I’ve never been much of a TV watcher—in fact, I’ve been avidly opposed to the contraption since a teenager, and have done as much as possible to avoid being in its spiritually and intellectually sapping presence since that time. However, my girlfriend has no such qualms, and enjoys reveling in certain select serial programs such as Lost or Rescue Me. I’ve somewhat reluctantly joined in on some of these excursions during periods of extreme boredom or exhaustion, and I can’t say too much favorable about Lost except that the writers are masters of sustaining interest even with the most tenuous and lame of story-lines. However, I have discovered one series which I actually set aside a weekly time-slot for, and even get kind of excited to see: Bravo’s Project Runway. It’s one of those kinds of specialized reality-based competitions (in the line of American Idol, Top Chef, or Top Model), but there’s something different about it. For one, the contestants are generally fairly talented and intelligent, even if strange and sometimes bitchy. For another, the judges are truly critical, and adhere to a rigorous standard of critique and evaluation, which often leaves the (mostly frou frou) contestants sobbing or gushing with ecstatic joy. Thus, the central drama of the series is not simply “ooh, A bad-mouthed B and they’re gonna get in another bitch-fight,” but furthermore “what kind of crazy assignment are they going to give them this week?” There is truly an element of mastery and innovation in fashion design in the show that is kind of intriguing to watch—alongside all of the other nice little dramas of bitchy interpersonal relations that the TV watching world so loves to watch (apparently).
Watching the judges rip into sensitive young talent brings back for me the experience of creative writing workshops in college. These “workshops” were competitive to get into, as they were very small, and every week you would have some kind of assignment that was designed to challenge you and develop your writing ability. Then you would read your creation in front of everyone, and subsequently get critiqued and/or lauded by all of the other students, as well as by the professor. For people unused to having their most intimate creations being picked apart critically, this often resulted in damaged egos or even tears. Hey, maybe that could be Bravo’s next series: Project Quill. Instead of fashion designers, it would be sensitive poets with little berets. Hell, I’d apply to get on it.
Anyway, if you’ve never watched this series before, you might be surprised at how engaging it is. It’s not just about making fun of stupid rich people like most of these shows are. It’s making fun of stupid rich people AND appreciating ingenuity and skill. Thus, there is some edifying critical positivity somewhere in there that is rare for a TV show, in my opinion anyway.