Tuesday, April 23, 2013

“RuPaul’s Drag Race” Season 5: Courtroom drama

Posted By on Tue, Apr 23, 2013 at 12:34 AM

We were down to the big finale. Kind of.Sort of.If you accept the fact that we won’t find out the winner for two freaking weeks. I understand why the show changed its format after the Season 3 winner leak. I get why not crowning a queen until the reunion is critical in an age of social media (and the general gossipy nature of drag queens). But the show needs to tweak the way it presents its final challenge going forward, because watching the final three queens shoot a video that nobody will watch for a RuPaul song that’s literally two years old just isn’t all that exciting. We still had plenty of drama this episode thanks mostly to one finalist’s continued meltdown. But knowing that no winner would be chosen, or that any of the finalists would be eliminated, gave this episode a bit of a feeling of treading water.

As mentioned, the Final 3 -- Alaska, Jinkx Monsoon, and Roxxxy Andrews -- had to shoot a video for RuPaul’s song “The Beginning,” film a comedic (at least for two-thirds of them) courtroom intro, have a heart-to-Tic Tac with Ru, and then present their closing arguments for the win to the judges. They got coaching on how to best plead their cases from “mega lawyer” Gloria Allred and ultimately had to perform a three-way lipsynch.

The real story of the episode was the implosion of Roxxxy Andrews. Roxxxy has been getting the villain edit since Coco Montrese was eliminated a few weeks back. That’s standard operating procedure for a reality show -- the audience must always have someone to hate. I never found Roxxxy to be nearly as offensive as last season’s designated bitch, Phi Phi O’Hara, but the anti-Roxxxy vitriol has been ramping up online for the past few weeks. It’s disconcerting, especially since most people seem to be slamming Roxxxy for her perceived bullying of Jinkx. And of course most of those critics are, well, bullying Roxxxy.

I’m not trying to give Ms. Andrews a pass here. She herself has posted on social media multiple times taking responsibility for her increasingly negative comments, explaining that some of it had to do with out-of-context editing, some of it was caused by being completely exhausted by the end of the competition, and some of it was her lashing out because she knew that Jinkx was extremely stiff competition. So Roxxxy even acknowledges that her behavior was offputting in these last few episodes.

That continued in this sort-of finale, as Roxxxy insulted Jinkx on several occasions, threw side-eye at the “comedy queens” for their inability to do choreography (and hairography and, hilariously, “chiffonography”) for their music video, and then totally lost her shit when she was overshadowed in the courtroom acting sequence. After getting criticized by video director Mathu Anderson -- who looks like he is auditioning for a spot on "Duck Dynasty" -- Roxxxy launched into a workroom tirade about how Jinkx and Alaska turned the courtroom scenes into a joke, and how not everything has to be funny. Roxxxy is a professional! She takes drag very seriously! And she doesn’t appreciate those two hacks making fun of her artform!

This is the part where a rational person would point out that Roxxxy is a man who gets paid to put on clothes and make-up and pretend to be a woman. In the words of modern-day philosopher Alyssa Edwards: “It’s not personal. It’s drag.”

Ultimately Roxxxy performed best in the music video (what we saw of it, at least) and looked the most glamorous on the runway. Jinkx was a standout in the acting portion and quite endearing in the sit-down with Ru. (Jinkx apparently had an epiphany about the fact that her drag persona is a middle-aged lady is likely linked to the troubled relationship Jerrick had with his mother growing up).

But it was Alaska who I think quietly stole the show. She was an awkward mess in the dancing parts of the video, but she was really funny in the acting scenes. Beyond that, she amped up her usual trashed-celebutant look for the runway, delivered an impassioned final speech (I could have done without her trashing her competitors in it, but as Ru herself pointed out, that was part of the assignment -- and only Alaska did it), and I think she won the lip synch as well. Roxxxy weirdly gravitated toward the back of the stage, and Jinkx was solid. But Alaska really threw herself into it. I was impressed.

As predicted Ru did not make her final decision. That will wait until the reunion, and she asked viewers to vote for their pick on the “Drag Race” Facebook page, Twitter, and all manner of social media. Clever girl, that Ru.

I still see this as a two-horse race. Roxxxy has her supporters, and is a very polished queen. But I just don’t see her having any real shot after the exceedingly negative portrait painted of her the past few weeks. She’s tried to handle it as graciously as possible, but at this point I don’t see how she can recover enough before the reunion. Beyond that, I don’t think her performance over the course of the season could justify a win. She was strong in the beginning, faltered in the middle, and came back strong toward the end. Her strengths are her beauty and polish, and she’s a fairly decent performer, even in areas where she wouldn’t normally excel. Her attitude is a real problem, and I have a hard time believing that Ru -- who is obviously well aware of the backstage stuff at this point --would reward that kind of negativity. (I am also incredulous that Roxxxy and the show are pushing the “big girl” angle at this late date. Roxxxy could barely qualify as plus-sized when the show started, and I think she LOST weight during filming.)

That leaves just Jinkx and Alaska. Jinkx has gotten the underdog edit ever since she first stood out in the Snatch Game. Some of the other queens have taken issue with that edit, saying that Jinkx was not nearly the victim she was portrayed as on the show, and I would argue that the pity-poor-Jinkx edit has actually lost her some potential fans. But there’s no question that she is a very strong performer, a seasoned actor, singer, and comedian. She’s smart and has a real point of view. And she has grown tremendously over the course of the competition, especially in her visual presentation. But is her drag too limited? Does she rely too much on schtick to really break through into the mainstream?

Alaska came in with everything seemingly stacked against her. Like Detox, she was a known entity with huge expectations to meet (unlike Detox, Alaska actually met them). And she was repeatedly, and unfairly, compared to her partner, S4 winner Sharon Needles. But she got an interesting edit, the Little Drag Engine that Could. After an uninspiring start (remember her giving up in the first-episode photo challenge?) she started gaining traction, wisely detached herself from Rolaskatox, and repeatedly impressed with her razor-sharp wit and ability to adapt to whatever the challenge required. It's no fluke that she never appeared in the Bottom 2. She also managed to stay out of the drama almost completely, which was no easy feat with this bunch of bitches. Alaska’s weakness is that she still seems plagued by self doubt, and she also seems the type to wait for the spotlight to fall on her rather than snatch it outright. That’s not going to serve her well in her post-show career, win or lose.

What do you think? Who will be named America’s Next Drag Superstar in two weeks? Did you vote?

Next week: the season recap, with more flapping drag-queen wang, this week’s unaired “Untucked,” and the debut of that video that, seriously, nobody is going to watch. Sorry, Ru! You need to put out new music, dear.

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