Really, Project Runway? Really?! The mid-season mark is upon us and Nina and Michael are still M.I.A.? I hate to kick off this week's TV Watch with a complaint, but I can't help myself. Yes, Heidi's doing a fine job steering the ship while her two compadres are elsewhere, but Frau Klum with a rotating array of special guests is not nearly as entertaining as Frau Klum with Señora Don't Bore Me and Sir Quips A Lot. Frankly, I'm not sure how much longer I can take this nonsense. Yet from the teaser for the next episode, it looks like I'll have no choice but to endure it for at least another week. I ask you, Runway fans, what have we done to deserve this? Have we not been loyal? Have our hearts not been true? Why? Why?
OK, I exaggerate. But it's late and I'm still catching up from sleep I lost covering the Toronto film festival, so forgive me. And let me now proceed to look on the bright side, which, all things considered, is nothing to sneeze at. After four weeks of let's-sew-up-pretty-things-from-pretty-fabrics!, last night, Runway finally dipped into the true test of a designer's mettle: the non-traditional material challenge. Instead of just another trip to Mood, Tim whisked the group off to the printing press of the L.A. Times, where he explained that the order of the day was to create a look from the stacks and stacks of newsprint. They had five different ''palettes'' to choose from (i.e. various sections of the paper) and one day to complete the task. Oh, it is on!
As the designers got down to getting their hands newsprint-smudged, Nicolas further cemented his reputation as Season 6's Head Bitch by ragging on his rivals. Johnny and Irina, he proclaimed, no longer deserved to be in the competition. (Interesting that he'd pick those two, eh?) Irina, meanwhile, seemed unable to let Althea's recent win go un-scorned-upon. Following up on her no-one's-looks-like-crap-but-Althea's-looks-like-crap commentary from last week, she deemed the victory was not ''well earned.'' Well, it just so happens that I attended a Project Runway party for New York Fashion Week last night and I had the pleasure of seeing Althea's and the other winning designs up close and in person. I can say unequivocally that hers was beautifully tailored and deserved its place in the Runway hall of fame. As did Christopher's season premiere victor, which was even more gorgeous in person. (Oh and Althea in person? She's easily as tall as some of those models.)
But back to the subject at hand. After Nicolas (who, incidentally, my husband constantly refers to as ''Toby'' because he thinks he's a dead ringer for American Splendor's Toby ''Genuine Nerd'' Radloff — discuss!) compared chatterbox Shirin to ''an 11-year-old who doesn't shut up'' and Logan marveled that he'd never met such a small woman who made so much noise, Tim waltzed in to do his stop-and-chat with each designer. As always, some fared better than others, but none got dinged worse than Johnny. Here he was, beaming with (misguided) pride for his origami'ed flock of winged creatures hovering on the shoulder of his ghastly red gown. But Tim was having none of it. ''It may look like the birds attacked the dress,'' he said. Uh-oh. Paging Alfred Hitchcock.
A feeding frenzyFrom there, it was straight on through to what shall henceforth be known as the Great Prevarication. Before you could say ''bruised ego,'' Johnny was flinging around a big ole wallop of a tall tale, claiming that he deep-sixed his bunk bird garment because steam from the iron ruined it. Yyyyeah, right. What happened here, some crazy crystal meth flashback that rendered Johnny incapable of understanding that (a) every last one of his colleagues, not to mention the camera crew and whichever producers were on set that day, witnessed him balling up his dress and swishing it into the trash can like a short, goateed Larry Bird? And that (b) said camera crew was recording the proceedings for a television show? Jeez Johnny, I get that you were embarrassed about your blunder, but if you're gonna resort to outright lying, you might want to check the logic of a story in which you are using steam to iron a substance that any fool knows will dissolve in water. For cripes sake, dude, your excuse makes the ole dog-ate-my-homework chestnut sound like the work of Plato.
As soon as the other designers got wind of Johnny's fib, most of them seemed ready to write him off, at least according to Christopher — and, of course, Toby Nicolas. ''Johnny thinks very highly of himself … I hope the judges tear him apart,'' Toby Nicolas sneered. Even the episode's editors couldn't resist chiming in. Back at the apartment, Toby Nicolas cracked that Johnny was only on the show for ''comic relief.'' Cut to: a shot of the object of ridicule himself adjusting his pants over his tummy, while a humiliating circus-music soundtrack played. D'oh!
By the time Johnny set foot on the runway with frock No. 2, he might as well have been wearing a giant Kick Me! sign, so clear was it that he was in deep doo-doo. Heidi thought his dress was worthy of a street ho. And she asked him how much time he'd spent on it. He busted out the ole steam story again, this time elaborating that ''the first dress was hard-core… like …. Dior.'' I'd like to think he made this comparison for reasons other than the handy-dandy rhyme. Either way, it was just too much for Toby Nicolas. He rolled his eyeballs in exasperation, adding, ''It was not Dior. It was a red mess.'' ''Thanks, Nicolas, that's nice,'' Johnny shot back. ''Throw me right under the bus. Jerk.'' Zing! And we have our second catwalk catfight of the season, folks!
Ah, but as Toby Nicolas soon learned, there's a karmic price to pay for such unabashed bitchery. He might have talked up his dress as an edgy homage to the East Village punk rock kids he hung out with when he first moved to New York, but when he got in front of Heidi, Eva Longoria Parker and those other two who are not Nina and Michael — okay, okay, Tommy Hilfiger and Zoe Glassner — they promptly gave him a reality check. ''I wrote: 'It looks like an insect,''' said Glassner, who then kept the entomological metaphor going when she compared the dress to cockroaches. I never thought I'd find myself defending such hideous creatures, but please — that's an insult to cucarachas.
Tearful goodbyesMost of the hour might have been used up chronicling the Heckle-and-Jeckling between Johnny and Toby Nicolas, but those two weren't the only ones set up by the tricks of editing to fall flat on their faces. There was also poor Gordanna, whom the cameras showed pumping her fist and saying ''Yay, me!'' moments before her hopes got splattered like a…well, like a New York City cockroach. Her mistake? Taking a page from the Mitchell Book of Safety: Her earth-toned design was attractive enough, but so lacking in innovation that it landed her in the bottom three next to Tom and Jerry. Hell, she even used the adjective ''conventional'' to describe her design to the judges. Even when Nina's not there, that's a poor choice of words, honey.
Also not so hot? Louise's dress, whose bustier looked like the work of a kindergartener armed with a box of Ziti and a bottle of Elmer's. (Her model's Minnie Mouse hair was also decidedly…wrong.) And did Shirin's upside-down accordion skirt remind anyone else of the exact same design (it's the fifth photo of 11), albeit with color, on The Fashion Show? (Oops. You got me. Yes, I watched a few episodes of that horror.)
As for the designs that didn't suck, there was Logan's bamboo-ish-and-blue number, Ra'mon's multi-colored two-piecer, and Carol Hannah's dramatic red floor-length gown. I also really appreciated Epperson's kimono-like ensemble — easily one of the most striking and original of the night. But my absolute favorite was Althea's strapless shift, which confirmed that she is one of the strongest contenders this season. How she manipulated color and light to turn strips of newsprint into a trompe l'oeil architectural wonder blew me away, and I was sure she'd be crowned the victor a second week in a row. That is, until the judges started mooning over two monochrome garments. I can see the appeal of Irina's trench coat — though I wish she'd enhanced it with color and had been more careful with that Scotch tape. On the other hand, I did not get why the judges went gaga for Christopher's drab Fraggle Rock thingie with the suit-of-armor bustier. As my ever-succinct husband pointed out, ''That top is not right.'' And the way his model pounded down the runway like she was out to kill someone? Scary.
Ironically, the two designers who scrapped their first efforts wound up with the best and worst scores this week: Irina and Johnny. I certainly can see plenty of faults in Johnny's sad little sack, but at least he managed to do something interesting with color and print. So I was hoping that Toby Nicolas would be the one marching off to the fashion gallows. I have no doubts that day will come soon enough, yet last night, it was Johnny's turn to go. And he was not happy about that. The proof is in the tears. Far be it for me to judge something as personal as drug addiction, but being on the show was harder than getting sober, Johnny Really?
Update: Sorry! Not sure how on earth I failed to include this in my original post, but yes, Tim’s comments at the end of the hour about Johnny’s big whopper were perhaps the best part of the entire night: “I’m incredulous at that utterly preposterous spewing of fiction that Johnny did on the runway. It was ridiculous!” It takes a lot to rile Tim (and by “a lot,” I mean "Kenley") so it’s safe to say that he was not too broken up to see Johnny go. Well done, Mr. Gunn.