Project Jay (Bravo, Wed. at 11 p.m. ET) is a one-hour reality special that sometimes reads like a performance piece. Its star is Jay McCarroll, champion of the inaugural season of the fashion-design competition Project Runway, and his greatest asset as both a craftsman and a media creature is a wry sense of theatricality.
One set of designs he sketches here contrasts punkish cuts and mellow colors, streetwear for a post-apocalyptic boulevard. Back home in Lehman, Pa., one of his pastimes was enlisting his 7-year-old niece in elaborate games of dress-up, and we see snapshots of the child as Lady Liberty, as a geisha, as Anna Nicole Smith. In dressing himself, Jay favors ponchos and polka-dotted headscarves, but he can create the impression that he’s wearing a caftan even when clad in a T-shirt and flip-flops. His physical rotundity helps give him a sense of grandeur, and McCarroll, who knows that, is merrily dramatic even in his fits of self-loathing. “Who lives in a blobular vessel?” he sings to himself at one point. “I do!”
Another wisecrack on himself: “I’m just a pawn in life’s entertainment game.” He was talking about playing himself in a bit part on HBO’s The Comeback, a comedy about a reality show, but the comment applies locally, too. Project Jay is also a comedy about a reality show, one that’s rather dark and somewhat unsuccessful. This blobular fellow is terrifically charming, and it’s not much fun to see him get pushed around.
To start, the show recaps McCarroll’s Project Runway victory and introduces his fledgling entourage of publicist and licensing agent. We see him with his family in rural Lehman, where he earns the bafflement and adoration of the women in equal measure. He seems rigorously blasé when his father casually calls him a sissy. According to plan, he piles in his pickup and heads for New York City. In order to make an exclusive deal with a licenser, he turned down Project Runway’s prize money, so he embarks on a long-term couch-crash; he’s staked his future on getting underwritten by guys who’ll put his label on hats and shoes and sunglasses. He is mildly appalled to take a meeting with one such person in a conference room lined with fake books.
The co-star and chief antagonist is the disembodied voice of Heidi Klum, the model and Project Runway hostess. There are a few striking close-ups of speakerphones. The voice chirpily issues McCarroll directives about making Klum a dress to wear to the Emmys. The central drama involves McCarroll’s ability to get the thing finished and whether Klum and her handlers will deem the results worthy of the red carpet.
Project Jay leaves you with the sense that the pawn’s going to be just fine in the long run. “I’m still just the same 12-year-old insecure weirdo that I’ve always been,” says McCarroll in parting. “I’m extremely low-key. I’m very humble, you know, down to earth”—here he snaps his fingers for an off-screen flunky to light his cigarette—”and that’s why people like me.”