Screen: Lifetime

Gunn Shy

Under The Gunn wasted an opportunity; Sarah hopes its first season is its last.

Should I bother reviewing the first season of Project Runway: Under The Gunn? One of our esteemed forum posters suggested that UTG isn't really its own thing, that it began its life as a standard season of Project Runway but morphed into this when Heidi Klum couldn't participate and Tim Gunn refused to proceed without her -- and that's more or less how UTG evolved over the weeks, looking less and less like a distinct entity and more and more like a misguided variation on regular Runway. So is there much point in running down the pros and cons of a property that, whether or not it's a failure, is only a stopgap in the first place and likely won't return?

Well, the property has promise; if it didn't, it wouldn't have bugged the eff out of me for 13 episodes. I would have loved to see the mentoring process the premise implied: how a Tim Gunn shepherds creative development, how to walk the tightrope between interfering and withholding, how to tailor one's style of counsel to different personalities (Shan doesn't need much hand-holding; Natalia needs all of it). We saw a little of that in the initial episodes, primarily via Uncle Nick's inability to shoulder his kids out of the way and just do their shit for them, and I found it compelling…but at the same time, Nick's learning curve, and his designers', had to exist within the same old boundaries of Runway's competition: fatuous sponsored challenge brief; ridiculous time constraint; runway; judging.

Leaving aside, reluctantly, another major problem with UTG, namely that the show would just throw out said constraints when it found them emotionally inconvenient, thus chopping down the stakes to ankle height…actually, let's just get into that now, because: shenanigans. I can't really take tremendous issue with the penultimate episode's results, because I've come to like Sam and respect his growth, and I was relieved he got to stay despite sending out a garment that was a dark moment for him in a number of ways. But it's like the card game the ballplayers always play in Bang The Drum Slowly, TEGWAR; it stands for "The Excellent Game Without Any Rules," and it's supposed to be funny, with people betting using colors and socks, or randomly declaring trump, but really it just seems chaotic and unfun. Why bother playing if you can't tell who wins and aren't supposed to care anyway?

Particularly when it's not necessary for anyone to "win," in my opinion. The focus on the mentoring aspect seemed to dissipate by season's end, leaving us with a tricked-up Runway season that had found an excuse to let Nick, Mondo, and Anya hang around and have pretty hair and/or fun socks, and that per se is fine. But if you want to make more use of Tim Gunn, do that, then. Revamp it as a non-competition show, or a longer-form competition that lets everyone -- including the intolerable Isabelle, and Asha's hate-on for Natalia -- stay to the end, and do a big two-part finale with everyone putting out a mini-collection. Let us see how the mentors manage the more intractable personalities, and let us see how Tim mentors the mentors on that point. Tim has clashed with designers in the past (Vosovic; Emilio), in ways we didn't really know about until after the season. He knows how to make it work, at work. That's reality -- handling difficult co-workers, getting the best out of flailing employees -- and the concept is way less tortured.

As far as the final result: sure. Oscar's relationship with English was sweet music to the end ("I like to protect women, they can conceive life" is a vintage Garcia-Lopez "henh?/obviously" locution), but I liked his collection, though I thought Shan came closer to the brass ring than the judges did. The win for Nick is particularly pleasing; Anya's mentoring impressed me at times, but Mondo and his weird space-pilgrim attire need to get over themselves. "The real winners are my designers"? Nope. The real winner is Oscar, chief, and take a long look at how you and Asha treated Natalia before you pull a muscle patting yourself on the back.

And Zanna Roberts Rassi aside (and even she's okay, usually), the judging kicked it up a notch. Rachel Roy is gifted at critiquing the garment with compassion; I'd like to see more of her as part of this franchise, or put her on a show with the beautiful Georgina Chapman where they go around giving semi-harsh life advice that you can't wait to take because they're so sweet and supportive of what you're trying to do. Nick learned a few things, Sam did some growing-up work and didn't coast…the show isn't without merit, but it doesn't seem to understand what its real merits are, what might set it apart, where it has the opportunity to do something different and demanding. Instead, it neutered those merits via the customary Runway foolishness, for which I've got little patience left as it is.

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