RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars
Folks, I know it’s Oscar season and we’re all obviously talking about Bohemian Rhapsody (wait, what!?), but we should definitely not get too used to rewarding any one performance this season with Manila Luzon pulling off what she has been in the last two weeks of All Stars 4. The histrionics, hon. The drama queen is jumping out.
I understand that Latrice is Manila’s girl, her ride-or-die, her bestie, but the funniest part about this comedy episode may come in its opening minutes, when Manila is so destroyed by the fact that she couldn’t save Latrice Royale from elimination that she has to remove her wig and cry in every corner of the workroom. I guess I get it; shit’s getting real. This is usually my favorite part of any reality competition show, the top six, as I feel like we still have a lot of fun competitors to watch, but we’ve sat with them enough to know them all well. We have Trinity, the statistical frontrunner; Naomi, the dark horse; Monique, the wild card; Manila, the veteran; Monét, the comeback kid; and Valentina, the … Valentina. This is the week I’ve been waiting for all season, the one where they do something interesting with the workroom mirror, so let’s get into it.
This week we are roasting the iconic best friend of RuPaul, legendary drag queen Lady Bunny, at her fake funeral. This season has really been putting a hat on a hat with all of its challenges, but I feel pretty positive that these girls will be able to rise above the fact that it’s hard enough to roast someone, let alone roast someone in the context of a funeral. These are funny, smart ladies who should be able to string together enough decent jokes about Lady Bunny being a big old whore to make this enjoyable. Roooiiiighht?
Wrong. Sometimes I forget how much it shakes performers who don’t literally call themselves “comedians” when they hear they have to “do comedy.” Something about being asked to be funny on purpose in a setting like this is terrifying for select people, despite this challenge really not being too different from anything we’ve seen in recent weeks. This season, like most All Stars seasons, has been heavy on performance challenges, which always exclusively exist in the world of “making RuPaul laugh,” i.e., comedy. But there’s a general nervousness in the room that saps most everyone of their instincts. Maybe everyone’s just that shook from Latrice’s dismissal? Regardless, it’s a tough sit.
Monique Heart won last week’s episode, so she is given the opportunity to choose the order for the roast performances. Monét is pleased when told she is leading off the show (always a hard spot to occupy, so she must be feeling confident, at the very least) and Manila lets us know via confessional that the pressure is on her because she will be closing the roast. It’s pretty early for me to be rolling my eyes this much at Manila’s every comment on this episode, but here we are. Every performer knows it’s a gift to go last, and something about Manila here doesn’t feel genuine to me. I guess I just don’t buy that she doesn’t have confidence in herself. She’s Manila Luzon. She’s going to do well in the challenge. It’s not bad or even an inconvenience that she’s last. This woman loves the drama and will beat Glenn Close on February 24.
We are graced with a RuPaul walkthrough in this episode, maybe because she can sense the girls are in more trouble than you’d think. They all stop nervously chomping on the ends of their pens to take in some common sense from Ru, who knows Bunny better than anyone. Judging by what we see, it seems that Monét has a great grasp not only on how to tackle Lady Bunny, but on how to channel her own fun energy into the challenge. Monét is at her comedic best when she is able to primarily be herself, so this should be a good opportunity for her.
Valentina is a completely different story, as she basically tells RuPaul that she’s “absolutely not” a comedy queen and spends a majority of her prep time asking how she can get around not having any jokes in the challenge. Trinity, strangely, has a mental block when it comes to roasts. She didn’t do well at this challenge on her original season, and she seems to be in her head. “You’re giving a freakin’ eulogy to a dead whore, for crying out loud,” RuPaul states, trying to get everyone to take this shit less seriously. She doesn’t seem to get that from anyone except Manila, who cracks the host up with her firsthand knowledge of Lady Bunny.
Sensing the girls need some goddamn help, RuPaul sends them all over to be coached on their roasting by the impeccably styled and whip-smart guest judge Cecily Strong of Saturday Night Live. I, like Monét, “live for Miss Cecily,” and she really comes through for the competitors here with some helpful critiques. She encourages Monét, who’s obviously funny and dropped-in, to push herself to go for more unexpected and surprising jokes. Valentina, on the other hand, is pushed to have more jokes, in general, than the three she arrives with. Not that Val’s opening joke, “Lady Bunny is an inbred pig in a wig,” doesn’t get a laugh out of Cecily, but we should probably brainstorm less aggressive content to start out with.
Monique has the idea to play the character of a charismatic black preacher, which Cecily enjoys and approves of, and then Trinity arrives. She’s stuck, folks. The first joke she attempts is an approximately 45-minute-long journey to a punchline having to do with Lady Bunny being a boner-killer, I think. Cecily is perplexed by another one of the Tuck’s jokes about how Lady Bunny is so ugly that her parents … have gone vegetarian? There’s a ton of overthinking here, and unfortunately it doesn’t appear that Trinity gets to work on much with Cecily, as she isn’t even in a good place to workshop. I will be crossing my fingers and tucking my penis for her.
Naomi appears assured in her run-through with Cecily, and ordinarily I’d be really skeptical about Naomi Smalls in a challenge like this but, you know what? I am gonna give her the benefit of the doubt. This is the week I am going to stop doubting Naomi. She’s blown me away despite low expectations again and again, and she seems comfortable in her own sense of humor. Manila and Cecily have a gorgeous collaboration, as it’s clear there are jokes to actually work on here, which is more than we can say for others.
In the workroom before the challenge, Monét forgives Manila for almost sending her home after Ms. Luzon explains, in a less emotional setting, why exactly she chose Monét’s lipstick in the last episode instead of Latrice. I am not sure we exactly needed this explanation, but apparently the very forgiving Monét did, and it’s all roses heading forward. There will be no more drama on the show!
Serving you a whole metric ton of hair, RuPaul welcomes Michelle, Ross, “drop dead grar-geous” MVP of this episode Cecily, and actress Yvette Nicole Brown to the main stage for some roastin’. The real Lady Bunny lays “dead” in a casket onstage as the girls attempt to rip her to shreds, and we get off to an unsurprisingly good start with Monét X Change. She doesn’t kill, or slay, or demolish this challenge, but she definitely lands the prerequisite weight, age, and sex jokes you would expect, and with a lot of spirit. Trinity the Tuck … does not. And she knows it. It appears there is just a real block that exists in Trinity’s brain when she has to do rehearsed comedy. You’d think that Viagra joke from before would have been cut, but it’s somehow now hours longer than it was before, and delivered horribly. Manila suggests Trinity-as-Caitlyn Jenner should have just done the roast, and honestly? Doesn’t sound like such a bad idea right now.
Monique has a lot more fun with her character than she does with the actual roast jokes, but she is making everyone laugh, including RuPaul, and so we’re fulfilling the rubric in a way that makes me feel like Monique will be fine. She’s already not the worst, and Naomi’s performance ensures she will also not be the second-worst. Remember before, when I said I wasn’t going to second-guess Naomi? Should have second-guessed that. I’ll say this: either Naomi actually enjoys what she is doing up onstage or she is bombing the way you should bomb: joyfully! Bomb with a smile! Either way, this is Naomi’s first real weak moment in the competition and it will be hard for her to escape the bottom.
Valentina actually starts pretty strong, with some highly characterized Valentina-esque mourning over Bunny’s “dead” body, but it quickly becomes clear that there are still no real jokes in her set. However, watching Valentina fail gloriously feels more entertaining than the previous bad sets we’ve seen. The jokes aren’t good, but we are laughing. Valentina, in many ways, reminds me of Alyssa Edwards in that her personality might be so much that it’s always going to be enough. She insists on including a joke about Lady Bunny being actually roasted, like on a spit, and it’s so bizarre that you have to respect it. I’m not sure if a gag that involves taking off her glasses and revealing that her eye makeup is unfinished is supposed to be funny or not, but I do like it? That sums it up for me with Valentina. I’m confused, but I like it! I will never understand it … but I need it.
Manila is fully presentational with her roast, and she is, of course, a standout. She probably goes the hardest in the paint out of everyone after making an ICE joke at Valentina’s expense. It’s clear that the top two are Monét and Manila, depending on how the judges responded to Monique’s over-the-top character. Before we get to the judgment, we’re treated to a little impromptu roast from Lady Bunny herself, who suddenly shoots up from her casket with a “hallelloo!” Hallelloo, to me, is fine wine. And yes, that is what I remember from Bunny’s performance.
Runway category is “Angelic White,” and Monét is first up. It’s papal paradise, the train on this rivals that of Lady Diana, sort of, and it’s unquestionably the best Monét has ever looked. Her fully red contact lenses are an inspired touch, as they match the blood-red heart drawn onto the front of her bodysuit. I also really, really love her boots. Overall, this is clearly Monét’s week. Brava! This is exactly what every Monét X Change fan has waited for. This is elevated. Finally!
Trinity the Tuck also looks absolutely stunning with a Grecian take on the theme. She’s looking like a Goddess, and it’s just high drag. She, along with Naomi, for me, continues to be the runway queen of All Stars 4. Monique Heart also looks terrific in another, more literal interpretation of the theme, with references, she says, to Josephine Baker. Upon inspection, her outfit appears to be constructed mostly out of blinds straight from the window, henny. I see it, and I appreciate it, as well as her beautiful headpiece. I really love anything that allows Monique to draw attention to her face, which is really so alive at all times. Well done.
Naomi, true to form, absolutely nails her runway this week with an allusion to Prince, complete with a purple guitar and that iconic, unmistakable Prince swagger. She’s really embodying the icon here, and it’s a standout, maybe even of the series. This might save her from the bottom, to be honest. Naomi may be the Drag Queen Formerly Known As Worried That She Might Be in the Bottom. I’m sorry, I’ve absorbed a lot of bad jokes watching this episode. The fuck do you want from me?
Valentina is covered in silk, ostrich plumes, and crystal knots in her runway offering, and it definitely stands out as something we haven’t seen before. She, again, is one of the most stunning drag queens to ever grace this runway. Her eyes are now done, and they’re magnetic. Finally, Manila gives us a vibe similar to Trinity’s. They could both appear ornamentally on the top of the same cathedral. This reads as a little gaudy and costume-y for me, and I personally prefer the other runways. She’ll be fine, however, having been so strong in the challenge. This will be a major toss-up! Everyone was only fine in the challenge and the runway was largely a gag.
Monét breezes through critiques, as she had by far the most jokes of any of the competitors and, for the very first time, she earns a ton of praise from Michelle for her runway. RuPaul uncharacteristically goes out of her way to praise Trinity’s runway as “the top level of drag” (I, for one, think Trinity is one of Ru’s favorites), but she can’t escape rightful criticism of her awful performance in the roast. Monique’s character is appreciated by the judges for the most part, though Michelle says that more of the jokes could have been heard and enjoyed had the performance been more even and measured. Naomi’s Prince allusion is beloved by the judges, but she’s ready to hear it when the judges lay into her boring performance in the roast. Valentina is beautiful and weird, notes Cecily, and I agree with her when she claims that no matter what goes down, it’s just fun to watch. She’s told she’s likable, but didn’t do the assignment. Does it matter? I guess we’ll see. Manila is praised all-around this week, which is pretty par for the course for her. In the end, our closer and opener are the top two of the week, and everyone else is in the bottom. Any of the remaining four competitors could be eliminated. Woof.
It’s difficult to say how this will go, and the discussion of “report cards” isn’t making it more clear. Every vulnerable girl has been great thus far, and the weakest performers in this particular challenge, Naomi and Trinity, shouldn’t go home, right? They’ve been too good. If it were me, I’d think it was Valentina’s time to go, but it’s a difficult call because then we don’t have Valentina! Oh my God, now I’m crying all over my room. This really is hard!
We’ve had some strong lip-syncs this season, and this week’s makes a run for Best of the Year. The song is “Jump to It” by Aretha Franklin and it is true, pure, unfiltered fun. Watching it, you almost forget that Manila and Monét are competing. They are having a blast with Aretha’s melismas and vocal choices throughout the number, they are collaborating with each other, it’s just joyful. I don’t know how Ru will make a decision, and apparently neither does Ru because … she doesn’t! Both ladies win the lip-sync and split $10,000, deservedly. After a tense beat, Ru also reveals that no one will be going home tonight. Instead, she says, the girls are to head backstage to “await further instruction.”
Backstage the girls go, and it’s seconds before it’s revealed that the bitches … are back. Lady Bunny hilariously, and terrifyingly, pops up behind the two-way mirror to tell the remaining competitors to turn around, and there they are: Gia Gunn, Farrah Moan, Latrice Royale, and Jasmine Masters. This, dear reader, begs the question: who will return to not win this show? Stay the fuck tuned.
Said the Bitch! A Weekly Quote Roundup
Monét X Change: “Have you ever seen [Lady Bunny] out of drag? Category is: Ben Franklin fucked the Michelin Man.”
… Said the Bitch! Probably the best joke of the roast maxi-challenge. This was a great week for Monét, all things considered. Okay, bitch! Okay.