“This is RuPaul's best friend race!” exclaims Alexis Michelle as three or four other RuPaul's Drag Race contestants kiss and make up in the workroom. What happens when queens all get along? Producers manufacture drama, silly. And, even for a show that wears its fabrications and intentionality on its rhinestoned sleeve, the machinations start to seem just a touch mannered. Following a series of episodes that effortlessly drew personality (or lack thereof) from a cast that seems more look-oriented than personality-dependent, the fifth episode of the show's ninth season is a marked regression. And not only because I now, after all these blessed years, am forced to finally write the names of all the Kardashians, a situation for which it will take me some time to forgive Mama Ru.
Eureka O'hara (#1–10 of 4)
For whatever qualms longtime fans of RuPaul's Drag Race may have about season nine's streamlining, at least the challenges remain extraordinarily well placed. Or, as Phi Phi alleged in the embittered aftermath of All-Stars, the producers know exactly what they want and how to get it. Just as the queens are getting to that Real World zone where they've stopped being polite and started serving up realness, they're thrown into a morning-news-show challenge that forces them to slap a mealy grin on their simmering tensions. And it's more of a failure than a success, but in this context, bad TV makes for excellent TV. Or, at least, a train wreck comparable to Kathie Lee & Hoda.
I'm neither the first nor the last person to point out that, nine seasons in, there are some RuPaul's Drag Race contestants who were in their formative years when the series was first making waves, contestants who've quite literally always known drag in a mainstream context. We caught an early, often irritating example of that in season six with the finger-wagging, tongue-snapping, “OK-r-r-r-r”-ing Laganja Estranja, but you always had a sense in her case that the drag persona was the result of an internalized split, and that the drag persona for 'Ganj was a brassy form of wish fulfillment. But Valentina's win in last week's episode feels like the next evolutionary step in the process. And, thankfully, RuPaul's ready with a challenge that helps restore balance between the Valentinas of the competition, for whom drag is an almost subconscious element of their DNA, and the Eurekas or Trinitys, who are paying their dues and letting the world know it.
Opulence! O-P-U-L-E-N-C-E! You'd think season nine of Rupaul's Drag Race would have it rough matching up to the show's still-ballooning legacy. Season eight maybe didn't mark itself as distinctive in many respects, but it at least afforded itself the chance to dance like Beyoncé in the end zone about reaching 100 episodes/100 queens. But the recent All Stars season truly elevated the entire Drag Race universe to new levels of sickening. Even fresh off the heels of Mama Ru's Emmy win, though, apparently World of Wonder still has something to prove on the runway. Why else would the franchise shantay its slot all the way from Mondays on Logo (the perfect time to commemorate the total evaporation of a weekend's worth of hangover) to Friday nights on VH1? (Cue the shade rattlesnake sound cue.)