There is always this moment at the beginning of each season of Project Runway All-Stars when I ask myself, "Do I really want to invest an hour a week in a Klum-free, Gunn-free, knock-off Project Runway?" For the third time in a row, my answer has been, "Yes." Two episodes into the third season, and I am not experiencing buyer's remorse.
First, All-Stars is only an hour a week; two-thirds the time investment of a regular season of PR. Second, there are always designers you totally forgot about who blow your mind, a few of your old favorites, and a few old villains. Third, it's fun to see how those roles change with a new mix of people. A little new, a little of the familiar (plus, aren't we all secretly hoping to see Tim Gunn at some point?) makes Project Runway All-Stars entirely watchable.
More great news: Alyssa Milano has taken a break from her WEN Infomercial emcee schedule to host the show. Insert your own Who's the Boss? joke here.
Full confession: I love Alyssa Milano, and I have watched that infomercial one thousand times. (Haven't bought WEN yet.) She so much more fun to watch than past hosts Angela Lindvall and Carolyn Murphy, who were always going to fall short of the model/PR host ideal created by Klum. Milano is believable and likeable, and she wears clothes pretty well.
Naturally both Georgina Chapman and Isaac Mizrahi return as judges, and this year's prize package is really generous--worth more than $750,000 in cash, computers, make-up, and a whole lot of other stuff they named during a two-minute product placement session. And let's not forget our cast:
• Viktor Luna (Season 9): Claims he was "robbed" during his season • Mychael Knight (Season 3): Fan favorite; second All-Stars appearance • Daniel Esquivel (Season 11): Funny moustache, kind of weepy, likes pointy shoulders • Korto Momolu (Season 5): Runner-up in her season with something to prove • Elena Slivnyak (Season 10): "I'm chill, I started taking yoga classes." • Melissa Fleis (Season 10): On Elena--"Here we go again." • Christopher Palu (Season 10): "Elena is out of her mind." • Ari South (Season 8, competed as Andy): PR's first transgendered contestant, and everyone welcomes her with open arms • Jeffrey Sebelia (Season 3): They are bringing back a winner! Love it. • Irina Shabayeva (Season 6): Another winner! Lots of cranky looks from the designers. • Seth Aaron (Season 7): Yet another winner!
The season opener challenges the designers to go punk in honor of guest judge Debbie Harry. (Which is a pretty boss guest judge, frankly. That's better than plenty of regular season PR guest judges.) Alyssa Milano throws the gang a curve ball (no workroom! They'll have to work in the cramped basement of fabric store Mood!) and some cash, and sends them on their way. Zanna Roberts Rassi is mentoring the designers; she's great, but she isn't delivering any Joanna Coles-style zingers, which is a shame. It doesn't help that the montage of Rassi giving feedback consists mostly of her making faces, or admonishing them, "Use your time wisely!"
We see a lot of zippers and grommets and metal details flying around the workroom, but when the looks walk the runway three clearly stand out: Jeffrey and Seth Aaron are no surprise (these are rock n' roll guys who design for musicians) but Elena is also at the top; her neon-and-black leather jacket was deemed hideous by all until--at her model's suggestion--Elena put the jacket on the model backward. It was a rave on the runway.
At the other end of the spectrum were the low-scoring losers: Viktor, whose look was "too perfect" to be punk; Ari, whose look was just not punk; and Melissa, whose five-minute dress the judges loved and whose ten hour white leather vest the judges hated. In the end, Elena wins for an idea that wasn't even hers, but she's too excited that her dad's favorite rocker Debbie Harry is going to wear her backward jacket on stage to make that connection. Weird that Elena didn't give her model the credit, but hey she made the jacket! That model just thought up the part the judges liked most. No biggie. Ari goes home because her shorts and shirt were a snooze.
BUT WAIT THERE'S MORE!
Because a second episode has aired, and you should know what happened. Alyssa Milano brings her gaggle of all-stars to the American Museum of Natural History, where they learn that they will be taking part in the avant-garde challenge! A new exhibit, "The Power of Poison," will serve as their inspiration; designers will choose an insect or arachnid from the exhibit, and use that as the jumping-off point for their design. Elena gets first crack and chooses some weird funky bug and gets all moony-eyed for it; the rest of the designers choose their critters and then, huzzah! It's off to the real workroom, where they are not in a basement of a retail store for no apparent reason.
The one truly glaring difference between Project Runway and All-Stars is that missing 30 minutes; we don't see nearly as much workroom action, which means we don't see much of a garment's evolution. One minute it's on a bolt at Mood, the next it's walking the runway, and there is very little in-between.
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Episode two focuses on two things: Elena's loud and dramatic workroom presence, and Jeffrey's continuing insistence that he's "out of practice" now that he has been running his own clothing line for kids for the last few years. I don't know if he's trying to lower expectations, or if he's really feeling nervous, but he's not the only one; ZRR's workroom critique asks everyone to ramp up the avant-garde-ness of their looks. This prompts several designers to start over from scratch, including Mychael and Melissa.
On runway day Elena is crying-and-sewing, crying-and-sewing, while Jeffrey seems confident that his gold lace hood--that completely covers his model's face--is going to be a hit; Christopher calls Jeffrey's dress "the leg lamp from 'A Christmas Story'" which is the funniest thing Christopher has ever said on camera. The judges, predictably, hate Jeffrey's one-red-leg jumpsuit WITH FACE-COVERING HOOD; nor are they crazy for Daniel's "sea of brown" gown, or Melissa's totally forgettable snooze-fest. On the other hand, they love the exoskeleton-inspired design from Mychael, as well as Irina's dramatic black lace gown and Elena's cocktail dress that has a very literal, but impactful, "bug" vibe.
Mychael is the winner! And Sad Daniel Esquivel is the loser, but he and his moustache are probably happier in Austin, anyway.
Project Runway All-Stars airs Thursdays on Lifetime at 8 p.m. CT.