tv review

Can Making the Cut Scratch That Project Runway Itch?

Tim Gunn and Heidi Klum are back, and they are Definitely Friends! Photo: Kristine Sparow/Amazon Studios

Amazon’s new reality show Making the Cut seems like a clone of Project Runway. It reunites the Project Runway original dream team of Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn. It’s a fashion-based reality competition show. There’s a studio, there are runway shows, there are eliminations … if it looks like Project Runway and has sewing machine-based drama like Project Runway and includes snarky fashion side-eye like Project Runway … isn’t it just Project Runway?!

Au contraire. There are many similarities, sure, and Making the Cut was certainly designed to appeal to the Project Runway audience, especially anyone who liked the series in its earlier seasons and has missed the key players as the show moved to a new platform. But there are some important changes (and also some less important ones) that may affect how well Making the Cut is going to satisfy someone looking for that specific “Make it work!” kind of experience, beginning with …

There are seamstresses.

Yeah. I know.

From the start, Project Runway created a hard line among its contestants. Some people could sew. Some people were not that great at it. The resulting division has always been a source of resentment: the people who can sew roll their eyes at the lack of basic proficiency from their fellow contestants. The people who can’t sew point out, with frustration, that sewing is actually not the most vital skill in a designer’s job. For most working designers, sewing is something they direct other people to do, not something they spend hours doing themselves.

In a delightfully shady way, Making the Cut introduces seamstresses to the fashion competition equation, which naturally includes at least one of the contestants pointing out that it makes this particular show more valid because that’s how it works in the real world. (Suck it, Project Runway!)

But of course it can’t be simple. To keep the seamstresses from ratcheting down the potential disaster of not sewing an ambitious project correctly, the show includes them in the most ridiculous, unhelpful way possible. Designers have to package up whatever they’re working on with detailed instructions and hand them off to unseen seamstresses who work on them overnight. There’s no back and forth communication, and sometimes there are language barriers. Inevitably, more than one designer comes back to the studio the next morning and opens the bag they expect to hold a finished item of clothing … only to find the garment still in pieces.

Heidi and Tim are back!

They enjoy spending time with each other, making a TV show! You can tell, because Making the Cut has them engage in extended segments where they traipse through various cities around the world, conversing in the regular polite way that good friends with complementary personalities totally would! And just like real-life friends, they are forced to participate in weird, staged activities, like for instance, actually dueling each other! Sure! They are Definitely Friends!

It’s unclear why Making the Cut felt it needed to double down on Heidi and Tim’s relationship, but it’s one of the strangest changes to the original Project Runway format. Like The Bachelor, Making the Cut has added “traveling to new cities” as part of its process, and with each new location, there’s a long and baffling segment where Heidi and Tim do something together. They go to the Moulin Rouge. They get their caricatures painted. By this week’s fifth and sixth episodes (two new episodes drop on Amazon Prime Video each Friday), when they go to Tokyo, Heidi goes off on a trip to a tourist café by herself, and it’s hard not to see it as “finally the producers realized these joint segments are not working.”

On the competition side, though, their roles are much the same as they always were. Tim wanders around the workroom and expresses doubt about design choices. Heidi wrangles the panel of judges after the runway show, and makes particular note when a dress is too short.

There’s a lot of money on the line.

With mega Bezos bucks behind it, Making the Cut scoffs at Project Runway’s piddly quarter-million-dollar prize money. The winner gets a full million, and the winners of each challenge get one of their looks instantly featured on Amazon so people can buy it right away.

There’s a new panel of judges.

They’re okay! There’s Heidi, of course, and there’s designer Joseph Altuzarra. There’s a rotating judging position that changes for each new city the show visits.

The only noteworthy thing about Making the Cut’s judging panel is Naomi Campbell, who’s also the most noteworthy thing about the show generally. The people on this show — even the contestants — are mostly nice. It’s not full-on Bake Off level nice, but it’s a nicer kind of reality show than the original Project Runway. Contestants try to be supportive of one another. Judges generally try to see from each designer’s viewpoint.

Meanwhile, Naomi Campbell did not get the memo about this being a warm, fuzzy show, or if she did, she resolutely refused to read it. While everyone else tries to imagine each look as objectively good or bad, Campbell’s criticism is subjective, direct, and unblinking. She wants to wear things herself, she knows exactly the teen who’d wear it … or it’s a bad garment and she will say it to your face. She’s unswayed by others’ opinions. She does not care if you think she’s mean. This show does work, but it’s entirely because Naomi Campbell is a regular judge and the producers give her plenty of screen time.

There are no catchprases.

Tim does not say, “Make it work!” Heidi does not ask if people are in or out. And although the show does try to emphasize “You’re making the cut” and “You’re not making the cut” as workable substitutes, Heidi delivers them with all the oomph of someone who knows she is trying and failing to make fetch happen.

Instead of catchphrases, there’s a lukewarm regular reminder that judges can “change their minds” based on conversations during the judging process. When it comes to naming the winner and loser, contestants have an opportunity to explain anything they’d like, and then Heidi makes a big show of asking the judges if they’ve changed their opinion while listening. They almost never do, though? Plus, you know what makes for a truly uninspiring catchphrase? “Judges, has any of what you’ve heard changed your mind?”

Making the Cut is a workable option for anyone jonesing for light distraction, and it also provides a glimpse of what the world looked like before international travel, conversations with strangers, and working in close proximity to lots of other people became impossible. It is not quite Project Runway, and it’s also not enough of its own thing to really stand out in a crowded TV field. But it will give you the pleasant calming sensation of watching competent people operating under unnecessary constraints to make their creative dreams come true. Sometimes that’s enough.

Can Making the Cut Scratch That Project Runway Itch?