Fashion Show improves slightly from its first season by upping personal drama

After four episodes, Bravo’s The Fashion Show took a week off last night, so it seems like a good time to check in and see if the show’s new direction is enough to make it more than the weak Project Runway clone it was in season one. As it stands, the series, hosted now by Iman and still judged by Isaac Mizrahi, has improved, though by replacing fashion with drama in the form of conflict. But it’s still not a show I’m excited about watching every week.

I have not seen Project Runway Canada so I’m unfamiliar with Iman’s hosting and judging. At first, she seemed like she was a featured player on SNL who was doing a campy but bad impression of Ru Paul hosting RuPaul’s Drag Race. It was laugh-out-loud absurd. But she’s toned that down, and she’s occasionally funny as a judge, kind of a combination of Heidi Klum and Michael Kors. Isaac Mizrahi is okay, neither exceptional nor bad, but he’s better in the moments when he’s consulting with the designers, which is why producers should have taken fans advice and cast him as the Tim Gunn, not the Tom Colicchio.

The brand-new format was clearly designed for one thing: drama. On some level, having two teams each having to create a coherent collection plays out like a familiar Project Runway challenge week after week after week, with the designers being forced to work together yet create their own individual looks. It’s a realistic challenge, though, and when a team steps up, they create interesting stuff.

Mostly what they do, however, is fight and argue, thanks to some casting of people who are not team players, like Calvin Tran, who’s basically on-screen non-stop because he brings the drama. In the second episode, after one team won decisively, the producers switched Calvin to the winning team, because why encourage successful, drama-free design when you can disrupt it? Even in the judging, the fashion takes a back seat to how well the designers were able to work together. These are not the detailed critiques we’re used to from other shows.

All of that means it’s kind of draining to watch, and there’s not much that’s fun or engaging to bring you back. The other problem is that I think I’m just over the fashion design format. Ever since Project Runway‘s weak fifth season, the genre has felt played out, and copies of the original really struggle. Sometimes knock-offs can work; Food Network’s Chopped borrowed directly from Top Chef, but it borrowed and emphasized the right thing–a cooking challenge with time constraints and weird ingredients–and thus evolved into a great series of its own.

The Fashion Show: The Ultimate Collection is definitely a better-produced than its first season, and unquestionably has some talented designers and made-for-TV personalities, but its focus keeps it from being must-watch TV.

The Fashion Show: 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.