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‘Runway’ wears its second season well

Premiere includes random sobbing, revealing outfits. By Linda Holmes
/ Source: msnbc.com contributor

It was with great anticipation that fans of Bravo’s delicious “Project Runway” (Bravo, Wednesdays, 10 p.m. ET) waited for the second season.

What knockout idea would fascinate and thrill the judges? What Michael Kors remark would utterly unnerve some contestant to the point of tears? What would Heidi Klum look like while enormously pregnant?

Delightfully, while inevitable ill-advised tinkering usually leads to a second-season slump for successful reality shows, “Project Runway” did everything right in its double-episode kickoff.

The designers are the critical mix of intriguing talent, over-the-top personalities, and occasional fits of insanity. The challenges were imaginative, the results were surprising, and mentor Tim Gunn is still the most effortlessly charming man on television.

The show even managed improvement when it did away with the model-elimination sequence, always a waste of screen time given the inability to develop the models as characters. Otherwise, fiddling with the formula — allowing people to vote each other out, assigning them to tribes, or similar nonsense — was avoided.

Early favorites for breakout wacko include Andraé, who wept and keened while explaining the origins of a denim outfit, and Zulema, who designed an dress so short that it left her poor model’s naked rear end flapping down the runway. But other designers showed beautiful, creative pieces in both episodes — once using only a few yards of muslin and once using whatever they themselves happened to be wearing when they were assigned the challenge.

What makes “Project Runway” such fun is that unlike other allegedly ability-based shows such as it casts exclusively people who are genuinely talented, and it gives them relevant, revealing tasks that allow skill to show itself.

In its first season, this show proved to be one of the few meritocracies in reality-show history; so far, the second season seems on-track for more of the same.

Linda Holmes is a writer in Bloomington, Minn.