Friday, January 13, 2023

REVIEW: 'RuPaul's Drag Race' - A Rushed Time Frame Prevents Moments From Landing with Power in 'All Queens Go to Heaven'

MTV's RuPaul's Drag Race - Episode 15.03 "All Queens Go to Heaven"

In this heavenly acting challenge, the queens must create infomercials for a queer afterlife. Country singer Maren Morris and LGBT activist Ts Madison guest judge.

The premiere was hindered because it had to introduce all sixteen queens in the span of one episode. Some of them had moments where they could standout. However, there were plenty left in the background fading away because the show just couldn't make their stories fit into that episode. And now, the show is hindering itself even further by reducing itself to hourlong episodes. For most of its run, the show has aired as a 90-minute block. That allowed the show to have the breathing room necessary for every moment to matter. Cutting back now basically risks taking away moments that would otherwise have a ton of power. Of course, it's not all that bad when it comes to an acting challenge. In the past, the editing has loved enhancing the cringe when it comes to the queens flailing in front of a green screen with some judge providing them with direction. Here, each team is only given a minute. Sure, Michelle still judges the queens based on how it was to direct them. The audience has no comprehension of that whatsoever. We only get the moment of Sasha Colby panicking only for Michelle to later on say how receptive she was to the notes given. That makes the judging itself feel more artificial. That's a fatal problem. The audience needs to understand exactly what's going on. Otherwise, it just comes across as a chaotic mess. That may be completely inevitable at this point. Two episodes in, it seems perfectly reasonable for the majority of the audience to have no opinion whatsoever on a number of queens. This season promised to be the biggest one yet. However, that has only caused more confusion because the show is more interested in its specific format instead of shining a light on who these queens are. That has always been the best part of the show. And now, it just can't happen because the basic elements of the competition have to get under way.

This week the queens are tasked with breaking into three groups of five to write commercials for a gay afterlife. Anetra and Amethyst get to pick the teams they want because they were the winners of the challenge and the lip sync in the previous episode. The five queens who weren't picked formed the remaining group. Anetra's group delivered the best final product. It had very little to do with Anetra though. Instead, this episode was carried almost entirely by Sasha. Yes, it's humorous when she says God is a woman and a drag queen as she is both of those. It's even better when she commits to the bit of snapping her own neck in order to transition to a new sequence in the commercial. That serves as a powerful connective tissue to the overall piece. Plus, it's funny and stupid in a way that caters to RuPaul's sense of humor. That's what these queens needed to do. Princess Poppy praised herself for writing the jokes for her team. She hoped the judges would appreciate her sense of humor. And yet, very little of it actually landed. Comedy is based entirely on timing. Her group didn't have much of that in the final product. Part of that is how production edited the commercials. But it was still a detriment based on how the queens actually put together their ideas. The second group relied on blue humor that just didn't land. It needed to occur at a rapid fire pace. Instead, jokes would linger and just die. Meanwhile, the final group tried being subversive with the challenge prompt. They depicted a drag purgatory where it would be heaven for a basic white bitch but unbearable for the drag queens stuck there. If the humor was strong, they probably could have gotten away with it. At this point though, the queens need to stick to the foundation of what's asked of them and prove they are capable of delivering that before breaking down those conventions. Everyone wants to think differently and creatively. They still have to rely on the fundamentals of what makes this show and America's Next Drag Superstar so special.

That critique can apply to the artistry in drag as well. These queens need to understand the basics of creating an illusion through the mix of makeup, costuming and gender before they can break the rules. They have to revere the gay legends who came before them that created this opportunity for them to shine. Instead, a lot of queens believe they can get away without wearing body even though it would better enhance their drag personas. It doesn't matter how sexy they feel in their own body. They are trying to sell a story through female illusion. They can't allow the gag to be broken simply because the proportions don't line up correctly. Again, some looks require these rules to be broken. However, it can't be the norm. It comes across as lazy. It's as if too many queens cast on this season lack the experience to make a true play for the crown. They need to provide something different and unique in order to stand out in a community bursting with so many perspectives. They also must show reverence for beloved figures from throughout gay history. Amethyst may only win her second lip sync in a row because she understands it may not be appropriate to go for the comedy while performing Diana Ross' "Ain't No Mountain High Enough." She didn't have a better connection to the material than Princess Poppy did. However, Poppy started playing up a schtick that once again relied on her blue humor. It was entertaining. She was certainly doing more. That doesn't always amount to a win. There really was no winner from that lip sync. Amethyst was allowed to stay. Princess Poppy is the second eliminated queen of the season. That isn't totally unexpected given how she has embraced the same silhouette with every look on the runway. It was incredibly simple this week too. It's simply odd for a queen to be in the bottom for the first two challenges and make it to the third. It's not as if Amethyst has proven herself as a lip sync assassin. She's simply done better by a hair than the two other queens who did poorly.

Sasha was the only choice to win the challenge. She was the funniest. She also had the best runway. "Metallica" was the theme. Sasha was gorgeous as a phoenix rising from the ashes while still showing off her insane body. Luxx Noir London was also beautiful though the judges probably wanted to talk with her because of her runway instead of her challenge performance. Everyone else had little nitpicks here and there that essentially kept their looks from being perfect. Sugar and Spice are always striving to be complimentary to one another. However, that runs the risk of whomever walking second coming across as inferior because the audience has already seen what that kind of look can be. Meanwhile, it's already annoying how Salina EsTitties has to have her name plastered over every look. Branding is important. She still has to be more than just a fun last name. Similarly, it was a pleasure to see Aura Mayari in some color after black dominated every look previously. It still wasn't quite fully realized. It can truly be as simple as thinking about how a look is seen from every single angle. Malaysia Babydoll Foxx looks stunning in every pageant gown. However, the chains on the front were completely missing from the back which made it feel less special and unique. Meanwhile, Robin Fierce had no real control over the pole she was twirling around. She did so with no real strength or specificity. It made it come across as a prop that was neat instead of something that enhanced everything else she was trying to achieve. Jax is the only queen who faltered when it came to the true might of metallics. She stood out for that. It was just in a bad way. That gives the impression that she's a solid performer who doesn't have a firm sense of style so far. The same is true of Marcia Marcia Marcia. She has specific references. However, everything is too small and timid to fully encapsulate the boldness of her imagination. All of these queens have plenty of creativity. They just need to step things up in order to shine as brightly as all the winners who have come before them. And hopefully once the cast is whittled down, the audience will have the time to actually know these queens and what they are hoping to bring to the show this year. That should be apparent by now. Production has simply failed to achieve that.