It would be easy for me to blame a lot of what I dislike about this season of Drag Race on the show’s move from Logo to VH1. But having little to absolutely zero knowledge of how this shift affected production — the show is still produced by World of Wonder, after all — I can’t say definitively that the rushed pacing, scaled-down challenges, and seemingly flat casting all fall at the feet of one of our country’s most-celebrated music-video aggregates. But the thing is, I have to direct my hurt and confusion somewhere. Not to alienate anyone reading, but straight people make a frequent habit of ruining my life, so if the shoe fits …
There was just something so comforting about having the show nestled away at Logo, a network that over the last several years has become a vehicle whose sole purpose is to serve this show and its former contestants. With all its modest success on that network, can you blame Viacom for wanting to introduce Drag Race to a wider audience? Not really. But allow me to place a chic lil’ tinfoil pillbox hat atop my head and tell you: Something ain’t right here, and I bet the straights are to blame.
Even this episode — a steadier entry than last week’s wonky mess — with the return of the mini-challenges and the first appearance of this season’s Pit Crew, feels like I’m spending time with a loved one who was replaced with an android copy that just barely passes the RuPaul Turing test. Everything is in place and the elements are all there, but something feels off.
Of course, and I hate to keep harping on this, but this season’s biggest hurdle is time. Although I’m happy to see the girls forced to don “quick drag” once again, we rush through their selfies so quickly you’d be hard pressed to come away with impressions of any of them. I want to see those girls as messy as possible as many times as possible. Do not rob me of the few simple pleasures in my life, VH1, I have nothing.
Alexis Michelle’s lack of success is something the New York queen notes herself at the top of the episode, signaling of course that she’ll be winning something in — oh, look at that, almost immediately after she says it’s time in her confessional. I’m sure most of us are wired into the various rhythms of reality-show editing at this point, so it’s hard not to telegraph this kind of stuff, but a little subtlety would be a kindness. Alexis has been a pretty big snooze for me in this competition, and how or why she won the mini-challenge is never really explained, but the mini-challenges are all centered around the various whims of RuPaul herself, so why question it, I’m onboard. The win is a big one, however, as it gives Alexis the task of casting this week’s challenge: a Hamilton-inspired take on the life and times of the all-consuming Kardashian family.
As pop culturally ubiquitous both Hamilton and the Kardashians are, I’m floored that we haven’t seen either used as the framing device for a challenge yet, and I’m happy to be rid of both of them in what turns out to be a pretty fun lip-sync extravaganza.
With casting power in her hands alone, it doesn’t feel like Alexis is really trying to mess with anyone or throw any major curve balls. Casting herself as momager Kris Jenner is the smartest thing she’s ever done, finally giving herself the space to flaunt that theater background she’s been talking up. Sure, casting Shea as Blac Chyna seems like she handed her the eventual win, but as with most of these lip-sync group numbers, there are a few roles built to be standouts and the rest are what you make of them. Which is what makes Nina’s reaction so baffling to me.
This is not a team challenge, let’s remind ourselves of this before delving deep. Trinity was accused during much of last week’s Untucked of being one for delegating out the roles to those she saw fit — a fair criticism up to a point. But this is different. Alexis doesn’t owe anyone a damn thing here. In fact, a good player is going to hand out roles to those who she thinks will struggle with them, something I think she did for a couple of these girls, but certainly not Nina. It’s tough to say that anyone has really risen to the level of front-runner yet (aside from possibly Valentina, who didn’t spent too much time on camera this week), but Nina certainly ranks up there based on her earlier performances. She’s managed to stay out of the bottom until her attitude, not her role, lands her there this week.
All of her distrust and shade toward the other girls would make more sense if we’d seen anyone mistreating her in the competition, but unless VH1 is hiding that footage away (not something reality-show producers are wont to do), her victim complex just makes her look petty and immature. (Her comments about Shea and Sasha at the top of the episode are especially head scratching this early in the game.) Alexis bestowing her with the role of Khloe is enough for Nina to say she shouldn’t trust these girls, and it’s like — yeah, no shit, Nina. You’re on a competition reality show, not, as it is uttered constantly without end every season, “RuPaul’s Best Friend Race.”
It’s not even as though Khloe is a total deadweight role, either. You wanted the character with body, babe? Well, let me give you a little background about Khloe Kardashian. Was anyone else massively disappointed Nina didn’t bring some of the amazing padding work we’ve seen all season to the Marcia Brady of the Kardashian family? Khloe deserved better.
If anyone had a curve ball thrown their way, it was Peppermint, cast in true Hamilton fashion in the historically white Britney Spears role. I can’t quite make up my mind about these challenges. At times, it does seem like you’re basically at the mercy of the writing, but Peppermint takes what on its face is a very sleepy character and gives us all the right Britney notes. On the other hand, is there anything especially noteworthy about someone like Kylie Jenner that a better queen than Farrah could have made pop? I mean, sure. But after watching Katya’s performance as Princess Di in All Stars’ “Bad Bitches of Herstory” suggests to me that sometimes a snooze is a snooze, regardless of how funny the queen is.
Which brings me to the million-dollar question: Who wrote this thing? Was it a Todrick Hall original or is Lucian Piane still on the payroll, working with some of L.A.’s finest voice actors to create dog operas, despite his recent Twitter spiral? It’s unclear, and Todrick was fine.
Before we move onto the runway, we’re given another seemingly hamfisted Very Special Moment in the workroom, this time surrounding the various eating disorders the girls struggle with. I have the utmost respect for anyone who’s struggling with an eating disorder and we definitely don’t see it spoken about as an issue men face, but something about the way Drag Race frames these moments rubs me the wrong way. We’ve certainly seen our fair share of personal drama seep its way into the workroom at times, but it’s always felt well-developed and connected to what’s going on in the competition. (Trinity K Bonet revealing her HIV status or Chi Chi Devayne’s economic troubles were both connected to their struggle in the competition, not just brought up out of the blue.) This feels right on the edge of emotional manipulation of both the contestants and the audience, and I’m not sure I appreciate it.
Okay, on to those looks!
Peppermint: Frenchie with the bad skirt.
Trinity: This is a slightly elevated version of Kimora’s dirty ugg send off look.
Sasha: Speaking of Katya! This is fun, but Sasha is so boy hot it’s hard when she doesn’t push the fish.
Alexis: Recently divorced Upper East Side Mom out on the town.
Cynthia: Liked it pre-reveal more. She loves this silhouette and I definitely do not.
Nina: It’s nice, but there’s no real wow here. Fur seems so open, any of them could have done anything?
Aja: Hate to say it, but this looks like a worse version of Valentina’s ice princess.
Valentina: This is more about the snakeskin than the fur for me, but very pretty, yes.
Farrah: Coasting on pretty.
Shea: Finally giving us some banjee after a couple weeks of bougie. My only qualm is it is very similar to her entrance look.
Eureka: This looks like Kennedy Davenport’s zombie-fire-chicken thing from season seven, but maybe not as hard to look at.
And so Farrah finally sees the bottom two. She is joined there by Cynthia, whose inability to learn the correct words (a comedic boon for her last week) sets her up to lip sync again. They both flatly shimmy their way through a Meghan Trainor deep-cut, and I honestly thought we were being set up for another double elimination — stripping down to her underwear didn’t help Laila McQueen, after all — when a producer conspicuously approaches the judges’ podium and the real twist is revealed: What we all thought would be Eureka’s make-it-work moment with her crutches is actually a torn ACL, and she’s being forced to leave the competition (with an open invitation to return for season 10).
This is disappointing on a lot of fronts. Eureka was one of the few queens who showed tons of promise this season (even if her personality was a bit rough around the edges), while the duo in the bottom this week are the very definition of cannon fodder. Seeing them both move on is tough for me as a lover of quality TV. Ultimately, it’s the responsible thing for Eureka and the show to do, but in doing so we say good-bye to a strong performer (our last best chance for a big girl winner in season nine) and hello to a couple more weeks of cute clothes from Farrah Moan.