Tuesday, March 12, 2013

"RuPaul's Drag Race" Season 5: No chickens safe at the roast

Posted By on Tue, Mar 12, 2013 at 4:00 AM

Earlier Monday night judge Michelle Visage Tweeted that this week's episode of “Drag Race” defines the season. I’m still trying to figure out exactly what she meant by that -- and whether it’s a good thing. Like every episode of Season 5 thus far, it was entertaining with great challenges and some memorable moments. But what’s interesting about this season is that I still have absolutely no idea who is going to win this thing. That’s exciting in one regard -- when it’s too obvious (Raja) it’s unsatisfying in the end. But it’s slightly worrisome, because while most of the remaining queens are all on the same level, none of them at this point are offering what I consider to be the full package that this show purportedly looks for in a winner. This week’s episode didn’t do much to change that opinion.

The mini-challenge was the annual opening of the Library, as the reading glasses were passed around and all the queens read each other. It was a totally solid segment and each contestant seemed to get in at least one or two decent digs at their competitors. Alaska won, and rightly so. She continued to be charming even as she insulted her compatriots with some biting comments.

The main challenge was the RuPaul roast, a variation on Season 3’s stand-up comedy challenge. Not only were the queens supposed to skewer RuPaul, they were also allowed to take aim at regular judges Visage and Santino Rice (who blessedly left his hat/scarf combo at home), the other competing queens, and guest judges Leslie Jordan (forever Beverly Leslie in my heart) and Jeffrey Moran, “Image Czar” for Absolut Vodka. I actually booed at the screen when Moran came on, because I find him such a humorless, insufferable presence whenever he makes his annual appearance on the show. But to my delight he was actually fine this time around. That may or may not be related to the fact that the editors used barely any footage of him.

The roast was good, with some pretty deep burns delivered by the queens. Here’s how they stacked up:

Coco Montrese ended up winning the challenge, and I wasn’t happy about it. Here’s the thing about Coco -- the editors have turned her into this season’s piñata. I’m sure she’s not nearly the whiny, eyeroll-inducing bummer that the show would have us believe. But at least some of that is true, because the footage exists. Coco was indeed funny during the roast, but she basically lifted Shangela’s entire shtick from the S3 stand-up challenge, and I also thought it was lazy to go for cheap ethnic stereotypes. I also thought she looked terrible on the runway tonight, which has become a recurring theme for Coco. I’m just done with her, and I was thrilled that the other queens told her and Alyssa to shut up when they started going into their pageant drama YET AGAIN on “Untucked.” That shit is tired, and it has nothing to do with Daylight Savings Time.

Jinkx Monsoon did quite well in the challenge, which was to be expected given the comedy chops she has exhibited thus far. The pleasant surprise was that Jinkx really brought it on the runway as well, with a very polished look and make-up that finally flattered her features. Jinkx had a few interesting developments this episode. First, she talked about her difficult upbringing and her guilt over feeling like she abandoned her younger siblings. Second, she multiple times got into it with the other queens, who think that Jinkx's self-deprecating/nervous tics are an act, and that Jinkx is playing the victim for sympathy. Coco, Alyssa, Roxxxy, and Detox all made comments that Jinkx is full of shit and knows that she’s a threat, but truthfully, I think they’re off the mark. Jinkx might be a good actress, but she reads as authentically self-conscious to me. Maybe I’m a sucker, but I think Jinkx lives in her head a lot, and sabotages herself quite a bit.

Alaska could be accused of doing the same thing, but she seems to be getting better about it. This was another good episode for Alaska. Her comedy was very strong -- witty and wry -- and she finally disentangled herself from the Rolaskatoxx clique because she realized she was being overshadowed, and she desperately needs to make an impression. (Alaska is now the only remaining contestant to have not won a challenge.) Alaska continues to get dinged for her one-note runway, and there is some truth to that. But as I said last week, I think Alaska is being held to a much higher standard in general than the other queens, and I do think it is related to Sharon’s success. That isn’t fair. The good news for Alaska is that her edit right now has her poised for a real breakout moment in the next few episodes. The bad news for Alaska is that if she doesn’t capitalize on it she’s never going to make the finals.

Detox, in my mind, is the queen who should be grilled by the judges right now. Every week I become increasingly bored and frustrated with her. How does someone with that much polish, that much experience, that many connections manage to fade into the background week after week? I am hard pressed to remember anything Detox did in either challenge this week, and the runway look was pretty forgettable, too. I can only recall her bitchy talking heads. It feels like she has been coasting since her win in Week 2. If not, and this is her really trying, she’s an enormous disappointment. At this point she is the second-most boring queen left. Your last name is Icunt and you are 80 percent recycable materials! How are you boring?!

Ivy Winters is, sadly, the most boring queen left. Or at least, that’s what the editors are having us believe. It’s entirely possible that there’s hours of entertaining Ivy footage on some cutting room floor somewhere. But I have a really hard time buying into that conspiracy theory. Ivy is cute, has great runway presentations (except this week), and has done very well to acceptable in pretty much every challenge. But there’s just no personality there. I don’t think Ivy was shown in a single talking-head this week, nor was she shown saying a thing on “Untucked.” She’s just there. She is easily the most superfluous queen left at this stage.

Alyssa Edwards had another interesting week. I will confess that I have a hard time fairly assessing Alyssa, because I find her so damned endearing. Even when she’s completely bombing or being a clueless goon in the workroom, I can’t help but root for her. And it’s funny, because I loathed her in the first few episodes of the season. Alyssa can throw some serious shade, but she is obviously not a comedy queen. Her quips were basically brass-knuckle swipes and there was really nothing funny, except for her borderline desperation in trying to land a zinger. Still, I root for her. She’s like your weird aunt who gets drunk on one wine cooler and takes off her top at the family Christmas party. You just want to give her a hug and take her out for lunch and gossip down to the Cracker Barrel.

Roxxxy Andrews joined Alyssa in the Bottom 2, and it was a really rough week for Roxxxy on multiple levels. I need to preface this by saying that I genuinely like Roxxxy, and I think that -- this week aside -- she has turned in some fan-fucking-tastic runway looks and has great energy. But this week she got completely demoralized by pre-challenge check-in with a panel of comedians and she was unable to recover, turning in what -- according to the edit we saw -- was a painfully bad comedy performance. That I can forgive, but what really soured me on Roxxxy was the “it’s not fair” excuse, saying that this challenge was clearly biased toward funny queens like Jinkx. Sure, and several of the glamour/costume-based challenges have been clearly biased toward someone with a killer wardrobe like you, Roxxxy. Her weird jealousy toward Jinkx in the workroom and “Untucked” also did nothing to endear her to anyone. Anyone with two brain cells to rub together (and as the show has pointed out numerous times, Roxxxy is not exactly the brightest queen in the court) can see that she’s intimidated by Jinkx, but the defensiveness is not cute. And lastly, her tearful breakdown after the lipsynch (more on that in a second) initially read as cheap emotionalism, but “Untucked” showed us that moment didn’t come out of nowhere. I honestly believe Roxxxy was feeling some very difficult emotions at that point, and my heart goes out to her for a traumatic upbringing. But I also hope we never, ever see her play that card again.

That’s because, following a vigorous lipsynch to Willow Smith’s “I Whip My Hair,” both Roxxxy AND Alyssa were told to stay. Given how strongly both queens fought to keep in the competition, I was fine with it. At first I was ready to discount Roxxxy as she took off her skirt and then removed her wig -- a huge drag no-no -- but that hot bitch had a second wig underneath! Amazing! After that she dominated the segment for the first half, but Alyssa came roaring back for the second. It was a good battle, and I didn’t want to lose either of them. So I am thrilled they’re both still around to give us hilarious reaction shots (Alyssa) and body-ody-ody (Roxxxy) for another week at least. (You know Ivy and Coco are going home before either of them, right?) My only question: does this mean we won’t get the annual returned-queen episode?

Next week: the marketing challenge, this time featuring signature fragrances; a guest appearance by living cautionary tale Joan Van Ark; Aubrey O’Day discusses the odor of your grandmother’s vagina.

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