The queens were given a somewhat cute, somewhat original challenge this week. They were asked to create a viral dance in the Tik Tok mode. Granted, the entire challenge felt like one of those “we’re being so trendy because we know what The Youth really like” moments, but at least it felt like something a little new and a little current in a show that has suffered from being formulaic for some time now. For years, we used to praise Drag Race for how clever it was in devising challenges that felt appropriate for the drag world, but it’s been a really long time since we’ve had that thought.
Unfortunately, once you decide that no queen in the competition will ever be made to look bad or get criticized, even cute, fun, well-planned challenges result in less than exciting efforts. Once again, no one here did a bad job, but once again, we’re left with the impression that no one was really allowed to do a bad job.
Not for nothing, but it’s pretty notable that the bulk of the episode was simply scenes of queens fooling around in the Werk Room or an extended blooper reel of the queens shooting their videos. There’s no struggle or self-doubt or even any moments of triumph. Just a series of cute videos, with the worst one being only slightly different in quality from the best one – not that we’d have any idea which ones were considered the worst, since none of them received so much as a syllable of criticism.
There’s also something of an issue with the idea of laying out challenges for queens as accomplished as these. You get a crop of rough new girls in that Werk Room for the first time and ask them to execute a branding challenge and to a queen, they’re all going to struggle with it and spend time trying to figure it out.
You hand a challenge like that to a bunch of queens with social media followings in the millions and you’re just not going to see much in the way of struggle. These queens are all extremely adept at self-branding and have been for years.
We’re sounding more negative than we intend to, because for the most part, it’s still fun to see these queens on our screen, doing what they do best. We just don’t think taking the usual Drag Race competition format and stripping it of all competitive aspects is the best way to utilize them.
You may have noticed that we haven’t really assessed any of the queens’ efforts this week. There’s a good reason for that. There are only so many ways you can say “It was cute! She did a good job.” We thought Shea was probably the best of the bunch, though. Unlike some of the other entries, it actually felt like a dance that would go viral. Unfortunately, this is not the only area in which we greatly disagreed with the judges.
Jinkx’s entry was funny and sort of cutely on brand, but concept aside, there just wasn’t much to it. She would not have been one of our picks for a Legendary Legend star, although we do think her comedy skills are better than most of the other queens.
Monet was also awarded a Legendary Legend star for a video where she wore a dress Trinity made for her and did exactly the moves Ru told her to do, with a whole bunch of other extremely choreographed dance moves added to the final product in order to pad it out and detract from the fact that she really didn’t have any moves to offer. As a branding exercise, it was a pretty obvious failure. We love her, but if this was a true competition, she’d be in the bottom.
The queens were tasked with providing reveal looks for the runway and while most of them took the opportunity once again to show off how big their costume budget is now, what’s more interesting to us is how some of them interpreted a reveal to simply mean an outfit with a lot of elements that you take off onstage, like a demure (or in Trinity’s case, not so demure) burlesque act.
There aren’t any hard and fast rules for this sort of thing, of course, but we tend to think of a drag reveal as a costume that magically transforms into something else, not merely a costume with a lot of layers to it. Shea’s look was gorgeous and we loved the ’30s style cartoon makeup, but as reveals go, it was pretty underwhelming. Jaida cycled through all four seasons, offering a different gown for each one. It was a great succession of reveals.
The Viv always looks stunning and we liked each of the iterations of her costume, but it really was just the same look with some minor variations to it. Raja was of the “take a layer off” school of reveals (which is never as much fun or as dramatic as the “spin to transform” reveals), but each of her looks was jawdroppingly distinct from the others. It seems like Yvie had some sort of dramatic moth wing reveal that she failed to pull off, but we guess we’ll never know, since the editing is so weird and no one’s allowed to point any deficiencies in the queens’ performances. Still, it was an interesting look, from what we could see of it.
Jinkx’s art history reveals were fantastic and may be the best things she’s worn on that runway. Conceptually, Monet’s costumes were fantastic, but it didn’t feel like the concept was fully fleshed out. She went from Harriet Tubman to a Black Panther to a cute sparkly dress with a message. It was a good message, but it felt like it needed at least one more reveal to flesh out the concept of Black history through drag. Trinity did what she does best and the results were as expected: gorgeous and ridiculous at the same time.
We were conflicted over the lip sync. On the one hand, doing a monologue from Designing Women is yet another example of how Drag Race’s pop culture references are almost always decades out of date. On the other hand, we were thrilled to see a spoken-word lip sync (something that’s fairly commonplace in the world of drag ever since Lypsinka turned it into an art form 40 years back) and it’s hard to deny that Julia Sugarbaker’s Miss Georgia World speech is iconic in its own way. We assumed Jinkx had this one locked up, if only because Julia Sugarbaker is essentially a Jinkx Monsoon character more than a Monet X Change one. But Monet’s a lip sync assassin and she did something Jinkx failed to do: she reinterpreted the monologue instead of simply doing a Julia Sugarbaker impersonation. We do tend to think Jinkx’s performance was the smoother one, but we can see the argument that it was also the less interesting one.
Another somewhat inevitable plunger pick, since Raja is the only queen not to receive the block at the start of the episode. They tried as hard as they could to make the plunger into something, but it never quite paid off and no one ever really used it in an interesting way. If anything, the result has been to keep all of the queens on as even a playing field as possible heading into the finale. Things could change over the next week or two, but we’re pretty sure everyone will head into the final with at least two Legendary Legend stars with no one in the group possessing any more than four of them. That’s not much of a spread, but given how meticulously the show has avoided critiquing any of the queens this season, we suspect it’s by design. It’s kind of a shame, since the fandom’s been asking for an all-winners All-Star season, but if the queens will only return to a competition designed to prevent them from looking bad, it doesn’t seem like it’s worth it. You may as well just do a drag variety show each week. After all this time, we still don’t understand why the Drag Race stable of shows doesn’t have some sort of drag revue program. Just bring a bunch of winners back to do a TV version of the Drag Race Las Vegas show every week instead of all this silliness with non-judgmental judges and toilet plungers with no meaning.
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]
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