Friday, July 8, 2022

REVIEW: 'RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars' - Two Queens Deliver Their Brands With Absolute Conviction in 'Dance Like Drag Queen'

Paramount+'s RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars - Episode 7.09 "Dance Like Drag Queen"

The queens try to break the internet by creating an original dance video challenge. On the runway, category is: What Lies Beneath.

The winners are going a little crazy as they quickly approach the finale. Nine weeks into the competition, the pressure is really getting to them. That allows them to be a bit more fun, silly and playful in the workroom. Some conventions of the competition still apply. Certain queens know when RuPaul offers them a suggestion they need to change everything to accommodate it. RuPaul wants to be entertained. She is more than willing to help the queens during their individual walk-throughs. Her ideas come from a place of love. It's smart to take advantage of that insight from the head judge. And yet, the competition is still incredibly close. Jaida has three Legendary Legend Stars. Monet and Shea are shockingly stuck at one. The rest of the winners have two. The top four queens will advance to the lip sync smackdown for the crown. Not a lot of time is remaining to break away from the pack. Any challenge left can be the one to let someone stand out. This season wants an even playing field it seems. At first, it was apparent everyone needed to win at least one star. Each challenge had to play to someone's strengths. The judges had to skew towards certain outcomes that read a little forced. Similarly, it's clear the winners feel it's honorable to block each of them at least once. That may not be the smartest move at all. It's not good strategy. They should block whomever is in the race for those top four slots. Jaida may already be guaranteed that placement. She was blocked by Raja nevertheless. That trend continues as well. Moreover, every winner seems to be given the chance to block someone. Monet and Yvie haven't had that distinction so far. That too changes. It's all completely subjective. That's more clear now than ever before.

It's still fun when production tries new things. Branding challenges are expected each season. It's all about testing how the queens perform on camera when they are the ones delivering an original script that sells their overall identity. It's tripped over people in the past because they have trouble narrowing down their ideas. Jinkx always has multiple things rattling around in her brain. She even says as much to RuPaul. Of course, the episode only offers her peanut butter sandwich as the only thing she's interested in. It's so far away from what the rest of the cast is doing. That's smart because it allows her to stand out. This challenge tests the convictions within each of these queens. They've all embraced being winners. They know how to take this platform and run with it. They've each had numerous opportunities as a result of winning. This is a real-life marketing skill. They've each put their names on products. Drag Race fans love the merchandizing. That's a part of the commodification of drag. It's only been amplified with each subsequent season. This challenge though asks the queens to go viral. That too has become part of the vernacular of the social media age. People post things online in the hopes of getting lots of attention. That's how people build their brands. So much of the control is left to the creativity of the individual. It's all about the reaction. It's actually quite difficult to break it all down in easy-to-do steps. This challenge falters because so much of it is the queens explaining what they are doing instead of actually doing it. Only some of them take the time to think of the piece as a whole. Jinkx understood that and went weird with it. Additionally, the Vivienne played around with a pun - and possibly got a longer edit than the rest of her competitors.

The challenge is also intercut with the runway. Everyone is given their moment to shine. The video is aired and the judges offer their immediate responses. Shea and Monet actually do the best when it comes to dancing. Those moves will more than likely be copied should the videos be distributed well. It's also great how much deception Monet deploys. It creates the expectation of very little being done only for the ultimate dance to be a showstopper. That plays with the rhythms of the format. Others undercut their own message. Sure, they can't explain everything. Piecing it all together creates something greater than the sum of the parts. It was still annoying when each video had to follow the same format. The queens offer their dances in four to six easy parts. The graphics onscreen match up with what each queen is telling the audience. That too may prevent anything from truly going viral because it's all made to feel like one cohesive project. It's judged as a whole instead of allowing individual greatness to emerge. Plus, the runway offers plenty of opportunities for big ideas and extreme execution. It's hard to pull off a reveal. In fact, they have grown tiresome over the years. This runway calls for it. As such, the audience knows to be looking for each clever trick hiding within each garment. That also runs the risk of having everyone start out wearing something incredibly bulky and not all that flattering. Plenty of magical and unexpected moments still occurred. It's most shocking with Jinkx. She's not known for stunning the runway with innovative looks. She did so tonight with her colorful exploration of art movements. Raja similarly offered plenty of conceptual pieces that are so chaotic and out of control while still being incredibly edited and refined. The message behind Monet's three looks was so powerful as well. Having something literally spelled out isn't always the best way to deliver a message. It absolutely works here in showcasing the fight that continues despite how much social progress has been made throughout the world for communities of color.

Jinkx and Monet being named the winners isn't surprising in the least. The judges also contemplate rewarding Shea and Yvie. However, Yvie's runway wasn't executed exactly how she wanted even though the automated face shield was very cool. Meanwhile, the narrative is simply too tantalizing to keep Shea at the bottom despite how strong her track record has been in the two previous times she competed. These narratives have formed. They are noticeable. They are annoying as well. It's all meant to play with the formula. It simply offers patterns that play into convention. This show is trusted to entertain the audience for a reason. It wins multiple Emmys each season and has plenty of fans coming back for more. But the reality competition format can only evolve so much. With all of that being said, the show does found a way to genuinely offer something completely new. During the final lip sync, Jinkx and Monet are asked to do a spoken word piece from a monologue in Designing Women. That has never been done on Drag Race before. History is being made. Of course, it's not the show inventing something new. Plenty of queens incorporate monologues into their acts. They can be just as entertaining and powerful as performing to the hottest songs from across the decades. It's only new in this format. It's a surprise that delivers. It also gives Jinkx a lip sync performance she'll actually do well in. Her previous ones haven't been that great even though she won against Raja. This offers plenty of opportunities for highs and lows. At times, Monet is going too big with her mannerisms. But she is also giving so much. It's all incredibly consistent too. The facial expressions play such a factor into delivering the comedy of this monologue. It's all absolutely insane. It's completely magical too. Monet is named the winner. It is deserving even though it quickly restores the pattern as highlighted in the opening paragraph. Similarly, Raja is blocked simply to ensure everyone knows the platinum plunger carries no secret powers whatsoever.