Is it too early in this season to have this much drama? Not just with the cast but with the judges, with the queen herself: is it too early? To this, I say never.
Granted, there are some flaws in the series that are crackling up that friends and readers alike have pointed out that I think we must discuss. Let’s get into it.
Spoilers, obviously. Proceed with caution.
9. Sending Someone Home Sucks
Here’s one thing I did not realize or even process last All Stars: how hard it is for a queen to send another queen home. This might speak to how heartless Alaska was in her season but this “twist” in the format is so good. Perhaps Ben was just courting drama or vulnerability but that opening “This is hard!!!!” bit was revealing in a way that did not happen last season. Well played, Drag Race.
8. The Perfect Challenges
How great are these challenges? First, the show is now on VH1: there should be VH1 skewering challenges at every turn. Making the week’s main challenge a VH1 Divas riff is pure genius and, for many reasons, I’d argue that this should be a new staple challenge, appearing in some form in every season. Then again, this is kind of, sort of backhanded Snatch Game. Second, the revamping formerly bad looks was very, very inspired and setup queens – Like Milk, like Shangela. – to bust or boom on their own accord. Well done.
7. Where Is Cher?
However, one critique with the Divas doling out: what the fuck with Thorgy’s Stevie Nicks assignment? Not that you can’t turn Stevie out (Which, have you know, I thought Thorgy did or, at least, did well enough.) but it was a very awkward assignment, one that stood out as unrelated in the lineup of true divas like Janet and Celine and Diana and more. This had me wondering where the fuck Cher was: why wasn’t Thorgy given Cher? Sure, that may not be Thorgy’s aesthetic or point of view, which the producers rightfully played into, but Cher is a big personality with a look that Thorgy could have bent into. Everything else about this challenge was so great but this was clearly an overstep. I hate to say it but Thorgy’s conspiracy theory inclinations were somewhat valid.
6. Well Played
The rehearsal for the Divas presentation was an exercise in brilliant reality theatrics. First, Shangela’s Mariah shtick was perfect. She did it to “get into character” but to also drive the other contestants (Ahem, Milk.) crazy – and it worked. Her theatrics paid off both for her own performance but as a moving of the pieces on the drag chess board. Thorgy was also quite smart to insert herself into the performance more which, again, highlights how there is a balance of power clearly off here: why wasn’t she in more background dancing? Why was Milk in so much? Sure, yes, OK: Milk may be a better dancer. But also: Milk pointed out that she was in all but one (I think?) of the performances and that she should have gotten credit for that. Clearly, the production, producers, etc. make a big deal out of queens being in support roles only for judges and judging to cherry pick meaning different from what was told to the queens. More on this later.
5. Decent Divas
The ultimate performance of the Divas show was great. There were some duds though: Milk as “Met Celine” was the most bizarre choice (I get it: recent fashion, sure, but she totally dropped the ball in conjuring the via drag queen.); Bebe underwhelmed in a way that Thorgy didn’t because, well, she actually did something except walk around but – Sure. – Bebe was better; and, sadly, Kennedy really bombed her lipsync and earned her spot at the bottom. Yet, the good ones were so good like Chi Chi and Aja and Shangela and Ben and, yes, Thorgy. Trixie was alone in the middle since, well, she played herself (literally). They conjured their people but also added a hint of themselves. Well played, well cast. I would have paid to have seen this show live, which is a feeling that these lipsync challenges rarely afford.
4. Run This Way
This runway was great too! I really have no complaints outside of Milk’s boring mom’s-night-out look, the train of Thorgy’s dress looking (whispers) a little cheap, and Chi Chi’s (whispers) cheap looking neon. Everyone else? Good enough. Fun. Well played. This was a challenge that could have sunk but most people offered wows.
3. Good Lip Service
I didn’t care for the fake pre-elimination workroom drama but I did very, very much enjoy the lipsync. Shangela and Ben both turned it out, Shangi going a very traditional, serviceable route while Ben turned her performance into a show. I thought Ben did a better job, really, but Shangi ended up taking the title. C’est la vie. It was a fun watch, a solid lipsync, one that sticks out in the mind after a long string of bleh from the last season. (No, Sasha’s final rosy performance doesn’t count. That was great. But, no, that didn’t mean she should have won her entire season. Still mad about that.)
Not over this yet: The judges docked Kennedy for her look when she was clearly dressed as Janet in the Busta Rhymes "What's It Gonna Be?" video while Milk turned "Celine Dion" into the mask from Scream. pic.twitter.com/RQfXODruc2
— Louis Virtel (@louisvirtel) February 3, 2018
2. The Milk & Kennedy & Bebe & Thorgy Problem
While the top two were arguably earned, the bottom was a mess. Thorgy was bad but, as noted, not that bad. In fact, she and Bebe both had very similar performances yet, strangely, Bebe was praised for doing the same exact thing – and almost less. This was aggravating and also highlighted a running theory that Bebe is actually a spy, something that I love. Still, it’s incredible to me that the producers allowed their seams to show, to let someone on the bottom and the top get criticized and praised for the same exact thing. That is an inherent flaw in the system. Also, Kennedy did deserve her bottom spot for her shoddy lipsync. That is undeniable. What is also undeniable is that Milk’s performance and runway were all over the fucking place too. Paired with her attitude – and the self-harping on her attitude – an opportunity for a twist of Milk getting placed on the bottom was totally dropped. This is a shame because, on Top Model, had Tyra heard a model talk back under their breath, that model would have been called back and scolded in front of everyone. Why didn’t that happen with Milk? Why was the Milk beat even given time for it ultimately to be a fucking nothingburger? This was the most frustrating part, that we were produced to hate Milk’s pompous ass as others sank. It was bratty to be bratty, catty to be catty: it was mean, both of the show and the performer in question. Regardless of what it’s “building toward,” that was a missed opportunity. Take Alaska’s meltdown from All Stars 2: that did pay off. You saw, clearly, the ramifications of that within the episode. Perhaps they’re trying to avoid a twist a la Eureka’s left-field bum leg elimination by building a story in advance but, still, Milk was mishandled here.
1. What The Hell Is Happening With The Judges?
The biggest takeaway of this episode is that we have lost faith in the judges, especially Ru. They’ve acquiesced their clout to production and really are failing at explaining or contextualizing why someone is good or bad, why someone won a lipsync or was placed in bottom two, and if things like being a support dancer and singer in the performance actually has meaning by defining the rules of the challenge and critique. This is frustrating at such a high level. We hear, from the contestants, that you have to be the best of the best of the best because the judges are splitting hairs yet this is only hearsay from contestants since the judges really aren’t judging on an elevated level but cherry picking likes and dislikes for a seasonal arc save for moments when someone clearly has sunk (Kennedy) or swam (Ben, Shangela). Mediocrity in a cast doesn’t suit them as mediocre (to good) performances exposes their inability to give nuanced critique. It’s as if these people and producers haven’t been in an art crit or writer’s workshop: they are flying blind and thusly are inadvertently revealing an agenda by being unable to articulate what is right or wrong with these queens. Whether these things build to anything (Bebe being a bottomless spy? Queens coming back? Milk being the villain?) is to be determined but, as my professors have told me and other students in my writing MFA program, “you might invite yourself to be more specific about the critique.” (That literally was a note I copied and pasted from an email a professor sent me but I changed the “writing” to “critique,” to apply this advice aptly.)
Not a bad episode! We’re just starting to see the strings and I am tired of seeing them.
Here’s the order of this week.
Thorgy Thor(Down six. I know everyone thought she was going to fade fast and “she did” but I still maintain this was a misstep of the show. Still, Thorgy is kind of brilliant in that she is an anti reality star, someone akin to Tammie Brown. She is so authentic and so genuinely weird and true to her art and craft that she will never fit in or succeed at this show. Also, the Thorgy in the eliminated not-Untucked BTS episode was who should have been on the show. That’s a person I want to hang with. ALSO ALSO!!!! Thorgy’s reaction to being eliminated might be the best response to the news in the history of the series.)
8. Milk (Up one, by formality. As someone noted on Twitter, time to pour this carton down the sink. It’s spoiled.)
7. Bebe Zahara Benet (Up one, by formality. She won’t win. She is a spy.)
6. Chi Chi (Maintained. I want this honey bb to succeed but her wardrobe and taste are just so bad. She has the charisma and nerve and talent – but doesn’t have the uniqueness of a good sartorial point of view.)
5. Trixie Mattel (Maintained. She isn’t going to win because she is exactly what you see and what we’re getting.)
4. Kennedy Davenport (Down two. Fix that lipsync, honey. You’re better than that.)
3. Aja (Up four. Aja is an example of how chaotic this show and cast is because everyone is going up and down and all over the place, untethered from expectations because what the fuck is going on. She is showing that she is indeed an all star, which is exciting. Also: she’s made a fan out of McDonald’s.)
2. Ben De La Creme (Up two. Like Aja, I didn’t expect this one to be a contender but, alas, here she is. I’m surprised they aren’t producing Ben to win this as a comeback from her not winning, post-Jinkx, because it would have been too same-same in a way that Alaska winning post-Sharon would have been too same-same. That’s clearly what’s happening here.)
1. Shangela (Maintained. She is a power player because she is a reality star underneath all that drag. Her taste in clothing will get the best of her. She only narrowly beats out Ben because she’s a smarter player.)
Your thoughts? This week was good but a tough one to form thoughts around.