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TELEVISION REVIEW

'Project Runway' comes in for a predictable landing

Why are reality TV finales always bloated, two-hour affairs? If we're lucky, as "Project Runway" viewers were last night, it's so the producers can squeeze in as much melodramatic tension as possible.

In the many, many minutes before Jay McCarroll won the big prize, there was an awful lot of dressing up, but even more dressing down. The finale of Bravo's new cult hit was a goldmine of what singer Mary J. Blige has called "hateration," as the three finalists, Jay, Kara Saun, and Wendy Pepper, became locked in tense battles of accusation. It started out as pile on Wendy night, with Kara and Jay -- the Bruce Vilanch-looking man with the ever-present hat and shades -- teaming up against her. "Everybody hates you," Jay spat. "You're going to need your soul one day, Wendy, and you don't have it," Kara told her.

But sometime around the point when Wendy's mother sweet-talked him over cigarettes on a New York hotel balcony, Jay began to migrate to Wendy's camp, particularly after Saint Kara was busted for accepting free shoes for her line. If the producers were hoping for dishy triangulation among the final trio, they got their wish in spades. Naturally, Wendy, she of the two-toned hair and the statement eyeglasses, shed more than a few tears by night's end.

There was fashion, too, of course. Last night, as well as during the entire season, we got to see exactly how complicated the business and the art of clothes designing truly is. The show was both a confirmation of our worst prejudices about models and design divas, and a revelation of just how much imagination and skill must go into building and showing the most original fashion lines.

And originality was Jay's trump card, as the judges recognized that fact that his style emanates out of his zany personality, and not from what has already made it into the glossy magazines. His models, many of them wearing headphones, were unique as they walked the runway wearing his passionate, distinctive line. When he was anointed the winner, the talky Jay was overwhelmed and, finally, rendered speechless. As with most reality shows, it's future seasons are bound to be less exciting.

The finale also featured a few of the "Project Runway" camp trademarks. Fashion director Tim Gunn was on hand to visit the finalists' homes and mention how "terrific" they are. The image of Gunn, so poised and tasteful, standing next to Jay's father's concrete-septic-tank company in small-town Pennsylvania was priceless. And every phrase uttered by host Heidi Klum -- from "Pwoject Wunway" to "You're out" -- brought a smile. It was all frivolous and entertaining, rendering last week's mocking "Saturday Night Live" skit almost redundant.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at gilbert@globe.com.

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