Photo: David Russell / Lifetime

The Avant-Garde Challenge Is Even More Meaningless Than Usual

The designers use insects as inspiration, and the guest judge bugs. Does Lifetime even care about this show anymore?

The Challenge: Buggin' Out

Alyssa Milano is wearing a dress that's a size too large for her to announce that the designers will use insects' and arachnids' "unique features" to inspire an avant-garde look. What that really means: 1) some pieces that look too buggy will be criticized as too literal, while others deemed not buggy enough will be clocked for not using the inspiration; 2) favorites' looks will be called avant-garde, while others will be told they didn't push the envelope. Not that I know what constitutes "avant-garde," actually, but Lord knows the Project Runway judging has never done anything to clear it up.

Anyway! Everyone selects their bugs and spins workshop BS about armor and the violence within, and it's boring. (And, in the case of Melissa's giant Sri Lankan spider, yucky.)

Mood

Everyone rushes around. Swatch looks concerned. Esquivel is a little too thrilled about a fabric that reads on camera as a cheap tweed. Elena loses her sketch with her punch list on it and begins the first movement of a Wagnerian-length meltdown as Irina looks on and smugs, "I feel like that's Elena's personality." Good insight, Doctor.

Workroom

The designers roll in from Mood to find their bugs waiting on their tables in glass boxes. Everyone is contractually required to rave about the workroom -- painted like a 1982 rec center, and weirdly underlit -- and the QVC accessories wall, and while Viktor is pretty convincing under the circumstances, it's depressing.

Korto talks about showing her designs for the Liberian president and designing for Estelle; Melissa notes that she launched her own line; Elena is threatening to vomit.

As the minutes tick by, everyone else is starting to freak out too (Palu: "I'm going to need Botox after this!"), and then Zanna Roberts Rassi comes in and tells almost everyone that their looks are too literal. Seth Aaron's might not be avant-garde enough; Rassi worries that Korto's is just a top and pants, and I don't know what that has to do with anything, so apparently "pants" isn't avant-garde? Before she leaves, Rassi announces to the room that she's concerned the looks aren't avant-garde enough "from any of you," and the term "avant-garde" has now officially ceased to have any meaning; certainly Rassi doesn't help to elucidate it in the footage we see.

Mychael and Melissa decide to start from scratch. When the models arrive, Elena has nothing for hers to try on, and puts the model to work pattern-cutting instead, which of course Irina is lofty about: "Are you sharing the prize with her? Then she can help." Shut up, Irina. Palu is making tentacles for his model's fingers. In the background, Elena shrieks that she sewed everything wrong, followed by a string of bleeps and hysterical giggling. Sebelia wraps his model in foam.

Crying And Cutting

Everyone freaks out about finishing in time. Elena is now straight-up sobbing, though Melissa's like, she cried last week too and she won, so whatever, and to Elena's credit, while she's crying, she's cutting and pinning and sewing.

Elsewhere, Korto begins to describe Sebelia's body-stocking-type hood with, "Bless his heart," and Palu says that Sebelia isn't pushing the envelope, he's putting his model in an envelope, before comparing Sebelia's model to the leg lamp from A Christmas Story. Heh.

And now Melissa is hiccup-sobbing that she's "so embarrassed" by her dress. Decaf, folks, jeez.

Runway

I…don't even know, you guys. First of all, the prize list is now a pre-edited package like on a game show, and it is endless. Milano comes out in a red Joan Collins-y contraption that doesn't flatter her figure and rectangular eyeliner to introduce the judges, and that takes forever thanks to a long ADR sequence listing Georgina Chapman's various new product launches, and on top of that, the final guest judge is goddamn Anya Ayoung-Chee. Is this thing even on?

Then it's finally time for the looks to come down the catwalk at lightning speed, so rapidly that it's functionally impossible to get a sense of any of them without pausing repeatedly (and insets with the insects/arachnids used for inspiration take up an unwieldy amount of screen acreage).

Seth Aaron's is very Blade Runner. Mychael's is cool and cocoon-like, but might have styling to thank for the way it wows on first impression. Esquivel's looks poorly made and like a costume. Korto's is nicely finished, sort of future-cop, but not terribly interesting; Sebelia's is interesting, but that's because it's a lampshade over a brocade penis, with amateurish edging. Melissa's right that hers isn't that cutting edge, but it does look nice, except for the butterfly-backpack feel of the thing in the back.

Viktor's is too literal for my taste, but flawlessly constructed; the styling is on the nose. Irina's is judge-nip, just "difficult" enough to qualify as their version of avant-garde but still pretty. I like Palu's color story but the shape is a little "expected." And Elena's is made of cool materials, but it's on the Flash Gordon side.

But I'm probably wrong, because it strobed past at montage speed, almost as though the producers don't want us to get a close look at anything except Alterna hair-care products.

Judging

Milano calls the safe and winning/losing designers in a weird order, and it's not just me; Mychael doesn't know what's going on and has to be prompted to step forward. Seth Aaron, told he's safe, jokingly sprints off the runway, and I wish he'd take me with him, because what follows is beyond annoying -- a word you can't spell without "Anya."

Chapman and Le Miz are fine; Chapman has on-point comments about Esquivel's (the attitude of the back doesn't match the unflattering front) and Sebelia's (the cape threw her, but it's a different idea without it), and Miz has in his notes that Mychael's podlike dress is "expensive and strange." Totally.

But Anya is snotty throughout, sighing that Esquivel's materials cheapen the dress, shrugging that Sebelia's look is a Lady Gaga backup costume, and claiming that Elena's is the essence of avant-garde. She goes on to sneer that, if Esquivel's "fabric choices are these, it speaks to a taste level" that you can't teach. Meanwhile, fabric choice is literally Anya's only demonstrable talent. What is she doing here? A lot of people can hang a curtain, honey. Check your shade.

She does have one good insight, which is that, if Sebelia hadn't gotten pushed back with Mizrahi about the wearability of his look, they might not have had much to say about Sebelia. That exchange itself is worth watching; Sebelia's plaintive, passive-aggressive "I had absolutely no idea I was supposed to just make a dress" is masterful, as is Mizrahi's patiently nonplussed "simmer down, we're just talking here" response. But at least Sebelia can sew, unlike some people.

Milano, meanwhile, is cracking bad jokes about wearing Sebelia's hood in the bedroom and then blaring, "Too much information!" Nobody laughs. She gets pretty mad at Melissa's, too: "There is nothing avant-garde about a little black dress." Typifies the strange-at-best energy of the entire episode.

Win/Auf

Mychael wins, and while I think he's an obvious favorite, the piece is attractive, modern, and thoughtful (I'm-a just leave "avant-garde" out of it). Melissa and Esquivel land in the bottom, and while I could do without Anya's tone, she's not wrong about Esquivel's taste level…and unsurprisingly, he's out. He's his usual cheery, sweet self about it, and I'll miss him.

Verdict

The worst episode of either franchise in recent memory: product placements dragged on, while actual work and runway felt hurried through and not prioritized. Once again an "avant-garde" challenge is an excuse to praise pets and punish the rest, and putting Anya in a judges' chair in a competition basically designed to apologize to her fellow designers for letting her win is…I don't know what that is. It's not good TV, though. Delete.

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