CHAD: Oliver, you’ve been pretty lukewarm on this season so far, and I think you gave this episode a “C”. In your opinion, what’s wrong with Season 9?
OLIVER: Everyone is too damn nice. There’s a sisterhood of Drag Race queens, but the season 9 contestants are putting that sisterhood above the competition when they should be doing everything in their power to win. I’m not saying I want them all to be stone-cold bitches, but I want contestants that are ruthless, unapologetic, and selfish because that creates drama, and drama makes for good TV. There’s a risk in being a villain, but if you play the role well and aren’t unbearably obnoxious, you’ll be remembered and respected. I think a lot about Bianca Del Rio and how she managed to embody those villainous qualities while also being a mother figure to the other queens, and she helped them out because she wanted the competition to be fiercer.
Of the remaining queens, I think Trinity has the best chance of fitting this role, but we’re getting close to the end, and she hasn’t been as vicious as I thought she would be at the top of the season. I was at the Drag Queens Of Comedy show on Friday night, and Bob the Drag Queen pointed out that someone is apologizing to someone else in pretty much every episode. It happens after the trip to the library this week, with both Alexis and Farrah apologizing to each other for comments they made, and I’d much rather see a queen tell the offended party to deal with it and move on rather than undermine what they said in the challenge.
CHAD: I’m guessing that repeating so many challenges and runway themes hasn’t helped this season stand out, right? I remember the performances of Jinkx, Alaska, Detox, and Coco from the Season 5 Roast so vividly, and I worry that this week’s Roast won’t be remembered so fondly.
OLIVER: If it’s remembered at all. It’s hard not to compare the current queens to past contestants when they’re doing repeat challenges, and each repeat challenge this season has been inferior to what came before. I wasn’t impressed by this episode’s Reading Is Fundamental mini-challenge, and while there were some solid reads, I wanted to see the queens dig a little deeper rather than going for the obvious insults. A lot of my disappointment with this season stems from it following season 8 and All-Stars 2, which I thought were two of the show’s best seasons, and because these queens aren’t meeting the very high bar that’s been set, season 9 feels more tame and less exciting. The same goes for the roast, and of eight queens, I feel like only three of them (Shea, Sasha, and Peppermint) delivered in a substantial way. That’s not a good ratio.
CHAD: I do get a little defensive when I hear people complaining about this season because I DO think it has a lot of amazing queens. But maybe it’s the wrong mix for good TV? Certainly, there aren’t any comedy queens to steal the show like Bob and Bianca did during their respective seasons. Which Season 9 queens are the standout personalities?
OLIVER: Shea, Valentina, and Trinity have the most distinct personalities for me. Shea is the frontrunner of this season, and she’s performed well in every single challenge, dominated the talking heads, and shown really strong comic instincts throughout. She’s unflappable and clever, with a sharp fashion sense and a deep understanding of the different elements of drag performance. She also recognizes the high stakes of being on this show and is playing to win. This is an incredible opportunity for a drag queen, and Shea isn’t going to waste it.
Valentina doesn’t have the range of Shea, but she’s also been doing this for a shorter period of time and is using the Drag Race experience to grow and expand her horizons. She’s the talented little sister of this group, and even if her character is mostly being peppy, pretty and smiley, she has the exaggeration I’m looking for from a queen. Trinity is also delivering in that respect, and I like how cartoony she lets herself be. She’s not precious about her drag and realizes that sometimes you have to risk looking stupid to get a laugh. Trinity has also been really fun in Untucked, and she’s probably the shadiest queen we have this season.
CHAD: I was interested in the vulnerability Alexis showed this week, but is it fair for a queen to declare something about herself “off limits” to everyone else’s jokes?
OLIVER: I’ve been firmly anti-Alexis since the Untucked episode where she had a meltdown because the other queens didn’t tell her that her runway look was basic. Alexis is pushing the sisterhood thing harder than anyone else this season, and I’m glad she got a wake up call this week to remember that this is a competition. In regards to her complaining about the queens reading her body, I don’t think it’s an issue of fairness. If a queen is hurt by something, she’s allowed to complain about it, but it does come across as very thin-skinned when it's in the context of a challenge that is intended to point out flaws so that people can laugh about them together.
Of course the queens are going to go after Alexis’ body if they know that’s the thing she’s most sensitive about. When you’re given the opportunity to attack, why not go for the easy target? It’s not very creative, but if it can potentially throw a competitor off her game, it’s good strategy to go for what hurts. The reading challenge is actually pretty therapeutic if the queen is able to let herself laugh about her flaws, but Alexis internalizes those comments about her body in a negative way and lets them feed her insecurity rather than cut away at it. I’m really happy RuPaul and Ross Matthews call her out, because I think Alexis probably thought they were going to sympathize with her, but they know that being overly sensitive isn’t going to help in this competition. Alexis was swept up in her emotions after the library, and I think that got in the way of her preparing her roast.
CHAD: For the record, I think it was pretty clever of Alexis to come out in all green for Michelle’s Roast. And it was fun to draw!
OLIVER: But I totally agree with Ross Matthews that it was a long way to go for a single joke. I wish she had done more with the visual concept, maybe made some Wicked Witch jokes or something like that. I also think her breasts looked awful. I didn’t like this look, and I don’t know why, but the little witch hat she pulled out during the lip sync made me really angry.
CHAD: We saw a lot of queens (Valentina, Trinity, Alexis, and Nina) relying on cartoonish characters for their Roast performances-- how did that go?
OLIVER: Not well. These were all performances that I considered either underwhelming or total failures, and I think these queens put on these big characters because they weren’t all that confident with their joke writing skills. I found Valentina’s voice to be extremely grating and inconsistent, and it made it hard for me to connect with her jokes. Trinity had more trouble with creating jokes and delivering them in a way that connects with the audience. I think Nina’s character was a smart choice that shows her doing something very different from her usual look and drag persona, but she also didn’t really have strong jokes or a firm handle on the audience. (I’m also not a fan of the painted-on glasses, which look really damn sloppy.)
So much of performing for a crowd involves reading the energy of a room and finding ways to make it work for you, and I felt like the worst queens this week were so in their own heads that they weren’t able to gain that deeper awareness of the crowd. Alexis should have made her character the Wicked Witch of Jersey or the Jersey Hulk if she was going to do Jersey + green, and having a more defined character would have given that performance more focus. That said, a character is only going to take you so far, and without solid jokes, the roast is going to fall apart.
CHAD: I don’t know if it was particularly shady editing, but from what we saw, Farrah’s roast could charitably be described as a trainwreck. She seems like a perfectly lovely person, and she’s a gorgeous queen, but she just didn’t make for compelling television. Are you surprised she lasted as long as she did?
OLIVER: Definitely. The Vegas queens were both really underwhelming from the start, and I expected Farrah to go home shortly after Kimora. The judges hit the nail on the head this week when they said Farrah doesn’t have a clear drag personality. She’s a cute girl in pretty clothes, but her performance consistently leaves a lot to be desired. Out of drag, Farrah’s personality was mostly whiny, but I still liked her more than Alexis. We saw glimpses of a scrappier Farrah in Untucked, and I wish she had embraced that side of herself in the competition. She’s really young, though, and I think Drag Race could be the thing that inspires her to be more aggressive with her drag persona.
CHAD: I was SO VERY RELIEVED that Sasha did so well. Even if every single joke didn’t land, she felt exceedingly confident and self-aware, able to laugh at herself. Anyone reading this probably knows that Sasha and Shea are my Season 9 favorites-- what do you make of Sasha’s depiction on the show? Is she too often caricatured as a snooty intellectual?
OLIVER: I don’t think she’s been portrayed as particularly snooty. I don’t get the impression that she thinks her drag is somehow superior because she likes to be intellectual/philosophical/political. She recognizes that her type of drag is different from the norm for this show, and that she needs to make some adjustments in order to satisfy the demands of the challenge. Being smart is good for this competition, and you need to be able to think on your feet and make well informed choices under pressure. Sasha does that, and even though she doesn’t have the most effervescent personality, I find her really engaging and interesting.
CHAD: I wanted to take this week as an opportunity to finally draw Michelle again-- I haven’t drawn her since my first season drawing the show (Season 3, for the record), and she has made it very clear to me she that she’s noticed. (I love you, Michelle!) How do you think Michelle served as a subject for the roast?
OLIVER: There are a lot of things to make fun of Michelle about, and she hasn’t been deified like RuPaul, so it’s probably easier for the queens to roast her without feeling like they’re overstepping boundaries. I think that’s why some of the queen’s insults came off as harsh and mean-spirited, because there’s some low-hanging fruit that is easy to pluck. It’s also easier for the queens to project this plastic surgery-obsessed, venereal disease-ridden whore caricature onto Michelle that gives them more material to roast, even if it’s not really all that true to who Michelle actually is.
If I was roasting Michelle, I would have had some sort of joke about Michelle burying Merle Ginsberg in her backyard. I also would make fun of her being a health nut, which is something she talks about constantly on the What’s The T? Podcast.
CHAD: I was thrilled to see Peppermint getting more attention this week -- I don’t want to be reductive, but I feel like she’s the Jujubee of this season: she’s completely likeable, she’s gorgeous, she serves up colorful commentary, but she has a hard time standing out on the runway. Do you think that’s a fair comparison, despite their obvious differences?
OLIVER: I can see that, but for me, Peppermint screams Miss Congeniality. There are all the aforementioned qualities, but she also has a personal story that has gotten a lot of attention and sets her apart because she’s the only contestant that’s a trans woman. I’m not sure if Peppermint will make it to the finale, but finally getting a win does give her a major boost in the competition. If she’s not in the final three, I can easily see her being named Miss Congeniality because she is so charming and such a strong, confident queen. I really loved her in the roast, and after seeing three people before her fumble at the podium, she struts in there ready to blow the judges away. She knows that she’s doing her best drag, and she knows that she has material that she can sell, and I was so pleased by how relaxed she was up there.
Peppermint is so smart about her jokes. She’s never done a roast before, but she understands that a roast is about irreverent reverence and using insults as a way of paying tribute. She builds jokes around Michelle’s book and her VH1 show with RuPaul, which draws attention to the fact that Michelle wrote a book and was on a VH1 show. You can also sense the love in Peppermint’s roast, which I didn’t get from a lot of queens.
CHAD: I LOL’d when I heard the prize for winning the Roast was a 5 year membership on Squarespace! But I figured that Peppermint has been a pro for a long enough time that she probably has had a website for years -- and I think I’m right. If you scroll down to the bottom of any Squarespace site (including this one), you’ll see “Powered by Squarespace,” but not on Peppermint’s website.
OLIVER: That’s actually a really helpful prize, but if you’ve already invested in a site, then it’s kind of a waste.
CHAD: Given our gripes about repeat runways and challenges, how do you hope Ru shakes things up for Season 10?
OLIVER: It’s hard coming up with new challenges for the queens, but that’s the job of the writers and producers. And this is Drag Race, so you have freedom to come up with really ridiculous challenges. But given that this season is underwhelming, there’s a better chance that next season will feel like an improvement.
CHAD: Oliver, where can readers find more of your writing??