RuPaul’s Drag Race
What’s up, bitches? After two premiere episodes, all 13 queens are finally assembled for the season’s first acting challenge, social distancing be damned!
The first acting/comedy challenge is crucial in laying the groundwork for season long narratives, and establishing frontrunners. What do “RuCo’s Empire” (season 8) and “Good God Girl, Get Out” (season 11) have in common? You guessed it: they were both added to the Criterion Collection for their brilliant narrative structure and Oscar-worthy performances. Oh, AND the winners of those challenges (Bob TDQ and Yvie Oddly) went on to win their respective seasons. Who joins that esteemed group of beloved Drag superstars, you may ask? Well, therein lies the “Problem” (by Ariana Grande feat. Iggy Azalea).
At this point, we are all aware of Sherry Pie’s predatory behavior and sexual misconduct. VH1 is even airing a disclaimer card before and after every episode reminding us that she has been “disqualified” from the show. However, this week it became clear that the brass at World of Wonder have also determined that disqualifying Sherry Pie alone is not a sufficient course of action. As someone who recently watched Knives Out and purchased a lookalike Chris Evans cable-knit sweater, I ask that you indulge me in the following investigation:
I could tell something was awry in the first minutes of the show. Sherry’s name is mysteriously absent from the recap of the previous episode, and when the queens are introducing themselves, Sherry gets all of four frames of screen time and zero confessionals. My suspicions continued to mount throughout the episode as the quick cutaways and dubiously cropped frames accumulated. Sherry makes not one single comment when Widow says she’s her strongest competition, or when she’s the first picked queen for the maxi-challenge. The smoking gun came at the end of the episode when out of NOWHERE the judges announced that — after almost zero narrative build or screen time — Sherry Pie was the winner of this week’s challenge. All this leads me to one conclusion: it was the butler, with a kitchen knife, in the Absolut Interior Illusions Lounge! And the powers that be are attempting to edit Sherry Pie out of the season.
It seems they’ve decided the best way to handle the controversy is to minimize Sherry’s appearance. I certainly understand the logic, but how sustainable is this? If Sherry keeps winning challenges, which seems like a possibility, editing her out will get harder and harder as more queens are eliminated. Who knows? Maybe the last two episodes will just be 20 minutes of uncut Heidi N. Closet confessionals. But I digress! Thank you for indulging my Sherlock Homo fantasies, now let’s talk about how the queens I actually like do this week.
This season’s spin on the improv comedy challenge asks the queens to pick teams and audition for an America’s Got Talent/American Idol hybrid dubbed “World’s Worst.” After some light drama (Rock is picked last, Aiden pretends she doesn’t understand why Widow thinks she’s weak competition), the groups are formed.
In the first scene, Heidi, Jackie, and Gigi are the members of a musical, geriatric girl group. Despite Heidi being the captain, Jackie (the Del Close of drag) gives her team a crash course in Improv 101 and teaches them the meaning of “yes, and.” See you at Harold Night, girl! During their walkthrough, Ru continues to bully poor little Heidi, and explains exactly why he hates her name so much in meticulous phonetic detail. Despite this name-shaming, Heidi delivers a she-larious performance in the challenge. She stays true to herself (name aside), and further cements her position as an internet darling. Gigi and Jackie are excellent as well. Jackie anchors the group and deftly handles Ross’s improv, and Gigi delivers magnificent physical comedy that honestly gives me Amy Sedaris vibes. A compliment I do not give lightly! They are easily the funniest group, and in my not-so-humble opinion, they should have been the top three.
Aiden, Sherry, and Brita come in a solid second place. They portray “three girls with one brain,” a group of ladies pretending to be joined at the frontal lobe after being struck by lightning. (Fuck! Now I’ve got to rewrite my pilot!) The girls spin this premise into something approximating a Garth and Kat SNL sketch. Sherry is Fred Armisen, Brita is Kristen Wiig, and Aiden is also onstage. There are no big whiffs, or big laughs, and the girls admirably roll with the punches (or “slaps,” as it were) when Ross begins to improv with them. Bizarre re-editing choices aside, I’m still a little baffled when Sherry walks away with the win this week.
Crystal, Widow, and Nicki fare less well as adult, orphaned girl scouts who are here to sell nut butter. Yes, this is the same show that read Rock M. Sakura for making a fart joke last week! They do a passable job trying to salvage the subpar material their premise gives them. Widow is the clear standout of the group as the drunk Girl Scout with a barbecue sauce stain merit badge. Unfortunately, Crystal never enrolled in Jackie’s UCB 101 class, and flounders when tasked with improvising with Ross. Somehow, Nicki’s aloof Parisien sensibility doesn’t translate to sketch comedy, and she offers next to nothing in the scene.
Rock M. Sakura, Jan, Dahlia, and Jaida have the misfortune of being assigned the worst scene of the bunch. They play a group of straight women (or men?) masquerading as gay women (again, maybe men?) who dress up as produce and perform social justice-based knock-knock jokes, a story which David Lynch has just optioned for $2 million. In the Werkroom, Jaida and Rock spar over who will receive the coveted scene-stealing role of the Bad Apple, and Rock gets some truly RuPaulian advice: “You’re an interesting queen, and if there was ever a time to apply that, it’s in this challenge.” Whoa! Write that down! Ultimately, the scene’s incredibly straightforward premise doesn’t translate, making Team Jaida the weakest of the night. The girls do their best to hold it down, with the exception of Dahlia, who makes the brave choice to deliver all her broccoli puns in a Janet Jackson meets ASMR whisper and seals her fate in the Bottom Two.
On the mainstage, category is “buttons and bows.” I thought a lot of these looks were fantastic, and I’m thrilled to see the girls dominating the runway this season. Tens of thousands of dollars and stables of slender-fingered twinks went into creating and stoning these garments, and honey? It shows! I thought Jan, Rock M. Sakura, and Nicki Doll were particularly impressive.
The judges lavish praise on Heidi, who we have been rooting for all episode long, only to give the ultimate prize to Sherry, leaving us puzzled and with a painful case of narrative blue balls. They also want Crystal to come out of her shell, and stop hiding behind her makeup. I sincerely hope Crystal can internalize these critiques and deliver. She’s such a promising queen, and I really hope to see her make it far this season. The judges mercifully spare Crystal, as Nicki and Dahlia are left to lipsync for their lives. The lipsync is forgettable, but if you’re a fan of watching people walk back and forth for two to three minutes while occasionally squatting down, I’m sure you LOVED it. Ru decides it’s Dahlia’s time to go, leaving us with one less stunningly attractive queen next week.
This episode of Drag Race desperately asks us to forget about Sherry Pie. It focuses on introducing Crystal Methyd and Rock M. Sakura as loveable underdogs. It makes us fall in love with rising stars like the Artist Formerly Known as Heidi N. Closet. It also keeps bringing up Aiden for some reason. But the spectre of Sherry Pie’s win lingers over it all. It seems like Sherry is going to stick around for a while, and possibly win more challenges necessitating a $5,000 donation to the Trevor Project to offset her cash prize. With VH1’s apparent decision to edit out all story and justification for her success, this episode ultimately makes little narrative sense. Will this be the standard going forward? I hope not.
“It DO Take Nerve”
Quotes that left me mouth agape
• “If I have to lipsync, I feel like Crystal’s going home because I can already tell I’m a better performer than her. No shade… I’m not scared. Let’s just say that. Period.”’ —Dahlia Sin
God bless Dahlia for trying to make Untucked interesting. To the rest of the girls: stop uplifting each other! I’m bored!!
• “Get those nut butters away from my face.” —Ornacia/Vivacious
Let’s just say there’s a reason Vivacious went home on an acting challenge in season six.
• “Now my brother wants to do drag and bitch i don’t have time for it… this is my thing, not yours, bitch.” —Dahlia Sin
Okay wait there’s TWO Dahlia’s? They’re identical twins, both hot as fuck, and are in the beginning stages of a drag-based rivalry? VH1, I smell a spinoff.