RuPaul turned the production dial to the “Celebrity Roast Challenge” setting and wandered off set. That’s it. That’s the setup. Look, we love Drag Race and to our tremendous surprise, we still love recapping the show nearly 15 years (and one book) into it because you’ll never get us to shut up about drag. But the energy level of the host and by extension, the entire production, is in the basement this season.
With only four queens standing, now would be the time for a silly mini-challenge. Even if it’s just “do something stupid in quick drag.” Now would be the time for the Pit Crew to show up. Now would be the time for Ru to record a freaking video introduction, something that used to be a mainstay of the show but now only happens sporadically.
It just feels like the entire show is resting on the queens being interesting enough to carry it. There’s so little structure to it anymore. Ru announces the return of a challenge done a dozen or more times and then the bulk of the episode is spent in the Werk Room, watching the queens kiki and work. There have been a few golden seasons of Drag Race where the cast was so stacked with personalities and talent that a loose format like that can work, but, no shade against these girls, this just isn’t one of those seasons. It isn’t a coincidence that the vibes changed drastically – and for the better – when Katya showed up in the Werk Room just to fuck around and keep the queens on their toes. But even then, while it’s great to see Drag Race alums show up randomly, it tends to feel like a patch on a production that has no new ideas. Each new season of American Drag Race becomes more and more referential and insular. Here’s the same challenge a hundred other queens have done. Here’s the judge who’s going to coach you or be the subject of the challenge. Here’s a queen or two from other seasons. Click, click, click on the production dial. For more or less business reasons, we’re not recapping the various international versions of Drag Race anymore, but almost all of them prove that the concept still has life and energy. Sometimes, you wouldn’t know it if you’re only watching the U.S. versions. We’re just saying.
So the challenge was a celebrity roast of Carson. Alexis, having won the challenge last week, decided the order and placed herself as the opener. It wasn’t a terrible idea and she actually did okay for herself. Not fantastic, but not a disaster. The problem Alexis has as a performer is that she tries too hard to come off poised. She could have helped herself a lot this season by loosening up and getting a little sloppy and messy with her drag. Ru famously prefers funny messes over well-trained theater kid types.
Jessica is the straightup funniest queen left in the competition. Jimbo probably makes us laugh more because we tend to respond better to his surrealism, but Jessica has great timing and a quick wit. She can naturally get off jokes and insults without even trying and we were happy to see the format of a roast didn’t trip her up one bit. If Jimbo’s risk hadn’t paid off so beautifully, she could have easily taken this one. We think it was dumb to place her in the bottom. We loved her Charo-esque drag. She actually looks like a shticky Vegas comic; something none of the other queens attempted.
We get that a lot of viewers are inclined to dislike anything she does, but we thought Kandy was occasionally pretty funny. She tends to be at her best when she’s not relying on scripted comedy, which is why her “It’s a roast, bitch” response to the audience was the best part of her act. She was able to be a little looser and a little meaner than Alexis, which makes her a solid third place as far as we can see.
There were a lot of raised eyebrows over Jimbo’s choice to do a snatch during the roast, but in the end, it turned out to be brilliant. If she wasn’t such a good Joan impressionist and if she didn’t understand that doing Joan means way more than getting the vocal tics down, she could have fallen flat on her face. But she had the jokes to go with the look and she knew that she needed to get off roughly twice as many insults as anyone else on that stage in the time she had. Joan was rapid fire and she never let up. There was never an awkward pause in that woman’s sets and Jimbo understood that. She was hilarious; the perfect closer. So of course the show had to screw that up by bringing Thom Filicia out as his Celebrity Drag Race character in yet another self-referential Drag Race moment. Nothing against Thom, but there’s something very weird about making your contestants do all the work of performing a challenge and then try to upstage them by having a celebrity guest pop out and try to outdo them on the very same challenge.
In the grand tradition of Drag Race, the queen who did the worst in the challenge served up one of her best looks ever on the runway. The category was Snow Bunny, and while we wouldn’t call this the most interesting interpretation, Alexis looked fantastic.
Jessica also took things in a very literal direction. It’s not our favorite look of hers, but the coat is pretty great.
This is a joke and the judges sounded ridiculous trying to find ways to praise it. At some point, she’s just going to come out in a pair of tucking panties with a couple of Post-It notes on her tits.
Of course Jimbo took the brief in the most bizarre direction possible. We can’t say this screams “Snow bunny” to us, but it’s bizarrely beautiful, which is exactly what Jimbo should be serving right now. We have to be honest, we were relieved to see he didn’t step out in some big-titty snow bimbo look. The best thing about his drag as that he strives to be unexpected at all times.
That’s why he’s the frontrunner.
We had to laugh at this lip sync. Silky may be a lip sync assassin, but pitting her against Jimbo with “Freakazoid” felt like a setup. Silky was completely lost on that stage and Jimbo finally got matched up with the right song for his personality. Granted, he didn’t so much embrace the beat or the lyrics as he took the moment to be as unapologetically weird and, well, freakish as possible. You rarely see queens reuse old costumes on this show, especially the totally unforgettable ones, but busting out his little bologna sperm thing was as smart a move as deploying his Joan impersonation. The trick to Drag Race, if there is one at this point, is to find ways to use the format to your advantage. Jimbo knows when to be slick and he knows when to be stupid.
And so Alexis, despite her many alliances and promises and gamesmanship, finally got shown the door. She’s a very good drag queen, but she probably spent a bit too much time on strategy and not enough time on wowing the judges with her work.
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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