When I think of "Project Runway," there are two personalities that come to mind first and foremost: the contestants' mentor Tim Gunn and the competition host Heidi Klum. "Project Runway All Stars," which features memorable contestants from the first eight seasons of "Project Runway," has neither of them. Also gone are the show's usual judges, Michael Kors and Nina Garcia. In their place, we have a new host, new mentor, and new judges. I was skeptical when I realized this, because changing the chemistry of a show by just removing one or two parts of its formula can be disastrous. I thought back to the sixth season of "Project Runway," which dipped in quality largely because of absent judges and moving the action from New York to Los Angeles. Were we in for even worse?
Well, after four episodes, I'm not getting very attached to any of the newbies. Supermodel host Angela Lindvall is lovely and well-spoken, but she's not very memorable. Ditto designer Georgina Chapman, one of the two regular judges. If you put the two women next to each other, I wouldn't be able to tell you which was which. Their personalities aren't coming across very well, and are a far cry from their more outspoken counterparts. Isaac Mizrahi, filling the other judging position is a familiar face, and immediately stands out for being the only male member of the new team. He also has a much more easygoing attitude and a good sense of humor which I appreciate.
As for the designers' new mentor figure, Marie Claire Editor-in-Chief Joanna Coles, she's been pretty grim-faced so far. I really didn't appreciate Tim Gunn enough until suddenly he wasn't there. Joanna's first critiques were awkward, her presence was cold, and she seemed to be the furthest thing from nurturing. I wondered briefly if her appearance was a condition for letting the show offer up a Marie Claire guest editorship as one of the season's big prizes. However, she's mellowed out considerably over subsequent episodes, and I expect she'll continue to improve. The lady clearly knows what she's doing, but I'm not sure the severity of her attitude meshes that well with the show's formula.
Thank goodness then that "Project Runway All Stars" fills the quota for big, memorable personalities with cherry-picked contestants from the early seasons. As talented as many of these designers are, their invitation back to the runway was clearly based more on their personalities than their clothing. And so we have the return of Season 1's Austin Scarlett, bearing a new Errol Flynn mustache, and the Bettie Page doppelganger Kenley, from season 5, and both drama queens from Season 8, Mondo Guerra and Michael Costello. It doesn't matter that the support staff might be a little lackluster when this bunch is onscreen, emoting and panicking and catfighting and getting weepy together, just like old times. Yes, I'm utterly shameless about loving the drama generated by this show.
After four episodes, I'm getting worried that the cast may be too imbalanced in favor of the male competitors. Every eliminated designer so far as been female, but when you look at their rankings in their respective seasons, this isn't much of a surprise. The first designer given the boot was Elisa Jimenez, that very earnest, earth-mothery , eccentric who barely made it into the top ten of Season 4, while everyone else managed at least a fifth place ranking. In fact, I'm just going to call it right here – the competition is probably going to come down to Rami Kashou and Mondo, who were both first runner-ups in their respective seasons. None of the other designers appears to have improved dramatically enough to offer much competition.
But just because the show is predictable doesn't mean it's not still fun to watch. Boy is it fun to watch. The weekly challenges, which so far have included designing cocktail dresses for Miss Piggy and whipping up garments inspired by gelato flavors on a strict six-hour deadline, have been great. The level of the competition is higher than usual, and the pace feels like it has been ramped up as well. With so many big personalities in the workroom, there have already been some minor clashes. While I do miss Tim Gunn, I'm not noticing his absence as much as I might have with a group of new and unfamiliar contestants. This was the right way to break in a new judging and hosting team.
"All Stars" suffered delays, and had a lot of bumps to work through, but I'm happy to report that they made it work. I look forward to the rest of the season and for the regular "Project Runway" to return for its tenth year soon.