Project Runway 7 is watchable, but the series is no longer must-watch TV

Having been severely disappointed and, worse, bored by Project Runway 7, I decided to give this a few episodes before judging it. I wanted the show to return to greatness, but at the same time, recognized that the show hasn’t really been great, must-watch TV for a while now; even season five, Bravo’s and the Magical Elves’ final season, was weak. I pushed my reservations and hopes aside and just watched.

Alas, like last season, the show looks and feels like it used to, but it’s still missing some essential element that makes it exceptional. Perhaps it’s just past its peak. The biggest change this season, besides the return to New York, is that this is the first season to be shot in HD, but I don’t know what that adds to the show, alas, because my cable company doesn’t carry Lifetime in HD. (For some reason, it does give me Lifetime Movie Network in HD, so I can watch awful yet crystal-clear movies like, hypothetically, “My Neighbor is My Florist and My Lover and My Son and My Dog’s Rapist.”)

One major problem over the past few seasons has been flat challenges, and like last season, we’ve had one funky, weird challenge (newspapers, burlap sacks), and then the others are indistinguishable. Last night’s team challenge provided the usual team challenge conflict, but the second-outfit twist was so predictable I can’t imagine any of them didn’t see it coming.

The cast is stronger in terms of personality: Anthony has funny one-liners, and Ping is just weird and crazy in a still somewhat grounded and talented way. But there’s still a big undefined middle.

On the runway, having Nina and Michael back is great, and their criticism and praise is as pointed and entertaining as always, though the judges are making some questionable decisions. Jay won instead of Amy last week? And Jesus stayed after failing to actually do what the challenge required? The worst part, though, was that for the first two episodes, Heidi Klum tried awkward new elimination runway banter. She and/or the producers were trying to be clever, but if there’s any place that ritual belongs on Project Runway, it’s on the runway. The fake-outs stopped last night, and I hope we don’t see them again.

Sometimes I think I’m actually watching pretty much the same show that I did years ago, but have just outgrown it. But mostly, while it’s decent TV, I’m not motivated or inspired to tune in next week. I want to be surprised by what comes next, and whether it’s Top Chef or Celebrity Rehab or Hoarders or Survivor or even American Idol, I’m constantly, consistently surprised. But with Project Runway, I almost always know what comes next, or just don’t care.

That’s no longer true, which is too bad, since this was once a series that surprised the world by turning fashion, sewing, and, most importantly, talent into compelling reality television.

Project Runway 7: B-

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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.