Project Runway Recap: Won't You Pleat My Neighbor?

Project Runway's getting choked up because it loves New York. And because Michael Kors couldn't make it to the taping. No, wait, that's me getting choked up -- and downright peeved -- because we were promised full attendance from our pitcher's mound-colored maven! At any rate: Recall your favorite Carrie Bradshaw narrations and Academy Award-winning performances from Dianne Wiest, because Project Runway's tribute to the Big Apple's neighborhoods is inspired, quintessentially Manhattan, and a little hare-brained.

We start the episode with kvetching: Amy's got to step up her game, she says. Maya's jealous she hasn't won a challenge yet, but she should set smaller goals first, like speaking more than twice an episode. Everyone else is comfortably smug about their accomplishments.

Already, this challenge seems like the most hastily edited episode since season one, when you couldn't even lay eyes on the final looks for more than 3.1 seconds apiece, yet you won 14-second closeups of Wendy Pepper's darting pupils. Heidi's monologue to the designers occurs at the precisely the pace of Jesse Owens in 1932.


"Designers!" she exclaims, sprinting to her spot on the runway. "You will have to be in a New York state of mind this episode! Just the way you are! Uptown girl! Tim Gunn will expl--" and she's already back in her trailer.

The eight remaining designers catch up with Tim Gunn, who is standing with none other than the saddest little man in reality TV history, L'Oreal Paris's Collier Strong.

"Hello, all," Tim mutters. "For today's challenge, your two looks -- daytime and evening -- will be inspired by one of the following four neighborhoods: The East Village, the Upper East Side, Chinatown, and Harlem. There is plenty of potential here to be offensive, and I know Seth Aaron and his mall sensibilities will pull through there. Now, break into pairs, bitch to the camera about Mila's small mouth, and catch the bus to your neighborhood of choice. I can't drive you there anymore. I almost clipped that family last time."

Our first team, Emilio and Seth Aaron, choose Harlem. Within a minute, we see them patrolling the place and muttering ideas about, and I quote: "The liquor store and fried chicken." Cancel social studies classes all over the nation, readers, because we have your education in worldly places and cultural understanding right effing here. This episode secretly may be a Channel One production.

One-liner-volcano Anthony and the now-talkative Maya team up and take on Chinatown. They're very concerned about not being literal, and they strive not to build a red-and-gold ensemble or use a model who looks too much like an underage gymnast or Chun-Li from Street Fighter II. Jay's popped collar withers into nothing when he discovers his partner is Mila, the stalwart owl who could keep us posted on Tootsie Pop durability for ages. They venture into the East Village, where Mila immediately loves all the graffiti and rock edge and other things Urban Outfitters patented in 2002. Jay, however, keeps coming up with new ideas -- a jumper, harsh lines, a dress, a everything. Amy and Jonathan trek to the Upper East Side, where richness is inspiring. They conceive of a "casual day shirtdress" and note the utter stillness of the area. Everyone must be inside wondering how Bunim-Murray is going to stereotype their neighborhood on TV.

Instead of delving on the not-actually-occurring drama in the workroom (seriously, Jay and Mila get along and just flinch every once in awhile), let's vault ahead to the final looks, which come close to failing on all counts.

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