Friday, March 10, 2023

REVIEW: 'RuPaul's Drag Race' - A Blinding Migraine Nearly Derails a Charismatic Performer in 'Two Queens, One Joke'

MTV's RuPaul's Drag Race - Episode 15.11 "Two Queens, One Joke"

The queens perform stand-up comedy in pairs, but an odd number of queens causes for some drama. Comedian Ali Wong guest judges.

The queens are obsessed with the battle for second place because they all understand that Sasha is the obvious winner. The judges have yet to give her any negative critiques for her performance in the competition. She has won three challenges already. No one else has two wins. She seems to have surpassed them at every turn. As such, they are looking at second place as the most competitive outcome right now. That's not exactly endearing. Every queen should have the confidence of believing they can win. Sure, it reflects well when queens are self-aware of how they are performing in the confines of this competition. That self-awareness isn't always good to express on camera. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. The audience wants to see the fight. Mistress loves detailing how the delusion is real with many of her competitors. That energy is certainly palpable. However, it has been redirected to the race for second. It's odd because that shouldn't inherently be the main narrative of a competition. It's what the show has produced so far. It may have simply been a consequence of hourlong episodes. The series has expanded to 90 minutes once more after an outcry from fans. The move certainly allows more moments to breathe and feel as if the viewer is seeing the complete picture. It was also so chaotic seeing the show try to cram so much of a 16 contestant season into an hourlong package. The expansion means more time is spent in the work room and with the queens being coached in comedy. That sets up expectations that either pay off or don't when it's time to deliver. That's how the formula works. Everyone is aware of that. The show actually delivers it here even though so much continues to be self-referential without striking out to deliver something new.

Mistress calls out Loosey and Luxx for being the thirstiest for challenge wins. They each crave it so much. They complain when it doesn't happen every week. Now, Loosey certainly has a more legitimate grievance for not winning for her interview with Frankie Grande. Mistress wants to cite it as a continuation of a pattern. The behavior fits. And so, Mistress talks down. Meanwhile, Luxx notes how strange it was for Loosey to wear Beyoncé's pregnancy reveal look without a fake belly. Loosey insists that it was more important to show body. That's what Beyoncé is known for. And yet, Loosey didn't really deliver that even though she knows her proportions in drag better than nearly everyone else. It's all strange. It was a miss on the runway. That sank Loosey's chances of winning. Some distance allows that clarity to occur. In the heat of the competition, Loosey can't reflect because she immediately has to focus on working with Luxx. The queens don't think this pairing will work well. Loosey has experience with stand-up while Luxx is constantly told she's funny. Luxx has the natural instincts to actually carry that distinction. The two of them do deliver the strongest set overall during the Bubbly Comedy Festival. They are both declared the winners. As such, they both receive the momentum to believe they are peaking at the right time. And yes, it was a true partnership between them onstage. They were each generous of the jokes. They presented as actively listening and building off of each other. However, the bit about a sugar daddy was just too incredibly forced. Again, it fits into the idea that no one can do well on the show if they don't get the references of what's happened across the storied franchise. It's an easy structure to deliver instead of trying to be inventive. Loosey and Luxx both deserve the win. Their safe risk simply paid off more than what the other five queens delivered.

Sasha and Anetra were absolutely phenomenal in the mini challenge. No one comes anywhere close to touching their physical prowess. Moreover, they each understand the purpose of the moves from ball culture. It's more than just a performance meant to stand out as its own individual move. It all has to tie together to move seamlessly from one framing of the face or body to the next. The fluidity and storytelling is impeccable. Mistress delivered that as well. In fact, her comedy shines so bright when she's by herself. When it comes to working with someone, that's when she suffers. Salina isn't wrong to steal Mistress away from Marcia. It works in the end as Marcia ends up in the bottom two while Salina is safe. But this comedy challenge thrives in a different way than the format typically does. Marcia is the only person onstage alone having to fend for herself. In the past, all the queens were required to do so. They had to have that unique perspective and deliver it in a funny way. Here, they could lean on their partner. Marcia didn't have that support. And so, she struggled. Part of it comes from her not having a fully developed drag persona. The homage to Marcia Brady just isn't strong and distinctive enough. RuPaul and the judges demand more from her. That's been her critique the entire season. At this point, there's nothing left to say. She has grown as a performer in the span of the competition. But now, the most meaningful work comes after the show. Learning what does and doesn't work for a drag career will inform her path to success. Nothing she does is bad when she opens the show. It just isn't memorable. With Sasha and Anetra, the judges could at least point to one joke each that stood out. With Marcia, that just wasn't possible. She couldn't be overlooked and simply glide to safe with only seven queens left.

Every season the queens make such a big deal about the order of the comedy routines. One queen is assigned the responsibility. Anetra has that honor. She doesn't believe she owes anyone an explanation. Sure, complaints are made about going first or last. However, there isn't much of a difference. This comedy show isn't happening across many hours of the night in a typical drag bar. It's just four numbers. As such, Mistress and Salina have just as eager an audience as Marcia does. Mistress and Salina have a solid foundation too. It's funny and they know how to communicate it in a concise way. That's what puts them above Sasha and Anetra. Only so much can be blamed on Anetra's blinding migraine. It cuts down on their time to prepare for sure. However, every idea they had would have come across as half-baked. Again, the queens need to know when to be referential and when that just doesn't work. It's a particular skillset. Sasha and Anetra hoped to rely on their stoner personalities to carry them. It's the same problem Jax had in the acting challenge. They didn't put in the work to make the laughs stand out as unique. It's important to have that clear perspective and deliver as many jokes as possible. It needs to happen at a rapid pace too. Salina received that feedback from Michelle and guest judge Ali Wong. As such, she and Mistress could apply that to their routine. However, Mistress needed to hear it too about her half. When Salina was detailing her story, it was good for both her and Mistress. Salina was the focus but Mistress had amusing interjections. When Mistress took the spotlight, she was rambling and Salina didn't quite know when to cut in to deliver her bits. As such, the energy petered out by the end. But again, the only viable final outcome was Luxx and Loosey winning while Marcia and Anetra had to lip sync for their lives.

Marcia had plenty of reason to be afraid regardless of who she had to go up against. Sasha and Anetra are the best performers in the competition. And then, the lip sync song is revealed as "Boss Bitch" by Doja Cat. Marcia didn't stand a chance whatsoever. From the opening beats, she was devoured by Anetra. That was clear immediately. The expectation somewhat went according. It wasn't completely one-sided. Marcia gave it her all and did nail several moments. RuPaul could have given a double shantay if she wanted to. That just doesn't seem to be in the cards this season. That's a dramatic change of pace at least. The humbleness Marcia displays is respectable. Marcia acknowledged her shortcomings and wasn't bitter by how the competition turned out for her. Sure, the constant talk about her makeup skills was annoying. She was talented enough to get cast on the show after all. She does have the physicality to make certain numbers entertaining too. Anetra was confident before the music started. She exuded that energy from the confessional. Her tricks haven't grown tedious either. Sure, some can complain about how some girls use the same silhouette in every runway look. Marcia and Anetra fall into that pattern here as well. No one looks bad though. Salina delivered a powerful story. Ali Wong was right to say the actual dress could have enhanced that escape to freedom message even stronger. And yet, it was so moving to ultimately see Ali Wong overcome with emotion as the one Asian queen remaining proves herself as an incredible performer. She was living for that lip sync. Everyone has fun watching Anetra. Everything seems right. That's always the best feeling to have upon the conclusion of each episode.