Shear Genius: Show Me Your Genius

Yesterday, I posted some links to trailers for this week’s episode.

The doll head challenge this time is a watch and learn session from Sally Hirshberger, who demonstrates cutting her signature hairstyle, the Meg Ryan shag, on a live model. Hirshberger, who sports a version of the shag herself, shows the stylists how to section the hair, cut it with scissors and razor, and style it to go all over the place. The stylists must then re-create the look on a doll’s head. After they get started, the catch is then introduced—one of them is going to get eliminated. This is normally treated as a practice round where the winner gets a nice prize (exemption from elimination, first model pick, etc), but the stakes are raised as the stylists have the added stress of getting axed. Tabatha, who worries about being cut, winds up in the top three along with Ben and Tyson, who wins the round. He gets first pick of the model along with the pecking order of who gets their choice of tools. Lacey gets eliminated from the Sally shag round.

When the stylists are working on the doll heads, they eerily look human, especially when shot from behind. Whoever makes them does good work with the hair. Also, it’s just weird to see these heads sit on tripods, as if they were beheading victims set upon pikes. Tyson adds to this oddness by taking his winning doll head “home” with him.

In the brief shot at “dorm” life, Dr. Boogie and others get emotional about their allotted five minute phone calls. Tabatha, who seems to be the most focused of the bunch, doesn’t get into the maudlin atmosphere, while Tyson goes around asking everyone what would they do to get picked second. Tabatha doesn’t bite at Tyson’s game, and it becomes clear to him that she’s his strongest competition.

Maybe the producers should steal someone’s beer from the fridge to get the stylists fighting. However, I gotta hand it to them for showing Tyson’s “Survivor-esque” strategy. But, does it work?

In the elimination round, the stylists have bring their models hair from long to short, and they have unconventional cutting tools: hedge clippers, wire cutter, garden shears, household scissors, and child safety scissors. Tyson picks a pair of scissors and decides on the order his peers get picked.

Tyson, the bleach mullet god, goes for the strategy of giving his strongest competition last pick. Dr. Boogie, picked first, plays it safe with household scissors and gives his model a standard bob. Danna’s haircut is ok and low risk with scissors. Pretty Ted also plays it safe, despite using butcher shears, and uses gay male flirtation to get the haircut going. Evangeline goes for it with a pair of hedge clippers and gives her model a short, textured look. The model is a good sport to go along with it, even holding a lock of hair for Evangeline to cut even though the clippers scare her. Though Ben does a good job of recreating Hirshberger’s shag, his haircut on the runway is too safe. He uses a pair of garden shears, but his tapered bob is too standard. Daisy works it with a box cutter, Anthony gets a good haircut with a pair of wire cutters, and Tabatha has quite a few challenges: child safety scissors and a difficult, waffling client who wants a change, but not too much. Somehow she manages to get the cut done and make the client happy, and the judges recognize that Tyson pegged her as his strongest competition. However, they are more impressed with Evanglin and how she uses hedge clippers to achieve a very presentable, wearable haircut, and she wins.

Ted gets eliminated, and he gives the campiest goodbye speech about how lucky he is to have worked on the show. The judges are impressed and have a good natured laugh, which shows some humanity in contrast to the professional detachment of the last few episodes.

Here’s a clip from next week’s episode to whet your appetites. Can they create a haircut that can go from day to night? Stay tuned.

Top Design: Elle Cover Inspiration

The challenge here is how to make something cheap look very expensive. One of the interesting things about Project Runway is that the designers were often given slender budgets for their dresses, yet those things had to look like they cost $500,000+ and that the model should be paid in excess of $20,000 to walk in it. However, the cost of these interior designers weren’t that low, where they should go to Target for their furnishings and try to bring them up. The final three had $7500 each to shop with and they couldn’t use Pacific Design Center. From previous episodes, we viewers get a sense of how expensive that place is.

The contestants rarely ever use the Internet on this show, except when they are permitted. And, they get to use some really dandy Mac Books in this episode to look up shops that will fit their budget. During last season’s Project Runway, one contestant was suspected of using the Internet and design books to cheat on his projects. He could have easily downloaded a silhouette or a pattern or even runway shots from Style.Com to create those fabulous dresses that wowed the judges up to this point. Of course, no one has cheated on Top Design so far; however, they were permitted a cheat sheet in the form of an Elle Decor cover. With their $7500 budgets, they had to use their selected covers as inspiration and create a sense of luxury.

The luxury provided for the viewer was fueled by drama. Andrea secretly wishes Carissa out of the competition, while Matt nearly has a nervous breakdown because he pulls double duty with working with the “temp” carpenter (Sarah, Goil’s carpenter) and the problem of re-upholstering a French daybed. Sarah is just enthusiastic about the work and creates an interesting hardwood floor pattern, but Matt worries about her finishing on time. Carl continues to emerge as a supporting character as he and Carissa clash at some points, such as when he’s doing the faux stone wall. He has his own opinion about creating the effect while she feels he’s not listening to her at all. She’s not happy with the sizes of his stones (she wants smaller), but the judges really like this feature of her room. Hopefully, Carl can have his own spin-off on Bravo or migrate to TLC.

Andrea’s finished room has that sense of luxury, but the furniture is all the same height, lacking the variety needed for an editorial presentation. Carissa’s color’s are just too bright and gaudy to look high end, while Matt’s daybed and almost everything else are put together quite nicely in the end, winning him a spot in an issue of Elle Decor. Unfortunately, Andrea goes home, but the design gods may have gotten her for wishing Carissa out of the competition too strongly.

Jonathan Adler’s outfit didn’t look too bad. Kelly Wearstler was Fergie-fied in her short, strapless yellow number, while Margaret Russell looked elegant in her silver gown. The judges’ discussion this time was intelligently critical, where they really discussed the merits and flaws of each design, and Michael Berman really helped provide that dynamic for this group. There were no catty comments or attempted witticisms. They just simply discussed the work, and it was one of their best up to date.

Top Design: Metropolitan Hotel Suites

The preview led me to believe that Goil was going to cut himself with a lumber saw. Blood is on the blade and Goil’s exclamations “Oh my God!” He really does not sound like he is in pain, but it could be initial shock. It is but it’s Goil’s reaction to seeing Matt’s carpenter cut his thumb. However, Goil gets cut in the end, given the choices for elimination are him and Andrea.

The four elements were a theme for the Metropolitan Hotel Suites. Earth, air, water, and fire posed some challenges and resulted in some very interesting rooms. After taking in a hotel decorated by Kelly Wearstler and meeting Linda O’Keefe of Metropolitan Home Magazine, the designers were randomly given their elements. Carissa and Matt lucked out with air and water, while Andrea and Goil struggled with what to conceive for earth and fire. When they sketch out their rooms, they discover that they come up with identical layouts, forcing them to modify them. Matt is the only one who doesn’t bend. Then it’s on to realizing their interpretations of the elements.

Carissa and Matt have a fun discussion session about their designs, and Goil feels left out. He’s such a quiet, thoughtful guy who has a lot to say and never feels he’s invited to chime in. He also voices his resentment, wondering if his competitors even see him as a threat, during one of the confession interviews. I can relate to that.* It can be infuriating when your peers seem to exclude you. But, some people are just better at conversation than others, and some very intelligent people ironically need to work on their skills.

Carissa’s room, representing air, is suprisingly good. Judging from the early wall paint treatments, I thought she was going to have a very sloppy approach to air, but she doesn’t. Of course, there was drama as Carissa feels forced to micromanage Carl, her carpenter as she worries about him damaging the vents and makes sure they are thoroughly painted. She catches him obsessing on some finishing touches when time is almost up and she has to tell him to stop. The vents completely cover any gaps in the rectanges on the wall, and one of them makes a very contemporary room divider. When I saw this blue and yellow fabric she uses for the pillows, I thought it was ugly, but it worked on the finished product.

Matt’s monochromatic room from 2001 is supposed to evoke water. All that’s missing is someone in a space suit after a mind-bending encounter with the monolith. Actually, there are some colors, but they are muted, and the mirror dressors and the glass tables provide little variance. A minimalist aesthetic and color scheme are failsafes, especially in Southern California. Good taste also saves him and gets his room crowned as the Top Design for the week, but there is very little innovation or imagination at all. This is, after all, the designer who refused to change anything in his initial layout when everyone discovered they came up with the same thing.

Andrea struggled to get something that showed earth without being too obvious. Her take on earth was where she had difficulty. Even an attempt to break out of her limited color palette was lost on the judges, and they would have like to have seen more green. Goil labored too much over wall panels designed to resemble a sunset, and he got sent home. Too bad. He is more of a risk taker than some of the others.

*When I was in the MFA program, there was one day before a poetry workshop where everyone was having these conversations and I was left out. Even a close friend did this as she talked to another friend. I was so pissed off that I stormed out of the class and took the bus home.

Top Design: Chef’s Choice

In this episode, there was some cross-pollination from another Bravo series. Here, the designers had to design a chef’s table room for a mystery chef who would sit on this week’s panel – Tom Colicchio from Top Chef. Of course, this isn’t revealed until the elimination round.

With a budget of $42,000, the designers must set out to create a luxurious room that combines natural materials, crafts, and mid-century design. Of course, this sounds like a load of money to make a demo – how can anyone go wrong here? But, things do go wrong and this was actually one of the better episodes drama-wise. And there is plenty of drama. Carissa has her control freak moments where she clashes with Carl, her carpenter. She feels he is so perfectionistic that he cannot manage his time, and when she warns him that a beam is going to fall apart, he doesn’t listen. However, she saves her great table that looks like it was cut from one tree when the beam gives way. She unfortunately comes across at panel as giving too much excuses. Goil has a hard time with setting the hardwood floor, but his carpenter calms him down. Then his paintjob goes bad and he tries to run with it. When the contestants are asked which designer’s room isn’t appealing, it doesn’t help that a few of them don’t like his floral chandelier. Matt has a little trouble with the leather flooring early on, but quickly sails out of it and puts that hard earned extra hour from the last win to good use. And Michael – he just needs to get out more, read up, or something. I don’t doubt his creativity, but he just needs to expand. I have to agree with Told Oldham saying his unfinished red canvas paintings look violent instead of representing hunger.

Most of my reactions to projects so far have been, “That’s nice.” This time, I had a “wow” reaction when I saw Andrea’s finished room. She manages to put together an elegant, finished room that was inviting. The white upholstered chairs with the goes well with the dark table. Her presentation – spot on. She was worried, nervous. She teaches restaurant design, so she understandably is worried about staking her reputation. However, she had nothing to worry about as she deservedly wins the challenge.

Alas, poor Michael. He goes home. I thought it was going to be Carissa. It was her weakest design. The table is a great touch, but the green walls just have to go. Every time her work is under scrutiny, she always has one excuse or another. It would have been a shame if Goil went. I like that his work is unconventional and that he really thinks about things. Michael’s reluctance to show what he’s thinking is his undoing here.

Margaret Russell has grown on me. She’s just very stylish, impeccably dressed, and has a great classic hairstyle. She hasn’t made the aggressive comments of earlier episodes, but I wished I heard more from her. Kelly Wearstler, in the guise of a Victorian doll with wild hair, offers the most comments this time. Once again, I’m not crazy about Jonathan Adler’s color combinations in his ensemble, but it’s not as bad as last week.

Overall, one of their better episodes. I hope next week’s episode is as good or better.

Top Design: Life of the Party

Last week, I tuned out on the episode. Ryan had to go last week, which is the only thing I remember. Oh, and it was about teamwork.

This time again, there were two teams to create unique atmosphere for tent parties for Bacardi Limon. What can you really do with a tent? They have to decorate with the five senses in mind, and they had a budget of $8500 per team.

Goil, Erik, and Andrea get together to build an Icelandic type party. It’s Goil’s dream collaboration, working with Andrea, but this will soon unravel. The marriage made in hell from the beginning is Carissa and Michael with Matt along for the ride. Carissa and Michael clash on ideas, while Goil feels shut out from his team when it comes to contributing his ideas. His chandelier idea gets modified towards something not like anything he conceived, feeding into his resentment towards his teammates. Thankfully, he doesn’t leave. That honor goes to Erik.

The Icelandic type of party is more adventurous, but Carissa’s party, while more conservative, is more A-list and successful. The bouncer had a lot to do with it, but the tables with the lemons under the glass was a nice touch. Otherwise, it was a standard arrangement of rectangles. Carissa’s team wins in spite of her. She does not do well in teamwork, which shows when she rolls her eyes when Michael talks to the judges. She’s not aware of it, which shows in how prepared she is to talk about it.

Jonathan Adler’s ensemble – hideous. What is up with those stripes and the polka dot tie. The way he said “partay” made me cringe as well. Margaret Russell is more subdued (being fiercer in ealier episodes), while Kelly Wearstler looks lovely as ever, but doesn’t say much, but is very astute, nonethess.

Shear Genius is coming up in April right when Top Design closes out. Do we really need one of these Project Runway formula shows? If I were to put these programs so far in tiers, Project Runway would be on top, Top Chef would be in the middle, and Top Design would be way at the bottom. Perhaps interior designers aren’t as flamboyant and they just don’t make good television. Or, Bravo just needs to give it a rest. Hair and the personalities that come with it hopefully will be entertaining. Santino times twelve.

Top Design: One Man’s Trash

Why do I watch this show, especially since I’ve been down on the judges? It must be a guilty pleasure, somewhat like watching American Idol. However, I do find myself liking some of the hopeful designers’ work. However, I find the judges and their comments far reaching at times.

Thou shalt not blaspheme the tools of the trade. This is what Ryan does when he tells his modus operandi to the judges, saying he doesn’t like to use the colorchips. Jonathan Adler and Margaret Russell can’t believe their what they’re hearing. “Do you want to be a designer?” How dare this unqualified young man shoot down one of their sacred cows?

I liked his room and what he did with the items purchased from the garage sale. The room seperator, though chaotic, had its strange beauty. I could see how his client, a design student, felt like she was in jail when she saw it, but this was wild and out there, just like he promised. The double function table and the wall art that transformed into chairs was innovative. Unfortunately, the judges weren’t too impressed and he found himself a candidate for elimination. He was saved by a designer with a penchant for crochet blankets — she went home instead.

He showed he wants to approach interior design as fine art. Getting back to Margaret Russell’s offensive question, “Do you want to be a designer?” Duh. He’s doing the work. The question’s more relevant if all he talked about was design without having anything to show for it.

Top Design: Life’s A Beach

Who are these hacks and why should we care about their opinions? Verbal abuse and deconstructive criticism reach an all-time low this week on Top Design. One design choice or the other was assailed this week and not in a constructive manner. Delivered with acid tongues, because that’s what makes good television, the somewhat faceless judges became meaner this week, perhaps to establish themselves as Bravo worthy luminaries such as Heidi Klum and Micheal Kors. The comment Jonathan Adler makes about Elizabeth’s color choices for her teams cabana stung – “horrible.” Thankfully, she spoke up in the end interview after elimination and said that was just “bullsh*t.”

The talented and likable Goil made an architecturally interesting cabana that evoked a sail. However, his teammates Ryan (Rollins meets Van Halen) and Carisa couldn’t quite agree on how to furnish the cabana. Ryan sparred constantly with Carisa, who resented that he delegated for himself the furniture shopping while she had to shop for fabric. Carisa in turn retaliated with her purchases — she covered Ryan’s flamboyant pillows with solid color fabrics.

Felicia, Andrea, and Michael created the winning choice – a roofless Tahitian style cabana with sheer curtains. But even they did not escape harsh criticism for having no cover on the roof.

Shirtless carpenters helping to finish the cabanas on the beach was a bonus – some of them were definitely hot. But, brief appearances of hunky men baring flesh isn’t enough to carry a show, even with some gay demographics.

Top Design: Child’s Play (Episode 2)

John the show stealer takes a bow on this one. I thought he would be around for a while to provide drama for the season, but it wasn’t enough. However, he does provide some very good moments for this episode. First, he reveals the reason for his aggression in the last episode: he’s HIV+ and he takes supplemental testosterone. John then makes peace with Michael and extends the gesture to him once more by giving him a hug after elimination. Nothing goes quite right for John when it comes to making his room of the week and his pushy, confident persona gives way to panic and excuses.

The way reality shows are set up will make any sane person panic and make excuses. If Alexis Arquette was a surprise as a mystery client in the premier episode, then the clients in this episode are a definite sucker punch. Each designer is given a profile of their clients gender and interest. With a budget of $8000 to get started, most of them shop for adults. The catch? The clients were 10 year old children. Given that, Goil and Erik embrace the challenge head on, while others have to make some serious compromises. Goil goes for a modern, modular sofistication while Erik does a pirate fantasy (and wins). Carisa doesn’t have the end tables or desk she needs, but she improvises by building them. Andrea, who pulls off the muprhy bed, claims she does not have time to girly it up more. John’s carpenter doesn’t come through on the flooring, so he is forced to paint the floor, which then makes it look horrible. The footprints and the pattern of the concrete are visible.

Todd Oldham is less monotonous is this episode; that is, he sounds doesn’t sound like a robot. However, his language attempts to call attention to his wit when he introduces Liz Lange, the guest judge, as “bringing sexy back into maternity.” We have Justin Timberlake to thank for “bringing sexy back.” Now if only someone would bring some of it back into this show.

Then there is the wit of the judges. Regarding Project Runway, Michael Kors and Nina Garcia were definitely engaging, strongly opinionated, and, at times, controversial. Jonathan Adler and company are blander in comparison, though some of their comments are cattier than the judges of Project Runway. Adler says of John that he is the “mayor of Excuseville.” Margaret Russell, editor of Elle Decor, is much more fierce in declaring that one cannot “design a room around a cat. While the banter is mildly entertaining, where is the style these luminaries carry themselves with? And how come Bravo neglects to name them in the About page?

Top Design on Bravo

When the Star Trek shows were on, I could enjoy drama and non-reality. The Enterprise with its carpeted floors, wood-trimmed consoles, and button-less pyjama costumes certainly would not pass for real in any time period, along with the didactic dialogue peppered with technobabble. Now there’s another kind of non-reality, also known as the reality show. I’ve watched Project Runway religiously, downloaded Tim Gunn’s podcasts, and discussed episodes with friends. Fashion’s always fun. I’ve watched Top Chef on and off. I have to admit I enjoyed Gordon Ramsay‘s Hell’s Kitchen much more. It’s easy to go between hating Ramsay and wanting to see him bust a blood vessel to sympathizing with him because all the contestants in his kitchen are a bunch of bumbling idiots. Tonight, I saw Bravo tackle another lifestyle art in the spirit of Project Runway – interior design.

Like Project Runway, Top Design has a cast of twelve hopeful designers (to start with), an expert host, and a panel of industry judges. Todd Oldham, the host, may know what he’s talking about, but he does not have the urbane appeal of Tim Gunn, and he certainly does not have Heidi Klum’s looks. His voice is monotonous and droning. It’s hard for me to see what the “shut up” reaction is about. Project Runway designers usually have a budget of $80-$300 dollars to make a dress; the designers on the first episode of Top Design have a budget of $50,000 to design a room.

Right now, it’s hard for me to see the personalities of the contestants. Goil comes across as Asian nerd (hopefully this will come to pass) with talent, Ryan’s talked about having a design sensibility he describes as “Henry Rollins meets David Lee Roth” (which I have yet to see), and Elizabeth has some spark.

The real show stealer so far is John Gray, buffed out and macho with a quick mouth. Upon entering the men’s loft, John immediately comments that he might as well bunk with the women because the men are queeny and are like being with girls. When a mystery celebrity’s personal possessions are presented to challenge the designer’s to create an inner sanctum with the objects in mind, John notes all of the items are campy and he doesn’t do campy. To create this inner sanctum, John is paired with Michael, a more introverted designer, and the collaboration is a nightmare. John asserts his ideas and doesn’t take much input from Michael, who complains about his strong personality. At one point, John calls Michael his bitch and then applies the moniker to the rest of the male cast members. One article describes John as a “self-made Chicagoan with a homophobic streak.” I’m not convinced John is straight (or even closeted), so he comes across as trying to portray himself as masculine.

The mystery celebrity is Alexis Arquette, who doesn’t provide the same level of drama as she does on the Surreal Life. When she sat down on the swing set in Goil’s and Elizabeth’s inner sanctum, it was a hint they were going to win. Alexis certainly admired some of the other rooms, but this one she tried on for size.

Will the talents of the designers keep me watching? Perhaps. Will John’s drama propel the show? Most likely. Will Ryan emerge beyond the talk as the Santino of the group? We’ll see.