Bravo’s Top Design debuts tonight but is mostly a weak replacement for Project Runway

At 11 p.m. ET, immediately after the conclusion of Top Chef 2, Bravo debuts its latest talent competition series, Top Design.

While networks plagiarizing from one another is nothing new, Bravo may be the first to take a successful show of its own and try to copy it repeatedly (a fourth show, Shear Genuis, is currently in production). The problem is that neither of the two existing clones come close to Project Runway‘s level.

What’s most peculiar is that both copycat shows have changed the structural elements that work so well. Of course, it’d be impossible to clone Tim Gunn, but the figurehead host/judge, and mentor/guide structure works almost organically. On Top Design, however, the host appears and disappears randomly, and the judges take over, they’re flat and uninteresting, and there’s no strong personality to guide them. They barely comment on the designs, and when they do, the comments are boring and largely non-specific. Even the mystery guest judge is atypically silent.

As for the host, Todd Oldham is the latest in a string of reality TV show hosts who may be nice, talented people, but should not be hosts. He can barely deliver a sentence that doesn’t have to be rerecorded/written later, and when he does the voice-overs, he overacts, which makes nearly all of his dialogue sound ridiculous. “Oh, I see that a lot of you have chosen green!” he says in one obviously fake voice-over.

Top Design does have a lot less frenetic editing than Top Chef, and the drama comes alongside the design, rather than overpowering it. In that sense, then, it comes closer to Runway. Still, judging by the first episode alone, the interior design competition concept was handled far more gracefully and interestingly by HGTV’s Design Star, which beat Bravo’s version by six months and perfected the formula on the first try.

If Top Chef is Project Runway‘s bratty little sibling, Top Design is its awkward cousin. It may improve throughout its run–Bravo’s cooking competition certainly did–but ultimately, the series seems like it’s doing little more than filling the void while its overachieving cousin isn’t on the air.

Top Design [Bravo]

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about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.