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‘Making the Cut’ Hasn’t Made the Cut — Yet

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Reality competition shows depend equally on their hosts and their contestants, and though “Making the Cut” delivers on the former, it falls painfully short on the latter.

“Making the Cut” is Amazon Prime Video’s newest fashion-forward television show. The premise: Twelve aspiring designers attempt to produce showstopping looks under a time crunch (in the pilot, in a mere 58 hours) to satisfy the tastes of the judges. Each week, one designer is eliminated and another is crowned the winner. The designer that makes it through the finale earns a million dollars, a collection sold on Amazon, and a mentor to help grow their label.

The show leans heavily on its hosts, Tim Gunn and German supermodel Heidi Klum, who are reality television stars as emblematic as Lisa Vanderpump or Lauren Conrad. Gunn and Klum were also the cornerstones of “Project Runway,” the smash-hit series following a similar blueprint: wannabe designers, frantic sketching and sewing, and critical judges. (Who could forget Michael Kors and his sidekick spray tan as he loomed ominously in the shadows of the runway, accompanied by that sinister soundtrack?)

In many ways, “Making the Cut” and “Project Runway” are virtually indistinguishable from one another, save that the imitation fails to quite live up to the glory of the original. As in “Project Runway,” Gunn strolls in halfway through the challenge in an impeccably-tailored suit to consult his pupils. After a whopping two days, one of the contestants inevitably has a mental breakdown due to homesickness, but fortifies themselves after a restorative — and tearful — call home. Another competitor remains fatally firm in their flawed style opinions in front of a panel of accomplished judges.

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There are, of course, some differences. The designers in “Making the Cut” are more international than in “Project Runway” — while seven are from the United States, others are from Germany, Italy, Israel, Belgium, and Malaysia, and another was born in Seoul before moving to Oklahoma. The designers are also more established than most of the fledgling aspirants of “Project Runway;” all have already founded their own label, and many have shown at fashion weeks worldwide.

Perhaps the largest deviation from the plot of “Project Runway” is the incorporation of invisible seamstresses. This is a design show, Klum and Gunn stress, not a sewing competition. Though the contestants on “Project Runway” were expected to both design and sew their own clothes, the hopefuls on “Making the Cut” must do only the former before sending their patterns off to assistants. The show offers not a question of tailoring so much as one of the concept behind the cloth. This idea is, admittedly, better than the original — it allows for fashion designers to do what they do best (design), rather than to spend their time agonizing over a crooked seam.

But the notion suffers from poor execution, as the contestants fell largely flat on-screen. The producers of “Making the Cut” clearly forgot the cardinal rule of good reality TV: It’s not a matter of talent, but of memorability. Everyone remembers Tiffany Richardson, the contestant who inspired Tyra Banks’s unforgettable “We were all rooting for you!” speech in Cycle Four of “America’s Next Top Model.” Richardson couldn’t model professionally to save her life, but this, Banks recognized, was not the point. What mattered was that Richardson pronounced “magenta” as “magnetic” and then threw a fit in front of the cameras.

Not one of the contestants are standouts, at least as of the premiere. No one is truly funky, or zany, or spectacular: All seem to be relatively well-adjusted human beings, at least as creatives go, which makes for good business but less-than-superb television. Moreover, many of their designs — while technically fashionable — are not necessarily fun to watch. The runway show at the end of the premiere’s episode featured little black dress after little black dress.

That said, Gunn and Klum are, as ever, delectable hosts. Klum grows older every year — and her hair extensions longer — but her supermodel gloss never really fades. Her sophistication is the perfect match to Gunn’s charming, high-collared gentility. Any man that uses “titillating” unironically in conversation, as Gunn does in the premiere, is made for reality TV.

The problem at the heart of “Making the Cut,” though, is that even the judges — Naomi Campbell, Nicole Richie, Carine Roitfeld, and Joseph Altuzarra — are far more interesting and dramatic than the competitors. Richie’s handful of lines were more noteworthy than the first two-thirds of the episode, which both attests to Richie’s history as a successful reality TV star in her own right (appearing alongside former bestie Paris Hilton on “The Simple Life”) and the doldrums of the competition itself.

All this is not to say that “Making the Cut” is wholly irredeemable. The show benefits from what its predecessor lacked: a virtually unencumbered budget. Amazon Prime, gifted with Jeff Bezos’s bottomless bank account, revamps shows with alacrity. In this sense, the producers have taken full advantage of their opportunities, equipping themselves with shiny new studios and castwide flights to Paris.

Still, the question remains to be seen as to whether “Making the Cut” will develop what ultimately made “Project Runway” — at least for the first eight or nine of seventeen seasons — timeless: a personality. After all, it’s a show about fashion, which is art in its own right. It should be colorful, not black-and-white.

—Staff writer Emerson J. Monks can be reached at emerson.monks@thecrimson.com.

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