Tuesday, February 8, 2022

REVIEW: 'RuPaul's Drag Race: UK vs. the World' - The Queens Honor RuPaul's Career with 24 Looks in a Ball in 'RuPaul Ball'

BBC Three's RuPaul's Drag Race: UK vs. the World - Episode 1.02 "RuPaul Ball"

The fierce International Drag Race competition to be crowned Queen of the Mothertucking World continues, and this week it's the RuPaul Ball! In a celebration of "all things RuPaul," the queens must serve three looks on the runway - including an outfit they must create from scratch that Mama Ru herself would want to wear.

On a regular season of Drag Races, the judges and producers are the ones inflicting psychological trauma on the queens. It's what they signed up for. They just have to go along with the twists as they happen. Sure, one queen will always comment on how it's unfair. And yet, RuPaul makes the rules. Whatever she says goes. With All Stars though, the queens are the ones inflicting that psychological trauma on each other. The judges and producers still play a crucial role. They determine who is in the top and bottom each week. But the queens have to decide who gets eliminated. That quickly becomes a minefield where they have to balance what the decision means both within the competition and outside in the real world. Alliances have the potential of meaning something. That is amplified further in this format because the queens are representing their home countries. Jimbo felt an obligation to save Lemon because they both come from Canada. Lemon noted that they don't really have a friendship away from the show though. As such, it could just be pandering to the cameras and some artificial design meant to create a compelling format. It places importance on relationships that don't have as much depth as is necessary. It's still shocking that Lemon was eliminated first. Jimbo reveals that she would have chosen Janey. Her reasoning changes from moment to moment. First, she just wanted to save Lemon. Then, she wanted to get rid of Janey for her performance in the talent show. That invites more people to pile on regarding the five looks she performed in. It's rough but it also creates a fair amount of drama that is simply enjoyable. It's amusing to see which queens want to slide out of frame and leave the conversation when they can't. It's also just as exciting to see who is willing to stir up that drama. Sometimes the most entertaining queens fulfill both roles. That's perfectly on display with Monique as she is quiet after the elimination but has lots to say the next morning.

This show does so much more than offering catty drama and reality competition twists. It produces conversations about gender and sexual orientation that aren't seen anywhere else in the world. It's magical to have those dynamics in each extension of the franchise too. Plus, these queens don't have to come fully formed. The audience enjoys seeing the highs and the lows. That journey creates a sense of empathy and connection. Blu talks to Jujubee and Cheryl about her identity. She feels the burden of representing the Northern Ireland queens. She comes from a place that still isn't all that friendly to the LGBTQ+ community. Even then, she felt more alive and herself when performing as Blu than when she was out of drag. She devoted her life to this performance. It was lovely and exciting. It also made the rest of her life feel depressing. If she could have this energy as a performer, then something must be wrong out of drag. She must not be right. For years, she hasn't had the vocabulary to talk about this gender dysmorphia. Competing the first time around, she was introduced to people with the education and insight to help her. She still hasn't fully explored all that she is. That's perfectly fine and accepting too. She doesn't need to have her life figured out. She is still relatively young. She is insanely talented as a drag queen too. Her makeup is incredible. She is safe this week. That's insane given the three looks she brought to the RuPaul Ball. She is in my personal top three - probably even deserving of lip syncing for the world against Jimbo. More fundamentally though, she is presenting a narrative that is profoundly human full of victories and mistakes while still entertaining and keeping things real the entire time. That crafts her as a champion who should go far in this competition.

All of that insight into Blu showcases the appeal of the All Stars format. It brings queens back to compete having learned lessons from their original runs and be given the opportunity to shine just as fiercely as they can. They each have the ability to wear the crown with proud and reign honorably. A hunger is present within so many of this cast. It's noticeable absent with Jujubee. That's striking. She is a cat lady! Her two pets were integral parts of her confessionals on All Stars 5. And yet, she is disastrous with the "Kitty Girl" category. Make it make sense! It has no rational explanation. The judges call it out. Her three looks are deserving of her bottom two placement. They aren't elevated to what the competition requires. This is her fourth time. She should know better. Yes, she does bring a pedestrian appeal to drag. That has been a consistent with her over the years. It stands out when the rest of the queens are doing such big, extravagant things. Cheryl and Baga are equally bad too. Baga gets a somewhat cruel edit as she is seen complaining about the category and not really crafting her final look by herself. Pangina is a true sister. She saved Jimbo from falling during the lip sync. And now, she works on Baga's outfit potentially to the detriment of her own. Pangina and Monique were probably the right queens to have as safe. Pangina was singled out because her first two looks at the ball were fantastic - though the "Butch Queen" concept resembled a look The Vivienne also did. Meanwhile, Monique pointed out that she painted herself as a black cat including her ankles - which made the audience look down and realize the heels of her shoes were overlooked in not matching the rest of the color scheme. Plus, the look she made to honor RuPaul was praised for the sheer concept being admirable despite the lackluster construction. That should have placed her as safe. It ultimately does but Blu and Baga were more deserving of hearing critiques from the judges this week.

Jimbo and Janey are declared the winners. That fits into the narrative of the two of them facing off from the overall episode. It's really only at the top and bottom of the hour though. Jimbo wanted to eliminate Janey. She stayed and was called out as the winner. That's a questionable decision. Yes, she embodied her "Butch Queen" look very well and the look she made was good. That first outfit though rivaled Jujubee in barely fitting the category without being all that flattering. Two queens have to prevail though. Those are the rules. Everyone just has to accept that. It means Janey gets to decide the fate of the bottom two queens because Jimbo isn't great at lip syncing. Of course, expectations were still set high for Jimbo for the ball. She has the most design experience in the competition. She may have been eliminated during a ball. She has her thoughts on that. She didn't agree with the judging then. She certainly loves it now. This continues to be Jimbo's Drag Race. She offers the funny confessionals as well as amusing interactions with the cast and the judges. She feels free to interact with the judges more than her fellow competitors. That's freeing in a way too. But again, it can't overcome her poor lip syncing abilities. She does do better this week covering RuPaul's "Supermodel (You Better Work)." She's not just flailing around and running into the other queen on the stage. But she does repeat several moves while Janey is offering more variety from top to bottom. And so, it's up to the Holland queen to send Cheryl home. The deliberations were driven by talk of alliances. It comes across as being a more genuine concern with Jujubee as she has shown the potential to be in the top before. Cheryl doesn't have that luxury. That likely played a factor in this decision even though Jujubee has had her chances to be a global star. This should serve as a firm reminder of what she is capable of and what the world expects of her. She can't disappoint here like she did on Queen on the Universe. Meanwhile, Cheryl's back to Essex without a badge, something she cares about probably more than the other queens ultimately do. It's sad she never won but it's not all that surprising either.