It’s Week 2 for RuPaul’s Drag Race: All-Stars but it feels like Week 22…I hate to say it, but the idea of doing an All-Star edition of RPDR might not have been a wise one. The concept of doing these “special” kind of shows for hit reality television programs isn’t new and it’s certainly generated some interesting drama as contestants from different seasons of these programs unite to face off but it doesn’t really seem to jell when it comes to RPDR. I think part of the problem is, these drag queens all KNOW each other so there’s no element of surprise as they confront each other. These performers have all met each other and in many cases, worked with each other at clubs all over the country. There’s simply not a lot of dramatic tension between these “girls” and it also doesn’t help that this season is sorely lacking in drama queens and villains. The only potential drama queen was Mimi and she went home in the first week. Yes, Shannel and Raven are certainly capable of throwing quite a lot of shade but there weren’t even the principal shit stirrers in their respective seasons…without a Rebecca Glasscock, Tyra Sanchez, Shangela or Phi Phi around, it’s a bit dull in the workroom.
It also doesn’t help that the pairing up of the contestants has robbed most of them of any individual interest or charm. Yara and Alexis were both vibrant, interesting characters in Season Three but here they seem washed out and wan. Chad and Shannel seem to bring out the worst in each other; they’re too much alike stylistically and as performers to make an interesting team. Tammie and Nina are apparently from the Land of Misfit Toys with Tammie’s kookiness robbing Nina of any charm or personality. At least Raven and Jujubee have great chemistry together and a real sense that they are partners despite their different styles. Meanwhile, the most interesting team is probably Manila and Latrice who physically are quite different, but they’re also arguably the most intelligent and articulate players and both are blessed with a down to earth sense of humor and a capacity to deal with the ridiculousness of any situation. They’re really the only couple you’re interested in getting to know more about.
We do get to learn a bit more about ALL the queens in this week’s episode…it’s celebrity impersonation week at All-Stars and since RuPaul is a proud Baby Boomer who grew up on a diet of cheesy 60’s/70’s television entertainment we get multiple riffs on that genre starting with the first challenge, a Newlywed Game inspired quiz where one partner has to guess the answer to a question originally posed to the other partner. There are a number of smutty questions heavy on the innuendo but my personal favorite was the question, “Does your team partner prefer the TOP bunk in the bunk bed, the BOTTOM bunk or do they like to switch around?” Chad accurately guesses that Shannel likes the Top bunk, (not much of a surprise there given Shannel’s type A persona and rather aggressive manner) but Tammie’s guess that Nina likes to be versatile, is quickly shut down by Miss Flowers who firmly states she likes the bottom….Tammie’s other guess, that Nina wears “Grass” underwear is also, and not surprisingly, incorrect and Team Brown Flowers is not off to a good start in this episode.
Later, in the workroom as the teams prepare for the main challenge; writing jokes for a “Laugh-In” type sketch with guest Vicki Lawrence as Mama, Manila and Latrice have a rather sweet conversation about how little they know of each other, and we learn Manila was suicidal after an unsuccessful and fruitless attempt at heterosexuality in his teen years. We also get a shot of a photo of Manila and her recently deceased partner Sahara Davenport and it’s obvious that the producers are hoping to work up some tears to go along with all the hoped for comedy.
Sadly, the jokes are few and far between once we hit the set for their version of “Laugh-In” and the fact they’re lampooning a show that a large chunk of the cast aren’t aware of, as well as most viewers under the age of 40, and it’s obvious that RuPaul has a strong say in the production of “Drag Race”. She’s seemingly the only one having a good time with the concept, despite the fact it’s NEVER at all funny…every joke and bit is a huge dud. Yeah, I’m old enough to remember “Laugh-In” with some affection, but that style of humor is GONE and only super talented comedians might be able to humorously parody it…the queens of drag race don’t have that gift, and as a result, this challenge is a challenge to sit through. It also doesn’t help that most of the queens make poor choices when it comes to celebrity impersonations with only Chad scoring with his Bette Davis. Tammie Brown LOOKS like Tammy Faye Baker and Yara makes a believable LOOKING Charo but neither one convinces with their portrayals. Shannel’s Lucille Ball is a bit forced; Alexis stupidly chose Shakira since she’s such a well known funny person (said no one ever…) and neither Raven’s Bea Arthur or Jujbuee’s Fran Drescher make much sense. And, while Latrice’s Oprah was tired and listless, at least Manila got Madonna’s look right and made an attempt to portray the Material One’s self-absorption. No one is brilliant though, and we’re a bit sad that Pandora wasn’t around to do Carol Channing again…
It’s time for the runway and the judging and the queens are asked to wear their chicest Sixties looks. Yarlexis, Shad and Rujubee all look pretty cute and swingin’…Latrilla is a bit bland and Brown Flowers look ok individually, but they don’t look put together as a team. Apparently, looks are important this week because Latrilla and Brown Flowers are the teams in the Bottom Two. The presence of Brown Flowers makes sense; they’re not jelling as a team despite Tammie’s very kooky charms, but Latrilla just seems to be there for the heck of it. And, also for no apparent reason other than the fact everyone sort of sucked this week, Yarlexis is declared the winner, apparently because Vicki Lawrence says that Yara behaves/looks exactly like Charo behaved/looked on the set of “The Carol Burnett Show” forty years ago…and, despite the fact Alexis was pretty awful as Shakira.
Oh, and while the judges did their deliberating, the cast went back to the All-Star Lounge to fulfill obligations to provide drama for sister show, “Untucked” and to indulge in ten minutes of hugging, smiles, sunshine and Absolutly perfect cocktails. However, all that happiness is boring and we need 20 minutes of something dramatic so it’s not long before evil little RuPaul drops a surprise for one of the contestants. Beaming in via pre-recorded digital magic, Chad’s long estranged Papa appears to tearfully say he’s sorry for not being a part of Chad’s life…FOR TWENTY FIVE YEARS! Oh, and he’s very proud of his son, blah, blah, blah…the only part we don’t see is, “Hey son, I hear you’re rich and famous…can I live with you?”
Naturally, this leads to sobs from Chad, and rightfully so, but some of the queens, being the all-star drama queens that they are, decide to horn in on the tearful confessions parade and soon we get Estranged Father Love Tales from Manila, Yara and Latrice. And, frankly Latrice wins this round because she had a mean drunk/druggy daddy who beat up her mom and he’s dead now and it’s pretty hard to top that hand… It’s all ridiculously emotional, and some of it feels very real and heartfelt, but the cynical side of us also has to point out that this is all carefully stage managed by the producers and it feels a little contrived and replicates similar feelings we had about last week’s Drag Race/UnTucked. It’s all a wee bit heavy handed.
The queens dry their tears and head back to stage where Tammie and Latrice have to lip sync for their team’s lives. We figured it would be a late 60’s tune to fit this week’s theme but consistency has never been a strong suit on RPDR and the gals are performing to Ethel Merman! Both are very good, but it’s really not a shock when Tammie and Nina are sent home…that writing has been on the wall since this pair was teamed up. Tammie is a little too kooky pants for mainstream drag related television…
Four more weeks to go…sigh. Maybe they’ll airdrop in a beloved bitch or insane person to liven things up…I’d even welcome the return of Phi Phi…this show desperately needs a Villain!