Another episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race All-Stars that we’d place in the “enjoyable enough” column, which is where almost all of the episodes have landed this season. The queens are all pros, all winners, never fumble, never fight, and never receive so much as a hint of criticism from the judges. We’ve always said that Drag Race was way more of a variety show than an actual competition and that remains more true than ever in our eyes, but it seems to us that when you remove all of the markers of an actual competition, especially the discomfort of critiques and the existential threat of elimination, you’re left with a product that can’t ever rise above mediocre in quality. There. We SAID it.
We assumed that the no-eliminations rule was going to be suspended or revoked at some point past the middle of the season, but clearly, that’s not going to happen. Without the threat of not completing the competition hanging over the queens, their approaches to each week’s challenge are decidedly lackadaisical. There’s only so much frustration a queen can work up over not having enough trinkets pinned to their chests. But it’s become clear to us that the lack of eliminations is only one of the problems dragging this season down.
We’ve been dancing around this observation for most of the season, sometimes coming down on the side of defending the lack of eliminations, but there was something about the setup and follow-through on this challenge that really sort of put the final nail in the coffin regarding our hopes that this format was working. The script got handed out, there was a moment where a few queens were up for the same part, it got resolved, and no one really cared because everyone here knows that she can make a bad part with only 3 lines sing for the judges if she has to.
They brought in Janicza Bravo, director of Zola, to provide the queens with some guidance and she was actually really great for them, but apparently none of the queens even needed a critically acclaimed film director’s input. You didn’t see one queen flub a line, or ask for a second take, or get a cue wrong. Not once. Every queen, according to the editing here, swaggered onto that set off book and needing nothing more than a slight suggestion to produce a perfect performance. We know these are all seasoned pros, but given the quality of the final product (which was only okay), we don’t believe for a second that this production was so smoothly and effortlessly produced.
Call it formulaic if you want to, but there are certain narrative markers, tropes or elements that come with every season of Drag Race: rivalries, threatened self esteem, agendas, struggles, failures, and ultimately, growth. It’s the kind of reality show arc that tends to win Emmys when it’s conducted well. But there are no true rivalries among this squad of winners. No one here really thinks she doesn’t deserve to be here. None of them are dying for approval from the judges. None of them are afraid of failing and subsequently, there’s no growth to chart or observe. Every week, it’s “Here, do this thing,” followed by scenes of the queens doing exactly what’s asked of them, smoothly and without drama or fuss, followed by a judging session where everyone tries to find new ways of saying “You did that thing really well!”
Pretty much everyone did a great job in the final edit, with Jinkx and The Viv once again looking like the most polished actresses of the group. We thought Monet acquitted herself well with the “cool teacher” bit and Shea actually did an amazing job with a mostly thankless part. We tend to think Yvie, Trinity and Raja were fairly limited in their approaches and results, but none of them were bad. We can believe that all of these queens are experienced enough to pull of a fairly meh, fairly typical Drag Race sketch full of the usual half-century-old pop culture references without too many problems, but the production seems determined to ensure that none of them ever look bad in any way at any time. Which is fine. There are all sorts of ways to produce a reality television show, but we don’t think this “everyone’s a winner” approach is pushing any of the queens to do anything interesting.
The runway category was knitwear-based and the results were surprisingly fun and varied. The Viv’s ballgown was elegant and luxurious, but looked insanely heavy. Shea’s fantasy Ndebele princess look wasn’t just gorgeously creative, but really well-made. Yvie’s shaggy jumpsuit was weirdly gorgeous in a very Yvie way. Jinkx’s Dietrich homage was gorgeous, but it felt like a stale interpretation next to some of these other girls. We think it’s hilarious that Trinity associated covering her ass (which she noted was not really her thing) with having a short, kicky wig. Monet’s puffer jacket and high waisted shorts were fabulous. Jaida’s homage to The Big Comfy Couch was really cute. Raja looked stunning, as per the usual, but you will never get this girl in a corset or padding.
We wouldn’t have put Raja in the top, but we suppose constantly pitting Jinkx and The Viv against each other would get stale. We’ll say this: Raja really took the moment and ran with it. It was a pretty great showdown overall, but she really figured out how to keep all eyes on her through the whole thing.
Raja gave the plunger to the only real choice, since everyone made a point of her 3-star status at the top of the episode. We suspect the plunger is now fully a strategic tool and less of a payback one, now that the “competition” (and yes, we use that word very lightly) is coming down to the wire.
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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