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It’s Painful to Watch

By CaitlinBergmann Fri., Aug. 26, 2011 ,5:01 am EDT

Team Anthony Ryan New Balance challengeI have always been realistic about "Project Runway." When fans tell me, "I hate all the drama, I just watch it for the fashion," I remind them that as great as "Project Runway" is, the show is not really about finding the next great fashion designer. If it were, there would be a lot of new famous and successful designers out there, and I doubt that even three of the previous eight season winners are still in the business. The goal of the producers is to create great television, and the show works because season after season it is a mix of interesting characters interacting with each other and managing to remain creative despite a lack of time, materials, money, sleep and whatever else the producers can think of to throw at them. The fighting, backbiting, jealousy and smack-talking are all normal reactions to the stressful environment of the designers, and it's tolerable, as long as we get our fashion. Take the fashion away and we might as well be watching "Temptation Island."

With very few exceptions, I find the fashions of this season to be very, in the words of the Great Orange One, underwhelming, so it's the bickering and drama that stand out. Perhaps great design is there, and when a few more of the less talented contestants get eliminated I will be able to focus on the good work — but not this week. This week's episode featured drab greige fabrics in bunched, shredded and wrinkled pedestrian gym-to-grocery-store designs. Viktor and Kimberly's entries were exceptions. I found them to be polished and professional-looking, perhaps because of the well-made jackets. I also liked Bert's asymmetrical top — or I think I did. Anything would have looked good next to this week's craptastic work of Anthony Ryan and Laura. Again, what's bad is so bad that I have trouble focusing on what's good.

Making the designers run for team leadership positions didn't help. Whose idea was that, anyway? "Project Runway" is a design competition, not a physical competition. Did anyone really think the four youngest males were not going to win? And the paramedic scene with poor Olivier was just embarrassing — truly a low moment in "PR" history.

I don't want to be completely negative. There were some redeeming personality moments in this episode. Cecelia stepped aside because she felt she was taking an opportunity away from a more passionate designer, and Heidi handled the situation well. Viktor and Olivier were given the opportunity to bring back an eliminated designer; they chose Josh C. because they felt he would appreciate the opportunity to learn more, and not for some calculating competitive reason like they didn't see him as a personal threat. Josh M., sincere or not, apologized to Becky for the way he treated her, and jumped in to take responsibility for the design of her garment when it looked like she was in trouble on the runway. And lastly, Anya and Becky didn't bitch when Josh M. won because of a garment he neither designed nor sewed.

It isn't much, but it does give me hope for the human race, and it's enough to keep me watching the rest of the season.