November 20th, 2009
05:36 PM ET

The ‘Runway’ of our (Life)time comes to an end

Here’s the thing about “Project Runway”: yes, we watch for the drama brought by the designers, but we also watch it to witness the talents of the undiscovered.

There’s no better mix of those two elements than the final episode of every season, when there’s nothing left to do but show and prove. I wasn’t at all surprised that the final three came down to Carol Hannah, Althea and “Meana Irina,” who, despite her attitude problem, can design her butt off.

Full disclosure: I started slacking on my “Runway” devotion about halfway through this season. I became one of those fans who blamed everything on the show’s move to Lifetime: this season’s lack of bite and wit “never would’ve happened on Bravo,” I said.

But last night, I realized how shortsighted I’d been. The final episode had everything: tears from a sick but still sewing Carol Hannah; anticipation; the trinity of Nina, Heidi and Kors, plus frenzied pacing as the designers and three resurrected from eliminations – Christopher, Logan and Gordana –whipped up a 13th look for their 12-piece collections at the 11th hour.

And if that wasn’t good enough, we even got a Tim Gunn breakdown! A Tim.Gunn.Breakdown. When the always suave, never flustered one is walking around flailing his arms and yelling threats that “he’s about to lose it,” you know it must’ve been one tense tent.

If you missed last week’s episode: Carol Hannah drew her inspiration from the “ethereal” architecture at Duke U., Althea from retro sci-fi movies and Irina wanted to do her take on the urban woman warrior with an all-black collection – which Nina explicitly told her not to do. Yeah, she did it anyway. And it kinda rocked.

See, Irina’s like the girl from high school whose meanness was really a line of defense – much like the hooded outerwear and knits, black leather and hats that she thought a New York woman needed to battle it out in the Big Apple. It was dark, but cohesive; ready-to-wear, but with sparks of original detail.

Carol Hannah’s was equally impressive in terms of construction and tailoring – just look at the inverted pyramid tutu topped off with body-hugging silk, or her exquisite Grecian gown – but it completely lacked cohesion. I haven’t agreed with the judges on much this season, but I co-signed out loud when they noted Irina was the only who presented an actual collection.

Because, sadly, Althea the suit-maker just didn’t bring it, from her runway day outfit – halter top, leggings, and ankle Uggs? Really? – to her mishmash of “sci-fi” looks. Never mind that none of it actually appeared futuristic or innovative (see: Jay McCarroll, season one, if you need a refresher on what innovation looks like). The judges kept commenting that she was "plugged into the street," and I have no clue what that means other than I don't particularly want to wear it. Yes, she can do separates, but unfortunately, that separated her collection from winning the title.

What did you think of the season finale? Was this season everything that you expected - or wanted - it to be? And more importantly, is there a tiny piece of you that thinks Carol Hannah was robbed?

November 20th, 2009
01:59 PM ET

I remember Oprah

It seems ironic to me that it was this time of the year more than 30 years ago that I had my first “encounter” with Oprah Winfrey.

I was a little girl whose legs dangled off the pew when Winfrey appeared as a featured speaker on Sunday at my grandmother’s church in West Baltimore, Maryland. I immediately recognized her as an anchor on the local news station, WJZ, and I couldn’t believe that such a star would be standing in the pulpit of Whitestone Baptist Church.

Ordinarily church meant suffering through a sermon I didn’t understand and staring in awe at the women who – in their exuberance at being in the presence of the Holy Spirit – seemed to shout, sweat and dance the walls down.

But this Sunday I was mesmerized by Oprah.

Like any good storyteller, she started out slow, sharing tales of growing up first in Mississippi, then in Milwaukee and Tennessee. Like me, she loved to read and I felt like she was walking up and down my street when she recounted the many church plays and programs in which she had been called to perform.

I literally slid to the edge of the pew as Oprah told the tragic story of a slave woman who upon being revived from a vicious beating from her master thought she was seeing stars, only to realize it was salt on the ground which had been thrown on her lacerated back. The congregation moaned their pain and understanding of the hardships of life.

Then, just as smoothly as she had plunged us into the depths of despair, she raised us up again with the words of an ex-slave, Sojourner Truth, who at a Women’s Convention in Akron, Ohio, in 1851 asked “Ain’t I a woman?”

"If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back and get it right-side up again. And now that they are asking to do it, the men better let them,” Oprah said, reciting Truth’s words. It was the mid 1970s, and with the civil rights and women’s rights movements so fresh in everyone’s minds, the words seemed to ring with poignancy.

She encouraged us all to never let hardship sway us from our paths. I left the church that day amazed by what I had heard - and by Winfrey who, even then, seemed larger than life. My 8-year-old mind desired to further the connection I felt with the woman who was now my new hero.

I got it into my head that with her being so far away from her home in Tennessee, surely she would want to join my family for Thanksgiving dinner. So I waited until my grandmother drifted off to sleep one afternoon, and I looked up the phone number for WJZ-TV in the phone book.

Trying to sound as grown up as possible, I asked the station’s operator to connect me with Oprah Winfrey, planning to offer the invitation to the secretary such a celebrity must surely have working for her.

I was shocked when Oprah answered the phone.

My prepared words failed me and I instead stuttered out how much I had enjoyed her speech at Whitestone. “Awww, thank you honey,” Oprah replied, before I promptly hung up on her in my nervousness.

Years later, as a reporter at the Baltimore Sun, I shared that story with a colleague who was interviewing Oprah about her film “Beloved.” I explained how much the now hugely influential talk show host had inspired me as both a woman of color and a journalist.

When my friend later told me she had shared the story with Oprah during the interview and that Ms. Winfrey had expressed her delight at my words, I felt like I was once again that little girl, basking in the glow of my idol.

November 20th, 2009
12:02 PM ET

Mysteries deepen on 'Fringe'

A mysterious Observer on the Fox series 'Fringe.'
A mysterious Observer on the Fox series 'Fringe.'

Last night's episode of "Fringe" - the culmination of a full week of hype - certainly delivered on answers, but added a heaping helping of new questions.

So far, "Fringe" has done a better job of explaining itself in its second season than "Lost," co-creator J.J. Abrams' previous series. We've figured out this much: there are alternate realities, and Walter (John Noble)'s son Peter (Joshua Jackson) is actually from an alternate reality, he just doesn't know it, and therefore Walter is hesitant to tell him all he knows. One thing we still don't know is exactly how the bizarre Observers - yes, we find out for the first time on the show that there's more than one - fit into all of this.

Since Walter is playing dumb on the Observers, which he actually knows a lot about, we get one of those scenes essential to any J.J. Abrams show where a scientist-type has to explain what's going on. Agent Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) and Peter pay a visit to Massive Dynamic, where we learn the theory that the Observers aren't traveling through time, nor are they immortal, but they "observe" time, especially major historical events.

One Observer in particular breaks their code of not acting, except when correcting a mistake they made, by kidnapping a young woman prior to taking an airplane which is destined to crash. Because of this, we also find out more about their strange sci-fi instruments, and that they carry strange guns, which look normal, but throw people back and stun them.

As it becomes more clear that Walter knows a lot more than he's telling, Noble really gets to shine here, being equally brilliant playing the absent-minded, slightly-mad scientist (I live for the scenes with his assistant, Astrid), and the man with all the answers who can advise an Observer on how to proceed.

When an assassin's bullet takes down the rogue Observer, the immortality theory bites the dust with him, and he reveals that he has found the capacity to have emotions, to cry and even to fall in love. He felt that the woman he saved from the plane crash was important, having observed her all of his life. Was he just an inter-dimensional stalker or is there more to it than that?

Aside from the fact that Observers are being seen more and more, foretelling some momentous event, Olivia, who recently took a trip to another reality, is someone they see having a particularly dark future.

I was happy to see an episode focusing on the overall story-arc of this show again, as the weird-crime-of-the-week episodes aren't nearly a strong.

Were you fascinated by the Observers as well? Do you agree that this show could stand to have fewer stand-alone episodes? What are your "Fringe" theories (what is the meaning behind the strange symbols before commercial breaks, anyway)? Share your thoughts on video, or the comments below.

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