Another acting challenge bites the drag dust with this take on Downton Abbey. Sam Brooks recaps the second episode of Drag Race.
There is one truth abut Drag Race that we’ve all decided to accept without question: There will be acting challenges on this show and they will be terrible. These will happen every season, and the quality will never rise past a holiday improv class for wayward teenagers.
The one kind thing that I can say about Drag Race UK‘s inevitable acting challenge – a parody of Downton Abbey, and I apply the label ‘parody’ with much trepidation – is that it comes early enough that we’ll have forgotten it by season’s end.
But seriously, there’s no need for the show to keep doing these challenges. Even people whose entire careers are in comedy struggle to make funny things sometimes! Likewise, even people who have devoted their entire lives to acting are sometimes bad at it. It’s unreasonable to expect whatever World of Wonder intern they’ve got writing these sketches to do something that stands up to, you know, actual comedy and to expect drag queens, who might well be great performers but not actors, to do a good job at them.
The queens more often than not struggle, which is not as fun to watch as you’d think, and nobody is happy here! Not the queens, not the judges, not the audience. So, Drag Race, I implore you to stop these challenges. They’re just not good television.
Anyway, onto the show!
Gothy Kendoll is gone! People are sad and a bit shook that somebody’s gone home, even though that’s… the entire show.
People commiserate, and we finally get our first feud of the season: The Vivienne and Cheryl Hole. Although, it’s less a feud and more The Vivienne wishing that Cheryl Hole would shut up. As if anybody has ever, in the history of Drag Race or maybe even the artform of drag, ever shut up.
Here they address, briefly, the main difference between the flagship and this spinoff: There’s no cash prizes. Like, at all. Because of the fact that BBC is a public broadcaster, they can’t work with sponsors to provide prizes. So no Anastasia Beverly Hills makeup for these girls! Instead, the prize is the chance to make a web-series with the same team that makes… the very show they’re already on. Sure! Also, the winner of each week’s challenge gets a Blue Peter badge, which is a reference I refuse to engage with.
The mini-challenge is a reference to the fact that there’s a lot of queuing in London! RuPaul gets The Vivienne, the winner of last week’s challenge, to line the queens up in order from who she views as the biggest threat to who she views as the smallest. It’s a genius idea for a mini-challenge – you create drama no matter what, and it’s drama that can last throughout the season. If you don’t have feuds organically, you gotta create them!
The older queens are ranked near the top, the younger ones and Cheryl are ranked near the bottom. To quote The Vivienne: “I put her there for a reason: She never fucking shuts up.” Shakespeare, honestly.
Then, there’s a twist, in classic Ru fashion: The queens will be split into teams, and the leaders will be The Vivenne herself and… Scaredy Kat, the queen that The Vivienne rated as being the least threatening. Lest we forget, the show reminds us that Scaredy Kat has no performing experience and has never been to a drag show, which is kind of like swimming across The English Channel without ever having been in the bath before.
Like I said before, it’s bad. It’s a riff on Downton Abbey, with bad jokes and worse acting. The above screenshot is about as funny as it gets.
Probably the most notable thing here is that… everybody is just kind of bad. Not just Drag Race-acting bad, but bad on any level bad. Half of them don’t know their lines and the rest of them flub their scant punchlines (barely punchlines and more like floplines). Honestly, the only queen to emerge unscathed is Baga Chipz, who does so by mugging to the camera and leaning as far away from the script she’s been given as possible. Davina does well, but is stuck in the clearly worse team of the two, and is edited down to such a small role that you barely notice her.
It’s truly a race to the bottom here, with Scaredy Kat proving without a doubt that yes, she has no performing experience, and Blu Hydrangea sinking into the wall like the opposite of her namesake.
I entreat whatever higher power at World of Wonder once more to stop these challenges. Maybe, just maybe, keep them to All-Stars, where the queens are at least seasoned enough to spin editable moments from nothing. But otherwise? Cut ’em.
Not much to speak of, except for a lovely heart-to-heart between Sum Ting Wong and Vinegar Strokes about being queer men of colour, and what the reality of that life is. It’s genuine, heartfelt, beautiful TV, and a reminder that for all the stuff that this show often gets wrong, it’s one of the few show that puts stories like this onscreen and lets marginalized people own their narrative. No shade here, sorry!
The theme this week is Bond Girls, which makes me worry how quickly they’re going to run out of themes. It also makes me worry for the season, because most of the queens ignore the theme entirely, or have a very loose concept of what a Bond Girl is!
Notable moments: The Vivienne’s Grace Jones-esque hood, Blu Hydrangea’s three tits, Davina’s eye-patch and breakdown during deliberations, which feels oddly placed given her universal good feedback and clear experience here. But hey! There’s never a right time for a breakdown.
GUEST JUDGE: Maisie Williams, seeming more pleasant and well-adjusted than someone who grew up in the biggest television show of the decade has any right to be. She is also, hilariously, quite frightened when Crystal cracks a whip at her.
WINNER: Baga Chipz, despite thinking Liza Minnelli is a Bond Girl.
BOTTOM TWO: Scaredy Kat, despite a fairly clever look and Blu Hydrangea, despite having an extra breast.
Two weeks in, and no sign of Petula Clark’s ‘Downtown’. Give us some Petula, you cowards!
Instead we get Bananarama’s ‘Venus’, familiar to all New Zealanders as the Gillette Venus Song. Seriously, read the words ‘I’m your venus, I’m your fire’ and try not to think of an already-shaved leg being shaved on a beach, where no human has ever shaved their leg.
Anyway, it’s not a good lip-sync. Scaredy Kat looks like she’s gotten up at a bar for an impromptu lip-sync competition, not like she’s competing on Drag Race. Blu Hydrangea does a good job, but you can’t help but wish that they’d used ‘Venus’ for a lip-sync with some queens who are, you know, actually familiar with Bananarama.
ELIMINATED: Scaredy Kat, which I’m a bit sad about! For a queen who had no performance experience, she seemed pretty chill about it, and it’s always interesting having a queen who isn’t a gay man on the show, even if the producers didn’t dive too deep into that one.
VERDICT: Not a great second episode, but hardly worth getting off the train for. The frontrunners (The Vivienne, Davina) remain frontrunners and everybody else honestly isn’t that far behind. But seriously, no more acting please.
You can watch RuPaul’s Drag Race UK on TVNZ OnDemand; episodes drop each Friday.
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