Tuesday, May 20, 2014

“RuPaul’s Drag Race” Season 6 Reunion/Finale: And the winner is…

Posted By on Tue, May 20, 2014 at 12:57 AM

The good news: the right queen won!

The bad news: was it just me, or was basically every part of that reunion totally predictable?

It’s times like this where I sincerely feel for RuPaul and the “Drag Race” folks. They gave the fans basically everything they could want in that reunion episode. They crowned the right winner. We got to see all of our beloved queens. Several fan favorites got their “moments.” The Pit Crew came out dressed in tuxedo briefs and there were some dancers doing some extremely gay choreography (shout out to the ode to Ornacia, which was everything). And yet, I still found it somewhat unsatisfying.

I think it comes down to the format, which results in the whole thing feeling scripted. Almost every queen came off very pageant-ish in her answers, which is to say, as rehearsed and crowd-pleasing as possible. And that’s just not very exciting to watch. When you look back at the reunions for seasons 1 through 3, before the format changed to prevent spoilers from ruining the whole season, the reunited queens were quite candid, and there were some truly shocking moments (the RuPaul/Tammie Brown slapdown from S1 remains legendary).

I understand why the production company made the change. And the “live” (but not really) format allows the fans to have a say in who wins, and gives them a sense of participating in the proceedings. But there has to be a way to harness that energy and yet still encourage the queens to be themselves. Maybe everyone needs to get REALLY drunk ahead of time. I don’t know.

Anyway, all the Season 6 queens were back on the stage, and each one got a moment in the spotlight. I’ll go through each one, and provide my thoughts.

Kelly Mantle: Looked great, and was totally cool with going out first. She acknowledged that she went from preseason frontrunner to first boot, but it’s pretty clear that she doesn’t give a shit. She got what she wanted out of this: national exposure. She said her early ouster was the fault of not knowing how to sew, but six seasons in, that excuse really doesn’t cut it anymore. The split premiere may have screwed her over, but come ON, queens. I don’t care how famous you are before going on this show. Know how to sew a goddamned seam. (That said, I still like Kelly.)

Magnesium Cronut -- excuse me, Magnolia Crawford -- or possibly Engarde, that swordfish from the Donkey Kong Country games -- may have been booed by the crowd when she came out in her sensible “Golden Girls” ensemble. That seems a bit harsh. Along with Laganja, Mags was the butt of the joke this season, and I think she’s actually a lot more engaging than the show made her out to be. The YouTube video she made revealing the “truth” about her elimination was pretty funny. Anyway, at the reunion she made a terrible joke about her nose. She claimed that she didn’t watch the season, which I am…dubious about. Ru didn’t let her get away with it. Macaroni Catfish will never win.

Vivacious: Ornacia continues to be her big contribution to “Drag Race.” I bet Vivacious gets sick of talking about it, but seriously: Ornacia for Season 7. Let’s make it happen. Just strap that bitch to a skateboard and send her down the runway. Vi looked predictably ridiculous in a gold and red confection, and taught the children how to pound a runway. I like Vivacious, and bet she would be fun to see live.

April Carrion: Was absolutely robbed going home so soon, and I loved watching the looks she would have worn throughout the season, which she put out on social media. I wasn’t overly thrilled with the look tonight, which was certainly avant-garde, but it sacrificed beauty in the interest of, well, interest. At least it was eye catching and memorable. April said that she wasn’t disappointed going home so early, because she was never meant to win this season -- she was meant to win “All Stars 2.” Throw down that sequin-covered gauntlet, honey!

Gia Gunn: Say what you want about Gia, but that dragon lady dress she wore tonight was impressive. Gia predictably tried to play off her bitchy attitude on the show as “just keeping it real” and...snore. Nobody’s buying. Gia wants viewers to know that she’s a “humble, nice Asian girl.” In addition to Deloreans and black-and-white movies, I’m not sure Gia knows what the word “humble” means.

Milk: Milk gave us glamour at the reunion, which I appreciated for its thumb-biting (“See, I CAN do this”), but still missed seeing something truly cracked out coming out of her. (Nobody this year even came close to Detox’s noir look from last year, or Sharon’s Ouija board glamour, etc.). Milk talked about how she got all kinds of attention for how hot he is out of drag. True that, but is that all that Ru had to talk about with one of the most subversive queens to ever appear on this show? She wore facial hair in the first episode, for Divine’s sake.

LaganjaEstranja: Laganja was giving us Gary Oldman in “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” Realness, and was as fucking annoying as ever. It’s interesting to note that she was sincere and not irritating when talking about her drag mother, Alyssa Edwards. She just needs…so many seats, you guys. Laganja talked about how after the show, she put out a song, launched a jewelry line, and is involved in several other business enterprises. I don’t begrudge the queen success, but…really? Who is buying that? If she put out a line of pot-laced frozen lasagna entries, she could have all of my money, though.

Trinity K. Bonet: Trinity looked gorgeous; possibly the best dressed of all the S6 queens, with only Ben and Courtney giving her a run for her wig. During her interview with Ru, Trinity attributed her transformation on the show in part to Bianca, which was sweet to hear. She also spoke vaguely about being a role model for her community, and I felt that Trinity was selling herself short here. She came out of her shell so much throughout that season, and what I saw tonight was a bit of a backslide for her. Trinity: you are great. Please continue to be great! You don’t need to second guess yourself about anything.

Joslyn Fox: Joslyn became universally beloved thanks to her sweet personality and goofy sense of humor. I’m still a little baffled by how popular Joslyn became, because when you look at her performance across the season, she never once won a challenge, and only placed high a few times. But she is likable, no doubt about that. Joslyn said that she responded to the judges’ critiques by wearing even more accessories. I was chagrined that she didn’t show up wearing eight of her finest high-fashion bikinis. Later in the show, her VERY CUTE fiancée came up and asked Joslyn to marry him then and now. And ordained minister RuPaul did just that. The Scruff Pit Crew were the wedding party. It was sweet (and, again, kind of predictable).

Ben DeLaCreme: DeLa looked absolutely fantastic in a pink and gold giraffe-print outfit, and Ru immediately brought up the insane online reaction to Ben’s fifth-place dismissal. DeLa handled it all like a champ. A be-stilted Ivy Winters announced that Ben was this year’s Miss Congeniality (the prize: a $2500 gift card to Overstock.com -- am I wrong, or is that prize way lower than last year?). There was some controversy over this, since Joslyn was easily the frontrunner for Congeniality, until DeLa was eliminated…right before voting cut off. Conspiracy theorists have suggested that the show always wanted DeLa to win Congeniality, as a make-good for not making Final 3, and to better ensure her spot on “All Stars 2.” If DeLa wants on "AS2" i don't think she'd have any problems securing a spot, regardless of whether she won Congeniality.

Darienne Lake: Darienne looked really good, and Ru immediately discussed the “rivalry” between Ben and Darienne, which always seemed largely manufactured by the editors from my perspective. Ben and Darienne were totally sweet with one another and there were clearly no hard feelings there -- if there ever were at all. Ru showed footage of Darienne’s mother and father being supportive of Darienne, and more or less extending an olive branch to reconcile. I have no idea what the situation is between Darienne and her parents, but even though that was tres manipulative on the part of the show, I hope they work it out. I also hope the internet calms down on Darienne, because the negative comments have been out of control. The amount of vitriol, over basically nothing…people have problems. That’s all I’m saying.

Adore Delano: Adore looked polished at the reunion, but I found both of her outfits a little boring. Ru showed footage of a de-dragged Adore and Laganja watching the infamous “I Feel Very Attacked” episode of “Untucked,” and that entire sequence was even more awkward than the original fight. It was gross and exactly the kind of thing I DON’T want from this show. The upshot: Adore and Laganja are apparently friends again. Yay? Later, Adore said that Ru and the show made her feel like a more fully developed character, and I can completely believe that. Adore even admitted that she figured she would be going home by Episode 3. Early on, I thought that, too. It wasn’t until the musical episode that she showed us anything worth noticing, and even after that it was quite touch and go. Adore has an album coming out, and I’m so intrigued to see what she does as a pop star. She’s got tons of potential and serious natural ability. She just needs to get a few more years under her corset.

Bianca Del Rio: Bianca looked good -- loved the flower in the hair -- although I wish she’d given us a more eye-catching dress. She read Season 4 contestant Jiggly Caliente at a reader’s request, but honestly, it’s hard to find an easier target than Jiggly. Bianca discussed the nice-guy edit vs. her insult-comic persona. She did a hilarious bit talking about Lady Bunny’s encouragement to do the show. Bianca’s little friend Lola was in the audience, and she had a little poem for RuPaul. I wonder who wrote that.

Courtney Act: Courtney looked terrific tonight, and her second ensemble was giving me serious Jem and the Holograms glamour. I ate it up. Unfortunately, the hologram comparison was apt, because it seemed like Courtney wasn’t even really there for the vast majority of the show. I swear I don’t think she said a word prior to 11:17 p.m., within 15 minutes of the ending. Courtney talked about the fact that people had high expectations of her coming in, which added pressure to the competition. I bet that’s true. She also discussed how her blunt Australian sensibility maybe didn’t translate well on camera. (I think the editors helped with that.) Apparently Chaz Bono and Courtney have become good friends since the show, which is amusing given how Chaz lusted after Courtney as a guest judge. But hey, I am all for Courtney taking whatever boost she can get from this show, because I think she was treated fairly poorly by it for the last third of the season. She gave us some sickening looks, solid performances, and never once attacked anyone, and yet she’s still perceived as a “villain” by some. It makes absolutely no sense.

Once we got to the actual crowning, Season 5 winner Jinkx Monsoon came out looking great in Emerald City couture. In addition to the $100,000 prize, the winner of Season 6 received a crown and scepter presented by Fierce Drag Jewels. Can someone please compile a list of all the amazing businesses out there to dress drag queens? I am endlessly entertained by them.

And finally, Ru announced the winner: BIANCA DEL RIO! As it should be. They had taped four different endings, one each for Adore, Bianca, and Courtney, and a TIE between Bianca and Adore. And if that had happened, I would have been furious. Because I like all three of those queens very much, but you cannot argue that anyone had as strong a performance as Bianca. She has the best overall performance in “Drag Race” history. A tie would have been utter bullshit.

The funny thing is, Season 6 was stocked with strong queens. I argued before it even started that it could be anyone’s competition, and I think that’s true, given how far seemingly middle-tier queens like Joslyn and Trinity went, while shoulda-been-contenders like Kelly and Laganja went out fairly early. And yet, from the second she sashayed into that work room, Bianca Del Rio never missed a trick. She did well or amazing in every challenge, was funny and engaging, and navigated the social and fan aspects better than possibly any other queen before her. So was it a tight race? If you look at Bianca’s popularity on social media, especially going into the finale, not really. I don’t know if that’s a testament to the singular strength of Bianca Del Rio, or a condemnation of the show not fully showcasing such an amazing crop of talent. But there you have it.

So, that’s it for Season 6. Overall I would definitely consider it among the best seasons of the show thus far. What do you think? I was hoping for an “All Stars 2” announcement during the finale, and surprised we didn’t get it. A bunch of the queens (Porkchop, April, Willam, Milk, etc.) have been discussing it openly on social media. I imagine they have to be shooting it this summer/fall. It’s not Logo has anything else going on! Seriously, who is running that channel? Why are you not even attempting to launch any other programming now that the ONLY original series people watch is going off the air for seven months? Baffling...

Monday, May 19, 2014

“Game of Thrones” Season 4, Episode 7: Mockingbird

Posted By on Mon, May 19, 2014 at 12:37 AM

Watch that last step, Lysa gurl! It’s a doozy!

Lysa Arryn’s poorly planned physics experiment kicked off what should be a string of deaths over the next few episodes. I don’t think that’s spoiling anything -- people die on this show all the damned time. But by my count we should see at least five more fairly major characters die between now and season’s end. So that should give you something to look forward to in the two weeks before the next episode (no new episode on Memorial Day weekend).

Tons of plots to cover this episode. Let’s get right to it. Spoilers on.

-In King’s Landing, Tyrion tried to find a champion to fight on his behalf in his trial by combat. Cersei’s champion has been selected: The Mountain, played by a new actor who can barely speak English, but that is hardly the point. He is a wall of flesh and my tongue was hanging out for his entire shirtless scene in which he obliterated a whole group of randoms. Take me, Mountain! I am yours. As for Tyrion’s stand-in, Jaime’s out because he’s still useless as a one-handed combatant. Bronn declined after Cersei made him an offer he couldn’t refuse (more on that in a second). And just as Tyrion was making peace with meeting his end as a smear on The Mountain’s boot, Prince Oberyn Martell of Dorne offered up his services against Mr. Mountain, the better to get legally sanctioned revenge for the murder of his sister and her children years ago.

A few thoughts. First, once again, Peter Dinklage was acting the shit out of those scenes. The dynamic between him and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is so good that I hate how few scenes we’ve had between them. Second, I was curious how they would handle Bronn, because this is basically the last we see of Bronn in the books (the ones published thus far, at least). I hope that we don’t lose Bronn altogether, because I have truly enjoyed Jerome Flynn’s take on the character, and he’s very popular with viewers. Third, that sequence in which Oberyn recounts the first time he met Tyrion was, I believe, almost verbatim what was written in the books. But it was so much more affecting on the show. I adore Pedro Pascal and what he is bringing to this role.

-In the Riverlands, The Hound and Arya came upon a dying man who had been set upon by marauders. This was a fairly pointless sequence except it furthered the odd bond between the two main characters, and then provided an opportunity for them to be attacked by people seeking the bounty on The Hound’s head. The bit with Rorge was almost ridiculously silly, but I’ll admit that it did make me laugh. Rorge also called back to S2 Arya buddy Hot Pie, who made an unexpected appearance in the Brienne/Podrick plotline. My memory of the Brienne plot in the books is awfully fuzzy, but I recall that it meanders quite a bit, and that she continues to search for Sansa, not Arya, who Brienne honestly believes to be dead. So Hot Pie’s tipoff to Arya’s continued existence is a fairly big change from the book. So is Pod’s encouragement that they head to the Vale, which would be the logical place for anyone with either Stark girl to ransom them, given that Lady Lysa is their aunt. If the show is streamlining the Brienne plot, I would be conflicted. On the one hand, it is fairly extraneous to most of the major arcs. On the other, Brienne goes to some pretty far-flung locations which some interesting history, and I’ve read some fascinating theories on the significance of the sequence at the Whispers in particular.

-In Essos, Daenerys was asked by Daario Naharis to let him do what he does best: fight or fuck. After making him take off his clothes, she let him do both. (I’m making this more lascivious than it was, but we did get a nice butt shot, and I’m more glad than ever that they recast Daario.) The morning after, Dany dispatched Daario to take his crew to Yunkai and retake the city, murdering all of the former slave masters who have once again rebelled against her. Jorah Mormont, who totally knows that Dany broke off a piece of Daario, kept his Friend Zone frustration in check long enough to council her against murdering hundreds more people. Dany made a point of having Jorah tell Daario that Jorah had convinced her to change the plan. A few interesting changes in this situation. In the books, Dany is basically so strongly attracted to Daario that she cannot help but take him into her bed. I thought the way the show handled this was a better reflection of the Dany we’ve come to expect: she slept with Daario, but not out of blind lust. She did it because she felt like it, and she never lost control. It felt more mature and regal to me, and less teenaged girl incapable of saying no to a bad boy. (We have ALL been there, right ladies?) But I was surprised at how well Jorah took Dany sleeping with Daario. He was awfully clinical about the whole thing, whereas you would expect him to be consumed by jealousy. I guess it boils down to all of those characters behaving more like adults and less like pouty, hormone-riddled children. So I really shouldn’t complain.

-At The Wall, the current command of the Night’s Watch continued to be The Worst, dismissing Jon Snow’s suggestions to seal the tunnels beneath The Wall, which he said would be useless against an army that would feature honest-to-god giants. That’s really all that happened there, but it was important to remind viewers of that plot point, since next week will see the south-of-the-Wall wildlings attack Castle Black, and we literally haven’t seen them since like episode 2 or 3 this season.

-At Dragonstone, Melisandre and her nipples took a bath, while the never-not-creepy Queen Selyse came in for a frank chat. The two women talked about faith, tricks, and truth, and they both acknowledged that Selyse knows all about what’s going on between Mel and Stannis. The really interesting part of that scene was Selyse trying to get out of taking her daughter, Shireen, on whatever trip they’re all going on. (Did I miss the part where they said where they were heading? I mean, I know where they’re heading. But did the show say it?) Melisandre made it very clear to Selyse that Shireen has to come with them, because she will be called upon by the Lord of Light. There has been a lot of speculation on the part of book readers about Shireen’s role in the overarching story -- throughout the books that have been published she is a tertiary character, but there have been many hints that she will have a key role to play. There are a few prophecies in which she could fit, and her once-dead fool, Patchface, has raised eyebrows from his first appearance. This scene between Mel and Selyse, which never happened in the books, certainly feeds those fires, both literally and figuratively.

-Finally, in The Vale, Sansa spent some time with her weirdo cousin Robin, and slapped the little shit after he threw a fit. This was a very bad move, as it was seen by Littlefinger, who urged her to maybe keep it together…before putting the pervy moves on her literally seconds after saying that he could have been her father. And THAT smoochy moment was caught by notable crazy person Lysa Arryn, who of course then tried to push her niece out of the Moon Door, sending her free falling to a brutal death on the rocks thousands of feet below. But fear not for Sansa: Littlefinger arrived in time, assured his wife, Lysa, that he would send Sansa away, and then told Lysa that there is only one woman he has ever loved: her sister, Catelyn. And then he pushed the bitch out the door. End scene (and episode).

So, yeah, Lysa’s dead. Petyr is probably very happy that she pushed to move up their wedding night, so that he could be the lawful Lord of the Vale -- although expect that to be contested. In the books there was a whole other character involved in this arc, a bard on whom Littlefinger pinned Lysa’s murder. So it will be interesting to see how the show handles that trial. I wouldn’t worry too much about Petyr Baelish, though. As has been proven again and again, he is basically made of Medieval Teflon. He makes bigger moves that just about anybody else in that universe, and he never, ever ends up on the losing side.

Next: Tyrion’s trial by combat, wildlings attack Castle Black, TheonGreyjoy tries to take Moat Cailin, and maybe we’ll check in with Bran. But probably not. Free Coldhands!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

“RuPaul’s Drag Race” Season 6: The RuCap, OR Lessons Learned from S6

Posted By on Tue, May 13, 2014 at 2:06 AM

The “RuCap” episodes rarely give us much new to digest, and that was the case for the Season 6 edition. It was a highlight reel with a few new scenes (animals!) and quips from past-season queens (I am very concerned about Sharon Needles, who totally bombed tonight). We also got a baffling rundown of the supposed top looks of the season, which in truth should have been everything by Trinity and maybe one or two Ben and Courtney outfits, but which somehow included Joslyn and several other seriously questionable choices. And we got the debut of the “Sissy That Walk” music video, which was…fine. Better than the Season 5 video, that’s for sure. Although it curiously lacked any of the dramatic scenes we saw the queens shoot last episode.

Given that there was so little content to discuss for this week’s episode, I thought it best to look back at Season 6 as a whole and discuss some of the lessons I learned from it, and some suggestions I have for the show’s future. Because trust: I love “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and I want to be watching Season 23 from my submarine after the polar ice caps melt in 2034. Of course by then we will all have our own personal Scruff Pit Crew members. It will be glorious!

*The cast overall was outstanding I truly think this is the best crop of contestants this show has ever seen. Sure, some past seasons had some super-strong queens. But they all also had some really weak ones in the mix, too. In Season 6 we were eliminating strong queens by literally the fourth episode (arguably the first episode, based on Kelly’s pedigree). And I think we had a fairly diverse group of drag styles represented as well. I saw at least one well-known fashion blog bitch about how generic and bland the Season 6 crew was, and…come on. Bianca, Milk, Vivacious, Ben, Laganja, just to name a few. I don’t know how you consider any of those queens “bland,” and that’s almost half the cast (and the others were largely polished at what they were attempting to do). So kudos to the casting directors. I think they nailed it this time. (And the promotional materials were also on point.)

*I was a big fan of the split premiere, but…both episodes should have aired on one night. We had a double episode later in the season, followed by two “Untucked” episodes. Do the same thing for the split premiere next season. The split allowed us to get a sense of literally every single queen right from the beginning. That has never, ever happened on this show. Typically you don’t feel like you “know” all the queens until Top 10, maybe even later. So I welcomed this twist.

*I need to stop dismissing the “weak” queens Before the show started airing I had already pegged April Carrion, Joslyn Fox, and Trinity K. Bonet as the “weak” queens of the season -- the obvious chaff. I came to love all three of those contestants, and two of them went quite far in the competition (and April was totally railroaded, going out fourth). Even if you watch all the preview material, scrutinize the YouTube channels, etc., there’s just no telling how a queen is going to do in this competition. Next year I vow not to make any opinions on any of the queens until the show actually starts airing.

*I need to stop expecting too much from the “strong” queens The no-opinion rule goes double for the queens I expect to do well. One of the popular refrains this season was that Kelly Mantle, Courtney Act, and even MILK did not live up to expectations based on their pre-show careers. But that’s not really fair. This competition is such a singular machine that there’s no way to know how a contestant is going to fare once they are put into the meat grinder -- and how they will be translated via the editors (see also: Detox). From Season 6, Courtney is obviously the best example of this. She’s already globally known for her drag, and everyone expected her to strut in and walk away with the competition. And she did well. She won several challenges and gave us a host of spectacular runway looks. And yet, the general consensus is that she doesn’t really have a shot of winning next week. Had she come in with little or no buzz, I think Courtney would be faring much better in the court of public opinion. (Obviously her edit isn’t helping.) Going forward I’m going to try to keep from expecting too much from any queen, and just hoping that they all do well.

*Don’t put any stock in spoilers Back in Season 3, the entire elimination order and winner were spoiled before the first episode ever aired. This prompted Ru and the producers to overhaul the coronation and reunion. Since then, the show seems to have gone to greater and greater lengths to prevent spoilers -- and I am grateful. This season, nobody had the entire cast right. There were a bunch of queens reportedly involved who weren’t part of the cast, and several cast members I never saw mentioned prior to the reveal (MILK, Magnolia Crawford). Then there were the pre-show rumors. Kelly Mantle was F3. Bianca Del Rio either injured herself or screwed up the first challenge so spectacularly she was immediately sent home. A queen from a previous season would be brought in mid-way through. Etc. All wrong. The only decent source of information was counting the outfits in the supertrailer, and even that wasn’t reliable -- the editors deliberately held back shots of Bianca, and nobody expected Ben DeLaCreme to go out in fifth place. I love that this show can still surprise us. I applaud all of the behind-the-scenes efforts that go into that. I’ve even seen posters on Reddit claiming that they work for the show to intentionally put out misinformation. I don’t know if that’s bullshit or not, but if it’s true, I think it’s awesome. Keep us guessing!

*It’s time to shake up the format Speaking of keeping us guessing, it is really time to reapproach some of the challenges. Things are getting awfully predictable. Not for one second did I believe the shock from the F5 when they were told to put on a song-and-dance number before the ball. They have to do that EVERY SEASON. The puppet-insult challenge was cute in Season 4, but it’s tired now. Credit where it’s due: the show is still finding variations on the main-challenge themes. Doing stand-up comedy in front of senior citizens was a novel approach. And there are absolutely some challenges that MUST remain: Snatch Game, the drag makeovers, a sewing challenge. But truly the show is becoming awfully formulaic. I’ve seen some fans say that they love that aspect of it. That they know exactly what to expect, and they like to see how the queens react to familiar challenges. My argument is that if the fans know what to expect, so do the queens. And we’re not really seeing genuine reactions to the “twists,” because there were very few “twists” to begin with -- the contestants all knew what was coming. If nothing else, the final challenge really has to change. I’ve never understood how a video shoot for a song that came out months ago is a good ultimate test. The final challenge for “All Stars” was a much better test of a drag superstar’s skills.

*It’s time to change the panel We have had the same core judges since Season 3. Obviously RuPaul isn’t going anywhere, and thank Beasus Arthur for that. But the other two judges, Santino Rice and Michelle Visage, are adding very little to the proceedings. Michelle has become increasingly irritating on the show, even as she takes on a larger role as a brand ambassador (she hosts the Battle of the Seasons tours and does quite a lot of promo work). Everything I’ve heard about Michelle outside the show is that she’s great and wonderful with the queens. On the panel, her critiques often border on the nonsensical, and she seems to almost hold grudges against certain queens, where there’s nothing they can do to please her (*cough*Ben*cough*). As for Santino, he has long since outlived his usefulness on the panel. I am sorry if that comes off as cruel. It’s not meant to be -- I do not dislike the guy. I actually thought it was great when he was brought on for Season 1. And he can still offer some decent critiques. But at this point, he is judging contestants who are coming in to the show with WAY more cultural clout than he has -- his claim to fame was coming in third in a reality sewing competition nearly 10 years ago. As this show continues to grow in its cultural relevancy, is he really the best fit for the panel? Is there nobody better suited to offer a fashion point of view? (And let’s be honest, if you saw “Project Runway” 2, Santino’s taste level was dubious from the start.) I understand keeping Michelle, but it really is time to replace Santino with someone new, with a fresh perspective, and a different energy. I also think more than one guest judge per episode means that none of them really get a chance to make an impact.

*That said, do not change the Scruff Pit Crew I love them. If anything, add more. The “hungman” challenge was a highlight of the season for me.

*Above all, y’all need to calm down with the editing I harped about this all season long regarding Darienne, and several commenters claimed that I was being overly defensive of my hometown queen. There is some truth to that. But even after the bitch baton got passed from Darienne to Courtney I still bristled at the ham-fisted way those queens were being portrayed, likely because the producers felt the show needed a “villain” (and I’ve seen both Darienne and Courtney referred to as such on social media). After Gia and Laganja were eliminated, all seven remaining queens seemed to genuinely like each other. Couldn’t we just let them compete and show off their stuff? Would anyone have a problem with that? Wouldn’t there be drama enough worrying if your favorite queen was about to be snuffed? Look at the outcry when Ben went home -- people still would have been furious even if there wasn’t this manufactured feud with Darienne. Drag queens are ALWAYS going to be sarcastic and bitchy. Always. When you put on a frock, you are instantly granted the ability to speak shade fluently. But this show puts that throw a filter, a prism, and chooses to paint some of them (Darienne, Courtney) as bitter or mean, and others (Bianca, Adore, Joslyn) as cute, fun bitches. What I ultimately find irritating about this is that the manipulation was so obvious, and that it has had a profound impact on the work these queens will get post-show. And the queens themselves have absolutely no control over how the persona they’ve created is put out into the world. I can’t think of another reality show like that, and given how much of this show I LOVE, it saddens me when I see a queen possibly HURT by appearing on it.

So what do you think? What lessons have you learned from Season 6? What is the show doing right? What does it need to fix? Post your thoughts in the comments!

Monday, May 12, 2014

“Game of Thrones” Season 4, Episode 6: “The Laws of Gods and Men”

Posted By on Mon, May 12, 2014 at 12:17 AM

The bulk of this week’s episode was basically “Law & Order: Westerosi Victims Unit,” a.k.a. the trial of Tyrion Lannister for the murder of King Joffrey. Honestly I wish the entire episode had been devoted to it, because that was some gripping television that told the story far better than the books did. The other plotlines tonight were largely unexciting, but did serve to move a few other arcs along.

We’ll start in a new location, Braavos (I always love when we get new sites on the world map!), where Stannis and Davos sought to get financial backing from the Iron Bank. This never happened in the books -- or if it did, it was all off page. Stannis disappeared after the Battle of the Blackwater, only reappearing at the end of Book 3 in a completely unexpected location. The Iron Bank and its financial leverage over Westerosis alluded to fairly frequently in the books, but the show seems to be making it a more explicit plot point. Hence the casting of Mark Gatiss as a bank representative, the world’s fussiest loan officer (do not take any buttons from crazy old ladies who want mortgage extensions, Mark!) who initially turned down Stannis’s request for dinero. But once again Davos proved himself to be one of the shrewdest characters in this universe, arguing that if the bank continues to back the Lannisters, it is going to be SOL once Tywin kicks it. Yeah, can you imagine how bad Cersei’s credit score is? She can’t stop buying all of that gaudy costume jewelry from Medieval QVC’s Mary Queen of Scots collection… Anyway, It appears that Davos’ gambit was successful, as he immediately took some coins and repurchased pirate Salladhor Saan’s services. But Salladhor seemed awfully unhappy about that arrangement, and wasn’t just about Davos’ A-plus cockblocking game.

Hey everybody, Yara Greyjoy still exists! Unfortunately it seems that her entire personal plotline has been jettisoned by this show and instead she’s being wound into Theon’s drama much earlier. I hope that doesn’t end up being the case. I really like Yara (or Asha, as she’s known in the books) and her Book 4 arc, which goes much deeper into her extended family and the Ironborn, and includes some super interesting twists that I personally expect to play a part in the series’ endgame. Anyway, in this episode Yara and a crew attacked the Dreadfort in an attempt to free Theon. But Theon was full-on Patty Hearst-ing and refused to leave Ramsay Snow -- Theon doesn’t even believe he’s Theon anymore, just Reek. There was a fight, Ramsay ran Yara off with his dogs (but not before Theon literally BIT HIS SISTER), and Yara told the surviving members of her crew that Theon was dead. Except he’s not. Ramsay -- so very pretty, so very crazy -- has a new mission for Reek that involves him pretending to be Theon Greyjoy so that they can retake a castle. And he also gave Reek/Theon a bath, but did not include any bubbles or a rubber duckie. Ramsay really is a master torturer.

Over in Essos, Daenerys met with her supplicants. If this bored you, strap in -- the Dany plotline gets stuck in this setting for quite a while. Among the subjects seeking her aid was a shepherd whose entire herd of goats was wiped out by Drogon, Daenerys’s most precocious dragon kid. (Aside: in the books, the goatherd loses more than his animals to the dragons -- although that might still be in the offing on the show.) Dany also treated with Hizdahr zo Loraq, a scion of Meereen, who requested that Dany allow them to remove the crucified slave owners from their crosses and bury them. There was a decent debate over what is just, but ultimately Dany granted Hizdahr’s wish, and probably also regretted going against Barristan Selmy’s advice about all that crucifying thing in the first place. Basically Dany is learning what all middle managers know: when you’re overseeing people, there is no winning. There is only degrees of making people angry. And Dany has already pissed off a LOT of people.

And then it was on to the main event in King’s Landing. There was a brief meeting of the new Small Council, which includes Oberyn Martell (he is SO much more interesting in the show than he was in the books) and human sack of potatoes Mace Tyrell. Of interest is that Tywin has put a bounty on The Hound’s head, and that the Council is finally taking Dany seriously as a threat. Tywin even asks Varys to send some of his “little birds” across the Narrow Sea to infiltrate Camp Targaryen -- or possibly worse. (Aside: this was a very good Varys episode, and served to remind us just how good he is at playing this game. But do not for a second take that look at the Iron Throne as an indication that Varys has any intention to rule. Varys works behind the scenes, which is where the real power lies. He is not stupid.)

Tyrion’s trial itself was filled with great character moments. We got testimony against him from Cersei, dick knight MerynTrant, grandmaesterPycelle, and, interestingly, Varys (please remember that a few episodes from now). During a recess Tywin and Jaime argued over the BS kangaroo court and Jaime offered to leave the Kingsguard and go back to Casterly Rock to start a family if Tywin let Tyrion live -- and Tywin immediately agreed. Because, of course, that is what Tywin wanted all along. He has no love for Tyrion. None at all. But Tywin is shrewd, and knew that this was a perfect bargaining chip to make Jaime do what Tywin believes is his familial duty. (Remember, Tywin never wanted Jaime on the Kingsguard at all -- but had he not been on it, Mad King Aerys would have destroyed King’s Landing, and possibly all of Westeros. So food for thought.) The deal was that Tyrion would be found guilty, plead for mercy, and get sent to the Wall to serve as a member of the Night’s Watch, while Jaime immediately surrendered his white cloak -- a lovely bit of black and white symmetry for the brothers Lannister.

But that didn’t exactly work out once Cersei played her trump card: Shae. To my recollection, this was done differently in the show than it was in the books, where Shae's actions kind of come out of nowhere. The show has been building up Shae’s betrayal of Tyrion since the end of last season, and has made crystal clear her motivations, and how she got involved with the other Lannisters. That is both a good thing and a bad thing. On the one hand, it gave us that courtroom scene, which was brutal to watch (in a good way). She lied about Tyrion’s role in Joffrey’s murder (she said that he planned it with Sansa as a way to get her to sleep with him), humiliated him publicly, and basically said their entire relationship was a lie. That led to some terrific acting from Peter Dinklage, as Tyrion watched once again as a woman he thought loved him was coerced into betraying him in the most vicious way -- and it was all orchestrated by his family. But this version of the story is also unfortunate, because Shae’s eventual betrayal of Tyrion in the books is such a blindside. So I’m sorry that the show won’t have that impact.

After Shae atomized everything Tyrion believed, he went into full self-destruct mode and told the crowd that not only did he wish he HAD killed Joffrey, but he wished he could kill them all, too. Spoiler: Tyrion will not be voted prom king this year. He then completely effed Tywin’s plan -- and possibly consigned himself to death -- when he decided to forego a jury verdict and instead demanded a trial by combat. Hey, it worked out well for him in the Vale!

NEXT: Bring your bibs, ladies (and gents of a certain persuasion), because we’re getting a prime slab of shirtless beefcake in the form of The Mountain Mark 3! And some other stuff. But shirtless, giant-like Nordic man! Swinging a big-ass sword! YAAAAAAS!

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

“RuPaul’s Drag Race” Season 6, Episode 12: Sissy That Walk

Posted By on Tue, May 6, 2014 at 1:01 AM

Well, at least one of the pre-season spoilers turned out to be true: we really did have an ABCD Final 4. That would be Adore Delano, Bianca Del Rio, Courtney Act, and Darienne Lake. The four of them jumped through the now-predictable finale hoops, which included shooting a video for RuPaul’s latest single (although we’ve all been hearing the song for months on the mainstage), a related acting challenge, and the tic-tac luncheon with Ru. Breaking with tradition, however, we DID get an elimination at episode’s end, leaving us with just an F3. So it wasn’t totally pointless even though it kindasorta felt that way at times. (Seriously, this show HAS to find a new format for the final challenge.)

Adore Delano is really getting pushed hard at this point, but I can’t hate on it. Adore’s trajectory on this season has been pretty astonishing. When you think about how messy she was in the first few challenges, it’s amazing she lasted this long. And truly, she’s still borderline bedraggled on that mainstage (I was not at all a fan of her look this episode; sorry ‘bout it, Adore). But you cannot deny that she really does sparkle when given the right material. I thought she looked terrific in the video, and she works the camera like a true star. She also did fine in the acting challenge, even if it bordered on affected at times -- I was picking up notes of her Anna Nicole delivery from Snatch Game. In “Untucked” Adore continued to press her case that while everyone in the F4 is a star, she is the only true superstar in the group. I frankly lost a bit of respect for her there. Because I do think Adore has what it takes to be a major crossover success. She is already beloved by the younger fans of this show. But she still needs a few more years to marinate, to season. As Noted Rochester Gay Michael Gamilla put it, she commits sins against drag almost every week. Enormous potential, and there are moments of brilliance there. But she’s just not ready yet.

Bianca Del Rio did not wow me with her performance in the video, but I thought her plea to the judges was quite savvy. The judges, RuPaul especially, love when queens show vulnerability. So Bianca’s narrative tonight was, “Everyone knows me as a bad bitch, but through this competition I’ve discovered the softer side of Bianca, and it was inspiring/transformative.” (I’m paraphrasing.) I maintain that Bianca has had one of the best edits of any contestant on this show, ever. But I actually think her chances at the crown are hurt by the fact that we’ve never really seen her in danger -- and I thought she should have been given more crap for her performance tonight. It wasn’t bad. None of them were bad. But I thought she was among the weakest in the video, and the lipsynch was not great. Like Ben DeLaCreme, I don’t think lipsynch is really in Bianca’s wheelhouse. That’s probably why she was never in the Bottom 2. I love Bianca, I want her to win this, and I think she will. But the last two episodes have seen her ending with a whimper instead of a bang. Still, the overall body of work is SO strong.

Courtney Act continued to be portrayed overwhelmingly poorly this episode. As far as the video performance, she alternated between looking amazing and looking manic. I get why she did what she did -- she had to push herself, given her recent critiques. But the clips they showed were fairly mixed. In the acting challenges Courtney also overdid it, although part of me wondered if perhaps part of that wasn’t cultural differences. Just as British humor is different from American humor, I wonder if Australian humor isn’t broader and less subtle. Regardless, along with Bianca, I found Courtney’s performances the least successful this episode (but again, nobody as “bad.”) Courtney looked beautiful on the runway, but her plea to the judges failed to really connect with me. Which is strange, because I do find Courtney likable and relatable. So I’m not really sure what went on there. I think her candid, emotionally balanced interviews have been deployed unkindly by the editors, making it look like she always has a critical statement about someone else. I respect someone who gives honest feedback when asked, and Courtney has done that consistently. I don’t see any malice in her responses to the other queens, but I do see a lot of self-awareness for when she doesn’t nail something. I continue to be surprised by how poorly this show is making her look, even going into the fan vote. They didn’t even attempt a redemption arc. I’ve seen people refer to her as the “villain” of the season, but that’s not true -- there hasn’t really been one, not since Gia left (even Laganja was more a victim than a villain). I don’t think Courtney has any actual shot at the tiara at this point, which is amazing considering what a frontrunner she was before Episode 1 even aired.

Darienne Lake got a clear fourth-place edit -- even her lunch with RuPaul came across as, “Good on you for getting this far,” not, “Hey, you could really win this!” Darienne took a little while to warm up in the acting challenges, but ended up with some really astonishing moments. RuPaul was clearly shocked by how committed Darienne was in the Gold Bar scene, and even came back in and changed the ending of the scene! That was pretty awesome to behold. I felt like she had a plan for her final speech, but it seemed to go off topic a bit (at least that’s what the show suggested), and I think it was a mistake to be critical of the other three queens. That was a specific direction in last year’s finale, and only one queen did it. No idea what the directive was this time. Although Courtney Act said in “Untucked” that she felt Darienne won this week’s challenge (to me it was either Darienne or Adore), it was Darienne who was sent home after the four-way lipsynch. She was obviously disappointed to get so close and yet finish outside of contention, but Darienne had a VERY good run. Fourth is nothing to be ashamed of, especially in a field this competitive. It’s no secret that Darienne was portrayed quite negatively about halfway through the season (as soon as Gia left; nature abhors a bitch vacuum), and she received a LOT of grief on social media after sending DeLa home last episode (as if that was Darienne’s fault -- she had a job to do with the lipsynch, and she did it). I will be very curious to see how she responds to the criticisms at the reunion, which I believe is taping next week. But the bottom line is that our local queen made it to Final 4, and that is pretty astonishing.

Next week: the recap episode, but I will be posting my “Lessons Learned from Season 6” blog -- and believe me, I have PLENTY of thoughts. The week after that: we crown either Adore, Bianca, or Courtney. I like them all, but in my opinion, only one of them really should be winning this sucker. (Pssst, it’s Bianca.) What do you think?

Monday, May 5, 2014

“Game of Thrones” Season 4, Episode 5: First of His Name

Posted By on Mon, May 5, 2014 at 12:22 AM

The “previously on ‘Game of Thrones’” segment ran for seemingly minutes, and included scenes that went all the way back to Season 1. So you knew this episode was going to be fairly wide-ranging. Indeed, it touched on many story arcs, and in hindsight most of them revolved around the female protagonists of this sprawling story.

-In King’s Landing, the Westerosi spun the “Who Is Our King This Week?” dial and the pointer landed on Tommen, so he was officially crowned. At the coronation, Margaery gave the little king tasteful bedroom eyes, while Cersei gave the would-be queen ample sideeye. The two women engaged in a surprisingly civil discussion about Marg’s intentions with Tommen (she lied and told Cersei she hadn’t even thought about next steps; that may come back to bite her in the ass), as well as Cersei’s own arranged marriage to Gay Loras. If you were getting the Nothing Good is Going to Come of This feeling from their talk, you are wise.

-Cersei was quite busy this week, as she also had another surprisingly level-headed chat with Tywin about the impending marriages that segued into a discussion about the realm’s serious debt problem. The Iron Bank of Braavos is essentially the “Game of Thrones” analogue of China, in so far as Westeros has taken out quite a bit of gold from it in recent years, and has no actual plan for paying it back. This is a fairly low-key subplot in the books that is being brought to the forefront in the show, which I find fascinating (and we’ll get lots more on that next week). Cersei also had a conversation with Oberyn Martell. Cersei was attempting to shore up Oberyn’s support against Tyrion at his trial, but it led to a discussion about what the world does to little girls. Oberyn referenced both his deceased sister and his own eight daughters,Cersei talked about missing her daughter in Dorne but also obviously mourned her own lost childhood, as well as her dead son. This is around the part of the books where Cersei becomes more human, though not necessarily more sympathetic. That’s arguably less critical in the show because Lena Headey has always played the character with more nuance than she is depicted as having in the books.

-In Slaver’s Bay Daenerys learned about the death of Joffrey, and seriously considered taking her recently won Meereenese navy and finally crossing the Narrow Sea to conquer Westeros. But she also discovered that her revolts in Yunkai and Astapor have already been overturned, and the cities are once again under the control of slave masters -- and they all want her dead. In what will be a defining decision for Dany, she opted to not head back to her homeland just yet, and instead to stay in Essos to rule as a queen and get the slave situation fully sorted out. Note that it was Ser Jorah who cautioned Dany against heading back to Westeros for the time being. His logic may be sound, but are his motives strictly in Dany’s best interest?

-In the Vale, Littlefinger and Sansa arrived at the Eyrie. Or rather, Littlefinger and his niece, Alayne, did. That will be Sansa’s alias during her stay in the Vale, since the capitol wants Sansa Stark tried for regicide. But Sansa is allowed to disclose her true identity to noted crazy person Lysa Arryn, her aunt, as well as her derpy cousin, Robin. Once again Sansa is out of the frying pan, into a smaller, crazier frying pan, because while Lysa might be batshit, she’s not stupid. She knows that Littlefinger obviously wants Sansa as part of a messed-up fixation with Catelyn. During a deeply uncomfortable scene she grilled Sansa about what Littlefinger has done with her/wants with her. And pity Sansa even more, because she had to endure listening to Lysa’s excruciating sex sounds after Lysa forced Littlefinger into a hasty marriage -- and Lysa is a screamer. Also of interest: Lysa admitted that she was the one who poisoned Jon Arryn, and that she sent Cat the letter blaming the Lannisters. And she did that and more under Littlefinger’s orders. Given that those are the events that literally kicked off this whole series, it really puts Littlefinger’s reach and cunning into perspective.

-Elsewhere on the road, Brienne discovered that Pod is a shitty squire but an honorable guy, even if he can’t cook a rabbit to save his life. And Arya practiced her Braavosi water-dancing sword technique before being brutally knocked down by The Hound. First, I want someone to mash up her practice scenes with Irene Cara’s “Flashdance (What a Feeling).” Second, their little détente is effectively over, as Arya made it clear to The Hound that she still intends to murder him, and The Hound made it clear that he doesn’t see her as much of a threat. Jerk!

-The major setpiece of the episode was the wholly-for-the-show siege of Craster’s Keep, where the rebel Night’s Watch had been being awful to Craster’s daughter-wives and, as of last episode, holding Bran and his crew captive. We got clarification on the Locke/Vargo Hoat scenario: it was definitely supposed to Vargo, likely working for Roose and Ramsay Bolton to abduct Bran and…I honestly have no idea what they wanted to do with him. It was a moot point, because Bran warged into Hodor and killed the son of a bitch before he got the chance. Bran also had the opportunity to interact with Jon Snow, who was leading the group to silence the ex-Watchmen. But Jojen Reed pointed out that if Bran reconnected with Jon, he would never go north to meet the Three-Eyed Crow, and that is his destiny. (As an aside, this episode helped to dissuade me about believing a fascinating theory I read about Jojen. I am intrigued about that whole burning thing, though.) After also rescuing Summer, Bran and crew continued their trek north, still no Coldhands in sight. That is really disappointing to me.

Jon Snow and the non-psychotic Watchmen made fairly short work of the bad brothers, with Jon having a serious fight against that gratingly bad actor who was in “Pacific Rim.” He was also reunited with his direwolf, Ghost, who should pee on his clean clothes for months after Jon essentially ditched him last season. This entire plot seemed like an excuse to get a major battle sequence into this episode, and to cocktease a Jon/Bran meeting (which we already had last season with the wildling attack at the dragon queen tower). It did seem to wrap up the Craster’s Keep arc, with the Night’s Watch torching the whole pad while Craster’s daughter/wives turned down the offer to go back to Castle Black. Instead the romantic in me hopes they become the Westeros equivalent of the Mandrell Sisters, a singing/dancing touring act. I bet Gilly plays a mean jingle Frisbee.

Verdi Requiem @ Perinton Presbyterian Church

Three Musketeers (2011) @ Central Library

Movies and Concert @ Ontario Beach Park

Movies and Concert @ Ontario Beach Park

Rock-It-Science and Jaws...

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