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.