How many times can Heidi Klum force designers to craft dresses out of garbage? That’s the question that’s been plaguing Project Runway, which began its ninth season Thursday night. The fashion-design competition is coming off of a controversial eighth season, which left fans outraged when reviled designer Gretchen Jones was crowned the winner. Did Thursday's premiere, which asked contestants to design a look from the pajamas they wore to bed, prove that there's life left in the series? Or, as Klum says, is Runway "out?"

The show is still enjoyable: Gretchen's win last year was "infuriating," says Annie Barrett at Entertainment Weekly, but "she's gone." One misstep last season doesn't change the good things about Project Runway "that'll forever keep me coming back." There's still the fun of "stilted product placement," "Hell's Kitchen-esque" sound effects, strangely lovable judges, and German Heidi Klum's adorable idiom-mangling. Those all remain good reasons to tune in, even nine seasons later.
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But the premiere was not promising: "With so many designers" in the premiere, says Carolyn Kellogg at the Los Angeles Times, no one was given enough time to exhibit a personality. "It's impossible to tell who will be kind and who will be catty" — the polarizing elements that are the most enjoyable part of the show. The constraining pajama challenge produced designs that were "hardly indicative" of the contestants' potential, and, worse, even "Heidi and [host Tim Gunn] are showing some signs of strain."
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Regardless, fans will never abandon this show: Viewers constantly insist that they'll "never watch again" after lame season finales to their favorite reality series, says Andrew Denhart at The Daily Beast. That's "an empty threat." In the end, the great thing about Runway is that "it's the work that matters," not contestants' 'personalities.' Gretchen is gone — and Runway will live on.
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