Any random All-Stars episode will almost always be a double-edged sword for us. On the one hand, most episodes are fun to watch because just being an All-Star requires a relatively high talent level and the kind of professionalism that comes from work experience, plus there’s an overall avoidance of trainwrecks that tends to come with competitors that have been through the reality television experience at least once before. Everyone’s got the goods (some more than others), knows the ropes, and usually understands why they were eliminated the first time around. It’s hard for the episodes not to be at least a little fun to watch with all of that in the mix.
On the other hand, all of that smooth professionalism and self-knowledge is death for a reality television recap. There’s just not a lot of drama to be had and the main challenges tend to yield results in which the differences between the so-called worst performances and the designated best ones tend to be fairly minor. Tack on a runway full of high-end professional costume design and you’ve got a mildly entertaining if slightly dull episode of television.
We fear we sound like a broken record on this one, but it has to be said that the quality of the sketches written for the queens to perform has gotten markedly worse in recent seasons. As you could see fairly clearly by the direction given to the queens by Ross and Michelle, the acting challenges on Drag Race consistently place value on the campiest, most over-the-top sorts of performances. Part of that is a tip of the hat to drag acting history, as we outlined in a chapter of our book, and part of it comes down to leveling the playing field a bit so that actors with IMDB listings like Ginger Minj can compete against total amateurs like Kylie.
All of that’s fine and perfectly expected when it comes to drag. But it sure would be great if this multiple-Emmy-winning show would consider hiring some fresh comedy writers (preferably under fifty) to juice up some of the material. You can’t really assess the collective talents of any crop of queens if you consistently hand them crap to interpret. If you don’t give even a seasoned queen like Ginger the material to work with, you’re just left with a lot of painfully awkward mugging and clownery. We honestly don’t think anyone was terrible in their performance, but a challenge like this is more about surviving terrible material than delivering a decent comedic performance.
Still, we have some notes and observations. Kylie absolutely deserved the win if only because she took her performance from painful amateur to fairly impressive professional levels within the space of a couple of takes. Something like that will always impress Ru more than a queen who can do this work in her sleep offering up something smooth and professional (like Ginger and, to a lesser extent, Eureka). We don’t think A’Keria was necessarily as bad as the judges made her out to be. She might have been among the worst, but like we said, there wasn’t that much of a difference in quality between her performance and, say Trinity’s or even Pandora’s.
As for Ms. Boxx, we fear she’s being ignored by the judges because she’s so consistent and so low-key. Her work was at least as good as Ginger’s, if not better in some respects. Jan was fine, but she was playing a part that was clearly written with her in mind. She’s going to run right back into the same problem she’s always had the next time she’s asked to do something outside her rather narrow comfort zone.
The runway category was Goth and frankly, we think the Goths should be pissed. We brought this up on our recent mini book tour, but there’s a huge Goth contingent in drag (and specifically Drag Race) fandom and it was kind of disappointing to see so many of the queens interpret it either as “sexy witch” or ” merry widow.”
There’s no denying that Ginger’s look was fun, witty, and extremely well-made, but it was too cutesy for Goth, we think.
Eureka was one of the only queens who really nailed the makeup and the overall vibe perfectly. Hers was our favorite look on the runway.
It’s fine, but Trinity’s look is way more drag-fabulous than it is Goth.
Ra’Jah’s was so non-Goth that we think she should have been called out for it.
And A’Keria’s was a whole lot of look and gorgeous in its own way, but not very Goth.
Jan also nailed the assignment, although not as well as Eureka did.
We think Kylie’s showgirl drag can be limiting, but we’ll give her credit for interpreting it over and over again. So far, none of these stripper looks have come off too stale, even though we expected to be bored with them by now. She’s the only other queen who came close to Goth, by combining it with the kind of sexy rocker chic looks she clearly loves.
We don’t love the over-reliance on these merry widow looks among the queens, but Pandora’s was the best of that lot.
Always fun to see Miss Manila back on the main stage. She looked fabulous, but it almost felt like she was being offered up as a sacrificial lamb. You just don’t hand Kylie Sonique a Christina Aguilera song and expect her to fuck it up.
She ate this one whole.
Sorry to see her go, but we really can’t say she managed to mount an argument as to why she should be considered an All-Star. As we said at the top of the season, some of these girls need a little more time to bake out in the real world before coming back. We never would have predicted that Kylie would do as well as she has, but she’s clearly a much better queen now than the last time she competed.
Our book, 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: Paramount Plus via Tom and Lorenzo]