BY Eric Rezsnyak
We got our first acting challenge of the season, and the results were mixed at best. But honestly, it’s hard to even blame the queens on this one. The real losers this episode were the writers of this supposed comedy challenge, as once again the show served up a sub-par and sometimes lazy script that gave the queens very few opportunities to impress. And believe me, we noticed.
The format for the challenge was “RDR Live,” the “Drag Race” version of “Saturday Night Live” that made its debut in “All Stars 8” with largely good results. In comparison, this was a real slog. That’s probably because this is a group of newbies, while the “All Stars” cast had all been through the “Drag Race” wringer before, and most — but not all — of those queens had at least a basic idea of how to approach comedy. There are more than a few cast members in Season 16 who I don’t think have a clue when it comes to being deliberately funny, and a few of the safe gals were lucky it was only a Bottom 3. Based on the results, it could have easily been a Bottom 6.
Let me say first, I like the concept of “RDR Live.” Quick sketches inspired by “SNL” make sense for this kind of show, and I wouldn’t have a problem if this became an annual challenge. But the writing HAS to get stronger. There is no excuse for scripts as listless as this one on an Emmy-winning show 16 seasons in. I’m sorry. Hire actual comedy writers. Funny ones. You cannot tell me that whoever is writing these is the best option you can find.
Let’s go over the challenge performance segment by segment, in order of appearance.
Xunami Muse and Morphine Love Dion opened the show as parodies of Anderson Cooper and Andy Cohen’s annual NYE telecast on CNN, except this time they were hosting an end-of-the-world broadcast. Points for high concept, if not a particularly timely one. Xunami was dull and monotone, there wasn’t anything remotely funny or memorable in her delivery. Morphine did the fake-drunk thing — really the only nod to the source material in this bit — but also demonstrated no ability to make dry material entertaining. The segment actually got worst — and it was already bad — when Mhi’ya Iman LePaige came in as a weather correspondent and Geneva Karr did a bit as, allegedly, U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham. Jesus Christ. OK. Mhi’ya took the “loud is the new funny” approach and just yelled her lines. I do not even know WHAT Geneva was going for in her Lindsey Graham impersonation. She admitted to not knowing who Graham is, which is honestly pretty shameful — you know who Becky G is, but you have no idea about one of the men who is in power and actively working to strip away your rights? Choices. Literally nothing about Geneva’s bit registered as Lindsey Graham. It was more bloated Phyllis Diller. The most entertaining part of this skit was the Rebecca Glasscock poster in the background. Floptina all around, with Geneva being the worst of the bunch.
Mirage as the host. Mirage was not terrible. She wasn’t great, but she wasn’t terrible. As soon as she spoke up about wanting the host role I knew it was a terrible decision. I have really enjoyed getting to know Mirage, but she is not great at first impressions, and I’ve always sensed a lack of confidence in her presentations — not great for the host of a comedy show, playing directly to the audience/judges all on her own. She started out fine, but the energy quickly dipped, and I absolutely saw what guest judge Sarah Michelle Gellar (ICON) was referring to about telegraphing jokes. She also stumbled over a word, which shouldn’t be the end of the world but…ask Mrs. Kasha Davis about that.
Megami and Plane Jane in a mock commercial for big decks. This was basically a beat-for-beat redux of the “All Stars 8” “RDR” sketch with Jimbo and Darienne Lake as slutty gardeners. Like I literally think it was the same script, they just swapped out gardening sex puns for deck sex puns. Plane gave us a characterization that will inevitably evoke more Jimbo comparisons, but the thing is, I don’t think “All Stars 8” had aired by the time they filmed this. I think both Plane and Jimbo were evoking Cecily Strong, and if that’s the case, they were both successful. Megami gave us dizzy slut, which: fine. But between this and her disastrous talent show, I need to start seeing some creative choices coming out of Megami. I thought Ross Matthews stole the whole bit with his butched-up cameo appearance.
Amanda Tori Meating and Dawn in the “Weekend Update”-type segment. Both queens fought for this segment, and I thought they were competent in the roles. It was the most successful segment up to that point, and I thought Amanda in particular gave us energy, although Dawn had better comedic timing. Mid-way through the sketch, Q joined as the first brick thrown at Stonewall, a la Bowen Yang and his many ridiculous cameos, notably the iceberg that sunk the Titanic. The concept for this was great, the execution was lacking — but that’s mostly the fault of the writers, who just forgot to write any jokes for the brick to say. Where was the comedy in those lines? I also personally found Q’s delivery to be flat and dense — much like a brick itself. See, writers, that’s a joke. You should try creating some! But seriously, I found Q’s line readings to be slow and disengaged. She was wildly overpraised by the judges for barely competent work.
Sapphira Cristal, Nymphia Wind, and Plasma as the Barbra Shop Quartet. I *think* the gag here is that they’re a group of Barbra Streisand impersonators, although honestly the only one giving Babs was Plasma. And she was excellent. The editors were going in on Plasma this episode, making her look like a brat and a Barbra-obsessed bore. As someone who owns every Streisand album on vinyl, I felt very seen. (Also, you should listen to our episode devoted to the Best Barbra Streisand Song.) So, it was satisfying to see Plasma excel here. I’ve been hard on Plasma the previous two weeks. I had high hopes from her based on the Meet the Queens, but she’s been a bit too “on” for me to enjoy on the show itself. (I also continue to have issues with the wigs, make-up, and details in her looks, which I continued to have this runway; she is a bit crunchy for this level of competition.) But she smashed this challenge. She was the clear winner, one of the few genuinely funny moments of the night, and she elevated material that could have easily just been meh. Great night for Plasma, and I think she proved a lot of people wrong, myself included. Sapphira and Nymphia were also solid in the skit, which involved both live singing and some amount of improv. It was the definitely the best of the night.
On the runway it was Night of 1,000 Chers, and I was impressed by many of the looks. As a Cher lover (also also, you should listen to our episode devoted to the Best Cher Song), I was both elated and worried when Ru announced it, but I found it to be overall a gorgeous tribute to both Cher and Bob Mackie. Standouts for me included Q (stunning, she’s a top-tier runway queen so far), Sapphira, Nymphia, Dawn (unexpected garment with an interesting take; would love to see her without the elf make-up once in a while), Plane Jane (I wish the hair were bigger, but it was lovely), Xunami, and I thought Mirage’s garment was beautiful, but I agreed with Ru that the hair styling and accessories were not correct.
At critiques, the judges lavished praise on Plane Jane, Q, and Plasma. I remain convinced that Plane has studied this show closely and knows exactly what to deliver to please the judges, and what to give the editors for maximum camera time. That is not necessarily a bad thing. I appreciate a gal with a plan, and by god, she is really executing it thus far — Top 3 in 2/3 challenges and the fandom can’t stop debating her. I’ve been wondering if it would be Q or Plasma getting the Jan Edit this season, aka the queen who does well but who the judges continually edge without giving a win…and then delight as the queen has a total nervous breakdown over it. And I think after this episode, I have my answer: Plasma is getting The Jan, the try-hard theater queen, but Q is actually a variation on the Jan, The Loosey LaDuca, always so close to a win but there’s always someone better. Because Plasma won the challenge, with Q placing 2nd for her third straight challenge. Gonna be a loooooong season for Q…
The Bottom 3 were recurring cellar dwellers Mhi’ya and Geneva, as well as Mirage. I found the critiques for Mhi’ya very confusing at first, because several judges commented on liking the energy she brought to the performance. For a second I thought she was High, not Low, which would have been actually crazy. But no, Ru explained that while they were pleased to get SOMETHING out of her, as she’s been practically mute up to this point, it was just one level: loud. They also thought she missed the mark with her Cher runway, which did indeed not read Cher in any way whatsoever. I have mixed feelings about the moment where Ru asked Mhi’ya to do her best Cher impression. On the one hand, Mhi’ya’s response — it kind of looked and sound like a ghost was passing right through her — was instantly iconic. Easily the most memorable thing Mhi’ya has done on this show so far. But I’m also not convinced Mhi’ya was actually in on the joke, and since I’m certain this is going to become a meme (or per Kennedy Davenport, a me-me), I’m not convinced people will be laughing with her as much as they’ll be laughing at her.
Mhi’ya was spared from the B2 for the second week in a row. Utterly baffling. Her main talent is dancing/performing and yet the show seems hellbent on not letting us see it (outside the Talent Show). Why? So instead, it was Geneva vs. Mirage lipsynching to “Dark Lady” by Cher. This is Geneva’s third lipsynch in a row. The first was for the win, the last two to save herself from elimination. I’ve been surprised at what an uninspiring lipsyncher Geneva is. It’s all VERY basic. There’s really no “there” there. But Geneva DID have something going for her: Mirage did not know the words. It was apparent even before the talking heads made it clear. Mirage did not know that song outside the chorus. And it’s a real shame, because I thought the dancing we saw from her was so intriguing, and really beautiful. I have no doubt in my mind that had she known the words, she would have won, and Geneva would have gone home.
But that’s not what happened. Geneva was spared, again, and Mirage was eliminated in a fairly upsetting sequence. She really seemed to take it hard, and said a few things that made feel deeply sad for her. Mirage, if by some miracle you are reading this, I want you to know: you absolutely made people proud during your time on Season 16, and I certainly hope you made yourself proud. I’ll be honest, my expectations were low based on the promo look and Meet the Queens, but I really fell in love with her in her premiere, and I’ve seen so many people discussing her talent show performance, as well as her original song — which continues to grow in popularity! Yay Mirage! I think she leaves as a real dark-horse fan favorite, and I have no doubt she will be booked and blessed. She’s a special talent and seems like a very sweet soul. I would welcome her back for an “All Stars” run.
One last note on this episode: I loved the work room discussion with Geneva and Xunami about being Dreamers. I think for many viewers, this may have been their first introduction to Dreamers, and the most they’ve really heard about DACA. I love when the show can bring points of view to a broader audience, and hopefully more than a few people watching this realized, “Oh, hey, Dreamers are an important element of this country, and we need to hold up our end of the bargain and protect them!” Maybe, I don’t know, someone like Lindsey Graham. Just saying.
Next: girl-group challenge, and Amanda finally has had IT officially with Plane Jane and her constant negging. The girls are girling!