TV review: 'Fashion Star' maddening at times

Tuesday, 13 March 2012 02:35 PM Written by 

fashion_star_competitorsOn paper, the concept of NBC' "Fashion Star" (9:30 tonight, WPXI) is a winner: Watch the show tonight, buy the fashions tomorrow. What could be better for American consumerist culture?

But in practice, "Fashion Star" is more of a dud. I wrote about how the show works in a feature story last week about former Pittsburgher E.J. Johnston, one of the show's executive producers. Contestants produce a collection of three wardrobes each week and buyers from Macy's, Saks Fifth Avenue and H&M have the opportunity to bid on them (it's sort of "Project Runway" meets "Shark Tank" with a greater emphasis on "Shark Tank"). Contestants who don't receive a bid are up for elimination. One contestant is sent home each week and the show's mentors/judges -- Jessica Simpson, Nicole Richie, John Varvatos -- get to save one contestant from the buyers' Top 3 worst designers. The three buyers choose who will be sent home.

Contestants who have their fashions purchased will see their wares in the store of whichever company made the buy the next day. The show was taped last summer to give time for all those clothes to be manufactured. (Fashions will also be sold online, which is good since Saks is leaving the Pittsburgh market.)

First off, anyone tuning in expecting another show that's about the creative process (a la "Project Runway") will be disappointed. "Fashion Star" is about consumerism, not artistry, so time spent behind the scenes with the contestants is brief and does little to illustrate each contestant's design aesthetic.

But there's a bigger issue: The show gives several contestants short shrift in an obvious, unfortunate way.

Read more after the jump. ...

"Fashion Star" spends a lot of time on pyrotechnics that don't matter at its outset, playing like a portion of CBS's annual "Victoria's Secret Fashion Show." Lights flash, music blares, motorcycles adorn the stage for no good reason other than as a runup to introducing show host Elle Macpherson.

Then we finally get introduced to the designers who are paired. The show presents two collections on the runway at the same time.

One meathead contestant slams the judges' reviews, saying, "It's very hard to understand the girls giving advice about men's fashion."

Another contestant, Oscar, is as diminutive as he is flamboyant and annoying, hopping all over the stage like a five-year-old who hasn't been taught any self-control. In next week's episode, which should be titled "When Oompa Loompas Attack," he has a hissy fit and throws something across the room (sounds like a water bottle).

The show feels a little slow until it suddenly speeds up and four designers' collections are presented in a matter of seconds without really giving viewers a chance to get a good look at the clothing they've designed. What's going on?

At first I thought maybe the premiere was initially two hours and then got cut to 90 minutes but the same thing happens in next week's episode when three designers's collections are essentially glossed over. Is this a case of poor planning? An effort to boost the store brands at the expense of the designers and the show? Who knows but it's sure to infuriate some viewers who tune in to watch a fashion show and may come away with the impression that "Fashion Star" is designed more as a sales tool for three major retailers than it is as entertainment for viewers watching at home.

As judges/mentors, Jessica Simpson and Nicole Richie are actually pretty entertaining and for fashion fans who like the idea of wearing the creations they see on TV, "Fashion Star" remains a cool idea. But its execution and formatting need work.

Vote to retain or dismiss "Fashion Star" in the Post-Gazette's annual Keep or Cancel? poll through April 22.

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