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'Project Runway: Threads' react: A mini-me version without the bite

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Project Runway Threads
Bobby Quillard/Lifetime

A few weeks ago I wished for a Project Runway with tweens, and then I got my wish in Project Runway: Threads. (I really should put my wishing powers to better use, but I can’t complain about getting Christian Siriano back on the small screen.)

Threads, the fourth spin-off of the franchise, is like Runway Lite. Each week, three tween aspiring designers will face off with two challenges; the first is a look that they prepared at home for immediate judging, the second is a typical “here are the rules, now go; oh, wait, there’s more” challenge. The winner takes home $25,000.

The designs are critiqued by Threads judges Christian Siriano (fitting as he was the youngest Runway winner ever); YouTube “sensation” Ingrid Nilsen; no-stranger to a reality show Vanessa Simmons (who doubles as a mentor in the Tim Gunn role); and a guest judge—in the premiere, Kelly Osbourne for the first challenge, Jaime King in the second.

Tonight’s premiere showed that no matter the age, designers are characters. There was Bradford, 13, from Birmingham, Alabama; Cambria, 12, from West Hills, California; and Kenzie, 12, from Portland, Oregon. Bradford was a Southern gentleman who had already styled Miss Teen Alabama. Kenzie’s line introducing her style: “I love luxury and private jets and mansions and penthouses. Liking the finer things, transitions into my fashion.” Cambria, meanwhile, is the most easily emoted when her aesthetic is challenged.

And here begins the biggest problem with the show: On adult-size Runway, it’s easy to pick favorites and those you want to see auf’d from the outset, but it doesn’t feel right to root against a 12-year-old girl.

But the young designers are offered support in the form of an adult “assistant.” Bradford brought his mother, who would rather just watch football and was my  favorite. Cambria brought her father, who was incredibly supportive. And Kenzie brought her mom, who was a little too supportive. She said she would do anything for her daughter’s career, and you believe that she means anything. (Is Lifetime trying to make “fashion moms” happen like they did with crazy dance moms?)

And the judges seem to be very careful with their critiques; they are delicate with speaking the truth about looks, but also give the designers encouragement. The judges don’t have to lie—these designs are pretty incredible considering the age of the designers and the time they were given.

There are a multitude of issues with the show if you compare it to the original (Vanessa is no Heidi, for one), but overall it’s an interesting concept, maybe just not best suited for Lifetime. It feels more like a show that should be on Nickelodeon or The Disney Channel because it’s a show about kids for kids; and Project Runway fans, who are used to the sharp bite of the adult version, may be left wanting.

Project Runway: Threads airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. ET on Lifetime.