Okay, so it doesn't have the gravitas of Mad Men. But nothing can else on TV can fill me with such unmitigated delight as On the Road with Austin and Santino. Here's why.
1. It's not a traditional makeover show. Granted, it looks like one on the surface: two Project Runway alums travel around the country to make special occasion dresses for the "fashion-hungry" masses. But, surprisingly, this show is not about making small-town women feel like hicks and laughing smugly at their bad fashion sense. It's also not about changing their personal style; it's understood that these ladies will probably go back to their t-shirts and hunting gear after the show. Rather, it's about helping them celebrate a big moment in their lives in style. Also, there's a nice diversity of age and class on the show. (However, it must be noted that seven episodes in, there's only been one woman of color. Here's hoping they step it up!)
2. It has a huge heart.
The show manages incredibly touching moments without overdoing it. Santino, who was a bit of a villain on the second season of PR (despite his epic and widely beloved Tim Gunn impression), is surprisingly sweet and gentle on this new show. He seems to genuinely love every woman they dress and they, in turn, respond immediately to his dashing charm.
3. Meet the perfect odd couple.
The two came up with the idea for the show after becoming friends, and their mutual affection shows. Far from being saccharine, their sweet friendship is the perfect antidote to the cattiness that abounds on fashion shows. There's something so delightfully warm and fuzzy about the smallest of moments, like Santino earnestly making Austin breakfast. Also, cutest soundbite ever:
Santino: Do you think we'll still be friends after this adventure?
Austin: I certainly hope so…
Santino: Because I wish I could quit you.
4. It showcases sewing across the heartland.
While Project Runway features trips to the fabric mecca Mood, the fabrics in On the Road with Austin and Santino come from places like Cathy's Quiltin' Square and Doylene's Fabric Store (which is on a dirt road and strongly resembles a shack). It's definitely an interesting-and sobering-look into the state of garment sewing across the country; namely, that dressmaking resources are scarcer than ever, being replaced by quilting fabrics and novelty-print cottons. But the lack of luxury fabrics sets the stage for innovative solutions: our two designers fake expensive-looking fabric by layering teal tulle over a rich purple cotton and repurposing components of flea market dresses.
5. One-liners galore
These dudes are funny. Some random choice quotes:
Santino, lounging about in a terry cloth robe and drinking wine: "Why is it that we have to suffer for fashion?" Austin, trying to repair a rocking chair: "Maybe some eyelash adhesive will work." Santino, as Austin tries to cut down a pair of antlers to make a purse handle (long story): "I'm not afraid of power tools, but I am afraid of Austin with power tools."
6. Austin's hair.
Austin's personal style is unmistakable, and the crowning glory is his locks, which are often curled and topped off with jaunty scarves or chapeaus. I loved seeing that he applies hairspray with the exuberance of someone performing modern dance. Also, on being handed a hardhat to wear in a brick factory: "Not good for the hair! You don't have a bouffant size, do you?"
7. It bridges political gulfs.
An overly grand statement? Perhaps. But in a country where the right to marry is denied a major segment of the population, there's something heartwarming about someone as flamboyant as Austin getting Red State folks to double cheek-kiss like they were born wearing Marc Jacobs.
8. An inspiring dedication to craft and couture. Even though the pair is working with the tight deadlines of Project Runway, their work is painstakingly meticulous. The dresses they make incorporate impressive draping skills, expert inner construction, and dedication to the handwork of couture. Austin's background is in high-end bridal gowns, and he whipped himself into a couture frenzy when the pair got their first wedding dress assignment: "I almost don't even want to use a sewing machine; I want it all to be like little petite main, little, like, mice handstitches." (Santino's reaction: "Ughhhhhh.")
9. It's short and sweet. On the Road airs right after Project Runway, which has recently extended its length to an excruciating 90 minutes. Austin and Santino's show is 30 minutes, and by contrast to PR, feels like a tiny, but delicious, piece of candy. They leave me wanting more, which I would never, ever say for the current Project Runway.
10. The opening credits. Watch Austin's delivery of the line, "Our designs grace runways around the world!" and try not to crack a smile. I dare you.
Are you lovely readers watching this epically fabulous show? (Hint: there are full episodes online here.)
Images via Lifetime Television.
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