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Westward, Sew! Thankfully, Gunn's Style Travels Well

The ever-wise Gunn arrives to soothe and to counsel and to reassure Johnny that he can pull himself together and get to stitching! The scene is Gunn at his best. He remains the heart of the show, the reason that "Project Runway" stands out amid its competitors. He never emotes for the cameras; he doesn't gush. But he's not an exaggerated tough guy, either. He gives Johnny Addict a hug and tells him to buck up. That's the kind of good advice Johnny needs. Gunn wants people to succeed; he doesn't sabotage them for dramatic effect. (Still, the bad, bad TV viewer in your dark and twisted heart almost hopes for another moment of soul-searching angst just so Gunn can come to the rescue.)

In the past, the first challenge has provided strong clues about which designers are likely to make it to the finals -- or at least into the top five or six. In this new season, none of the designers' work really stands out, in a good way. But "Dexter" doppelganger Mitchell Hall, 26, has to rework his garment at the last minute and ends up sending out a model wearing a beige translucent caftan/shmatte that looks as though it had been assembled from the remnants of Jennifer Lopez's revealing gowns throughout the ages.

The work of the family-man Epperson, for instance, ishttp://no more inspiring than that of 24-year-old pretty-girl Shirin Askari. The contestants have realized, for the most part, that attempting to do too much is a recipe to be auf-ed.

This first challenge references the show's new setting -- although only barely, because there were red-carpet challenges in New York -- but it includes no pratfall-inducing hurdles. The designers don't have to create a red-carpet gown for a 16-year-old prima donna. Or from foliage. Or candy. It is almost as though given such a straightforward challenge, the designers fail to rise to the rollicking creative standards of the show's history.

The preview didn't reveal the final judgments or even an assessment of the designs. But we suspect that returning judge Michael Kors will be unimpressed -- and the phrase "mother of the bride" might pass his lips. Judge Nina Garcia will probably be bored; she might have to be nudged to pay attention. We are pessimistic that the guest judge, Lindsay Lohan -- who knew she was such an expert on flawless style?! -- will offer anything profound on the subject of aesthetics. The best we can hope for from Lohan is a bit of blissful, oblivious absurdity.

We can only be assured that Gunn's presence in the workroom will keep "Project Runway's" creative fires burning bright and any maudlin meltdowns to a satisfying but tasteful minimum.

Project Runway (one hour) debuts tonight at 10 on Lifetime.

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