Project Runway: 10 items or mess

Well, here we are, beginning a new season of Project Runway on Bravo. Disregarding the pending litigation against Harvey Weinstein, this will be Bravo's last chance to pummel viewers with Heidi Klum's signature line, "NEEEEENA GarCIIIIIIA." Here's hoping something gets worked out, because I don't anticipate good things for the show once it moves to Lifetime.

The first episode is always a little awkward. Part first day at a new job, part first day of school, part first day of MTV's The Real World, Day 1 is a goofy mix of childlike awe and false bravado. The boys -- Jerrel (28), Blayne (far too tanned, 23), Joe (41), Jerry (32), Suede (37, and yes, it's just "Suede"), Keith (26), Daniel (25) and Wesley (23) -- settle into their rooms, while the girls -- Stella (42), Jennifer (the only nerdy girl currently living in Italy, 27), Kelli (27), Terri (39), Korto (33), Leanne ("the silent fashion assassin," 27), Emily (27) and Kenley (who got an absurdly late intro by the editors, 25) -- do the same with theirs.

It's clear that this season will be a youth movement. The oldsters stand out in the crowd, and Bravo doesn't do 'em any favors. They let Joe's pronouncement of having two kids at home hang on the screen a little too long, and biker bar regular Stella looks tired and irritated from the get-go. Only Terri, who describes her style as "Michael Jackson-meets-Aerosmith," appears to have the juice to keep up with the kids.

The designers get the memo to head up to the roof, where they see Heidi and our man Tim. Of course, the usual invisible barrier prevents the designers from getting closer than 25 feet from the real stars of the show. "Please come no further! You all smell like economy class." After some exceptionally corny chatter, the designers are told that there will be no instruction tonight; let's get plastered!

First observation is that most of these designers have their own lines and labels already. While they may or may not be as talented as, say, Season 2's lineup, they're certainly established in the industry.

They get the Tim Alarm Clock at 4 AM (there's a 4 o'clock in the morning now?), and after a hasty cleanup, they all trudge out into the New York dawn. Their destination? The familiar Gristedes Mega Store, aka the grocery store from the first Season 1 challenge. The guest judge and visiting sprite from the land of toadstools will be the winner of that challenge, the indefatigable Austin Scarlett. He and Tim explain that the designers will have $75 and 30 minutes to do what they did back in the old days: innovate something out of -- in terms of fashion value -- nothing. They all flagrantly violate the crosswalk laws of NYC and barge into Gristedes.

Second observation is that Stella just doesn't have the demeanor or outlook for PR. She reminds me of Nimma from this most recent season of Top Chef: "I'm not here to have fun." Oh, and thank you Bravo for making the transition from food show blogger to fashion show blogger that much easier for me by having the first challenge of Season 5 start in a grocery store. It's like an old pair of pink Crocs!

Somewhere, Chris March winced when Korto violated the Don't Design with Food rule, going with leafy greens and cherry tomatoes to mock up a jeweled brooch. One hopes that these guys are all well-versed with the history of the show, because nothing was as embarrassing as when Santino used the same fabric in his graffiti dress in S2 as Austin did for his Grammy dress in S1 (did I just type that sentence?).

With immunity on the line, the designers get back to the workroom and start stitching--er, melting plastic and burning coffee filters. Most of the first episode is getting to know the designers on a personal level. We see that Joe might be the PR version of Nikki from Top Chef; unflinchingly Italian. Jerell is no Santino in the "impersonating Tim" department. Blayne is an absolute beachbum tool; how do you even become a beach bum in Seattle?

At first, Kelli's look seems like trouble. She appears to be going more along the Waste Management challenge route, and Jerry notes the same thing about a lot of the designers. Seems like more trash than groceries. And a hell of a lot of tablecloths. Suede is worried that his will look like "just a tablecloth". Newsflash, Suede: it is just a tablecloth. In fact, there are so many tablecloth sewers that Tim's first visit closes with a remarkably stern chiding: the point was to use "untraditional and unexpected" materials! The judges are going to say you're all a bunch of slackers!

Third observation: the longer Blayne sticks around, the more we're going to be treated to moments like this:

Blayne: "Holla atcha boy, Tim."
Tim: "All right."

My thoughts as we move to the first commercial break in the workroom scene is that Daniel's plastic cup shell dress has promise, Kelli's coffee filter marbelized thing is actually coming along, and Terry and Stella are totally in the weeds. When we come back, everyone is encouraging Stella to get her ass in gear (as in, "we want a friggin competition, not some winded smoker quitting early!"). Jerry's raincoat, a cute idea in the grocery store, is looking freaky. Another designer pegs it perfectly as very reminiscent of Christian Bale's American Psycho. Too true! The designers get their models dressed (Blayne's is a little curvy, and needs the ass let out a little; welcome to national TV, models!), Korto runs out of the room shouting "my veggies!", and the runway show is on.

On the runway, it took me a moment to connect when Nina was introduced as still working at Elle. Since she doesn't start at Marie Claire until September, I guess we'll be seeing her connected to her old job for the rest of the season. Kind of appropriate for a show on the way out at Bravo.

Runway thoughts: Leanne's look is sexy candy striper from the front, Audrey Hepburn from the back. Korto's is well-built but feels a little Carmen Miranda. Daniel has constructed a clamshell topped with jiggly boob (mmmm....jiggly boob). Terri did some nice braiding with her mop heads. Suede's is a mess. Stella's is terrible. Joe's skirt moves well, and has nice color. Kenley's isn't awful. Jerry's is truly odd, as is Blayne's. Kelli's skirt is fantastic, but the coffee filter bustier seems kinda silly. Keith pulled off a low degree of difficulty pretty well. Korto, Blayne, Jerry, Kelli, Daniel and Stella are pulled out for further comment.

(nice collage pic of all the looks at Blogging Project Runway)

The couch appraisal at the HQ here is that Kelli is looking strong (Nina calls it resourceful, great), Daniel's was pretty good (Austin thought it stood out, Michael likes the creativity), and Stella and Jerry are in a race to the bottom ("It's a yawn" vs. "Is she, like, a bridal nurse?"). Blayne's "Playboy bunny gone grunge" is obviously going to sruvive on sheer audacity, and Korto's construction is way too good to be eliminated for relying so much on tablecloth.

The judges commune, and Kelli's overall creativity and fashion sense take the day over Daniel's singular innovation. Congrats Kelli! While Stella's is "butt ugly" according to Heidi, Jerry's is too slasher. Jerry, ya gone. Sorry pal, there's got to be a Simone every year.

As always, you end the first episode hoping that the season doesn't devolve into a self-referential snoozefest. The upcoming scenes promise some drama, but it's hard to say. I think Daniel, Keith, Kelli and Terri are potential front-runners. I think Kenley is stealing her clothes from Leslie Feist's closet. I think Blayne has a lot of work to do to get from totally obnoxious to charmingly obnoxious. I think Stella is on borrowed time. And lastly, I think this recapping thing will work out all right. I encourage your comments!