Models of the Runway should have been totally genius: Take the tall, hungry catwalkers from its sister show Project Runway, and show the audience what they’re bitching about when they leave the designers’ workroom. But when it premiered two weeks ago, we went from saying during the main titles, “Bravo must be kicking itself for not coming up with this years ago,” to saying during the end credits, “Bravo must be so relieved it never tried to do this.” Because while the concept is solid, the execution left much to be desired — in fact, as Christian Siriano might say, it was a hot mess. But the question isn’t even so much where Models went wrong, as whether this blighted offspring can ever go right.
In the broadest sense, the show suffers from the competition itself being essentially nonexistent, and therefore dumb. The rules are, one model leaves every time a designer gets booted, and the model paired with the winning designer gets a magazine spread and some cash. This is not the same as being a winner themselves. There is no real referendum on the models’ actual walking or posing ability; for all we know she could develop a random third eye or a raging case of drunkface whenever a flash goes off. At least on Top Model, when a terrible model wins, you have the satisfaction of knowing her body of work was examined to determine she’s at least marginally less terrible than her competitors. On Models of the Runway, it’s totally feasible that the best designer might happen to have the worst taste in models — and yet that model will emerge the de facto victor. There is no genuine tension, because the whole setup is basically a competition to win something because somebody else who won something better randomly picks your name out of a hat. So it’s hard to care when the girls pout and whine that they might be “up for elimination,” since their fate is wholly in the hands of a bunch of people who are barely featured in this half-hour, and who never give actual feedback or have to explain their decisions. It almost makes us miss Tyra Banks and her merry — if only marginally qualified — band of Top Model panelists.
This brings us to our second beef: the rest of the show. We imagined MotR would have almost a behind-the-scenes, lost-footage-style feel, informing what we’ve been watching on Project Runway — for instance, the look on Naked Model’s face when she realizes her designer is sending her down the runway in a sheer piece of fabric sewn to an Elizabethan ruff on downers. We want to hear the girls flee the workroom whispering about the heinous clothes, or dumping on the lousy designers and sucking up to the talented ones. But instead, every Models episode kicks off backstage at the runway show as a designer gets cut and ends with one of the models meeting the same fate; in competition terms, time between those events is DEAD TIME. That’s when the designers are, like, napping and doing interviews and crocheting Nina Garcia voodoo dolls, and without the designers we have a hard time investing in any of the models. Worse, while we’re treading water waiting to learn which woman is arbitrarily eliminated, we’ve being forced to sit through segments where models try on shoes at Nine West, do squats, and clean the kitchen. We understand that if MotR rewinds and drops you in the middle of a Project Runway story arc that you just saw play out, it risks feeling like a retread, but if we wanted to watch women complain at the gym, do housework, and then buy shoes from a mall store, we’d just get out a mirror.
This basic structural conundrum is why we fear Models of the Runway may be doomed to be great on paper, but poor on tape: It only has a life if it works hand-in-glove with the original, and there’s no easy way to do that. It will go a long way toward helping, though, if MoTR finds a way to stir in more of what’s only being hinted at so far: infighting, politicking with the designers, and good old-fashioned shit-stirring. Not a model quite literally Windexing the stove in her bathrobe. Here’s hoping tonight’s episode ups the ante, because if that’s all you’ve got, folks, then we’re afraid we’re going to turn auf our TV sets.
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