RuPaul’s Drag Race: RuPaulmark Channel

Posted on January 23, 2021

In the manner of all good reality television, we feel the need to make a shocking confession. We responded really well to this episode, largely because it checked off all our personal boxes (to coin a phrase). Here’s the confessing part: looking at our negative reaction to this week’s Drag Race UK in relation to our positive reaction to this week’s Drag Race OG, we must admit a bias on our part. We clearly prefer sketch comedy challenges over musical challenges and nearly always wind up thinking that the former does a much better job of challenging the queens than the latter.

 

But first, our boxes. This episode did one of those things that Drag Race tends to do better than most other reality competitions. In fact, we suspect it’s one of the main reasons why the show wins Emmys on the regular. It sets up the queens for maximum drama, encourages them in every way to deliver it and gives them good reasons to want to, and then the queens all meet up and bond over being… well, a bunch of big ol’ queens. It’s manipulative, sure. But the best part about this sort of turn is that it feels like the queens all collectively deciding not to be assholes and just have fun. Of course there are many lessons to be learned when it comes to a reality competition with a history as long as this one and most queens understand that a villain edit can sometimes have lasting repercussions on their career. It’s best to try to get along or at least make the shadiness and reading entertaining enough not to seem like it’s crossing any lines.

 

Having said that, when Elliott confronted the queens who voted her off, we just wish one of them would have responded to his indignant questioning with “We voted you off because they told us we had to vote someone off and we all made a random choice based on practically no information, and your outfit kinda sucked, so…” But we guess that would have broken the fourth wall a bit too much.

Okay, so: sketch challenges. Here’s the T Lo tea.

Of course plenty of people respond better to the musicals and find the sketches excruciating – and that makes perfect sense. For us, however, we tend to see the sketch comedy challenges as the best way to assess the queens’ ability to learn basic trade skills and respond to direction. It’s really hard to make a non-singer into a singer (and hard to watch them try), but a lot more illuminating and interesting when you try to train a non-actor on some of the rudimentary basics of acting, like blocking, enunciation, rhythm and projecting. To our way of thinking, a non-musical queen can barrel her way through a song on sheer force of will, with complete lack of talent and the judges will reward her for baring her soul and being fearless – and rightly so. That’s the value of the musical challenges on Drag Race.

 

But – again, for us – the fact that the queens are judged on their ability to learn, adapt and improve in the acting challenges make them more valuable and more satisfying to watch. It was just plain funny watching Tamisha getting increasingly ridiculous with each “Whoa.” And while there’s a broad range of performance and looks and personae that make up the art of drag, for the kind of drag this show rewards, a good sense of comedy and theatrical technique seems more important than an ability to sing.  No one ever really got sent home because they had bad pitch and no vibrato, after all.  But queens regularly get sent home based on poor line readings – just as it played out this week.

 

The comedy sketches challenge the queens by giving them deliberately difficult lines of dialogue (often with alliteration, really bad puns or even rhymes) or characters so absurd (like a space monkey, a chicken, a stalk of broccoli or a tree) that it’s hard to get a handle on them, rewarding those queens who manage to overcome those obstacles and eliminating those queens who fail at it. It’s true that the musicals can often challenge queens in similar ways, but for us, it’s much harder to watch someone struggling their way through a bad song than someone struggling through a deliberately challenging line of dialogue. Come on, “Get those NUTS away from MY face” is legendary at this point.

 

As always when the cast is still this large, a few queens stood out for either being head-and-shoulders above the others or for being total disasters. The rest mostly just acquitted themselves well enough to get to the next challenge. We feel a bit torn over Denali’s critiques for this performance. It’s true that she never truly found the comedy in the character and all of her line readings were wrong, but the judges came down hard on her for not getting some fairly old references. We realize this may sound odd coming from two people who wrote a book on the very kinds of queer references to which the judges were referring. There was a long time when we believed that every drag queen had to know the roots of queer culture, but the fact remains that time marches on, queer culture shifts over time, and a judging panel of people in their forties and fifties berating someone in their twenties for not getting references forty to SEVENTY years old comes off more like a comment on the judges than the person getting the critique. Maybe we’d give them the indignancy over the Mommie Dearest references, since they’re still pretty pervasive, but we think criticizing a young Millennial for not getting the Bette Davis reference from 1949’s Beyond The Forest is a bit absurd.

Symone and Rosé were quite obviously the best, most adaptive performers, knowing exactly how to deliver the lines and adding little bits of character work that was fun to watch. Symone’s repeated pronunciation of “fleg fec-tree” was hilarious.

 

Meh.

 

Meh – although Utica gets points for being weird about it.

 

More meh – except for Kandy, who was surprisingly hilarious and game.

 

 

 


And yes, this was probably a more fun runway to watch than the UK one this week because asking a queen to put on a costume with a train is like asking her to put on some makeup but reveals can often be crafty and tricky even for the best queens.

 

 

Denali’s look was amazing. Ultimately, it wasn’t the thing that saved her but it sure didn’t hurt to have it on. Olivia’s is cute, Elliott’s is cute. Kahmora’s is absolutely stunning. It didn’t help her much when she needed to move, but as with Denali, it ultimately wasn’t the reason for her downfall.

 

Symone’s costume is just plain fabulous. We don’t think Loni Love was one bit off base when she said that this look represents America and that Rihanna would probably love it. We loved the drama of LaLa’s look but (admitting that this is nitpicky) her coat and train needed a lining. Utica’s Carol Burnett reference was cute, but a bit too literal. Drag should take its references and then go further with them. Honestly hated Rosé’s look. The basic suit was … well, a basic suit. Not too far off from something Hillary or Kamala might wear. The tulle was the only draggy part of the design but all it did was widen her and make her shoulders and arms look enormous. It’s a weird design, but at the very least, the tulle should have been in a contrasting color.

 

Gottmik’s was just okay. We realize Tina’s tall and broad-shouldered, but she doesn’t help herself with these sorts of looks. If she doesn’t want to proportionize, she’d be better off doing more genderfuck-style drag on the runway. And the wig looks clownish. Joey Jay: meh. Kandy: meh. Tamisha is gorgeous. The thing about old-school drag is that when it’s done well, it’s hard to argue against it.

 

And of course, one of our biggest boxes (to coin a phrase) to check off in order to have an excellent episode of Drag Race is a lip sync that lights the room on fire. It’s even better when it comes out of nowhere.

 

Denali simply unhinged her jaw and swallowed poor Kahmora whole on that main stage. Ru usually hates to see a queen give up, but even she noted how impossible it was for anyone to compete with what Denali was serving.

 

 

Finally, four episodes into its 13th season, Drag Race gets around to sending a queen home. As gorgeous as Kahmora is, there’s no arguing with this one, as far as we’re concerned. She had every chance to not just show herself, but improve herself, and it just wasn’t happening.

 

Legendary Children: The First Decade of RuPaul’s Drag Race and the Last Century of Queer Life, a New York Times “New and Notable” pick, praised by The Washington Post “because the world needs authenticity in its stories,” and chosen as one of the Best Books of 2020 by NPR is on sale wherever fine books are sold!

 

 

[Photo Credit: VH1 via Tom and Lorenzo]

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