Has ‘Project Runway’ Jumped the Sharkskin?

And Other Crucial Parts of the Culture Puzzle

Project Runway, LifetimeI’ve never been a fan of purely reactive writing. Most of it banishes those errant ideas and images that have no obvious connection to the fake trend or genuine outrage of the moment, but are nonetheless a writer’s best reason to write.

It’s a puzzle, then, to find novel ways to react “new” to the daily cultural-political flood. Maybe the task can be accomplished in pieces.

Jigsaw Part 1: Bloodsuckers

I’m afraid that our favorite TV “crossover” shows are withering. You know, crossovers, the programs that appeal to all shapes and sizes, the ones that full professors pretend to feel guilty about watching. Every season has ’em, but in television as in life, nothing good remains firm. Everything droops.

There’s not even a Dorian Gray attic to imagine on the inevitably jowly Desperate Housewives premiere. Ellen on Idol? So You Still Think You Can Dance? As one of my outraged Facebook friends said when I moaned about the early dismissal of Project Runway’s two most creative contestants, “Please, they’re being asked to choose from Macy’s Wall of Accessories.”

So what’s wrong with Macy’s? My late mother sold makeup in the Herald Square store, once to Joan Crawford — shades of The Women.

It’s a plug. The whole show has been a multipronged plug, but now that all the compensatory elements of surprise and conflict and joy of looking have evaporated, there’s no hiding it. Didn’t someone know that you can’t move a sewing circus out of New York, New York and expect it to retain even faux credibility? Plus, that pathetic model “competition” appended to the main hour is like throwing a sweater set onto the runway after the wedding-dress finale. So I have moved to that favorite-show middle ground where I won’t lose sleep if I miss an episode — which every studio knows is the beginning of the end.

Yes, Project Runway has jumped the sharkskin.

True Blood, God Hates FangsFaithful readers may be able to guess which crossover shows I look forward to on Sunday nights. Yes, they’re both about bloodsuckers. True Blood is first-class progressive trash, and you needn’t even remember its axiomatic trope that Fangs = Fags to find the bloody soap simultaneously comforting and refreshing. I’m about to grill a New York steak, bleu, to prepare for the season finale. Maybe I’ll shed a red tear afterward.

To introduce Mad Men’s third season, the promotion machinery fastened on its period wall-ovens and stovetops, ignoring utterly the show’s — paradoxically faulty — critique of advertising’s hold on culture. Why faulty? The luscious vintage sets and outfits ignite the very hunger for product that the storylines half-heartedly propose is merely a symptom of mass manipulation.

How else would I have noticed that the white Eva Zeisel dinnerware used in some Midcentury Manse looked not like the designer’s vintage Tomorrow’s Classic (genuine article below), but instead were newly bought examples of the smart hybrid sold by Crate & Barrel?

Eva Zeisel Tomorrow's Classic dinnerware

I ate that steak, by the way, on sleek plates designed in the early ’50s by Glidden Parker. The same dishes were used by Lucy and Rickey during their first year as America’s escape valve — probably not my own particular plates, but you never can really know where aged objects have been.

Next Piece of the Puzzle: Why Bill Viola Is Mah Hero


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