Another episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race All-Stars that we’d put in the “pleasant enough” column, which is where nearly all of this season’s episodes ended up. The queens are all pros, all winners, never fidget, never fight and never get the slightest hint of criticism from the judges. We’ve always said that Drag Race was much more of a variety show than a real competition and that’s true in our eyes more than ever, but it seems to us that when you remove all the markings from a real competition, especially the inconvenience of criticism and the existential threat of elimination, you are left with a product that can never rise above mediocre quality. Over there. We SAY it.
We assumed the no-elimination rule would be suspended or revoked sometime mid-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 lax. There is only so much frustration that a queen can work because she doesn’t have enough trinkets pinned to their chest. But it has become clear to us that the lack of eliminations is just one of the problems dragging down this season.
We’ve danced around this observation for most of the season, sometimes on the side of defending the lack of eliminations, but there was something about the setup and follow-up of this challenge that really put the final nail in the box with regarding our hope that this format worked. The script was handed out, there was a moment when a couple of queens agreed to the same part, it was fixed and no one really cared because everyone here knows she can make a bad piece with just 3 lines singing to the judges like she must.
They got Janicza Bravo, director of Zola, to give the queens some guidance and she was actually really great for them, but apparently none of the queens even needed the input of an acclaimed film director. You haven’t seen one queen flutter a line, or ask for a second take, or get a cue wrong. Not once. Every queen, according to the editors here, sauntered on that clearing book, needing nothing more than a little suggestion to produce a perfect performance. We know these are all seasoned pros, but given the quality of the final product (which was nothing short of good), we don’t believe for a second that this production was produced so smoothly and effortlessly.
Call it formal if you like, but there are certain narrative traits, tropes, or elements that come with every season of Drag Race: rivalry, threatened self-confidence, agendas, struggles, failures, and ultimately growth. It’s the kind of reality show that tends to win Emmys when done right. But there is no real rivalry between this squad of winners. No one here really thinks she doesn’t deserve to be here. None of them die before the judges’ approval. None of them fear failure and then there is no growth to chart or observe. Every week it’s “Here, do this” followed by scenes of the queens doing exactly as asked of them, smoothly and without drama or fuss, followed by a jury session where everyone tries to find new ways to say “You did that thing very well!”
Pretty much everyone did a great job in the final cut, with Jinkx and The Viv once again looking like the most polished actresses of the group. We thought Money had pretty much cleared herself of the “cool teacher” part and Shea did a really great job with a largely thankless role. We tend to think that Yvie, Trinity and Raja were fairly limited in their approaches and results, but none of them were bad. We can believe that all these queens have enough experience to pull a decent meh, pretty typical Drag race sketch full of the usual half-century old pop culture references without too much trouble, but the production seems determined to make sure none of them ever look bad. Which is fine. There are all kinds of ways to produce a reality TV show, but we don’t think this “everyone is a winner” approach forces any of the queens to do anything interesting.
The runway category was based on knitwear and the results were surprisingly fun and varied. The Viv’s ball gown was elegant and luxurious, but looked insanely heavy. Shea’s fantasy Ndebele princess look was not only beautifully creative, but also really well made. Yvie’s shaggy jumpsuit was outrageously beautiful in a Yvie way. Jinkx’ Dietrich tribute was beautiful, 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 wasn’t really her thing) with having a short, sassy wig. Monet’s puffer jacket and high-waisted shorts were fantastic. Shea’s tribute to The Big Comfy Couch was really cute. Raja looked gorgeous, as usual, but you will never get this girl in a corset or padding.
We wouldn’t have put Raja in the top, but we guess Jinkx and The Viv going head-to-head would get stale. We will say this: Raja really took the moment and ran away with it. It was a pretty awesome showdown overall, but she really figured out how to keep all eyes on her throughout the whole thing.
Raja gave the plunger the only real choice as everyone at the top of the episode made a point of her 3-star status. We suspect that the plunger is now entirely a strategic tool and less of a payback model, as the “competition” (and yes, we use that word very lightly) comes to the fore.
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[Photo Credit: Paramount Plus via Tom and Lorenzo]