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The queens try acting with so-so results on ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’

Ever since RuPaul’s Drag Race moved to VH1, the reruns have been aired on weird hours, so I missed the last two episodes, but was able to catch this week’s episode “9021-HO” which is predictably a take on Beverly Hills 90210. The guest judges this week were Tori Spelling and Jenni Garth, and the episode’s competition was an acting challenge – never a good showcase of the contestants. For the most part, the acting challenges are a way for audiences to see how sloppy and unprepared the contestants are, though the comedy queens manage to shine.

But in this season, the funniest queens have all been booted out, which makes the competitions somewhat tedious to watch. And add two guest judges who seem woefully underqualified for their jobs, and you get a meh episode. Spelling and Garth are game enough, but really, if the producers wanted to inject some much-needed oomph, they should’ve gotten Tiffani Theissen and Shannon Doherty. Spelling – an outspoken queer ally – can be good for some humor (when she’s self-referential, she can be surprisingly sharp and ironic), but for this episode, both actresses are supposed to “direct” the queens and give them acting tips. Tori Spelling is giving acting lessons.

Anyways, the queens are given a “script” and it’s a mess. The queens lurch through predictable sex jokes, and two stand out: Shea Couleé and Trinity Taylor (who wins). Trinity channels the extravagant slapstick of Jennifer Coolidge (Michelle Visage name checked Coolidge, too), while Shea took on the scene-stealing role of Grandrea Zuckerwoman. What’s even cooler about Shea’s performance is that she took on the role after Aja threw a tantrum after being initially cast in the role. She pouts and throws an actual tantrum, which she regrets immediately, after she realizes just how childish she looked in front of the other queens. It’s rare that the queens are so self-aware, and it’s refreshing to see Aja taking responsibility for her actions. It’s not enough to save her, but I admire her integrity, even if she banged the pooch during the competition.

Though Trinity and Shea did win, it was a hollow victory because the competition was so absurd. The runway is tied to the 90210 theme by being vaguely 1990s, which vaguely meant big hair – but then again, when does a drag queen not have big hair?

The lip synch for your life was the early 90s club classic “Finally” by CeCe Peniston. It’s a drag classic (and will forever be attached to Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert in my mind). The bottom two were Aja and Nina Bo’nina Brown, whose runway looks were okay (I guess) but failed in their performances. Nina’s runway look was the most hi-de-ous look – a sorta Cats meets Drag Race look. The makeup was disgusting and was very unattractive (it was busy and had way too much going on and her face looked more like a road map than a cat’s face)

The high point of the show was during the makeup scene, in which the queens share personal stories. Trinity’s story is especially touching as she saw her mother die when she was a child, and then she had to watch as her grandmother die. I usually find the editing during these sequences especially crass and cynical as the cutting and the splicing make it look like a chase to who had it worse. I wish the editors used a more careful hand when packaging episodes, because the impact is lessened when the sharing starts to look like a contest. There is some of that in “9021-HO” which is unfortunate because the stories are heart wrenching.

Despite its new home, Drag Race has been lackluster so far. I’m hoping the rest of the season will rally. The next episode is the comedy challenge with Fortune Feimster (I love her and she’s very, very fab). Jaymes Mansfield, Charlie Hides, and Cynthia Lee Fontaine are gone, and they were the most obvious stars of a comedy challenge. My money right now is on Trinity, who did so well in this episode, channeling comic hero Jennifer Coolidge.

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‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ eliminates its first contestant, gives viewers a cheer, and teases us with Lisa Kudrow

When the trailer for the ninth season of RuPaul’s Drag Race aired, I was very excited to see Lisa Kudrow. I was looking forward to see how she’d do on the show – I assumed she’d probably be some kind of mentor or coach for the comedy challenge (Cheri Oteri and Kudrow’s Groundlings pal Kathy Griffen were great teaching the girls the ins and  outs of being funny).

So, it was very disappointing to see the brilliant comedienne pop by the work room for a minute, throw out some great Comeback catchphrases, before dashing away, leaving the contestants in a daze. Instead of the great Lisa Kudrow, the second episode of Drag Race features the great B-52s as guest judges, joining Ross Mathews, Carson Kressley, and Michelle Visage to watch the contestants participate in a nutty cheerleading challenge, and then parade around in drag that is inspired by White Parties.

The queens are broken up into two teams, and are tasked with making a splash and stand out, despite appearing in a crowded and messy cheerleading routine. Immediately, we see that poor Jaymes Mansfield is struggling, which is a shame because she seems to be the only comedy queen (in last week’s premier, she announced her arrival with a puppet). Initially, she wants the character of Floozy, but fails to imbue the character with enough sex appeal, so she takes on Snoozy, which has unintended irony has her performance throughout episode two is a bit sleepy; it’s a bit of a wonder that she doesn’t do well, because she’s a very funny queen.

The other queen to struggle is Kimora Blac, a stunner, who has a stank attitude throughout the proceedings, especially when the queens are putting together their cheerleading costumes; she’s pissed and bored that she has to stud her uniform with jewels, and pouts throughout the activity. She also fails at the White Party runway challenge, recreating her leather Cher “Turn Back Time” look from last week, only this time in white (with a tacky Red, White & Blue bustier).

Valentina, the newbie, is the winner. She performs well during the cheerleading competition, but really rocks the White Party runway challenge by channeling a gorgeous virginal bride. Despite being a drag queen for only 10 months (she’s chosen last team captains were building their teams), she has the beauty and the confidence to be a contender.

Shea Couleé and Trinity Taylor also perform well during the cheerleading challenge. Shea is a Chicago queen (I’m from Chicago so I’m rooting for her), and she performed beautifully, doing some great tumbling

The cheerleading challenge was stupid – the kind of stupid that is a highlight of the show. The girls are jumping all over the place, trying to stick with the choreography. I find it amusing that the judges were supposed to assess who these ladies were performing, because the challenge was messy and a bit nuts, as 14 drag queens were flailing around, throwing their bodies around and launching into dodgy somersaults.

Because of the who was guest judges were, the lip sync was to “Love Shack.” Kimora Blac and Jaymes Mansfield are in the bottom, and are squaring off – both do okay, Blac manages to edge Mansfield out a bit, because she’s just more confident at this point (though Mansfield’s va-va-voom performance is fun). My partner pointed out that “Love Shack” is a silly choice because Kate Pierson, Cindy Wilson, and Fred Schneider each have solos, so it’s a bit unclear whose parts the queens should lip sync to. The queens just sort of mouth to all the parts, and Kimora is able to save herself.

Poor Jaymes Mansfield leaves and that’s too bad because comedy queens are often the most fun to watch: Biana Del Rio, Jinkx Monsoon, Pandora Boxx provided some of the best moments of Drag Race (they were great during the snatch games). Right now, Charlie Hides seems to be the only comedy queen left, and he was in the bottom three, so hopefully, he’ll be able to improve as he goes along.

Because I missed the first two Friday airings, I had to wake up hella early on Saturday, setting my alarm for 8 am so that I could catch the repeats (VH1 should follow FX’s rerun schedule of Feud and air Drag Race at decent times).

One thing that I noticed with this season of Drag Race is that two of the contestants are YouTubers. While the YouTube celebrity was a thing since the beginning of the show’s first season, the stars that came out of the channel have really blown up in the ensuing 9 years. That means that comedians and actors from YouTube have side-stepped due paying like summer stock, improv classes, comedy clubs, community theater. As a result, when YouTube queens like Charlie Hides and Jaymes Mansfield step outside the 10-minute online video, they have to rely on skills that may not be as fully developed, yet. Jaymes Mansfield’s videos are hi-larious, but she struggled to transfer her comedy skills to television.

Speaking of YouTube, next week, YouTube entertainer Todrick Hall – someone who has performed with RuPaul – appears with Cheyenne Jackson. What’s interesting is that if Hall wasn’t so famous at this point, he’d be a great contestant (he got strong reviews for his performance on Broadway’s Kinky Boots).

The only sour point – and this may be the latent Catholic in me – but I didn’t like how Valentina’s faith was played for kooky laughs. Not cute.

Otherwise, the second episode of the VH1 Drag Race is pretty much what I expect from the show at this point: bitchy jokes, maudlin scenes of forced poignancy, some high quality drag mixed with some amateurish failure.

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