Every week in Slate’s RuPaul’s All Stars Drag Race TV Club, J. Bryan Lowder will have an IM conversation with a different RuPaul fan after the losing contestants have sashayed away. This week, he kikis about the premiere episode with June Thomas, Slate’s culture critic.
J. Bryan Lowder: Well snap, crackle, tuck, Mrs. Thomas, how are you doing this windswept evening? You know Miss Sandy's been snatching wigs all day today; I hope you're all safe and put-together inside.
June Thomas: You know there were a few moments during that episode—specifically during that horrific jokeapalooza—when I thought about heading outside to let my binding flap a little. There was some hokey old kiki going down tonight.
Lowder: HA, yes indeed. Let's just get right into it. Tonight was the regular game show episode of the season, though we were not treated to our beloved Snatch Game, but instead to a—I think we agree on this—failed attempt at 60s mod game show humor.
Thomas: It fell harder than Latrice Royale falling off her heels. The worst sin in a reality competition show is an arbitrary competition, and that was as arbitrary as it gets. What on earth was the point of pulling that rotting old corpse from the ground?
Lowder: Right. As I believe you've expressed to me before, you find Drag Race most compelling when the competitions are connected to real world drag tasks. This was…abstract.
Thomas: EXACTLY! It felt a little disrespectful to drag, frankly. It was as if RuPaul—who, like all good gays, I worship like a god AND goddess—was ignoring everything about the discipline. It's about entertainment, sure, but are you telling me that there's a drag scene somewhere where they're doing ticky-tacky comedy acts like this? If so, where is it? The Island That Time Forgot? Or am I being too harsh?
Lowder: Oh no, I think in general this episode was a great failure, and not in a campy redeeming way. Not only did the format lack sparkle, but the queens themselves seemed inept at every task. I mean that moribund joke-writing scene in particular—what was that about?
Thomas: We must talk about that. I know you're a connoisseur of camp, and I do worry that I'm dissing the tradition by dismissing this challenge. It was about wasting 5 minutes that I'd rather have spent seeing something that worked. I'm sure I'm not unique in not finding scenes of funny people failing to be funny amusing.
Lowder: Not at all. You know, I suspect that RuCo was going for old-school camp here, and I fear Sandy blew it into kitsch and...just...incoherence.
Thomas: Let's stipulate, writing jokes is difficult, but is it part of the drag queen's quiver of skills? Innuendo, double entendres, reading for shade…but writing jokes in the character of a famous person? Eh.
Lowder: Well that's just my point—drag queens obviously must be funny. But not in a standup, Joan Rivers with her card catalog way. Shade cannot be written down. Drag is all about presentation and delivery, not forethought.
Thomas: Preach, sister!
Lowder: Speaking of which, did you find any of the celebrity impersonations—a classic drag art—compelling?
Thomas: I suppose a lot of it had to do with having Vickie Lawrence (from Mama’s Family) on the judging panel. And that was reflected in the characters that were praised: Yara Sofia's Charo—because Charo had been on Carol Burnett with Lawrence—and those old throwbacks like Bette Davis and Lucille Ball. And to go back to the arbitrary quality: we didn't see enough to know why the judges weren't impressed with Shannel's Lucy. She looked right, which is all we viewers had to judge her by.
Lowder: Yes, there wasn't much time to decide at all—which is different from the norm with Snatch Game.
Thomas: They went on and on about how foolish it was of Nina Flowers to pick La Lupe, who people wouldn't know, but would kids who go to drag shows know Lucille Ball all that well? (Yes, one of the comedy greats, but it's not as easy as it once was to find her shows on TV.) And, of course, Nina Flowers' big problem was that she'd been paired with sui generis Tammie Flowers. Nina was doomed right from the reaping.
Lowder: That's a great point. I'd love to hear your thoughts on the cultural differences that really became apparent on this episode. Clearly, the Latin queens had a different idea of comedy than their Anglo sisters. I almost felt like it wasn't fair—if you have ever seen comedy TV in Latin America or Spain, you know that their style would totally play there. But here it got Ru's grimace. Is there some kind of bias at play in this show, or are matters of taste just sometimes incommensurable?
Thomas: Ru has always had her preferences: beautiful skinny bitches who give good face have consistently won over warmer, funnier queens. But there's clearly something going on with the Latin queens. Ru has consistently brought them onto the show—every season Puerto Rico represents—and every season we hear the same justifications of how they are at a disadvantage because of their language skills. There must be a huge Latin drag scene—why are we judging these queens according to Anglo values? What's valued in their clubs?
Lowder: That's spot on. It's something that's been bugging me for a while, but really came to the fore tonight. OK, another issue: the teams. Are you tiring of them as much as I am? I'm still mad that Pandora was sucked into the black hole of Mimi Imfurst.
Thomas: HATE! More randomness. Pandora gave such amazing face last week, but she clearly didn't want to be with Mimi. And Nina was similarly resigned. Is it just me, or do you also feel like we haven't really heard from the queens? I know from Drag Race and Drag U that Jujubee is hilarious. I've seen next to no sign of that on All Stars.
Lowder: That's true! Everything does seem rather rushed. It's like we're already supposed to know them or something, so more plot, less exposition, but I'm definitely feeling a distinct lack of kiki time. Which, I'd argue, is one of the primary pleasures of the show.
Lowder: Well, I think we agree that All Stars Drag Race needs to step up its game next week. But before we go, the obvious question: Which team are you rooting for? (I, for one, am just glad that Tammie is gone).
Thomas: Well, because of this whole weird team thing, I'm torn between favorites. I guess I'm pulling for Latrilla with Manila, because who could root against joy and fun—and Latrice's amazing laugh. But if I had to pick a winner, I'm guessing Ru will give it to Rujubee. Do you have a favorite?
Lowder: Yeah, I'm team Latrice, only because I wanted her to win last season and because I have an original print of her on my wall, next to a matching one of Sharon Needles. So maybe I'm biased.
Thomas: Oh girl, that tea got my lights flickering!
Lowder: Mine too! I had better use the remaining light to put my face on in case in need to evacuate. I wish you Godspeed on this wild night.
Thomas: I'm off to find the perfect bowtie to go with a RuPaul flowered suit.
Lowder: Waterproof, I hope.
Tuesday: What other writers and Slate commenters thought about Episode 2.