SO. This week, the penultimate episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 5 is going to be a stand-up comedy challenge! Right off the bat, it feels like a strange decision, but if you pause and squint, you can eventually imagine why the producers would decide to go this route. Yes, Jujubee is one of the show’s most effortless and reliable comediennes, and Miz Cracker has been pushed by the show as one of its crown jewels in its vast collection of comedy queens (despite having a questionable track record when it actually comes down to a comedy challenge), so at least 50% of this challenge is bound to be stellar, right? And Jane Krakowski is coaching the girls ahead of their routines, so even Shea and Blair (who don’t necessarily feel like slam dunks) are probably going to benefit from a guiding hand, right? What on earth could go wrong?
Well, RuPaul’s own weekly “She Done Already Done Had Herses” message ended up being tragically prophetic when she asks “Where are the jokes?” because… there didn’t really end up being many. Saving a stand-up challenge for the Top Four week in the competition has turned out to be one of the sloppiest mistakes this show has made in a long time: if at all, this should have happened during the first half of the competition. With more girls, a bigger number of routines could have offered more peaks and valleys in the evolution of the show, with shifts in momentum where one girl might fail spectacularly, another might just kind of flatline, and then finally someone kills it. This show just felt too brief, none of the girls served up some instantly iconic zinger that’s going to be quoted by drunk white girls for years to come, and we didn’t really get the chance to really sit back, relax, and even enjoy a mess of Tomfoolery, because it was just over so fast! This also feels like the least energetic audience we’ve seen at one of these events, and you can’t really blame the crowd, because they were not given a lot to work with.
Attempting to rank the performances in RuPaul’s Shady Shack:
1. Shea Couleé
Ahead of the challenge, because she was the Top All Star of last week, it was up to Miz Cracker to assign the performance order, and she slotted in Shea Couleé to close the show, arguing that no matter how well she does, “In people’s minds, they’ll be like, ‘Am I just remembering her because she was the last one?’” Well, Shea’s performance confirms Cracker’s theory, since Blair bombs, and Jujubee and Cracker don’t perform at the level of their abilities, you do leave with the impression that Shea is maybe better and funnier than she is, because of her comparative superiority to the routines ahead of her own. Shea’s performance is roughly at the level of Cracker’s and a class above Jujubee’s, and since it didn’t feel like a given that she would slay this challenge, she benefits from the element of surprise, especially once this comes after a narrative of her writing her routine that morning and feeling unprepared. It’s a little confusing when she asks, “Has anyone here ever been robbed before? Well I have, and no, I’m not talking about the finale of Season 9,” which implies that she’s about to relate something surprising to the audience, or focus on some other anecdote for them to relate to. But, she literally continues to elaborate on what that experience was like for her, and while it’s funny and moving, it feels like she missed a step in getting there, and we have already heard about her Rose Petal Trauma a couple of times before in her Episode One entrance, and on the runway the week of her Snatch Game win. But, her read of Blair having a rough previous week early in her routine sets up the expectation that she’s going to say something really pointed and shady, and it’s a nice subversion of expectations that she makes a cute, innocent joke about Blair failing her Driver’s Test. Sadly, that’s probably the best joke of the night. Overall, she exceeded expectations, and makes the greatest impression, thanks to the bell curve comparison to her competitors, and the confidence of her delivery glosses over a few minor errors in her approach.
2. Miz Cracker
Cracker was also correct that if in a scenario where Blair bombs, she’s going to look good. But all of her jokes, while delivered with some confidence and flair, are all things that have been done before. We’ve all heard jokes about how mean New Yorkers are; we’ve all heard a minority label themselves with a slur and joke about how that doesn’t mean it’s okay for you to say it; we’ve all heard someone make a joke about the importance of affirming a positive social message, only to double down on the incorrect attitude. Nothing about this is fresh or surprising: it’s a marginally effective retread of successful comedic formula that’s just lucky to follow a disaster.
Oof, it really does take her way too long to get warmed up. And once she actually starts to try landing her jokes, her cracks about the plastic surgery have also been done before, and her allusions to Shea’s lips or Michelle’s titties are done without any extra personalizing or specific embellishment, so it just seems like she’s going through a list. Oh, why Juju, didn’t you have more of a vision?
4. Blair Saint Clair
After having validation from Ross and Jane Krakowski in the rehearsal of her routine, when Blair becomes so cocky in her boasts to the other queens, it’s a rather fulfilling narrative conclusion that she manhandles her routine. The judges are absolutely within their jurisdiction to clock her for her reliance on reading her notes, where the seconds feel like minutes as she’s flipping the pages to jog her memory, and even after using that crutch, can’t even get through a punchline without delivering it back into her notebook instead of trying to connect with the audience. This is maybe the most spectacularly awful stand-up performance on this show, but it isn’t even possible to appreciate it on a camp level, because the awkward moments last for so long that it just feels like it’s never going to end.
The names “Derrick Barry,” “Ongina,” “Mariah Paris Balenciaga,” “Mayhem Miller,” or “India Ferrah” don’t immediately sound like a killer roster for a comedy challenge, and it looks like a vote of non-confidence in the season’s cast that the producers saved this challenge for so late in the season, where they would rather wait for a smaller pool of contestants, to bank on their perceived funny girls Jujubee or Miz Cracker killing it, and making the endeavour feel like more of a success overall. But since these two queens really dropped the ball this week, the effort lands with a thud, and we should all really mourn the epic hot mess that this could have been with a bigger cast, where the judges would be forced to go off the stale weekly script of “OMG, everyone was so great, and you are all All Stars, so we really have to split hairs here!” Plus, we were all robbed of seeing whatever spicy, manic energy Alexis Mateo would have surely brought, or how nasty it could have been with Derrick Barry or India Ferrah there to go at each other’s throats. Unfortunately, the runway doesn’t fare much better, where the “Freak” theme this week would have also felt like more of an event if there had been more queens to serve a few lewks.
Miz Cracker is (inexplicably) the winner of the challenge, and the last hope for this episode’s RuDemption is a killer lip sync. The final Lip Sync Assassin is the Dancing Diva of Texas Kennedy Davenport, All Stars 3’s runner-up, who is famous for jumping into a split and landing below the stage, and edging her way into Season 7’s Top Four over fan favourite Katya. Kennedy’s ability to murder a lip sync performance is largely contingent upon her potential to wow us with dance and stunt pyrotechnics (her face isn’t always very expressive), and the choice of Reba McEntire’s “Fancy” isn’t exactly the type of song that lends itself to that. Meanwhile, despite a desperate plea to convince us that the song is apparently a challenge because of verbose lyrics, it feels like Miz Cracker has been pitched a soft ball, since it’s really important that she wins the final $20,000 at stake (notice how for the first time, there isn’t the possibility of the money rolling over to the next week if the Lip Sync Assassin wins?), but Cracker’s lip syncs have progressively deflated with each performance, and quirkily pointed wrists are decidedly not carrying this performance. Neither of the girls really shine, and Miz Cracker is given a win for what should be a double Sashay Away in a regular season, because what else are they going to do with the money?
That Cracker reveals Blair’s lipstick, eliminating her from the competition, was an inevitability so devoid of any element of suspense: Blair’s overall performance in the season was mediocre, she didn’t win any challenges, and was glaringly the weakest of this week. The trio of queens who have consistently performed well throughout the season (Shea, Jujubee and Cracker) have always been very careful about not wanting to look like they’re in an hurry to eliminate their strongest competitors, and when a queen is as obviously behind the pack as Blair is this week, it never really seemed possible that this would be the time that they throw a wrench in the logic of who to send home.
Ooh, Lordt. After one of the worst episodes in twelve regular seasons and five All Stars editions, this show really owes us one hell of a finale: here’s hoping that this cast and the creative team behind the show are going to be able to pull a rabbit from a hat!