Posted by Marisa September 16th, 2009 at 10:51am In General
This is the second post in what is apparently a series in which I declare a newer show to be superior to its older sibling. In this case, I’ll try to make the case that Top Chef is better than Project Runway—with the caveat that I’m only talking about the current season.
You see, there’s nothing inherent in the two shows that make one better than the other. The premises are almost identical: Creative contestants are given a challenge and a limited amount of time in which to complete it, and their efforts are judged by experts in their industries. The exact same blueprint works for both shows.
Top Chef, the newer show, however, just seems to be hitting its stride. It’s been around long enough to prove that it’s not a shameful for the contestants to be on the show. They’re not humiliated weekly like the chefs on Hell’s Kitchen. The judging is, for the most part, merit-based. This show isn’t about young, attractive drunkards yelling at each other. As a result, the talent pool is getting better and more accomplished. Some of the contestants already have their own restaurants. They’re just doing it for bragging rights. Plus, some of the finest chefs in the world now know it’s not embarrassing to be on the show, which makes for more creative and interesting challenges. I don’t know who half those hoity-toity French chefs were on last week’s episode, but I was still nervous about what they’d tell my poor, eager, Top Chefers.
Project Runway, on the other hand, is clearly out of ideas. It’s been around long enough so that it’s not novel any more, and I get the feeling they’re having a hard time getting guest judges. Heck, they’re having a hard time keeping Michael Kors and Nina Garcia interested! Didn’t it seem like Heidi Klum got Rebecca Romijn to be on the show as a personal favor? And Romijn isn’t even a designer—she’s a model. As a result, the challenges themselves just aren’t all that interesting. Whereas at one time the show would have them making clothes from corn husks and seat belts or being inspired by photos they took, now the design prompts are just bland: Design a maternity outfit. Design an outfit for the beach. Design an outfit for your Project Runway models, for goodness sake! Isn’t that what they’re supposed to do every week?
What scares me, though, is that there’s nothing to stop Top Chef from sliding into Project Runway territory. I don’t think PR’s problems are because of its switch to lifetime—they were filming the season before they knew the outcome of the lawsuits, right? I think the show just doesn’t know what to do with itself anymore. Once the novelty is worn off and you’ve burned your way through a whole bunch of cool challenges, what’s left? Let this be a lesson to Top Chef: Get your two-seasons-from-now game plan ready.