Friday, March 3, 2023

REVIEW: 'RuPaul's Drag Race' - An Interview Challenge Offers Neither Insight Nor Humor in '50/50's Most Gagworthy Stars'

MTV's RuPaul's Drag Race - Episode 15.10 "50/50's Most Gagworthy Stars"

The queens get up close and personal with celebrities for TV's sketchiest newsmagazine, 50/50. The runway category is Night of 1000 Beyoncés. Special guests Charo, Frankie Grande and Love Connie.

This show thrives on chaos. It throws the queens into unpredictable and challenging situations to see who prevails. Over time, some queens have mastered what it means to be good on Drag Race. Performance on the show shouldn't correlate with success outside of the show. That's conflated a lot of the time. It takes a truly specific skillset to do well on Drag Race. A queen can't be perfect at everything. It's frustrating when the show tries to present a queen as such. Sasha Colby is phenomenal. She has done remarkably well at everything. However, she shouldn't be seen as so above everyone else that she can't be given a negative critique here or there. It all needs to be constructive too. People could call out Loosey for being too competitive. She boasts about winning three challenges already. That's not exactly the same curve everyone else is grading on. Mini challenges are silly but they still can provide money now. Loosey is proud of those victories. She wants this narrative of upward trajectory. Instead, she's received an edit where she desperately wants to win and is incapable of having fun with the other queens. That's probably not true at all. A lot is left on the cutting room floor. What it does indicate is how she sometimes struggles to match people at their energy. That's no problem when it comes to the challenge. She is rightfully in the top for her performance. When interacting with the other drag queens, it's much more forced. Part of it comes from Mistress having more fun messing with Loosey than allowing her to direct the energy elsewhere. Marcia similarly comes across as delusional for thinking she should have been in the top for the crystal ball. Her looks weren't that impressive. Mistress could easily go after her with a reality check. That's not the most amusing thing she could do in this moment. Mistress comes across as very genuine. She's a bitch and wears that title proudly. Loosey wants to use that word in a negative sense. It's earned in some circumstances. It can't be applied uniformly to everything being done. Again, these queens aren't one-note. They don't exist to solely provide one thing to people watching. They are expected to show variety. They all do which is why they were cast. And now, the show itself has certain narratives it feels pressured to give.

Of course, nothing production does can make this challenge into a winner. It's terrible all the way through. Improv challenges are so difficult because it requires the queens to think quickly on their feet. It's another very specific skill that not everyone has. The overall effect is dampened by the queens having to deliver this challenge through a 20/20 pastiche. It doesn't work. It wants to be serious when the guest interviews are chaotic people. The dichotomy just doesn't work to build something that transcends the format. The queens are asked to do something basically impossible. It's shocking to see Mistress struggle. She was also set up to fail. She has often been so good at bantering with people. At times, others couldn't tell if she was being serious or not. That could have been an asset. Instead, she got stuck in her head. The fact that it didn't read on her face was the reason she was ultimately saved from the bottom. RuPaul would rather have someone be lost but pleasantly enjoying the guest than the interviewer interjecting with completely tangential questions. That's what dooms Salina. The edit would have everyone believe that Mistress and Malaysia would be in the bottom lip syncing against each other. They had the confessional moments of acknowledging how poorly they did. Salina had that energy as well. However, she was mostly complaining about how more difficult this was than she expected. She had a game plan and couldn't adjust when Love Connie sent things in a different direction. No one really did great though. Sure, some people had to be called out as doing the best. It's largely the best amongst the worst. Sasha and Loosey understand their brands and know how to deliver. They didn't revolutionize the format. They simply came across as credible.

The challenge didn't really have a purpose in trying to differentiate the various segments either. That's the practice on 20/20. That's the show being spoofed. It's understandable. However, the various teams were cohesive in asking virtually the same questions of their subjects. The energy wasn't varied from topic to topic. Part of that can be blamed on the queens. Part of it can also be blamed on the three people they were interviewing. Charo, Frankie Grande and Love Connie were cast because of their big personalities. That was it. That was the only thought that went into this challenge. They try to mess things up and have a good time. They didn't care about the confines of the challenge. No one could really adapt to that. And so, it led to Frankie being asked about married life three times and Charo being asked to demonstrate her signature move. None of this is inherently bad. It just doesn't set anyone up for success. It's even more bizarre when this is paired with a runway celebrating Beyoncé. That prompt is amazing. When it comes to these "Night of a 1,000...." runways though, the queens always feel tentative about doing the hits from whichever celebrity they are honoring. As such, a bunch of random fashion moments are produced. Some queens can still make the innovation work. It doesn't immediately read as Beyoncé without the photo comparison. The most significant embodiment of Beyoncé comes during the lip sync. That has challenges as well because the audience should expect more from a drag queen than simply mimicking the choreography. That leads to victory. It's not exactly good enough. 

Sasha is declared the winner. That's fine to a certain point. She's the first queen to win three main challenges. That further solidifies her stance as the frontrunner. In fact, she's breaking free of the pact. Anetra, Loosey, Luxx and Mistress are left behind with just one win each. Salina and Marcia are still competing for that first title. It doesn't seem likely for them. Salina is in the bottom yet again. Third time proves to still be the charm for her. She survives once more. However, it's questionable whether she should have been in the bottom. She was bad in the challenge. Mistress and Marcia were too. Anetra and Marcia got to celebrate being safe. They easily could have received critiques. Marcia was lost interacting with Charo and somehow made a Beyoncé runway boring. Anetra had fun with Frankie but the editing cut out a lot of what they talked about. Meanwhile, her runway look was one of the stronger of the night because it embraced the over-the-top nature of drag. Mistress was the only person who tried to rival that energy. Her callback to Destiny's Child stood out - even though the puppets of Michelle and Kelly could have been executed better. Mistress' look saved her from the bottom. That could only work for one queen. Unfortunately, that left Malaysia behind. She embodied Beyoncé both on the runway and in the lip sync. "Single Ladies" is so iconic. It's easy to feel compelled to perform the number as Beyoncé did. That works for a few moments in the song. One either has to commit to the whole thing or allow one reference to slip in while taking it in another direction. Salina did a lot. That commanded attention. Malaysia didn't lose this lip sync. Salina was asked to stay over her. Malaysia probably deserved another chance after so many have already been given to Salina. And yet, Malaysia didn't embrace a winning strategy by simply angling for safe every week. That's not exciting nor does it let the audience fall in love with her drag persona. Her personality is great. If she applied herself more fiercely to the challenges and took the big risks, she would have been in the running to win it all. Instead, the inner saboteur strikes again.