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First off: I’m glad Drag Race is back and I think the ninth season is going to be phenomenal. That said: this premiere was a fucking dud.

s9e01 02To get it out of the way: I have at least met all four NYC girls, and I’m slightly biased. That doesn’t mean the NYC girls aren’t all great. Peppermint is a legend, and her oceans of talent will help her even if her constant aura of radiant joy makes her an iffy fit for a VH1 reality show. Aja is a high-energy performer, a seamstress, and the master of shade: she’ll read you to your face in a way that has you laughing so hard you throw up, and then she’ll read you for puking all over yourself. The Broadway pageant style isn’t necessarily my cup of tea, but I have immense respect for Alexis Michelle and what she does. (Also she’s sweet as pie and Reddit collectively has a three-mile-long boner for her as a boy.) My money’s on Sasha Velour, though: she’s a real weirdo and a true original.

Which is not to say that there aren’t other early standouts. Shea Coulee immediately leaps to mind: she has the drive and confidence of someone whose psychic told her that she makes the top 3. I’m also into Eureka O’Hara, who has so much look and personality that the producers had to confiscate her last name. (Or maybe after All Stars 2, she was worried about the cosmic taint of a Phi Phi association?) Charlie Hides doesn’t necessarily wear her age with pride, but she’s worth watching, because experience matters in the world of drag. And even though Nina Bo’Nina Brown’s paint job makes me feel like I need new contact lenses, I’m impressed with her unique perspective. It’s amazing that she and Tammie Brown aren’t from the same drag family, because they’re definitely both from another planet.

s9e01 01Then there’s the crop of skinny, vapid girls. Their queen is Valentina, who speaks like a robot programmed by the most ardent musical theater fan in a midwestern high school. She sounds like she’s spent three years rehearsing every word she says, and yet she still couldn’t convince me that she only started drag ten months ago. Sure, Jan. The fact that she wears a beret and black turtleneck for her confessionals tells you everything you need to know, because that is a literal costume. Farrah Moan and Kimora Blac are both young, pretty Vegas queens, and there was absolutely no need to cast both of them on the same season. In fact, with each passing moment, I’m becoming more convinced that casting even one of them was an iffy concept. And then there’s Trinity Taylor. Her assertion that there’s “astigmatism” about her drag might not have been a mistake: you’d have to have vision problems to be that proud of plastic surgery that questionable.

Lastly, there’s poor lost lamb Jaymes Mansfield, who honestly should consider herself a winner if she makes it out of the competition alive.

The final contestant isn’t a contestant at all: guest judge Lady Gaga slinks into the workroom as if she’s the last queen, only to send the ladies into a frenzy when she reveals her true identity. Half of them are crying because she’s their lord and savior, but the other half are cheering because they’re certain that if she joined the competition, they could send her home.

s9e01 03To add to the fevered snapping and finger waving, Ru descends the stairs to make another reveal: no one will be sent home this week. It’s an interesting tactic that gives us more time to get to know everyone, but also a ridiculous one that removes every bit of tension from the episode and denies us the joy of a final lip sync. The two-part main challenge is similarly double-edged: on the one hand, we get to see everyone’s creativity (or lack thereof) when they serve hometown-styled looks, but on the other hand we’ll be bored to tears watching everyone recreate outfits Lady Gaga has already worn.

And even the good  half of the pageant has its share of missteps. Disproving the notion that New York is an artistic hub, Peppermint and Aja both serve lackluster takes on Lady Liberty, and Alexis features the statue on her shoddy creation. Trinity’s graffiti pinwheel is clearly the product of hours and hours of wasted effort. And Grandma Charlie botches the tearaway on her pilgrim presentation, but even with a seamless reveal, that look should have been buried under a rock. I’m assuming Jaymes has a terminal illness and is here because someone at the Make-A-Wish foundation pulled a few strings.

s9e01 04Kimora claims to be the youngest, hottest, skinniest queen in Vegas, somehow forgetting that she’s not even the youngest, hottest, skinniest Vegas queen in the cast. She and Farrah both look fine in their feathered headgear, though they both seem to have more money than taste. The best hat of the night is Shea’s hotdog masterpiece, followed closely by Valentina’s interpretation of the dudes on the subway who play Guantanamera on the accordion when you just want to get home from work in peace. Sasha’s need to explain the concept of art by carrying a bunch of art comes off as overeager, while Eureka’s garbage explosion suggests that she would rather the judges kept a healthy distance.

I’m not even acknowledging the second half of the pageant because verbatim recreations of someone else’s work hold literally zero interest for me. It reduces everyone to a clothes hanger. Instead, let’s jump ahead: after a montage of critiques that seem entirely disconnected from the eventual results, the win goes to Nina’s peach. She talks about the paint job as though she invented paper, so I want to congratulate her on her ingenuity while lightly reminding her that she isn’t exactly the first drag queen to get resourceful because of budgetary constraints. The victory earns her a cheap sash and ten seconds of celebration before a secret 14th hopeful is introduced… from behind. (Though if you’ve been reading the Reddit spoilers, you know that a behind is enough to identify this individual.)

s9e01 05It’s at this moment that Ru says the competition truly begins. Really? Now?! If that’s the case, then why did I watch the whole last hour? Next year, can we start the competition right from the beginning so we don’t waste everyone’s time? Just a thought.

Anyhow, next week I look forward to assignments that demand more than just a big budget, consequences for people’s epic failures, and an immediate four-way elimination of the people we know for sure aren’t going to take the crown. It’d be a mercy to the queens, to the audience, and to the production team that would no longer have to schedule around Jaymes and Farrah’s early bedtimes.

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