Fashion nightmare 

Project Runway (Bravo, Wednesdays, 10 pm)

Reality shows inevitably begin to suck. It’s like a law of the universe. No matter how great they are to begin with, they all suck by season four or five. It’s true of most things left in a vacuum, and there’s a clear historical antecedent. You get a king on the throne who comes to power through some great military or political coup and he’s a hero. Five generations of unchecked dynastic power later, though, and your empire is a shambles. From Cesar Augustus to Nero in four moves. Game over.

Project Runway ain’t quite at Nero levels of horror yet, but it’s close (more like Emperor Claudius, for my ladies in the house with a love for Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire).

Historically my favorite contest-based reality show for its sharp, lean, bitchy mix of attitude and design prowess, Project Runway season four feels all soft and flabby. Season one threw everything into a pot and the result, while unrefined, was fresh and creatively honest. It’s been clear for the last two seasons that the producers are tinkering with the formula, looking for exactly the right cast chemistry to yield haute fashion and haute tension. They choose some contestants for raw chops (Mychael Knight, season 3; Daniel Vosovic, season 2). They choose others for their sass and bravado — occasionally finding someone with all those characteristics (Santino, season 2).

This season, methinks they doth tinker too much. Christian is a fop who hasn’t, in his young life, developed a strong personal style (other than aping the ‘80s at every turn). Victorya’s an autocrat who’s most creative flourish was taking one of the “i”s in her name and making it a “y”. Sweet P is so skittish she must have been abused as a child, Ricky’s an idiot, and Steven … Steven just looks like French Stewart. A quarter of the way through the season, no designs have really leapt to the fore and — with the exception of Eliza, who licks her designs and grass-stains her fabrics — no personalities have, either. The result is a reality TV mumu, formless and hard to look at.

In episode four each designer was given a way out-of-date fashion trend. The designers were then grouped in threes and told to combine and update the styles. What resulted was a train-wreck, the only decent collection — Jillian, Rami, and Kevin’s — was pretty awesome, despite looking as if it were inspired by train conductors. They’re the front-runners I guess. It’s just hard to care. •

See also

ER The show turned 300 years old last week. Out of curiosity, I went to the website and was like, “Damn, what’s Mekhi Phifer doing on there? … John Stamos?!” Guess it’s been a while. (NBC, Thursdays, 9 pm)

Charlie Brooker’s Screenwipe A BBC Four series unavailable in most of the US except through YouTube, the Guardian TV critic alternates between erudite examinations of TV form and screaming obscenities at the TV. It’s awesome. (YouTube, any time)

Life If you’ve slept on Life, the cop show that’s as much about Buddhism as scofflaws, you have a month to catch up before new episodes stop airing. (NBC.com, whenever)


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