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Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Shear Project Runaway Genius

Posted By on Tue, Aug 5, 2008 at 3:00 PM

I'm finally off my sick bed, and back to weigh in a couple of summer shows that are already nearing their mid-point …

Bravo, having discovered reality-formula gold with Project Runway, keeps churning them out in the same mold: Runway, now in its fifth season; Top Chef; Top Design (which appears to have been the one never-coming-back dud); and Shear Genius, or Project Runway for Hair.

Last season's Project Runway was a disappointment, and felt like a non-starter: The gimmick had grown stale; Tim Gunn seemed like a Tim Gunn skit; the challenges were dull, or tied to dumb things like Hershey's candy; and the designers duller (that is to say, interpersonal conflict was waaaay down).

So, it doesn't inspire much excitement that this season has opted to simply repeat popular challenges of the past. (Normally, such recycling would suggest: This show is out of ideas! Presumably when the show move to Los Angeles next season, the Left Coast will offer a bonanza of local challenges: Board shorts! Taking a meeting with Speilberg! Re-imagining gang colors!)

So far we've done the Supermarket Challenge, which landed with a big thud when too many designers grabbed tablecloths; a mildly amusing eco-fabric that had the models picking fabric (quel horreur!); and the "inspired by NYC" snapshot. (Old-timers remember that in Season One this is where Crazy Jay made that gorgeous dress inspired by the Chrysler Building, proving he could actually sew.) Next up: A reprise of the figure-skating challenge, and at least, all that Spandex should generate some tears over the sergers.

It does seem that at least this season of Runway has a higher quotient of high-strung, perversely self-absorbed designers -- and somebody always cracks on the overlocking machines.

Confidential to Stella: If you have to keep telling people repeatedly that you're "rock and roll," you're probably not.

As stupid as it sounds, I really enjoy the hairdresser Runway-knockoff, Shear Genius (despite worst name ever!). Perhaps because I've spent a lifetime mangling my own unmanageable hair, I find the whole idea of professionals with exotic knowledge of curl, cut and color to be fascinating. (I've made every mistake there is, regarding the three Cs.)

Not surprisingly, the hair-burners are a high-maintenance bunch, seemingly split into three predictable groups: nice people, bitchy queens and abrasive women.

But I'm mostly amazed that the producers can even come up with challenges around hairdressing, and this in the second season. Giving surfers a semi-pro look seems lame, but making the stylists do it at the beach with limited tools was a good twist. The challenge two weeks ago made me break out in a cold sweat: restyling a wig for an alopecia sufferer. A wig is unforgiving: You get once chance. Floating up from my past, ghostly images of all those forlorn Barbie dolls with "new" hairdos I gave them that they were forever damned with.

I also love the Total Seriousness of the judging on Shear Genius. I guess these judges are well-known in the hair world -- last season, one judge was famous for giving Meg Ryan her shag, whatever -- but they study and assess the results as if lives were at stake.

Both shows are so formulaic – I can recite half the canned dialogue by heart -- but I must confess, still entertain. Those of us that love to play with scissors simply can't look away.

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