You Can Stay Fabulous During The Drag Race Hiatus!
John Ramos and Mark Blankenship discuss what's worth checking out in gay TV between seasons of RuPaul's Drag Race.
Hello, I'm Previously.TV Contributor Mark Blankenship..
Hello, I'm Previously.TV contributor John Ramos.
Oh, hey kween.
What up, squirrelfriend!
Awww. John! As we use this drag slang to greet one another, not unlike Masons flashing secret hand signals to one another across a battlefield, I am reminded of our true purpose here today. Namely, we need to support one another in this dark time of the year when there are no new episodes of Drag Race to watch.
It's so true! Although I guess we should mention the inspiration for this little discussion: the S4 eps that are running every Friday night, which are basically a straight (heh) rerun -- except for a Pop Up Video-esque element of factoids about the season, interspersed with bitchy asides from Ru herself.
True. I don't know how you feel, but for me, they've been an unexpected delight -- not quite as good as a new episode, of course, but still incredibly enjoyable. That's partly because S4 is just incredible -- I'm falling in love with these girls all over again -- and partly because the pop-up format, like everything else on the series, nicely rides the line between high quality and shameless trash. Like...doesn't it seem like RuPaul just sat down and recorded fifty sassy comments in a row, then trusted the editors to know which one was appropriate? "Oh, they'll know when they need a 'No she didn't' and when they need a 'Why it gotta be black?' I'll just give 'em a taste of everything!"
Yeah, some of the interjections are definitely episode-specific (usually when she's throwing shade at a particular contestant), but for the most part, they feel like -- and I think you said this to me last week -- that episode of The Simpsons where Krusty comes to the studio and knocks off his lines before the guy is even recording.
Haha! Yes, that was me! And I stand by my decision to connect RuPaul with Krusty the Klown. So...as we revisit S4, has anything stood out to you in a new way? Did you appreciate something for the first time, or maybe learn something from a pop-up?
Well, without this rewatch, I certainly wouldn't be aware that Ru names all her many wigs. One thing I've really enjoyed is revisiting the array, weird on the surface yet logical in a visceral way, of guest judges. Did you realize there have now been over a hundred guest judges on the show? That's a lot of (sometimes confused) celebrity!
Whoa! Eventually, Ru's going to run out of people she loved in the '80s. WHICH REMINDS ME: how great was Pam Tillis? I had forgotten that. Can she please have her own advice show? And also...I had forgotten that Sharon Needles made a joke about Natalie Cole's drug addiction to her FUCKING FACE. The balls on that bitch! Mad respect.
Ditto to Ms. Cole for her "yeah I sure did" reaction. Even though some of them turn out to be duds, I'm always fascinated by who's going to turn up. Some of them are "duh" choices, like Lily Tomlin or Janice Dickinson or even Lucy Lawless, but then you get like a Rick Fox, and I wonder how that choice happened and whether he's a real community ally or if he just wanted to have some fun on TV.
Yeah, it's fascinating to consider whether these people were making political statements about being allies.
Indeed. But also, in thinking about this show and its effect on me, I went more to the place of how much things for our (extended) community have changed since this show premiered...in 2009. Have you given that much thought?
You know, I really hadn't until (I believe) last week's episode, when Latrice said she wasn't comfortable calling it gay "marriage" -- that she wanted a different term to use. That's such a telling reminder of how much has changed and how quickly, and that season only aired in 2012! It's barely been three years, but that discomfort already feels unnecessary now. And I loved the pop-up informing us that, in the intervening months, Latrice has become an ordained minister who performs gay marriages. What have YOU noticed on that tip?
Well, to take the scenic route to answer that question, watching I Am Cait inspired me to reread an interview I did for the late lamented Television Without Pity way back in 2007.
Ah, TWoP. I just bought a bottle of pink wine and poured it on the floor in tribute.
I know; I had to dig up my Word version to reminisce about it. So the interview was with Candis Cayne, who had just been cast in Dirty Sexy Money. And it's one of my favorite bits of journalism I've ever done -- but reading it now, I was horrified to see some of the terminology I threw around. And Candis used it too -- that may have been out of ingrained politeness, but I think it's more that people weren't treating the trans community with near the sensitivity they are now (all caveats about there still being miles to go taken as a given). My point is that it reminded me the show -- about the gayest show around -- had to go through the same evolution with the "You've Got She-Mail" issue. It was pretty profound, reflecting on that.
And how great that a show like Drag Race has existed during this particular moment in queer culture. Because it really has been able to serve as a type of recorded witness to how things have changed, while also doing excellent work at celebrating where the culture came from. The show has always been committed to celebrating the history of queerness, and now the older seasons are themselves becoming valuable artifacts in the same way. Damn! I hadn't thought about that before at all, but now it seems so clear that this is another reason to re-watch. That...and Willam. John, I don't think I appreciated just what a stellar queen Willam was the first time around. Bugfuck crazy? Sure. Probably sitting on some deep emotional trauma? One hundred percent. But SUCH a great performer in this context. I will never stop living for that blue swimsuit.
I feel the same way; I didn't appreciate Willam near as much the first time around (although with his intervening work I was much more favorably disposed toward him even before this rewatch). He's such an interesting duck, and one of the things that they've at least alluded to is that he's not exactly warm with any of the other queens, and as such seems criticized for not being a good member of the community. Yet his work, performative and self-involved as it may or may not be, speaks for itself.
That's one of those great questions that hovers over every competitive reality show -- how nice do the top performers have to be? Though I guess that question hovers over life itself. But speaking of Willam's subsequent work, have you that show Eastsiders? It's the gay webseries that was created by Kit Williamson from Mad Men. Anyway, it's about to premiere its second season, and Willam's going to be a regular character. I can't wait! (And Constance Wu is coming back, apparently, despite her commitment to Fresh Off The Boat.)
That is all amazing, and it's been on my list; I need to make it a priority, since the eps are short and the time commitment is, as such, low. But that's a great transition to our primary topic: one other thing that's changed since the show began is that there is so much more LGBTQ content out there now. It makes the long winter between Drag Race seasons more manageable. What do you turn to when the last "shante" and "sashay" have been uttered?
Well, this week it's been How To Get Away With Murder, which I'm covering for Previously.TV this season. I've been gobbling up the first season, and let me tell you, I appreciate all the gay sex that is being had in the name of justice! Or in the name of manipulating people to get secrets from them. Either way: sex!
That's also another show whose wig game is on point.
Haha! Word. How about you? What's fueling your fabulousity engine?
Hmm. Obviously, I'm waiting for the new season of Transparent. And I will certainly watch S2 of HTGAWM; it's not good, strictly speaking, but it scratches a weird procedural itch in the way I assume the L&O franchise does for many people. I'm looking forward to covering The Flash again: last season there were a couple gay characters, and I want to see if series showrunner Greg Berlanti (who is gay) ups his game. But it also strikes me -- another change from the early days of Drag Race -- that gay content has become so much more commonplace on shows I watch that could easily get by without it. Deutschland 83, which you and I discussed, is one. Even Mr. Robot threw it in; I'm not too proud to say I rewound that scene.
The one where Wellick fucks the guy just to get access to his phone? No shame in putting that on replay, my friend. And I realize that I've now talked about two series where the gay sex is totally shady, but I LOVE that there are enough gay characters now to make evil queens a real possibility. Because at the same time people are boning their way to the top (and I use the word "top" in every sense here), we've also got shows like Empire and The Fosters and Kimmy Schmidt and Orange Is The New Black that are giving us gay characters who are positive or funny or whatever else. And Drag Race can certainly take part of the credit for helping to diversify that landscape.
Yes, and I'd go a bit farther and say that I think evil queens have existed in the past, but the big difference for me is that the characters are far more complex and identifiable, and just because they do reprehensible things now doesn't mean you're not allowed to like them. Much like many of our favorite Drag Race queens!
Excellent point. These bitches might be evil, but they're not evil BECAUSE they're gay, as may have been the case in the past. They're evil because they're Phi Phi.
Poor, poor show horse Phi Phi. So for me, Drag Race is pretty much it, but are there any other shows that scratch your itch for pageantry?
Well, nothing will ever top a performance video my friends and I once made in the mall, where we lip-synced to "Walk Like An Egyptian" while wearing gaudy outfits that were made available to anyone who paid $15 to get up on a stage in the food court. THAT'S a level of pageantry even RuPaul has yet to surpass, and I'm still not sure why she hasn't requisitioned the VHS from my parents' garage in order to learn some tips on being a true diva.
I mean, that basically sounds like your wedding.
At any major life event, I will always need props and costumes. Because I was raised right.