little sleep for our weary competitors), it’s no surprise that things can get ugly, and sometimes hilariously so. But on “Project Accessory,” everyone tiptoed around one another for weeks, sharing scissors and hugging it out when things got stressful. Only one designer, Nicolina Royale, seemed determined to speak her mind and be a cutthroat as she could be — and once she was cut, the show seemed to sink into a quagmire of niceness and vague irritation. While this might have made “PA” a fun show to be on, it made it a decidedly dull one to watch.

2) Accessories aren’t clothes I’ve long had a problem with the core premise of the show. Accessories aren’t even always clumped together in your local department store, simply because they’re so darn different. The knowledge and artistry that goes into making a ring has almost zero application in making a shoe, and vice versa. So expecting one designer to be a master of footwear, jewelry and, say, hats seems borderline ridiculous. Yes, there are many, many designers who have apparel, jewelry and footwear lines. Hell, that jelly head Jessica Simpson has all of those (and that girl can barely talk and chew gum, much less design something). The point is, most designers who have all those lines don’t MAKE the actual jewelry and shoes. They likely started out in apparel, then licensed their name or hired companies specializing in those categories to help them out with their diffusion lines. Sure, they might have sketched some rough ideas and picked out some Pantone colors, but that’s it. 

Yes, “PA” has helped the designers skip some steps. They gave them pre-made heels during a shoe challenge and a wall full of Swarovski crystals so they could slap some bling over their mistakes. And sure, the designers who went to school to master their craft have probably dabbled in a bit of everything. But the fact that the judges pan designers for sloppy execution of their ideas starts to seem a little ridiculous when people who have always been, say, jewelry designers are being forced to sew handbags and make shoes in quickie challenges. No wonder everyone’s being so nice to everyone else — they know that they likely have big holes in their pan-category knowledge of all accessories, and they’d better be nice to the guy who can use a blowtorch/make a last/or structure a handbag. 

3) Ridiculous challenges I know, I know. Ridiculous challenges equal stress, equal short tempers, equal more drama. But when said ridiculous challenges seem patently unfair, it makes watching feel like you’re observing mean kids burn ants with a magnifying glass. When a designer has a great idea but neither the time nor the knowledge to execute it fully (or has to make said design out of garbage or used condoms or whatever weird concept the show throws out there), you have to wonder more about the show than the contestant. Yes, many of the people who’ve been sent home thus far have sent some damn ugly stuff down the runway, but it’s hard not to wonder what their original sketches looked like. 

4) Eva is no Tim and Molly is no Heidi It wasn’t until I saw “PA” that I realized how much Tim Gunn and Heidi Klum bring to “PR.” Gunn is truly the beating heart of the show, an avuncular presence offering gentle encouragement and voicing concern as contestants flail and panic. Heidi, on the other hand, is whatever organ might be considered gleefully malevolent (spleen? liver?), the personification of the cold, cruel fashion industry that smiles as it ushers in new talent and keeps smiling after it chews it up and spits it out.

Eva Jeanbart-Lorenzotti may be cast in the role of helpful mentor, but she lacks Gunn’s personality as well as his compassion. Jeanbart-Lorenzotti can sometimes offer useful feedback, but sounds so bored in delivering it I’m not surprised when the designers don’t always pay attention. Molly Simms, while nicer than Klum, seems intent on trying to channel the other model, and we can see the gears turning and churning in her head — “Am I being too mean? Should I be nice now? I don’t know what to do!” I suspect Simms will find her rhythm eventually — but Jeanbart-Lorenzotti may be better off dispensing style advice off-camera.

What do you think of “Project Accessory”? 

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