All T All Shade All Stars: If I Could Turn Back Time

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001Things start off on a solemn note because this most recent elimination is forcing people to reevaluate their prospects. I doubt that anyone ever viewed Coco as real competition, but Tatianna came in hot that first week, and her dismissal proves that even a strong contender can be sent packing for one botched challenge. The saving grace in this situation: THE RULES. No one likes to give a sister the chop, but Katya and Alaska manage to sleep at night by reminding themselves that their selection was based entirely on what the judges said. It’s a deflection that allows everyone to keep their sanity. Except, of course, for Alyssa, who has already lost hers. And while her antics might not be to some people’s liking, rest assured that I would personally smother Phi Phi to death in her sleep in exchange for one more episode of Alyssa’s Secret.

After the credits, it’s a new day in the workroom, and the revelation that Katya hates that part of the show as much as I do only enables my fantasy that one day she and I will be best friends. Phi Phi continues trying to read Alyssa because she still hasn’t accepted the Goddess Edwards into her heart like the rest of the queens. Together, they chant “BEAST” and giggle like middle schoolers at a sleepover, not even bothering to respond to the blue-haired gollum’s taunts because nothing she says could possibly matter while they are in the presence of true, unadultered, witless excellence.

002Speaking of which, in walks Ru. Since the network won’t give her another 90-minute time slot, she blows past the mini-challenge and skips straight to the main event: the girls will be lip syncing to a long-form musical number, performing as (and about) great women in history. It’s an assignment that immediately worries Katya, given her plane crash of a showing last time she tried this type of gig. Luckily, no one remembers anything about her season except how completely delightful she is. I’ve blocked that whole debacle out so thoroughly that when they show clips from her first lap on the show, it’s like new footage to me. And I recapped those episodes! But I’ll never forget that Phi Phi referred to “gee eye effs” in her talking heads segment this week, and I’ll never forgive her for it, either. Even in the midst of a raging debate over correct pronunciation, she manages to find a new way to piss everyone off.

As usual, the show carts out some tepid rehearsal footage and tries to make us believe that anyone who didn’t nail the choreography on the first try is destined to fall off a cliff into a pit of burning snakes. Sorry, editors, but I’m not at all impressed that you found clips of people not knowing the dance steps. Neither is it shocking that they caught Phi Phi trying to sabotage others. (The only surprise, really, is that she thinks it will work. It must suck to be the least stable, the meanest, and the dumbest.) Of course, back at the make-up table the next day, she’s suddenly virulently anti-bullying. Because she’s the real victim here. How awful that she experienced social consequences for being a horrible shitlord! At least she has this chance to pave herself a road to redemption one backhanded comment at a time. Like, girl, you don’t need to remind Ginger that her dress is massive. SHE’S FAT THAT’S JUST HOW BIG HER CLOTHES ARE.

005In the Lip Sync Extravaganza, Alaska and Phi Phi both do completely serviceable jobs as Eve and Helen of Troy respectively. Detox manages to stand out performance-wise because it’s been a couple years since she’s shown us that jaw waggle on TV, so it seems fresh. (Giving me that not-so-fresh feeling: her “innovative” take on Marie Antoinette that Robbie Turner just did for Season 8’s neon runway.) Ginger’s horsing around is great, but Alyssa’s got more pizzazz than a whole warehouse full of bedazzled guns. Given what a drunken egret of a man she is, it’s easy to forget that she’s actually very good at what she does, even if “what she does” falls in a pretty narrow range. She’s a tough act to follow, but don’t cry for Roxxxy, Argentina: she holds her own. Katya, sadly, falters again, though I think most of the blame lies with the material. Princess Di is a beloved icon whose tragic death we all remember. It’d be like assigning everyone New York landmarks to sing about, and then asking Katya to close the show with a haiku about the Twin Towers.

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The runway theme provides everyone with great insight into how bleak the future of a drag queen really is. (You can’t exactly make enough to save for retirement, so your options are basically to lip sync into your 80s, starve, or die young.) Continuing her streak of outstanding looks, Detox locks in one of the top spots with her silver body paint moment. Alyssa takes the other win in spite of her confusing creation, which holds your attention in a Two Girls, One Cup sort of way. I think Katya’s look represents the kind of drag she would be doing in the future, but the judges aren’t here for it, so she’s lined up on the chopping block next to Ginger Minj, whose outfit is so generically bad that my attempts at a punchline just roll right off it.

Backstage during deliberation, the only real drama comes from everyone’s worry that their carefully constructed game rules won’t be followed. It’s not that Alyssa wants to fuck with the system: it’s that her brain works differently from everyone else’s. She has some unique form of glittery autism. “The Future of Drag” is being incoherently hilarious at a party, falling into a split, and then telling everyone you have Edwards’ Syndrome. Though the consensus seems to be that Katya should go home, some question remains as to whether she will.

007Detox asserts before the lip sync that she’s confident she’ll win, but her assurance is misplaced. See, she pretty much has only one gimmick with that lip quiver, and she used it up in the challenge. Her competitor, on the other hand, is a whole season’s worth of pageants condensed into human form. Alyssa’s costume change isn’t a weakness: it’s a chance for her to give you another look. She brings the fire-in-the-eyes, legs-in-the-air, the-power-of-Christ-compels-you DRAMA that the judges crave, and her victory is sweet. Even sweeter: her understanding that Katya is a more dynamic contestant than Ginger. Trimming the Minj might not be the more popular option, but it’s for sure the more interesting one.

(Speaking of interesting: when Ginger says that she and Alyssa do “kind of the same thing,” what thing is she talking about, exactly? Having teeth? Breathing oxygen? Their Venn diagrams have like six molecules of overlap.)

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All T All Shade All Stars: The Girl Who Blanked

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Following Coco’s departure, the queens return to the workroom looking like a bunch of children who just learned that the chicken we eat is the same thing as the chicken that walks around and clucks. Roxxxy is the most shaken, since she’s the one who had to behead the metaphorical fowl. It’s not fair to foist this heavy a moral quandary on a woman who doesn’t know how to say “sequin.” To deflect some of their guilt, the ladies dissect how harsh the critiques were: since the judges no longer have the power to bite, they have tripled their bark. The mere mention of Michelle’s name triggers Adore’s PTSD, which she developed in the half hour since she got chewed out. On top of it all, everyone’s worried that, given their collectively high skill level, winning will require almost superhuman amounts of strength and style. The pressure is so intense that Phi Phi has already lost a tooth! (I know it was fake, but still. To whoever edits this show: can we remove any shit like that from future episodes? You censored Violet Chachki’s male nipples in Season 7 and all of a sudden you’re going full-tilt body horror on me?)

as2e02 03Everyone comes back the next morning refreshed from a night of slumber and excited to face the day’s assignment (except for Adore, who is either psychologically damaged or changing her aesthetic to emo). Contestants and audience alike are thrilled to learn that the main challenge is… Snatch Game! Viewers at home get to revel in the kind of rampant stupidity that could only have come from 1970s broadcasting standards, while the racers get a second lap at the most notable event in the competition. This will be particularly tough for Tatianna: as the winner of the first Snatch Game, she has to reclimb a mountain that has only gotten taller. Phi Phi, Detox, and Alyssa are in some ways lucky to have set the bar low, since it will now be much easier for them to jump it.

Amidst all the discussion of which celebrity hairdo each queen will half-assedly recreate, Adore is just over in the corner crying into her wig. Ru, who is an amateur detective in her off hours, astutely notes that something is wrong with Our Lady of Perpetual Hogbody. And then the dramatic music cues in: she’s putting the “no” in Delano and quitting.

as2e02 04This shit is so juicy that the other girls stop getting ready and blatantly stare at the conversation as it unfolds. What follows is a verbal tennis match that boils down to a battle over who can deliver the best Oprah-esque amateur life coach platitudes. It’s important to be true to yourself and live your truth and do what’s in your heart and keep your eyes on the prize and don’t shit where you eat and a stitch in time saves nine and FUCK GUYS ADORE IS REALLY LEAVING! I have to say, I’ve seen high school guidance counselors work harder at getting someone not to drop out; you can tell that Ms. Charles is half invested in preventing an early exit and half thinking, “this is going to make everyone on Reddit crap their pants!” Adore then meets with Michelle, who also reeks of bullshit initially (eliciting a facial expression from Ms. Delano that would count as the best of the episode if Alyssa weren’t here to snag that title every single week), but she eventually gives a more honest apology. Still, it’s too little too late, and let’s be real: by the end of the main stage presentation, they’d probably go right back to telling Adore that she looks like an obese gibbon doing Daria cosplay.

But we’re not here to dwell on that downfall, because it’s time for the Snatch Game, which has delivered more abominations than an obstetrician in Chernobyl. You’d think that people who had been through this would have learned from their experiences, but you’d be wrong. And it doesn’t help that Phi Phi has been dropping helpful hints in some people’s ears (though anyone who would listen to her advice obviously didn’t watch her Season 4 performance as a freshman theater major who thinks Lady Gaga is really edgy). She’s better this time around, even if her Theresa Caputo is still medium by any measure. Her mind games derail Roxxxy, however, who abandons Sofia Vergara (who she could probably pull off) for Alaska (please stop).

as2e02 07Though she brings back a celebrity that was done a disservice in Season 8, Detox can’t save Nancy Grace, and vice versa. Rounding out the middle, Ginger throws down a vague Tammy Faye with an accent that wavers between Minnesotan and Australian depending on the Bible verse. The strongest contenders are Katya, who taps into her innate mania to deliver a hilariously nonsensical Björk, and Alaska, who turns Mae West’s veiled innuendos into brilliant pornographic haikus. Special mention must be made, however, of the juggernaut that is Alyssa Edwards as Joan Crawford. An expert at winning by failing, she has a minimal grasp on the look, no grasp whatsoever on the voice (take that, Phi Phi), and nothing but a handful of Mommie Dearest quotes to support her performance. From any other queen, this would have been a one-way ticket to the bottom two, but her inimitable presence turns the botched characterization into the most entertaining showing of the night. She’s only good at one thing, and that’s being Alyssa Edwards, but she’s so good at it that context ceases to matter. One imagines that she might begin winning marathons and resolving legal disputes not with physical stamina or constitutional knowledge, but with her uniquely compelling oddness.

And then there’s Tatianna. Even after managing to turn into an exact physical replica of Ariana Grande, she comes up piccolo on punchlines. (It’s Italian for small. Read a book.) Gosh I hope she has a stunning runway outfit to save her!

as2e02 06She does not. And she’s stuck in the bottom three with Roxxxy, who can almost always be counted on to turn a look, and Detox, who is admittedly hit-or-miss but who unequivocally burned this motherfucker to the ground with her fetish gear Romper Room pony play presentation. The top two represent opposite ends of the spectrum with their latex loveliness: Katya is as campy as Alaska is chic (and critically, neither of them wore a one-piece bathing suit and acted like that was acceptable). It’s up to them to decide who will sashay away. Adding insult to injury, whoever is chosen will have to sashay in a rubber dress, which will probably make all sorts of fart noises that we will childishly laugh at after she’s gone.

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The ladies retire backstage for the dreaded one-on-one meeting portion of the evening, where we learn no new information and everyone just sort of awkwardly dances around the specifics of the topic. It’s like listening in on a team meeting after someone heard there will be layoffs: everyone is looking for the boss to drop hints, and the boss is remaining stone-faced until the last possible minute because no one wants a situation where Legal has to get involved. Meanwhile, Katya changes her entire outfit and Alaska puts on a shorter heel and both of them get ready to leg sync for their leprosy or whatever.

as2e02 10So here’s the thing: “Le Freak” is a surprisingly limp choice for a drag number. On top of that, Katya (who is in full-on FLATS, mind you) trots out a C+ show that only adds to the flaccidity. It’s not like she has to worry about going home; maybe she thinks it’s worth $10,000 to force someone else to chop Tatianna. People make a lot of Hunger Games jokes on this show, but between the accounting decisions and the hiring/firing politics, it’s basically a very sparkly office drama. And it really is sad to see Tati pack up her desk and file for unemployment: she was always so much fun at the holiday party and never stole from the break room fridge.

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All T All Shade All Stars: America’s Next Drag Superstars Got Talent

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In case you hadn’t noticed: 2016 is a raging shit parade. Season 2 of All Stars is the only thing giving me even a glimmer of hope in this world, and I need it as much as I need oxygen. (Or at least as much as Oprah needs Oxygen.) That said: writing these recaps is a big, salty bitch. This episode was really long and really good, so making it worth your while to relive the whole roller coaster again is going to be a tall order.

Then again, I can’t see any of you, so if you get through the whole article without laughing once, I’ll never even know.

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Anyway, on with it. Katya comes in first (both on the show and in my heart), and starts us off by using more Russian in her intro than she used in all of Season 7 combined. Her goal is to prove that she’s the most mentally ill contestant, but the race for that title is significantly tighter than the game she’s actually playing. Next up is Detox. She seems to be doing great, though it’s tough to judge her drag without more insight into what a female of her species looks like. They are followed by the inimitable Alyssa Edwards, who has reached Phylicia-Rashad-in-Tyler-Perry’s-For-Colored-Girls levels of spouting nonsense as if it has rich layers of meaning. She might be the most watchable human being on the planet. Admit it: if she was in your mirror, you’d be transfixed, too.

Phi Phi O’Hara steps in next, and paradoxically, she couldn’t try harder if she tried. How’s that for a riddle? Behind her is ambulatory armchair Ginger Minj. Her game seems to have been raised since her season, though I’m still not 100% sure you can buy taste. Roxxxy Andrews follows and she looks impeccable and that’s really all I have to say about that. I have even less to say about Coco Montrese, who yelled about being orange once and has milked it for what feels like decades.

And just when you had gotten enough of Season 5, Alaska walks through the door! She’s joined the Alyssa Edwards School of Randomly Generated Almost-English and is on her way to becoming valedictorian. Her look is predictably great, but also totally predictable. Nest of blond hair, garbage bag gown, the inflatable lips Sharon bought her… you know the drill. Tatianna, on the other hand, breaks expectations by showing up at all (mostly because her season aired before half of the Drag Race audience was born), but she wins the Most Improved award. Is this an intolerable movie about overcoming the odds through dance? Because she STEPPED IT UP. Last but not least is Adore Delano, who looks like a real homeless woman.

(I am going to have to skim so hard through the rest of this episode; I’ve already written way too much!)

002The video message from Ru has become entirely irrelevant, but she paid for that big TV in the workroom and god dammit she’s gonna use it. Her grand descent down the glamorous metal staircase is met with raucous cheers even though we know the whole cast has met her many times before. Maybe they just applaud every time they see her anywhere? That would be an acceptable response. And they’ve got reason to celebrate, at least according to one interpretation of Ru’s message: it almost sounded like she won’t be sending anyone home this season. Hmmm…

But there’s no time to think about that particular tidbit because we are jumping right into the reading mini-challenge. Since these queens have all become part of Logo’s Gender Performance Prison Industrial Complex, they’ve gigged together before and are ready to shade each other into pitch black. As a dark soul entity, Phi Phi has no trouble landing some direct hits; Katya’s inner negativity also helps her in projecting outward negativity. Coco hasn’t learned how to emphasize her gibberish in a way that sounds like communication, and so her reads fall flat. Alyssa, on the other hand, turns single words into full-on soliloquies. From anyone else, this effort would be a failure, but her delivery makes it a riotous success. Not an actual win, though: that goes to Alaska. (Even if her prize should have been revoked when she accidentally revealed that she was wearing flats under that dress.)

003The next day, the ladies return to prepare for their mainstage challenge: a talent show! It’s a device that, frankly, should have been introduced into the competition several seasons ago. I can think of ten contestants off the top of my head that could have been reduced to dust by the mere mention of this undertaking. While they paint, everyone talks about their legacy and the audience perception they need to reverse. It’s like a roomful of Hillaries trying to convince the public of how kind and gentle they are. (Except for Katya: she could shoot someone dead in the middle of 5th Avenue and I’d only love her more.)

And then it’s time for the Performance Extravaganza! RuPaul walks to a remix of her usual music, though her stomp down the runway is impossible to improve. The judging panel, sadly, has been given a downgrade: Ross Matthews has lost his timeshare behind the desk, leaving a discarded Madame puppet in his place. (If even one of you catches that reference I will die happy.) Adding further weight to the sinking ship, Todrick Fucking Hall will be here every week. I assume that he’s going to do what he does best and minimally reword the work of previous, far superior judges. Rounding out the crew is Raven-Symoné, who Ru expertly shades for having an accent above a silent letter in her name.

005It would take too long to give a full recap of all the talent acts, so let’s fast forward. Adore sings a song; she is good at singing songs. Alyssa serves “variety” because she defies categorization, but she is breathtaking at doing the very specific insane thing this does. Coco serves Dancing with the Stars if you took away the professional dancers and the stars. Detox gives you day-glo Play-Doh scarecrow realness. Ginger sings a worse song than Adore’s, but is also a good singer. Break for commercial.

Katya’s gymnastics routine gives you the old, white, dementia-ridden Simone Biles you didn’t know you wanted. Phi Phi confirms everyone’s suspicions that singing a cappella was a terrible idea, though I think it was secretly genius, because now she can blame this train wreck on the lack of backing track and gloss over the fact that she’s just not a good singer overall. Roxxxy demolishes her burlesque act because she has a specific form of OCD that forces her to tear off every piece of clothing she puts on. Alaska does Alaska, dressing like an alien sex toddler and making mouth noises that are simultaneously soothing and infused with Lovecraftian nightmares. I don’t think Tatianna knows what “spoken word” is, but her act is still amazing. (They should have just called it another “variety” piece.)

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And then the judging. Michelle warns everyone that she’s going to be especially awful this season and proceeds to verbally beat Adore with a shovel. Especially given the  later reveal that she and Michelle frequently spar about costume choices on tour, this interchange feels exceptionally personal. Others get read, but no one gets read like this. (Tatianna actually doesn’t get read at all. Everyone loves her, as well they should.)

008Having shared feedback, Ru revisits her earlier tease about elimination. This season, she won’t cut anyone because they’ll be cutting each other. (Figuratively, one hopes, but with this crew…) Specifically, the top two will lip sync for the right to choose which of the bottom queens packs up. Today, that’ll be Tatianna and Roxxxy deciding the fate of Adore, Coco, and Phi Phi. The backstage discussion that follows is, I assume, what we’re getting instead of Untucked this season. Dame Andrews assures everyone that she wants to be fair and not let personal connections influence her choice, and then immediately undermines that assertion by asking to have a private conversation with each of the bottom three.

We’re so close, guys.

009Back on stage, both stars kill the sync, but Ru gives Roxxxy the win. The sting she feels at sending Coco home is probably somewhat soothed by the $10,000 she gets for her victory. And come on, was the crown ever really going to go to Coco Montrese? Coco Montrese? Ditching her early was a mercy. She can go home and read a book and wait for Ru to deploy the (probably mostly meaningless) revenge being teased at the end of the episode.

AND WE’RE DONE! If you like these recaps, please share them far and wide. If you’re in New York, come to Nobodies Hosting Drag Race with Suburbia every Thursday at Terra Firma in Bushwick.

 

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