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What up project Runway peeps? I feel like we're getting back together with an old flame after dating that person's evil doppleganger last season, trying to pretend their awful beach tall wasn't bothering us and that they didn't smell like Nicolas. Seriously, good riddance to Los Angeles and all it stood for. Project Runway is about New York, baby -- New York and all its messy awesomeness.

As before, I'm Kevin Van Valkenburg, sports writer by day, fashion groupie by night. Just some maintenance up front this year: Recaps may be a bit shorter this season, because in addition to juggling the Ravens playoff run, my wife and I are also juggling a fussy 6-week-old girl. We have a ways to go to catch Heidi and Seal -- who I think can field their own soccer franchise at this point -- but we're having fun. 

Also, the official policy of this blog will be to deny that Models of the Runway exists. Except when my wife watches it, and I just happen to be in the room.

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The Most Important Season of Project Runway Ever! begins with a quick run down of who the designers are, and essentially they all say the same thing. To save time, I'm going to throw all their comments into my mental blender, and present them to you in one long sentence.

"Wow, what an amazing dream it is to be picked for PR! I want to be sophisticated, but modern. New York! It's scary but fabulous. I might cry, because this could something, something, change my life! I used to have a job in X, but it was always my dream to be in fashion! I used to dress up like Johnny Depp! OMG, it's hard to be gay in a small town/ghetto, but I can't wait to show in Bryant Park."

That about covers it. Also, some dude named" Seth Aaron" broke one of the beds, I guess to prove he shouldn't be messed with. He's also dressed like Tommy Lee, in his post-Motley Crue, post-Pamela Anderson, post-Hepatitis C look. (Now that I think about it, can you really be post-Hepatitis C? I bet Tommy and Pam are hoping so.) 

Up on the rooftop, HeidiBot 3000, the most fertile and beautiful cyborg German scientists have ever created, welcomes our crew and proposes a toast of champagne to welcome us back to NYC.

"I'm pregnant, so I'll be having apple cider," Heidi says. Of course you are, honey. I should mention she's wearing another leopard print, her go-to outfit for last season. Say what you will about her, but the woman loves draping herself in the essence of jungle cats.

Tim Gunn is looking fabulous, as expected. I shouldn't even have to say that. But I will. As the only person to retain his dignity from Season 6, Tim is owed that much.

During the small talk, one of the designers, Emilio, mentions he's from New York. Heidibot 3000's super hearing mechanism immediately picks up on this.

"This used to be my town too," Heidi laments.

Yeah, it's a shame someone held a gun to your head and made you and the Weinsteins move the show to Los Angeles, or forced you to pick designers who were attractive, but bad at actually making clothes, which destroyed the show's aesthetic and made us feel like you'd sacrificed its soul to the Evil Goddess Lifetimeus.

We won't get too deep into any of the contestants just yet, although I will say that I was a bit taken aback by the fact that they gave Ben -- a designer from Tampa who looks like he's from Eastern Europe -- subtitles when he spoke, even though he seemed to be speaking perfect English. I'm no expert, but I'm going to assume that's racist, Heidi.

The challenge this week is to design an outfit from some fabrics you found in Central Park. Project Runway and Mood have made this easy, however, by leaving reams and reams of fabrics around in Central Park, within about 15 feet of one another. I'm not even sure why they bothered to go to CP if they weren't going to make this interesting. Were the producers sitting around thinking, "So, we have a really tight budget, but we need something that is really NEW YORK to make everyone forget about last season's disaster. Hey, how about going to The Park?"

They could have at least thrown in a twist: Design an outfit inspired by someone sleeping in Central Park. Alas, no.

There is a lot of running and screaming when Tim tells the designers to grab as much fabric as they can in three minutes, but not nearly enough cat fighting. Seriously, Project Runway, if you really wanted to win back my heart, someone should have been pushed in the pond during this challenge. Now you're just going to have to earn it.

At the end of the challenge, one of the desingers, Ping, who is from China by way of Chicago, waves a huge swatch of red fabric around, almost like it's the Chinese Communist flag. I think Glenn Beck just had aneurysm.

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Back in the workroom, our fearless designers get to work, some of them on HP TouchSmart Notebooks, which is a new twist this year. Project Runway lurching forward into the new century! How this is better than a sketch book, I have no idea, but he designers all feign enthusiasm because product placement is essentially these days when running a low budget reality show.

"If you choose to use them, please do!" says Tim Gunn, in a bizarre bit of Orwelian NewSpeak.

Ok Tim, I'm on board, but only because someone has to pay for your tie budget.

Is it just me, or does this episode have about 200 commercials? My TiVo seems exhausted. I feel like I've seen about six minutes of actual content, and 30 mins of original Lifetime programing starring Thora Birch about teenagers forming a pregnancy pact. Based on a true story! (I bet Heidi put them up to it, btw.)

Not much interesting happens in the workroom, except for the fact that a designer named Anthony quickly emerges as this season's comic relief. On the "Just how gay is he?" scale of 1-to-10, he's an obvious 12, which is awesome. It takes a lot of gay to Out Gay everyone on Project Runway, but already Anthony has established himself as my favorite personality of the young season.

"Oh my! I'm sweating like a Baptist preacher!" Anthony says.

Ping, in a predictable twist, is clearly going to be this season's eccentric but talented weirdo. Tim Gunn questions why she's wearing the outfit she's designing, and when she confesses that she didn't have dress form growing up, it oddly makes sense.

Emilio doesn't even have a top done and we're less than eight hours from the Runway Show, which gives Tim and opportunity to lecture Emilio on how "no one has ever not finished an outfit in the history of Project Runway." I think this is a bit of selective memory on Tim's part. I think we all recall when crazy Angela sent a model down the runway with a scarf stuffed under a jacket in Season 3 because she totally bombed a shirt.

Time to skip ahead to the runway show. Guess who's back, suckas? Oh hellz yes, it's Michael Kors and Nina Garcia. They sure better be rested and ready for maximum snark after phoning it in all last season. Somewhere, Zoe Glassner weeps, I'm certain.

Ruining my fun somewhat is the fact that Nicole Richie is the guest judge this week. Heidi describes her in her introduction as a "television personality" who is "getting ready to launch her new line." That's a bit more generous than how I would have introduced her: the adopted daughter of Lionel Richie who was best known for being a talentless socialite and former heroin addict until she was impregnated twice by the lead singer of Good Charlotte, a pop-punk Green Day rip off band.

Let's skip straight to the meat of things, shall we? Emilio's dress came together beautifully. A designer named Jesus appears to have put together his look with Sharon Stone in mind, and not the "Basic Instinct" Sharon Stone. More like the leather-wearing, eyes-glassed-over, headed-for-rehab Sharon Stone. His dress is so tight, I'm pretty I saw the outline of the models kidneys. Ping's tornado of fabric, I think, was inspired by the garbage heap on Fraggle Rock. And yet, it's not that bad. I'm totally blown away by this.

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Christiane, a designer from Los Angeles who is originally from Ivory Coast, has pulled together something that Paula Abdul would wear. I don't mean this as a compliment. It's bad. A designer named Janeane puts together a simple black top and a skirt with pleats in the front. I like it, but my wife thinks it's hideous and since she still have pregnancy hormones pulsing through her, I nod my head and pretend I hate it too.

My man Anthony did not exactly nail it, presenting a dress that looks sort of like someone has stitched a satchel to his model's hip where she hide  a loaf of French bread if she needed to smuggle it out of the store. (But who am I kidding? Models don't eat bread. I meant watercress.) Michael later describes it as a way for her to "steal champagne bottles at a garden party." Damn you Michael Kors for writing lines more clever than I. Where were you last year when Lindsay Lohan was passed out in her chair, mumbling about Nicolas' brilliance?

All the other designers are fairly unremarkable, except for Seth Aaron, who has put together a nice little punk rock plaid dress with a cool back. I could see Nicole Richie in this outfit, if she put on 30 pounds.

In the end, Emilio earns a well-deserved victory, and Christiane gets sent home, just edging out Jesus' Sharon Stone stripper outfit. (I was so unmoved by the whole thing, I'm not even going to do my usual gag about scary music and tension mounting. But just know that the music was scary, and the tension was not.)

I'm not sure Christiane was the worst designer by a long stretch, but she was boring and bad in the first challenge. If you're going to be bad in the first challenge, you need to be memorable. She just didn't create a character for herself. Essentially, if you stab someone with a needle in the workroom, your chances of staying are better than if you're boring.

Until next week, gang!

Photo: Project Runway promotional handout

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