‘RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars’ Recap: Sex and the Pity
Top four? more like flop four.
As I reflected on this week’s Sex and the City-themed episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars, I couldn’t help but wonder: in the city that never sleeps, how could I have snoozed through most of that episode? Why did this week’s Drag Race… give me sad face?
This week, the queens made like Charli XCX and went back to 1999 with an SATC acting challenge that saw Trinity triumph and Latrice sent home. This leaves us with a top four that is chock full of diversity…but are any of them Hall of Fame material?
The Drag Race Flop Four
Individually, all four queens in the top four are great, but this is not a top four that deserves a place in the Drag Race Hall of Fame as we know it. Chad, Alaska, and Trixie were all deserved winners of the comeback crown bestowed upon them, be it for genuinely “winning” their seasons or for their All Star status. Latrice, Manila, and (for the younger fans) Valentina had the impact and reach to join them. This top four are all loveable and talented queens, but none of them are what becomes a legend most.
No one was shocked when Trinity sent Latrice home. The fan fave turned up on-brand but not fully prepared to run the All Stars gauntlet, and people weren’t into Latrice’s new five Gs: Gowns Gowns Gowns Gowns and Gowns. Manila, however, turned up reading from the Alaska playbook and used her legacy as a bedrock on which she nailed it, hard, every week. But even that couldn’t keep her safe from elimination.
It all makes for compelling reality TV, but for me this is thinking episode-to-episode not season-to-season. If Naomi or Trinity simply ScoMo their way to power, we’ll have as much respect for them as we do our revolving door prime ministers.
With All Stars going annual, the Hall of Fame and the RPDR winner’s circle are both about to get pretty crowded. Ru may have trouble recalling the queens’ names, but the fans have long memories. It’s a shame to see the show’s success sacrifice some of the aspects that made it so special in the first place.
When it comes to the scripted comedy challenges on RPDR, I don’t think anyone is expecting layered, nuanced comedy. This is a TV show about drag queens after all and the comedy, like their faces, is painted with broad brush strokes. Over the years, the producers have sent the queens into space, to prison, ripped off telenovelas (complete with dodgy accents) and schlock horror movies, to name a few.
Sometimes these challenges are hilarious: the All Stars 2 “drag movie shequels” acting challenge hit the acrylic nail on the head. Then there are the clangers, none more reviled than Season Ten’s Breastworld challenge.
This week’s SATC parody challenge was no Breastworld, but it certainly was flat. It bore strong resemblance to the All Stars 3 top five challenge, in which the queens played characters from iconic female-lead films trapped in the same skit. As with the AS3, part of the problem is where this challenge is placed in the season.
This is the pre-finale episode that determines the top four. When the challenge is being handed a script, learning your lines, and turning up on time, the stakes simply aren’t high enough. This is the episode that often sees the queens throwing a ball and walking the runway in multiple outfits, or some other high-stakes challenge. Manila’s shock elimination last week already took the wind out this season’s sails, and this so-so challenge felt like a placeholder.
Speaking of placeholders, this week Monique was handed a win when she was cast as a loud over the top character who turns up and pushes her way into the narrative (no acting required). Naomi gave herself the SJP role but wasn’t quite up to the challenge, and it was a Big mistake.
Trinity was great as the Kim Cattrall/Samantha Jones character, and had all the best lines on her side. Latrice delivered her role like a professional despite being about as far from a white “unqualified lesbian” feminist as you can get, and Monet kept picking at the seams of her Miss Congeniality sash/shaw when she got bratty about Trinity playing the Kim role.
In the end, Trinity’s portrayal of a horny cougar and Monique’s performance as a minor character inexplicably still on our screens won the day, leaving the rest up for elimination.
You Got Me, Gallery: This Week’s Runway
Kitty Couture was the theme of the week, and I love me a camp, fun runway challenge. From the literal to the Latrice, let’s take a look at this week’s top cats.
Next week, we learn which of the top four queens makes it to the Drag Race Hall of Fame. As predicted, the Hall of Fame legends feature in the episode with a workroom and mainstage appearance. Will they get to determine who from the final four lip syncs for the crown? I for one am excited to see the three Hall of Famers in the same room and I can’t wait to see them school the younger queens.
See you next week, dolls!
Nic Holas has written for The Guardian, Sydney Morning Herald, Archer Magazine, and Hello Mr. You can find him on Twitter @nicheholas, or in his role as co-founder of HIV movement The Institute of Many.