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Project Runway Watch: Tim Gunn's Back in Style

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Lifetime

Lifetime

Spoilers for last night’s Project Runway season premiere coming up after the jump:

Early on in the Lifetime season debut of Project Runway, we meet designer Johnny, who announces that he’s a recovering crystal meth addict. Soon, he runs into trouble with his design and is sitting down, upset, with coach Tim Gunn. “I just don’t want to fail again,” he says, miserably. Gunn holds him in his level, concerned gaze and says: “Nor do I want you to.”

What a relief it is once again to hear a reality-show mentor give grammatically proper consolation! Johnny’s drama moment in his sit-down with Gunn was the point where I started to worry for the new season of Project Runway: that maybe a move to Lifetime, or the move to LA, or being taken over by The Real World’s producers, or just ennui from being on too many seasons was going to lead it down some maximum-pathos America’s Next Top Model tears-and-breakdown path. Instead, Gunn was the same Tim Gunn, empathetic but not lugubrious, supportive but in control, a teacher, not a talk-show host.

In other words, for all the drama over the show’s move, Project Runway remains Project Runway. And—in the middle of a first episode that was, frankly, fairly forgettable—Gunn remained the show’s composed but lovable soul. As a mentor/host, Gunn is the guiding hand not just on the contestants but on the show’s tone, keeping it from sliding into melodrama: with him, the show is sweet where it could be melodramatic, sly where it could be broad, witty where it could be too-clever-by-half. (I’m looking at you, Toby Young.)

As usual, it’s hard to find a narrative thread—so to speak—in an early episode of Runway, with so many contestants to meet. So the highlight of the episode for me was seeing Gunn’s return to the workroom to dispense advice and subtle criticism. “This could go cruise-line cocktail waitress,” he tells one designer. “The big butt factor is a big but,” he tells another. Examining the padded creation of eventual loser Ari–who says proudly, “I don’t sketch”–he demurs, “Forgive me, but I’m afraid that this is going to look like a halter diaper.” (The “forgive me” is what makes the criticism so distinctively Gunn.) When she tells him she has a plan, he ends the conversation, “I believe!” Of course he does.

I don’t yet know what to think of the contestants, partly because it’s early, partly because, for a first challenge, the red-carpet one was pretty ordinary: make a pretty dress! But it did provide an excuse to bring on a celeb star, Lindsay Lohan, whom Heidi Klum informed us, “has spent a lot of time on the red carpet.” (Conscious!) Beyond that, I’m not “concerned” yet—as Gunn would say—but I hope some personalities start to emerge.

I didn’t watch the other 36 hours of Runway programming Lifetime also aired last night, by the way, including the all-star challenge special and Models of the Runway, so feel free to weigh in on those too. Was it worth the wait?

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