Ooooh, GIRL. Was that a rocky start or what? We shouldn’t be all that surprised, since the Canada, UK, and Holland branches of the Drag Race franchise all had to plough their way through some rocky fields in their inaugural seasons. But it felt like a combination of rough queens (which was to be expected), RuPaul’s ongoing fatigue issues (in the sense that he hasn’t managed to not appear over it all since he wore that facekini for the season 12 finale last year), possible COVID shooting issues, and some controversy in the casting all made the final judging decisions land like a loud clang of cultural insensitivity.
Let’s all take a moment
to touch for ourselves.
Okay, so let’s do something we kind of hate having to do with Drag Race: provide some backstory. It’s just that we’ve been recapping this franchise since Day One and we got to watch in real time as the social media imprint and fandom of the franchise and its various queens grew to behemoth proportions, forever changing the culture of the show and causing so much drama and infighting over the years that we made a conscious decision to avoid it as much as we can so we can come to the show without preconceptions. But sometimes, the behind-the-scenes stuff has notable effects on the final product.
We feel it has to be pointed out that there were production issues due to that bitch Rona and the show had to abruptly decamp to New Zealand after planning to shoot in Sydney. We don’t know how much of an effect it had on the production, but it seems reasonable to assume Taika Waititi’s rather awkwardly edited bits and Ru’s rather awkwardly edited comments during the judging panel both came down to some inability to accommodate either Taika’s schedule or Ru’s hair and makeup team.
Second, Scarlet Adams and Karen From Finance both came to the show with some racist baggage in their pasts; Scarlet for literal Blackface and Karen for, oddly, having a Golliwog tattoo. There’s no defending either of these queens on these matters (they’ve both apologized and there are rumors this will all be addressed this season), but we’ve seen some grumbling about Drag Race’s casting process and we’ve got to say, drag is an art full of people who often strive to be shocking or politically incorrect, which means when you go pulling from that pool of talent, there’s going to be a higher likelihood of accidentally casting someone with a problematic history as compared to, say The Voice or other more mainstream talent competitions. We’ll circle back to this later. Let’s meet the queens.
Art Simone: Sharp, funny, smack-talker with a great look. We feel like she’s definitely one to watch.
Maxi Shield: Another pretty great introductory look, although it bugged us that her boobs didn’t match her skin tone at all. In terms of personality, there was so much smack talk and shade in this opening scene (the Aussie and Kiwi bitches DO NOT PLAY) that it made it a little hard to get a handle on everyone.
Jojo Zaho: She made her case later in the episode, but we didn’t think this look was impressive enough for her to be giving the other girls the side-eye.
Electra Shock: It’s possible we’ve got a Bimini situation here. It’s true that her initial looks were less than impressive, but she seems to have a willingness to take criticism and course-correct. Still, that wig was tragic.
Scarlet Adams: Definitely one to watch. She strolled into that Werk Room with frontrunner all over her and you can tell the judges were charmed pretty quickly. We’ll see if she can address her past issues.
Coco Jumbo: Again, it’s a little hard to get a handle yet, but it seemed to us that none of her looks tended to back up her high opinion of herself.
Kita Mean. Like her look here, she’s a LOT.
Etcetera Etcetera. We don’t know. Good makeup, bad costume; seemed kind of overwhelmed by it all.
Anita Wigl’it. We do so hate to be mean (hahahaha j/k), but she may just be as annoying out of drag as she is in it. We fully cop to being Americans who are not, perhaps, in tune with her comedy style and persona, but her out-of-drag confessionals are so … what is the word? Performative, we guess — that they tend to overwhelm her actual drag. But this look is fine.
Karen From Finance. Background issues aside, her drag is flawless and her name is hilarious. It’s dumb to extrapolate an entire culture from a few reality show soundbites, but some of these Down Under queens seem pretty open about the idea that they’re parodying middle-aged straight cis women specifically.
The mini-challenge was neither mini, nor much of a challenge. That’s fine. First episodes are more about giving the queens space to show who they are. We can’t say the results were revelatory (and the badly edited Taika Waititi asides tended to distract), but at the very least, Electra Shock got to establish herself as someone willing to go further than the other girls if needed.
We couldn’t get screencaps of the naked drag because the editing was so rapid-fire (and we kinda don’t think they mattered much anyway), so we’ll focus on the final looks, which were fairly high-level and creative across the board. Starting with the safe queens: Maxi’s prawn look was clever, Kita’s was about as safe as a look gets, Anita’s sheep drag was inspired, and Etcetera’s was a bit forgettable.
We think Scarlet’s look was wildly overpraised. This is the kind of drag that got Joey Jay eliminated. We honestly don’t know if it’s fair for American judges to complain that they didn’t get the references in Electra’s look. We do know it’s a pretty mediocre piece of drag and her pussy needs some serious stepping up. Coco’s look is very clever, but we wish there wasn’t such a disconnect between her face and her body.
Jojo’s drag was mediocre, which is unfortunate because she clearly came to make a strong political and cultural statement about race. Still, we can’t argue that the statement she pinned to her back was terribly rendered. Ironically, the best argument for keeping her in the game was the worst part of her drag. Karen’s look is witty and well-rendered, but it’s still the “making fun of straight women” style of drag that feels increasingly outdated. Art Simone had a great look but her shoes were busted.
So there’s a deeply unfortunate undertone to this first episode, because the two queens with the problematic racial history wound up in the top spots and the one queen who was there to make an important statement about her country’s racial history wound up in the bottom. We can’t rightly blame the judges or the show here, since we don’t know how much they knew about Scarlet and Karen’s background issues at this point.
We suspect the producers and judges were hoping that Jojo would make some sort of triumphant save and the clearly low-rent Electra would get Porkchopped. Unfortunately, Jojo seemed pretty defeated from the jump and as she demonstrated in the mini-challenge when she nearly blew out the sound equipment with her primal screams, Electra will Go There when she needs to.
We kinda wish Ru would’ve given her another chance (Especially since it took them how many episodes to eliminate the first person in Season 13?), but political commentary aside, she didn’t really give them much reason to keep her. Someone’s always got to go first and while we think Jojo’s a bit more promising than the usual Porkchopped queen, she just didn’t do well in the rather basic and simple tasks asked of her.
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: WOW via Tom and Lorenzo]
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