Friday, June 10, 2022

REVIEW: 'RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars' - The Queens Struggle to Blend Comedy and Earnestness in 'Draguation Speeches'

Paramount+'s RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars - Episode 7.05 "Draguation Speeches"

The queens deliver inspiring and irreverent commencement speeches for draguates around the world.

Drag is suppose to be inspirational now. It's always been an inherently political act. People made statements through their art playing with the concept of gender. This Pride month it's important to reminder that the celebration started as a riot. Drag queens and trans people were at the forefront of the movement. So much progress of today's world can be attributed to the hard work and determination of generations proud of what they could do and who they were. Drag creates trends too. So much of popular culture is stolen from what happened in this community first. It's only in recent years that people are willing to give credit to where it belongs. This show has brought forth so much of that change. Drag is more visible now than ever before. It's still inherently political. The rights of the LGBTQ+ community are still under attack. People have to fight for the spaces they belong in. RuPaul has won more Emmy Awards than any other person of color. That's a remarkable achievement. The struggle continues. It's important to uplift the next generation to ensure the creativity shines brighter than ever before. The winners are challenged to capture this energy in this week's maxi challenge. They are asked to be inspirational and earnest in delivering fake commencement addresses. So much of it reads as too twee and insincere though. The challenge pales in comparison to the genuine affection everyone in the room has for Nancy Pelosi when she shows up. That moment was necessary to lift the episode up to the aspirational goals it clearly had designs on. Each episode concludes with a banner reminding the audience to vote. The midterm elections this year are so important. People need to be informed on the issues and the politicians willing to help make life better. Some are allies and some want to take our rights away. It's all so serious. It means something too. It's simply difficult to balance all these elements in an episode.

Before the challenge even commences though, the queens are forced to think more strategically than ever before. The Vivienne tells the room that Monet was her second choice for which queen she wanted to block. She acknowledges Jinkx as the most talented queen in the cast. She does well in every challenge. As such, she needs to be blocked as frequently as possible to ensure she doesn't run away with the competition. If she's always in the top though, then that possibility never comes to fruition. And so, Vivienne had to settle for pissing Monet off. Of course, Monet takes it much more personally than the rest of the cast. People want to see the Platinum Plunger as a badge of honor. It's an acknowledgement of their talents. To Monet, it derails the strategy she's been running. She has thought about strategy much more seriously than everyone else. However, she can strain herself into knots thinking about how others will react. She can't account for the behavior of others. That's even more of a fool's errand when it comes to predicting what drag queens will do. A pattern had emerged. No one is beholden to those unspoken rules though. Vivienne wasn't obligated to block Jaida simply because she won the prior challenge. It's an action meant to prevent whomever will do well in the next challenge. No one has collected a second Legendary Legend Star yet. That's somewhat annoying considering how well certain queens have been doing. At this point, it seems like the judges want all the winners to feel good about what they've done. That lessens the power of the competition a little bit. It makes it all seem like a participation trophy.

Raja truly hasn't received the recognition she deserves from the judges so far. Small slip-ups have been used as justification for keeping her out of the top two even in weeks where she clearly did well. Of course, her excellence couldn't be denied this week. She was the only queen to deliver a memorable speech. A prompt was given to the queens and she basically decided to throw it away. She wasn't the only person to put on a character because it would play better to the judges. She committed to it fully. Vivienne did as well. However, she still employed the cloying technique to make all of this seem more important than it actually is. Raja delivered the five points she hoped to impart on the graduates as well. Each of them was done with a joke and a callback to the wisdom RuPaul always wishes to give to the girls who compete on the show. That pandering works. Raja is completely herself. She still knows what she needs to do in order to stand out in this particular challenge. Everyone else embraces the same tired jokes about sex and the incredulous nature of drag queens becoming role models. The lofty ambitions fell flat too many times. It was amusing when Jinkx started her routine by acting as if she prepared for a completely different audience. That was the best aspect of what she did. When she made the pivot to a story about getting hit by a car and repressing the trauma, it too came across on the same note as her competitors. Sure, laughs were still found in many moments throughout the challenge. Raja was simply the only one who did something unique with it. That's a rewarding moment because she gets her long overdue time in the spotlight. The result is so obvious though that it also threatens to take away from how special it is.

Veils are the runway theme this week. Again, this is the part of the show where the queens showcase how their artistry matches the cultural moment and pushes it forward. Trinity is known as a drag queen's drag queen. However, she has come out in the same over-the-top looks with massive trains for basically every runway. Yes, her look defies gravity here. It also comes across as her not wanting to push too far outside her comfort zone. Meanwhile, others are being praised for how elevated their looks have gotten following their seasons. Most of that praise is still directed towards Jinkx. The actual headpiece she sports is stunning. The gown is beautiful but not all that remarkable. That's noticeable especially with some of the designs the other queens are featuring. Jaida has simply been perfection on the runway all season. This wasn't exactly a strong episode for her. She faded into the background. However, this runway where her body was poking through the dotted sheer fabric was stunning. Shea produced a similar reaction. She was inspired by her grandmother and a look that may not seem fashionable. She elevated it to drag standards. It was all in line with what the prompt required. Jaida and Shea embodied who they were as people pushing boundaries too. They set those trends. Elsewhere, bondage looks on the runway have no longer become special. So it doesn't really matter how beautiful Vivienne looked. It was a concept that played into trends already prominent in the industry. And then, the proportions were playful with Raja and Monet. Their looks didn't speak to me as strongly as the others, while Yvie's was a little too unexpected from her usual style. All of this culminating in a rather lackluster lip sync made for quite a jarring episode. Jinkx edged out Raja for the win. It was nothing to get excited about. That's disappointing especially considering how phenomenal Lizzo's "Better in Color" is. Moreover, Jinkx blocking the Vivienne mostly comes from spite and what has already happened in the competition instead of thinking about what will happen next. Of course, Raja and Jinkx being able to gift stars now is the exact twist that can produce lots of exciting drama the next time the viewer sees the queens in the workroom.