Oliver Sava joins me this week to talk Drag Race! He's been covering the show for years at The AV Club, where he's a contributor on everything from comics to reality TV.
Chad: So, you've written about the Drag Race for a number of years for The AV Club, and you've covered So You Think You Can Dance, so I thought you would be great to chat with about this week's challenge and what's been going on in general this season. Even if you're not a drag or dancing EXPERT, you know what makes good TV.
Oliver: It's perfect, because my dance knowledge is about as extensive as most of the queens on this episode. I got to see a lot of professional dance working front of house at Harris Theater, and that combined with SYTYCD and some college dance classes has given me a pretty solid foundation.
Chad: So what did you make of this week's performances?
Oliver: The actual dance performances were all entertaining. Nothing was a trainwreck. I absolutely agree with the judges and think Violet and Katya were the strongest, but I also think the Vogue Tango is probably the easiest of the three styles. Just because these queens probably have some basic knowledge of voguing, and tango gives them a very specific attitude to play.
Chad: Right, Katya and Violet were sleek and sexy as shit. But who the hell can pull off "country robot?"
Oliver: Country Robot and CHARLESTON TWERK
Chad: How do you think the choreography handled the double-gender aspect of their costuming?
Oliver: I don't think it took advantage of that very well. I didn't see the correlation between the look and the dance beyond that they both combined different things. But I would have liked to see a stronger connection drawn between the two.
Chad: I thought there were moments of wit -- during Katya and Violet's routine, when one pushes the other down as "the man," and then they switch roles. But yeah, I felt like the divided drag looks were more distracting than anything. Wouldn't that concept have worked better in a photo shoot, where it could be more precisely arranged?
Oliver: Maybe something even bigger than a photoshoot. Something that really forces the viewer to look at the relationship between the male and female halves. It's a visual that speaks so directly to the dynamic at the center of the show that I wanted it to get more attention
Chad: Maybe a segment like Stephen Colbert used to do: "Formidable Opponent!" Where he literally argues with himself over some topic, with just the camera orientation (and tie color) switching with each "side."
Chad: But it sounds like, overall, you enjoyed this week's challenge, right?
Oliver: I thought it was solid, but far from my favorite this season. It tries to do too much. And I don't necessarily mean in terms of the work the queens have to do.
Chad: I feel like that's a recurring theme this season. The producers get so caught up in their own clever concepts and shove the queens along to get it all shot for the episode. My general feeling about this season is that the challenges are just too heavily scripted, where the comedy is baked into the challenge, rather than forcing the queens to bring their own inventiveness to it.
Oliver: I totally agree with that.
Chad: Just let Ginger, Katya, or Trixie riff in front of a crowd, and you'll get comedy gold! Or even give them a talk show challenge, like Season 1 and Season 6! We're not getting enough improvisation challenges, and we're not getting fashion challenges. So we're not able to see the queens' wit (a la Trixie, Ginger, and Katya) or their visual creativity (Pearl, Violet, and Max.) That's the end of my rant, sorry. I was annoyed by this week's challenge.
Oliver: I think you're totally right, though. Lots of the queens reading lines. Or singing lyrics. Or dancing choreography. That is given to them by someone else.
Chad: I would have loved a more thoughtful "split gender" runway theme that wasn't catering to the challenges of dancing in the outfit.
Oliver: I agree. How would they interpret the male half if they didn't have to wear a tux?
Chad: Well, if you noticed, pretty much all the tuxes were actually just spandex bodysuits. I'm guessing that was for convenience and versatility. And what if they didn't have to divide the drag looks right down the middle? What kind of edgier, androgynous looks would we have gotten?
Oliver: The costuming confused me. I wrote about it in my review, but I just didn't know what the queens had to sew, and if they had to sew, what they were using.
Chad: I heard on reddit that Trixie said at a viewing party that they did, in fact, have to construct the garments in the workroom. Which sounds correct, given that each queen had a look catering to their dance style. In your review, you also had some interesting thoughts on Ginger and Trixie's issues on the show. You think Ginger is playing a pretty nuanced game, don't you?
Oliver: I get the impression that her struggles aren't as real as she makes them out to be. I went to the Season 7 premiere party and got to talk to Ginger, and she explicitly mentioned being a musical theater performer, and doing a little digging online revealed that she's also a costume designer. You've gotta dance and sew to do those things. You don't have to be an expert at them, but you need to have a basic knowledge to excel.
Chad: Yeah, she's been in the game a LONG time! She had this fabulous interview on Feast of Fun where she describes acting in a Broadway production of Beauty and the Beast for more than a year when she was 19!So right, when she says, "I'm not a dancer," that's not exactly true. She may feel insecure about dancing, it might not be her strength, but she makes a living as a musical theater performer and drag queen. You think she's playing up her vulnerability to be more likable to the judges and the viewership?
Oliver: I definitely think she's exaggerating her weaknesses. But I also just get a performative vibe from her in general.
Chad: I'm still pretty sure she's being set up to win the season, but I'm not rooting for her, yet.
Oliver: I'm all about Katya.
Chad: The issue is that Ginger comes across incredibly well in interviews and in her performances on Youtube. But something about her depiction on the show just isn't sticking with me.
Oliver: I don't really have a great idea of who the Ginger Minj character is. But a lot of the queens this season don't necessarily project a strong personality in drag.
Chad: The feeling I get is that the show has been depicting her as folksier and shadier than she really is. In interviews, she comes across as very well-grounded, smart, sweet, and hilarious.
Oliver: Is it the show, or is it her, though? They can't edit it if you don't do it. If you've been watching a show for six seasons, you know what works and what doesn't.
Chad: Well, right, I really have no idea. I do know that Trixie and Katya both LOVE Ginger, which is good enough for me. Because, yes, I love Katya, too, and I was very sorry and frustrated to see Trixie go. It felt like a very arbitrary decision. Like they just didn't know what to do with Trixie after they brought her back!
Oliver: Ginj beat Trixie in that lip sync, though.
Chad: Yeah, I dunno. I hate the way they edit those lip syncs. I just want a split screen that shows both queens in a medium shot. Because I am a boring old man who wants to see his queens.
Oliver: They should do that as an online exclusive thing.
Oliver: Lip Sync Split-Screen, sponsored by SquareSpace.
Chad: Ha! So, speaking of SquareSpace.... What do you think of Untucked this year?
Oliver: I'm a few episodes behind, which should tell you how high of a priority Untucked is now that it's online
Chad: What, really??
Oliver: Yeah, I don't love it. I get what they're going for, but it doesn't have the same energy as before.
Chad: Okay, I think that's fair. I'm sure the response to its stylistic change has been divided. But I LOVE it. So much. Here's my take on it: I think they had barely any budget for it this year. So they tried a ballsy approach, tried something different.
Oliver: I miss the tight space. It was like putting animals in a cage, sticking tired drag queens in the Interior Illusions lounge with alcohol and watching them claw at each other.
Chad: But I think it's so intimate, crazy, and unstructured. There are moments of hilarity, of poignance, and of Katya just twerking in the parking lot.
Oliver: It does feel more real, which is fun.
Chad: I just think it's shot in such a fresh way, where you really get the feel for what it's like to spend twelve hours with a bunch of tired queens, and honestly, I wish they'd approach the whole show the same way. I don't think they WILL, but I can wish for it.
Oliver: There have been some solid moments. I really liked Violet's "I get it, I'm a bitch" moment. But I don't think I want a raw, grounded RuPaul's Drag Race. I like it silly and overblown. I just think this episode lacked focus.
Chad: Yeah, and you're probably in the majority with the rest of this show's fans. I just feel like most of the episodes this season have felt too rushed, too arbitrary, without any room for the queens to breathe and to shine.
Oliver: Is Violet the only queen that hasn't lip synced?
Chad: Hm. Seems so! What do you think of Violet?
Oliver: There's also not much interpersonal drama this season. I appreciate Violet because she was stirring shit up! That makes for interesting TV.
Chad: Although we've seen her deal with the "bitch" characterization, we know next to nothing about her personal life or her history. Where are her childhood tales of adversity? Parental acceptance?
Oliver: Maybe she didn't have to struggle.
Chad: Right, maybe there's no drama to mine. Do you have any other thoughts on this season, this episode, or any particular queens?
Oliver: 1) Two thumbs up for boy-Pearl with facial hair. 2) Flassez-da. 3) Rachael Harris' face when RuPaul pulled off her skirt. That is how I would look the entire time if I was a guest judge on this show.
Chad: Agreed, I love a scruffy Pearl. Too bad it was painted on!
Oliver: It was a good week for Pearl, who I'm shocked is still in the competition.
Chad: Why are you shocked Pearl is still in the game? Because she lives her life in slow motion?
Oliver: It definitely feels like she's coasting her way through, but it's not bad. That's just her personality
Chad: That it is.
Oliver: She's managed to keep that aloofness, but there's more energy behind her performance now. She's starting to have fun, and it's making a big improvement.