RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars review: Roast in Peace


The comedy challenges on Drag Race are getting a little old, but the twist ending is also kind of boring, so… balance?

RuPaul’s Drag Race is a show known for breaking the rules, both its own and of reality TV in general. But 13 seasons in (10 regular and three All Star seasons), is it impossible not to expect the unexpected?

“Roast in Peace” ends with the queens walking off the stage into the workroom, getting distracted by the resurrected corpse of Lady Bunny, and turning around to find the eliminated queens standing behind them. Everyone is surprised… but why? We in the audience certainly expected these girls to return at some point — it’s happened on the last two seasons of All Stars — and the queens pay closer attention than we do. The preview for next week shows the queens bickering about who was sent who home and why, and while I’m sure the show will find a new way to twist this plot, I can’t shake the feeling that we’ve been here before.

And the returning queens gag came after RuPaul revealed that no one would be going home that night; which came after she pronounced the lip sync a tie, meaning two girls could potentially go home; which came after she put everyone who wasn’t in the top in the bottom, deepening the pool of people up for elimination considerably.

This week was twists on twists on twists, and eventually, I had to ask myself if it was too much. I like the idea of giving the winners a wider selection of queens to send home — the format backstage was getting a little stale, the top and bottom queen pow-wows rote — but before we can see if that twist will pay off, another comes along and renders it meaningless. Maybe they wanna save something for All Stars 5?

The drama subsumes the challenge this week, as it has a lot lately. Then again, the challenge is also awfully familiar. It’s a roast, this time of Lady Bunny, one of Ru’s oldest friends and an influential drag queen in her own right. “When we moved to New York, she started the legendary Wigstock festival,” RuPaul remembers, “and I haven’t spoken to her since.”

As far as Drag Race roasts go, this one is somewhere in the middle, not as funny as the season 5 roast of RuPaul but not as uneven as the season 9 roast of Michelle Visage… although it’s still pretty uneven. A few of these queens simply aren’t stand-up comedians, no matter how much great advice guest judge Cecily Strong gives them.

As on season 9, Trinity bombs pretty bad, serving up a slate of jokes that aren’t funny, don’t make sense, or both. She has one about Lady Bunny being used as a cure for erections lasting longer than four hours, which is kind of funny — I see where she’s going — but she stumbles over her words, so not even that one lands.

Naomi Smalls is also not much of a stand-up, to the surprise of few. She doesn’t go in nearly hard enough and seems uncomfortable the whole time — Monét X Change is right that her laughs during the awkward silences make everything worse. She’s a good sport, though, and her Prince-inspired runway look is impeccable and presented with infectious enthusiasm — the best outfit of the night. I saw her in that and forgave everything.

Valentina and Monique are in the middle of the pack. Both of them are more about energy than jokes. Monique, affecting the manner of a Baptist preacher, does the better job, hooting and hollering and gesticulating and grabbing her breasts all over the stage. It’s miles over the top, but this is drag, and her bit about Lady Bunny being a sperm whale was pretty good.

And Valentina is just odd. Her set here was a lot like her set in season 9: bizarre and full of non-sequiturs, but funny in a what-in-the-hell-am-I-looking-at kind of way. (“Lady Bunny is an inbred pig in a wig. Can’t you just see her now, with the big juicy red apple in her mouth and Satan’s spear up her ass?”)

Honestly, I didn’t hate it. But I know it wasn’t “good.”

Thank god Manila and Monét are here. Both of them start strong, with Monét taking off her sunglasses to reveal regular glasses underneath and Manila peeking out from behind a funeral shawl and recoiling at Lady Bunny’s face. Manila is smart: she has a gimmick where she reads from Lady Bunny’s will, using it as a way to go after the other girls. It gives her an excuse to write jokes about things other than Lady Bunny being old and fat. (“Monique Heart, the Lady Bunny leaves you her crusty, dusty old lashes, because she thought you needed a newer pair.”)

Then there’s Monét, who’s a natural at this from the first line: “We are gathered here today to celebrate the life, liberty and illiteracy of our dear friend, Lady Bunny.” She has the confidence and ease onstage of someone who’s best friends with Bob the Drag Queen, and her ratio of good jokes to bad is easily the best of the night.

“Have you ever seen her out of drag? Category is Ben Franklin f—d the Michelin Man.” I liked her runway look, too, kind of a sexy take on the Pope, complete with a mantle, pointy hat and gorgeously beaded leotard.

Maybe I’m being too hard on the show for trotting out another comedy challenge, but between this, Jersey Justice, and the Snatch Game, a lot of the recent challenges have boiled down to “Make RuPaul laugh.” You could argue that was true of the lip sync challenge and even the talent show (Gia was robbed!). These girls have a wide variety of talents and I wish the show would come up with challenges that targeted different skills. More sewing challenges would be appreciated.

So there are some good moments, some bad moments, and some frustrating moments in tonight’s episode. The best is saved for near the end, though. Monét and Manila are in the top, obviously. They lip sync to Aretha Franklin’s “Jump To It”, and it’s freaking terrific.

When it comes to lip syncs, I feel like we’ve been conditioned to expect flips and splits and wig reveals and the like, so it’s great to see a lip sync that focuses on… the lips.

“Jump To It” has a lot of scatting and spoken word parts, and both girls nail them, showing off smaller scale tricks as impressive as any death drops. And they’re clearly having a good time, interacting and feeding off the other’s energy. It goes to show that when you strip out the plot twists and let these girls do what they do best, Drag Race can provide entertainment like nothing else on TV.

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Random Ruflections

  • Of course, Stacy Layne Matthews is in the audience during the roast.
  • The runway theme this week is “angelic white,” and apart from the two looks, I mentioned, nothing really stood out for me. Gold on white is a theme, and it looks good. Trinity and Manila both go for ancient Greek looks, and Monique has a giant prop heart pinned over her actual heart. And she makes her skirt out of blinds. I liked the look Manila wore to lip sync — an ’80s inspired getup with kerchief and khaki pants — more than most of the runway looks.
  • Good runway puns from the judges, though. “That bell cherubs me the wrong way.”
  • In the lip sync, Monét is 100 percent wearing the outfit she wore from the glitter challenge in season 10. It’s in a different color, but it’s totally a repeat; just saying.
  • Monique: “I am trig to the motherf—g ered.”
  • RuPaul tells the girls to leave the stage. Monique: “She ain’t gotta tell me twice.”