It was so easy to become disillusioned with Project Runway last season. For one thing, the show's release was delayed so long the final three designers didn't even get to step foot on the runway of Bryant Park to address the crowd; any shot you saw like that was manipulated in editing to create the public appearance without spoilers. For another, Lifetime seemed to be so afraid of making the show all about the drama that the characters were never defined and the cast felt boring. Perhaps most unsettling was the constant absence of Nina and Michael.
These issues seem to be long gone. Yes, it is now safe to love Project Runway again. Here's why:
- We're back in NYC. Maybe it's my bias showing, but Project Runway is not Project Runway without Mood Fabrics, Parsons School of Design, and the gorgeous cityscape of the Big Apple. Seeing the designers wander into Central Park for the standard "grab everything you can and design" challenge was like a homecoming. Even Heidi and Tim made a big deal of the return to NYC in their introductory rooftop toast to the designers. It's good to be back.
- A full judging panel. If you follow the press about the show at all, you would know that Heidi, Michael, and Nina will be present for every judging this season. Frankly, I don't mind when Michael is out and, say, Zoe Glasner or a previous winner fills in for a challenge. That's not a problem. But when weeks go by without Michael or Nina gracing us with their snarky presence and classic one-liners, the show becomes inconsistent at best and unwatchable at worst. All of the judges were in top form last night. They focused on the designs and still managed to throw out some fun commentary.
- More Tim. I believe Lifetime listened to the complaints that there was not enough Tim Gunn last season. The result: wall to wall Tim in the first episode. Watching him talk Ping through the rules of the twist in the challenge made me sigh with relief: the show really is back to where it should be.
- Creative designers. Last season, after we had the one-two knockout of Ari and Malvyn, we were left with talented, but boring, designers. This season, we're overflowing with designers that never met a pleat they didn't like or an architectural element that didn't look stunning jutting off of an appendage. A few designers played it safe in the first challenge with simple, but clean, work that still showed more innovation than most of last season.
- Ping Wu. It's good to see, for the first time ever, the judges embrace a totally off the wall designer in the first episode. Ping Wu is a physical therapist by day, clothing designer by night. She lets her occupation influence her design by making everything about the movement of the body within the fabric. She makes as few cuts as possible to maintain the integrity of the fabric and ensure free motion. It's completely removed from anything we have ever had on the show before. Undoubtedly, she will not be making it to Bryant Park because she will be hit with a challenge that does not lend itself to such an innovative style and be sent home, but at least we'll have been introduced to a true artistic talent on Project Runway.