Just before this latest season of Project Runway started, the Lifetime network began promoting it with A Very Shocking Image! (see above), one that was clearly intended to be provocative and create buzz about how Edgy, Controversial, and Cutting-Edge a 12-year-old show can be.
Online, people asked why a show about fashion would use gratuitous nudity to promote itself. (These folks, it seems, have never seen an advertisement.) Others focused on the models' weight, and whether the images contributed to the objectification of women. Um, hello! There is one naked guy in there, so sorry, no sexism. Even Tim Gunn weighed in, prompting a discussion on his personal Facebook page, when he asked followers if they thought the photo was in bad taste; reactions were mixed. For me, it was more concerning to see women portrayed as plasticized than it was to see them in a state of undress. After all, I see myself naked all the time, and I'm hardly ever offended. (Except, maybe, after Tex-Mex.)
The image, for better or worse, worked as intended: it reminded me to set my DVR for the latest season, as well as the annual Road to the Runway primer where we first meet the new cast of designers.
Twelve years is a long time for a reality show to stay relevant, and for the most part Project Runway has done an admirable job of keeping its core audience intact. Over the years I've dropped Survivor, Big Brother, and The Real World but I remain loyal to Project Runway. Each season they make PR more interactive for the fans; in addition to the usual Fan Favorite votes, they have designers communicating on Twitter, and even a real-time viewer interactive game called "Play the Runway" which displays the results of viewer votes live as the show airs.
Last year Zac Posen seemed like a poor man's Michael Kors, but he seems to have found his footing, opening the season with an excellent zinger when he called one designer's bathing suit "a slutty cat toy." Also, is it just me, or is Nina Garcia a little softer these days? Not necessarily on the competitors, but just generally lighter in spirit? She's become more fun to watch, perhaps because of Kors' exit. Klum remains beautiful and charmingly goofy--what is it about this gorgeous woman that makes us feel like we could hang out with her? She and Tim Gunn connect with viewers in a way that makes them seem so approachable; it's no surprise they've earned Emmy nods for their respective roles on the show.
Some of the changes PR has implemented this season fall under the heading of, "DUH! Why didn't you do this sooner!?" Specifically:
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• The Internet Voted: And "controversial" contestant No. 16 was brought back from a previous season! Kate, from Season 11 (Team Challenges) was granted a spot on the Season 12 cast. I never thought she was that bad, but the Internet seems to think she is A Huge Bitch, so we'll see. I think other contestants are going to eclipse her in the drama department. • Tim Gunn Takes the Stage: In addition to his role as workroom mentor, Gunn has a non-voting spot on the judges' panel where he gives insight on what happened in the workroom before the garments hit the runway. He also gets a "save"--just one--in which he can bring back a designer he feels was unfairly eliminated by the judges. Though he has yet to use the save, it's exciting to see Tim invested with a little bit of power outside of the workroom. • Garment Inspection: After the judges have spoken to the designers with the highest and the lowest scores, the judges call in the models to inspect the garments up close. HELLO! I cannot be the only viewer who thought, "Finally!" when this was announced, right? It only makes sense that the judges should be able to see the clothes up close before making a final decision.
Naturally this season's cast adds to the drama. Keep your eye on Sandro, a drama queen who has a flair for trashy (it was his swimsuit that was described as a slutty cat toy). Justin is the show's first deaf contestant, which is secondary to his incredible talent. Though Justin has a cochlear implant and is oral, the show subtitles him for viewers. Timothy describes himself as an advocate for sustainability, and in the first (unconventionals) challenge sends his model down the catwalk without hair or makeup. He's still around, but maybe not for long, so hurry and tune in--he is a beaut. Bradon used to be a modern dancer, and now he's a designer who talks about how awesome he is; he's not wrong, but it's still fun to hear him humblebrag. Speaking of humblebrags, two of the women--Helen and Miranda--are already hovering on the edge of insanity after pretty confident auditions, and episode three has yet to air. Bonus: Miranda knows, and hates, Timothy from back in Milwaukee--this may get interesting.
I won't recap the entire cast for you, but it's one of the more diverse and intriguing we have seen in a few seasons. Usually they have eliminated four or five designers by the time I have even started learning all the names, but this year I'm already rooting on Sue who can't thread a sewing machine needle, Jeremy who seems as nice as his clothes, and Sandro because if you can send a model down a runway with her bits hanging out, and not get eliminated, and then almost win the next challenge, you are generally pretty awesome. Also Justin, because I dig seeing more deaf folks on TV being badasses. (A really good friend of mine is deaf, and she was my cheerleading coach in high school. I've known for a long time deaf folks can rock it any day of the week alongside hearing folks, and it's nice to see it happen on PR.)
In addition to holding viewers, the show has maintained critical acclaim. PR was recently nominated for five Emmy awards: Outstanding Reality Competition Program, Outstanding Host for a Reality or a Reality-Competition Program (Heidi & Tim), Outstanding Cinematography for Reality Programming, and Outstanding Picture Editing for Reality Programming (there were two nominations for the show in this category.)