Tuesday, January 29, 2013

“RuPaul’s Drag Race” Season 5, Episode 1: It’s not personal, it’s drag

Posted by on Tue, Jan 29, 2013 at 12:52 AM

Having just finished the 90-minute Season 5 premiere, I’m even less convinced that “Drag Race All Stars” was a good idea. I’m not talking about the infuriating teams format or the oddly unexciting winner of the much-maligned short fall season. I’m talking about the fact that, with that mini-series ending just two months ago, I found tonight’s new full season premiere ultimately anticlimactic. Maybe I was looking forward to it too much. Maybe the format is getting tired. I don’t know. But the proceedings just felt “meh.” That is not, however, a reflection of the S5 queens, who I think on the whole show a LOT of potential.

As per usual for a season premiere, we got to know the new queens, they did a photo shoot in which they were put through some horrifying/embarrassment-baiting challenge (in this case, they were shot underwater), and then they had to create a runway look on the fly out of limited, unconventional materials. It’s been literally the same format for an opening episode for every season. Sure, there were moments that I laughed or gasped. A few of the photos and runway outfits were impressive. But on the whole it seemed rote, uninspired.

The vibe I’m getting from this season in general, however, is anything but dull. Last season was defined by a motherly/sisterly dynamic, thanks to busted baby queens like Dida, Jiggly, and Lashawn being guided by mommy queens like Chad and Latrice (the sucking pit of negativity that was Phi Phi was the notable exception). This season already feels a lot more cutthroat. These queens are not playing and they must have been filming on a lanai because shade was EVERYWHERE. There also seems to be an overall higher level of polish this time out.

On that note, a rundown of the 14 contestants vying for the tiara, along with my notes.

Roxxy Andrews: I’m torn on her. On the one hand, out of drag he’s easily the cutest boy. But in drag the make-up is washing her out. Roxxxy is curvy (she spoke about losing quite a bit of weight recently, but still being “juicy”) and knows how to work her body -- nice to see a bigger contestant with some confidence. She is apparently very kind to some of the girls, but seems like a bit of a shit-stirrer (see the “Alyssa copied everyone” argument, which was just silly). I expect she’ll go far, but my predisposition to liking her is already diminishing.

Alaska (aka Alaska Thvnderfvck): Alaska became a fan darling last season after making brief cameos with her partner, S4 winner Sharon Needles. As Alaska herself is keenly aware, her relationship with Sharon is potentially a big obstacle for her in this competition. She will always be compared to -- and in a way, competing against -- Sharon, which isn’t necessarily fair. Alaska did not make the best impression in the premiere, as she just plain gave up during the photo shoot and then flapped her wang all over the You Betta Work Room. But she redeemed herself on the runway with a great look. Thing is, even in a see-through plastic outfit, her personality wasn’t shining across. I’m seeing a lot of nerves, a lot of self-doubt already.

Ivy Winters: I came into tonight’s episode excited to see Ivy. She’s adorable out of drag. She is a costume designer who has created couture garments for S3’s Manila Luzon. And she can literally breath fire -- she has a background in the circus arts. Despite pulling together a perfectly fine dress and landing in the top -- which I disagreed with -- Ivy made almost zero impression this episode. Just a total nonentity.

LineyshaSparx: Our apparently required Puerto Rican contestant of the season (can anyone explain to me why we have at least one Puerto Rican queen literally every single year?), but one to watch. Lineysha was robbed of the win on the runway, turning wallpaper into a striking, couture garment. She also showed poise and a charming personality. I didn’t have much interest pre-show, but like that giant crest on her dress’s shoulder, I’m quickly becoming a fan.

Alyssa Edwards: One-half of our Stunt Queen pageant duo, I found myself immediately disliking Alyssa. Because, well, I’m just going to say it: Hagsville. There’s something about her, especially out of drag, that just seems unpleasant. A very negative vibe. In the premiere Alyssa quickly established herself as a first-class pot stirrer -- she was relentless in her prodding of Alaska -- but I wonder if she’s going to be able to take it when that boiling hot T gets thrown back in her face. And it is obviously coming. That said, she did have a couple good lines in “Untucked.”

Coco Montrese: The other half of the Stunt Queen duo. Alyssa and Coco were both part of the same pageant circuit, and apparently there was some scandal -- the show has not gone into it yet, but apparently it involves Alyssa being desashed in favor of Coco -- and the show intends to milk every drop of drama it can out of these two. They seem very willing to give it. I found myself gravitating to Team Coco, but at the same time she kept needling Alyssa and then acting all shocked when Alyssa would fire back. Additionally, if she thought that ugly cone-bra dress was anything close to couture, I have serious concerns about her styling and taste levels.

Detox (aka DetoxIcunt): Detox is part of Willam’s gang, and although she didn’t make quite the instant impression that Mr. Belli did last season (“I hope they don’t have diabetes”), she killed the photo shoot and performed capably in the mainstage challenge with her punked-out “Jem and the Holograms” look. I suspect there’s a lot more to Detox than what we’ve seen and she is one of my picks for the season.

Honey Mahogany: Miss Honey made the best entrance into the work room, in a giant afro that reminded me of RuPaul herself in the B52’s “Love Shack” video. She also did well in the photo shoot and I was stunned that she was merely safe on the mainstage -- her couture look was striking and regal, with some major 1920’s glamour. I need to see more of her personality, though.

Jinkx Monsoon:Jinkx was another pre-show favorite, and in the premiere we got a few brief glimpses of the screwball goofiness that I’m hoping she’ll bring to the competition. Her underwater photo shoot resulted in a hilarious shot (she herself likened it to a dead hooker in the Hudson), and I thought her outfit for the runway was cute and slightly unexpected. I need more from her, though. I did wonder if the narcolepsy thing was being played for laughs; I can see that backfiring for the show.

Monica Beverly Hillz: Oh, this one. Banji-girl realness. Not a compliment. Major breakdown by end of episode 1. Threatening to quit already. Tragic drug-addicted past. I feel like she’s throwing everything on the mat already, and none of it is really connecting with me. She’s not long for this competition, and it will probably be a mercy kill. She’s just not strong enough for this.

Vivienne Pinay: Didn’t make much of an impression, really. I thought her runway look was a total dud -- looked like a prom dress from DEB with some gauze stapled around the bottom. I was glad she gave Serena the business, but as of now she’s not particularly memorable.

Jade Jolie: Jade is our girly-girl of the season, totally capable of passing for biological female. At first I thought Jade was going to be all bubblegum and unicorns, but she’s got some claws to her. Once she realized she was in danger she went after Serena big time (mind you, Serena deserved it). Jade may appear young and chipper but I wouldn’t yank her weave, I’ll tell you that. I would, however, take that frock she created and burn it.

And then the Bottom 2 of the night, Serena ChaCha and Penny Tration. Penny won the fan vote to get on to this season (although I’m curious to know what happened with the drag persona of “American Idol” alum Danny Noriega, who was in the running at one point and seemed to be substantially in the lead when last I checked). Serena is young, full of herself, and a mess. The two of them were both tragic on the runway. Penny gave us Wynonna Judd in a wine bag. Serena looked, as coworker Mark put it, like a cracked-out Carrie Bradshaw in sparkly plastic leiderhosen. (Judge Santino Rice had an uncharacteristically good point when saying she looked like her head had been placed on an entirely different body.)

Penny’s fashion crimes were frankly not as great, and there were some that looked worse (Coco is lucky she is a drama engine, because that look would have gotten her stomped otherwise). But she also didn’t seem particularly into being there -- like she was just happy to be along for the ride. And it was a short one, as she half-heartedly meandered through the lyrics to “Party in the USA” by Miley Cyrus, and was summarily told to sashay away. Another big girl bites the dust on this show. Serena was lucky that she got such a young-skewing song, and also that she’s a dramatic mess. Producers love that shit. But she won’t last long. Genius in her own mind, and absolutely no capacity for dealing with negative criticism.

The preview for the rest of the season suggests a LOT of fighting -- like, more than I feel like we usually see. And of course plenty of breakdowns. It’s drag queens. That’s what we want. Next week someone reveals a terrible secret. Given what’s on the internet about several of them already, it could truly be almost anything.

So what did you think of the S5 premiere? Who is your favorite new queen?

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