RuPaul’s Drag Race U.K.
Americans often mistakenly think that the U.K. is exactly like the U.S. but with funny accents and driving on the wrong side of the street. After all, we speak the same language, we all love Downton Abbey, we’ve spent the past week obsessing over the Meghan Markle interview, and we all can’t stand Piers Morgan. But if you ever needed proof that the two countries have very different cultures, then look no further than this episode of Ye Olde Men in Dresses brought to you by Weetabix. It is the most English thing possible other than saying, “I’m going to nip off to the loo,” and then running into another person as you try to enter the toilet at the same time and saying, “After you,” “No, after you,” “No, after you,” “No, after YOU,” and that just continues on for eternity until the chalk cliffs fall into the ocean and the whole isle sinks below the sea.
Just like Lucy, I have a lot of splainin’ to do with this delightful episode. But first we get a very familiar mini challenge, where all the queens have to pull a puppet out of a hole and do an impersonation of one of the other queens. Just one quick question: Do we think the selection is really as random as they make it out to be? After Lawrence Chaney spent the first ten minutes of the episode relitigating his argument against Ellie setting up the show order for the stand-up challenge, was there any way he wasn’t pulling Ellie’s puppet out of the hole? Do we think the producers just put one puppet behind the screen and the queens just get someone who is predetermined for them?
Most of the queens do a sufficient job taking the piss out of their competitors, except for Lawrence, who is just mad at Ellie and making fun of her in a way that doesn’t really capture her personality at all. But how can you capture something that can fit in a discarded bottle of Irn-Bru? (ZING!) Bimini is the funniest doing Lawrence, but as Lawrence points out, she has the biggest personality to mock, so maybe she deserves a bit of credit for being a giant target. Bimini wins, which means she gets to pick the roles for the parody of EastEnders the cast is going to do.
But wait, before we move onto that, we have to ask RuPaul a very important question: How is your head? No, I don’t want to hear “no complaints.” I want an actual answer, because there is something going on with her scalp. Last week she showed up in the werkroom in the world’s saddest pussycat wig. This week she’s wearing a tiny orange beanie on her head that was seconds away from falling onto the floor. This has to be covering up something. What is it? Eczema? A bad shave? Some irritated skin from all the wig glue? Inquiring minds want to know, because Ru hasn’t looked this bad since her Demonic Sleepover Guest costume from the season 12 reunion.
So the queens all have to star in BeastEnders, which is a parody of the Über-popular BBC soap EastEnders. But calling it a soap doesn’t really do it justice. It’s an English institution that has been on the air since 1985, and everyone has spent a spell watching the show, often in their younger years. It’s not quite a soap like we have in the U.S. Each episode is 30 minutes and it airs in the early evening, four nights a week, so even people with jobs can watch it. It’s set in the East End of London (hence the name), traditionally a working-class part of the city, and that is reflected both in the characters and their thick cockney accents. The action often revolves around the fictional Queen Vic pub, smartly satirized here as the Queen Dick, which is also something that Freddie Mercury’s boyfriend used to get. Hey-yo!
The skit repurposes tons of famous details from the show, including the lines “You ain’t my mother” and “I became a total slag,” both involving the character Kat Slater, who inspired Bimini’s character. You should know the iconic drum solo that ends each episode, particularly after the final cliffhanger, since it is employed liberally. Other than that, there just aren’t enough column inches to explain all the jokes about Mickey, Danny Dyer, and Sonia’s trumpet lesson. Sorry, Americans. You’re just going to have to face the fact that, for once, our culture isn’t the dominant force. Feels odd, doesn’t it? Yeah, that’s how the rest of the world feels every Super Bowl Sunday.
The filming of the skit looks a little bit strained. Lawrence, playing a character based on a man, plays the part like a gangster in a wig, which is funny, but she can’t remember any of her lines. Ellie says this lack of rhythm ruined her timing, but when we see the final product, it is astonishingly good. All of the queens delivered, and Lawrence and Ellie’s flubs aren’t apparent at all. I don’t know why the judges read them for how they behaved during filming as long as the end product is good. What, you don’t think soap stars sometimes need a little bit of a refresh on their script?
I was a huge fan of Tayce, not usually known for her non-lip-sync performances, but like a period that’s four days late, she shows up in the nick of time. I thought her joke of not blending in the breastplate she borrowed from Bimini so it was the same color as her skin was genius, and I wish the judges remarked on it. As for Bimini, she is good, but I don’t think she found her “light and shade,” as their Zoom mentor and EastEnders star Natalie Cassidy instructed the girls. But Bimini playing a blue-collar barmaid is still enough to give me tingles, even when she is screaming at the top of her lungs.
Between the filming and the runway, there’s an interlude where all of the contestants get letters from their mothers showing their support, and three out of the four mums mention how much their sons loved dressing up as girls when they were younger. So, yes, plenty of dads get the comfort of “not every boy who wears a fairy dress wants to grow up to be a drag queen,” but, um, well, the evidence may suggest otherwise. Good. The world needs more drag queens. How else are we going to keep the 74 different international editions of Drag Race running concurrently? I joke, but only because gays with supportive mothers make me cry every time, so I’m laughing through the very real tears that come with displays of support and acceptance, not only from our parents, but also from our peers.
On the runway, the category is “panto dame.” Ugh. How am I going to explain pantos? All right, panto is short for “pantomime,” and it’s children’s theater that is a retelling of fairy tales like Aladdin or Cinderella. But it’s also only around Christmastime for some reason. These days the more professional ones feature some sort of C-list TV personality. Imagine Valerie Bertinelli playing the Fairy Godmother.
Each of these productions has a “principal boy” who is played by a girl and a “panto dame” who is played by a man in drag. So for Cinderella, the boy would be Prince Charming and the dame would be not just the Evil Stepmother, but also her two daughters. There’s also a lot of what American audiences would refer to as “call and response.” So the villain will creep up behind the hero as he says, “Where is he?” and the audience will shout, “He’s behind you,” and then the hero will say, “Wait, I can’t hear you. Say it again!” And the audience will shout, “He’s behind you,” and this carries on into infinity or until one of the men nipping off to the loo eventually opens the door and enters. The “He’s behind you” on the knickers, well, that’s just something that Bimini and Lawrence both landed on coincidentally.
The idea of the panto dame being an older, less attractive woman is why Tayce gets read for her Fairy Godmother look. That part would be played by Candace Cameron Bure and she would find a way to get Jesus into the narrative. (Thank the Catholic Jesus they don’t do panto in the U.S. because it would be insufferable.) Tayce didn’t want to make herself look ugly so she picked something in the panto vein that would allow her to continue to look gorgeous. And look gorgeous she does. In fact, all of the outfits are stellar, from Lawrence as some kind of camp voodoo doll to Ellie Diamond, who looks like a lunatic Snow White. Still, I wanted her giant hoop skirt to go all the way down to the floor. Not every outfit needs a short skirt and big shoulders. At this point Trixie Mattel should sue for copyright infringement.
The judges love Bimini dressed as a little girl but acting like a little boy. Maybe I’m just too American to get it, but I just didn’t think it was that amazing. That said, with four wins, should we just give Bimini the crown now? She started out a dark horse but keeps getting better and better each week and I can’t wait to see what crazy-ass thing she does next.
Tayce and Ellie are the bottom two and, at this point, trying to say which of the girls is better than the other is sort of like choosing between Rush and Jungle Juice. Sure, there are slight differences, but it really just comes down to personal preference. Tayce and Ellie both slay the lip sync, which is “Last Thing on My Mind” by Steps. Sorry, I can’t translate any more English to American today. If you want to know about Steps, you’re going to have to Wikipedia that shit. Ellie is doing cartwheels into death drops, Tayce is doing a duck walk, there are reveals, there is vamping all over the floor. If this thing was a sandwich it would be so big you couldn’t fit it in your mouth. Luckily Ru saves them all, which shouldn’t be shocking considering the U.S. finale has had a final four for years now. I can only hope they do a lip-sync tournament, and I am dying to see which of these four very deserving queens takes home the crown. Hopefully next week I won’t have to explain anything to you.