by Todd O'Dowd
The Costumes! The Scenery! The (Mac Cosmetics) Make Up! The Props (aka The Pit Crew)! The judges that always let you down….
With apologies to dear Irving Berlin, this episode was kind of a let down for me. Don’t get me wrong, 90 minutes every Monday with Auntie Ru and her All Star collection of fame whores and whackadoos is and always will be quality television in my book. But I had high hopes for this episode that fell flat; a super-sized variation on one of the show’s staple challenges should have been a killer episode and yet it wasn’t all that it should have been.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s throw on some body paint, break out our Ethel Merman records, and get ready to Laugh, Queen, Laugh!
* We begin back in the work room and the girls are still processing the elimination of Pandora and Mimi. And many of the queens had the same reaction that I did; bitch done gave up. And it’s a shame since these two would have brought it to this challenge.
* But first it’s time for that new game In Da Butt Ru, the show’s homage to The Newlywed Game. And of course Raven and Jujubee win; aside from Chad and Shannel, they know each other quite well. As awkward as it was sometimes, there were some killer lines from Raven (“The Devil Wears Nada” in reference to her underwear choice was just one of the laugh out loud moments).
* And with Ru ordering the pit crew to “Frock It To Them” by giving the winning couple cream pies in the face (not that kind, you dirty people!), Ru reveals the challenge; a sketch comedy show where the queens must write and perform jokes in their best celebrity impersonation in an homage to the landmark 60′s sketch comedy show Laugh-In. (And for a quick history of why Laugh-In was so important, check out this article at A.V. Club.) And to up the ante, the special guest of RuPaul’s Gaff-In (naughty naughty Ru!) is the legendary Vicki Lawrence, resurrecting her most famous creation, Mama. (Interesting side note, Vicki Lawrence actually created Mama’s character not for Mama’s Family, but for another legendary sketch comedy show).
* The girls go off to work on their characters and jokes, but the girls are trying to figure out who they can play and still be funny with. Then Ru comes to check on her girls and it’s interesting to note how much shade Ru is throwing the girls. On one hand, it reeks of Ru trying to be the alpha queen in the room. On the other hand, Ru’s questions were sharper than normal and some of them were dead on (for example, when one is impersonating a diva who’s had a lengthy career like Bette Davis, it’s always appropriate to ask what era of said diva will you be impersonating).
* And then we get to the filming of Gaff-In, which has four sequences; the dance party, the joke with Ru, the pop up wall jokes, and the customary pie in the face – all of which were parts of Laugh-In. (Side Note: I was disspaointed that RuPaul and the editors didn’t take it all the way with a montage of the Pit Crew go-go dancing while covered in body paint. I mean, it worked for Goldie Hawn.) As much as I loved the idea of the challenge (I mean, Mama plus Drag Queens should be a no brainer, right?), I’m sorry but this was a little painful to watch. Not all queens are natural comediennes (and the two that are were just eliminated last episode). But the girls were game for the most part and gave it their all, if there were more than a few duds in the group and it felt like it took forever; the legendary “Snatch Game” challenge that the girls do in the normal competition is only half as long as this was. And it has to be said, Vicki Lawrence was mopping the floor with everyone in the challenge, including Ru.
* Runway Day and Ru, Santino, and Michelle are joined by Ms. Lawrence and actress Busy Phillips. And before I go any further, I have to give credit to Vicki Lawrence again for being one of the best judges in the show’s herstory, giving the girls sharp, specific critiques that were impressive in their precision. And so, on with the 60′s Mod fashion show…
* Yara and Alexis (in particular ) looked great on the runway. As for the challenge, while Alexis looked great as Shakira, she wasn’t really funny in the part. Yara wasn’t super funny either, but she looked eerily like Charo and was able to channel her zany Latina shtick through her portrayal of the zaniest Latina of them all. While I don’t know if Yara and Alexis should have won, it was a strong team (especially in Vicki’s eyes) but it was plagued with one strong member and one weak member. Just like all the other teams this week.
* Raven and Jujubee looked alike, serving “teenagers going to the Beatles concert” realness. As for Gaff-In, Juju was able to deliver on the voice and delivery of Fran Drescher (if not entirely on the look – she looked more like an anemic Jiggly Caliente). Raven, on the other hand, had the deadpan delivery of Bea Arthur down (“I said In Me, not On me!”) but there was no sparkle there.
* Shannel and Chad were serving it up old school. And while they looked cute on the runway, it has to be said that their runway looks that they choose for themselves often age them, making them older than they really are. And speaking of old, while I liked Chad’s All About Eve era Bette Davis, I was confounded by Shannel’s take on Lucille Ball; the look was great but the delivery was flat. Michelle was dead on in her comment that since Lucy is such an iconic character, if you can’t nail everything it will fall apart.
* Latrice and Manilla served up Oprah Winfrey and Madonna respectively. While Manilla’s Madonna was better than I expected, I was sad that Latrice’s Oprah was such a wash. Not only that, the runway looks for both of them were off. Sadly, they deserved to be in the bottom two.
* Also in the bottom two were Team Brown Flowers (eww!), which is sad as they are genuinely sweet and fun together. That said, they kind of fell apart this week. While their runway looks were strong (Nina’s was damn near flawless while Tammie’s was her own take on the 60s) their Gaff-In performance was a wreck. In Nina’s case, choosing Latin singer La Lupe was an odd choice not for the fact that most people don’t know who she is but because she wasn’t able to make her funny. (In fact, when I saw the preview photos, I thought that Nina was trying to channel Laugh-In staple Joanne Worley). As for Tammie, her idea of doing Tammy Faye Messner was inspired but I agreed with Ru that there was too much Ms. Brown and not enough of Ms. Messner (and he would know better than anybody; you will recall that RuPaul narrated and produced the documentary The Eyes of Tammy Faye). So I was not surprised that they were in the bottom two. But I was surprised at what happened next…
* But before we get to the Lip Synch for Your Lives, let’s talk about Untucked. More so than before, Untucked has become essential viewing. Not only is it fun seeing the girls unwind a little bit before inevitable doom, it shows things we don’t see in the main show (like this episode where Tammie managed to very politely read Michelle Visage for FILTH!) and the inevitable surprises that happen in the Gold Bar. Last week, Willam made a surprise appearance. This week, Chad received a video message from his estranged father, which sent the Gold Bar into tears and a rather frank discussion on the tricky relationship between drag queens and fathers. It was a fantastic episode.
* Back to the runway, and when I heard that it was Latrice versus Tammie for the Lip Synch, I was ready to say farewell to Miss Brown, but then I heard the opening of Ethel Merman’s “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” and I actually feared for Latrice. And while she rallied, I have to say it (and I’m shocked that I’m typing these words): Tammie Brown OWNED that lip synch. Not to say that Latrice was bad (in fact, it was refreshing to see her do choreography well), but Tammie was in her element and made the number work for her. Both of them turned it out, to the point where I actually feared for Latrice and Manilla. But RuPaul’s sense of favoritism… I mean, calmer heads prevaled and we had to say a sad, but much less acrimonious farewell to Team Brown Flowers (eww!). Ladies, you were both cooky but we loved you for it.
* And now we get to the same complaint that we had about the show last week: the team format is fun in a challenge or two, but an entire season chained to another person has the effect that a strong queen who should be here till the end is eliminated. Say what you will about her shameful behavior last week, Pandora was one of the stronger queens in the group and her elimination was shocking for being so early (mind you she did herself in). Likewise, as much as they got along, Tammie was doing no favors for Nina – one of the strongest queens in the history. It’s times like these that it seems Ru just wants to mess with the formula to the eternal consternation of the show’s fans. Thankfully we had something like this happen last night…
Next Week: It’s daytime drag as our intrepid girls work the street for fun and profit.