“Queens Behind Bars” S4 / E4
- A- Community Grade
The acting challenges on RuPaul’s Drag Race are consistently unbearable, and when the girls have to film a sitcom about jailed drag queens, the results have all the awkward scenery-chewing we’ve come to expect. It’s another strong episode rife with trash-talking and unmerited self-praise, complete with the judges’ first controversial decision of the season. More importantly, it’s the “Jesus is a biscuit! Let him sop you up!” episode, with Latrice Royale taking the girls to church during a random moment of communal desperation.
Latrice has served jail time, and this week’s challenge is a cathartic experience that takes her to the top of the competition. From her nipple-flashing mugshot to her ultra-ham sitcom acting and classy runway wear, Latrice establishes herself as a force to be reckoned with this episode, versatile and charismatic with an attitude that makes her ideal on the set.
For the episode’s mini-challenge, the queens have to partner up to pose for memorable mugshots, doing each other’s makeup while handcuffed together. It’s a brilliant challenge, forcing the queens to put their faces in the hands of another, and the smart pairs take advantage of the handicap and create a story around their messy makeup. Willam has openly stated her difficulty with painting, and she comes up with an ingenious solution, covering Madame LaQueer and herself with neon blue paint and creating a story about two bank robbers stained by dye packs hidden in their stolen cash.
The queens have a lot of fun trashing it up for the camera, but it’s Willam and Madame who most impress RuPaul, and he puts them in charge of two groups that will be filming scenes from the new comedy Hot In Tuckahoe. Everyone seems to hate Madame LaQueer, and when she’s in charge of a group, it’s easy to see why: She’s completely clueless. She casts super-fishy Kenya Michaels in the butch prison guard role, gets caught up in drama with Milan, and puts on a horrible fake voice for the cameras when she already has an accent.
Phi Phi is definitely this season’s most obnoxious queen, but Milan is getting close, trying to be a manipulative team member but lacking any sort of finesse. She gets on Sharon for taking control and helping Kenya with her pronunciation, telling Madame that she shouldn’t have to deal with a situation that is exactly what Milan did to Kenya last week. For all her talk about her acting degree, Milan really sucks at playing a part, whether it’s the team bitch, an incarcerated drag queen, or a statuesque runway model. She lacks the commitment that Amber Riley emphasized so heavily last week, and there’s a lack of focus that becomes especially apparent during her frantic lip sync.
Willam might be a name-dropping fame whore who loves to brag about her television appearances, but at least she can take control of a group. Her casting is perfect, and Willam actually directs, helping Jiggly navigate her lines and find the humor in a line about horticulture. Willam thinks she has this challenge in the bag, but when they actually get up to perform for Ru and Will & Grace co-creator Max Mutchnick, Willam is more concerned with making sure her name is pronounced correctly than giving a stand-out performance. Last week, I complained about the queens not being very good with banter this season, but Willam’s dry cheekiness leads to consistently hilarious dialogue. When Mutchnick asks why RuPaul doesn’t get corrected for saying “William” and he does, Willam reminds Mutchnick that Ru is the woman with the $100,000 check. Even if she doesn’t tear it up when the cameras are rolling, the cohesion of Willam’s group shows her strength as a team leader.
If you thought last week’s infomercials were rough, Madame LaQueer’s scene is downright torturous, with a string of painful performances from the impenetrable actors. Sharon, Madame, and Kenya can’t take direction, and while there’s a communication barrier with the latter two, Sharon just doesn’t know when to keep her mouth shut and let her performance speak for itself. She can’t stop emphasizing how difficult her line is, but this isn’t Shakespeare; it’s a drag queen in a beaver costume. Kenya does some kind of insane one-woman-show, Madame LaQueer has her bizarre character voice, and Milan just sort of stands in the background, delivering lines to no one in particular. Shockingly, Dida is the best out of all of them, showing a natural comfort in front of the camera that Mutchnick fawns over.
This week, Latrice Royale gets herself the catchphrase that could potentially win her the competition: “Get those nuts away from my face.” As prison guard Marge, Latrice takes all of Mutchnick and Ru’s direction to heart, serving up early-‘90s sitcom fierceness by plumbing the depths of her skill: “I was really tapping into some serious acting skills there, because Marge doesn’t like nuts, but Latrice does.” Can we just take out all the other queens’ commentary and cut only to Latrice and Willam’s interviews? Because they’re hilarious. After filming their scenes, the queens are in a state of despair until Phi Phi asks Latrice to take them to church, prompting one of the most joyously stupid dance breaks I’ve ever seen on a reality show. (ANTM season one’s “Badunkadunk” contest is another great one.) I love the energy and spirit Latrice brings to this show (and her laugh), and it's great to see a contestant rise above the petty drama and take advantage of the gift this show is to her career.
When Sharon decides to be a sister and come clean to Phi Phi about what she said at last week’s elimination, she starts a fishy vs. genderfuck battle that is likely going to last the entire season, or until Phi Phi is eliminated. Phi Phi says that she’s responsible for Sharon’s win and that she would never do what Sharon had done, but based on her behavior on the show thus far, that’s exactly what would have gone down. Phi Phi’s stance is grounded in what she says she would do in a hypothetical situation, and she clearly sees herself as a holier-than-thou victim rather than a petulant bitch. Sharon has two wins to back herself up, and at least she gets the judges talking. Phi Phi has brought nothing to the competition except a bad attitude, and she needs to step out of the shade until she stops being safe.
Mutchnick is joined by comedienne Nicole Sullivan as runway guest judges, with Billy B making his second appearance of the season to join Michelle and Ru. My favorite runway looks include Chad Michaels, who goes for a Renaissance Florence Welch look with a silver gown and flame-red hair, and Sharon’s aging Hollywood diva, conveying a full character while creating a more feminine look that works for her facial structure. Seeing Kenya and Madame on the runway, you notice the similarities in their styling; Madame LaQueer is just three times Kenya’s size. The judges’ decision to keep Kenya safe and put Milan up for elimination is their first poor choice of the season, because Kenya hasn’t shown any versatility while Milan is at least trying to show different sides of herself (and failing). Kenya’s tired runway routine is getting old, and her safety means that she’ll probably be riding on her looks for a while.
Madame and Milan have to lip sync for their lives, and Milan goes from gold statue to goldfish as she flops around the runway. She tries to pull off what Dida did last week, but she doesn’t have any style or rhythm, throwing out everything in her bag of tricks in hopes that she pulls enough focus from Madame. She does, because she looks like a crazy person. Willam’s comment says it all: “Milan just danced circles around you and Swiffered the floor with his taint.” The clothes and the wigs come off, moves that work in Milan’s favor as she shantes to safety. Milan’s downfall may be coming next week, though, during the event we’ve all been waiting for: The Snatch Game! Previews show her as a cracked-out Diana Ross, and you know that’s going to be a mess. Also Jiggly as Snooki, Phi Phi as Gaga, Chad Michaels as Cher (who else?), and Sharon as someone that looks an awful lot like Michelle Visage. It’s going to be a game to remember.
- I want a “Sharon’s Drag Family” Drag Race spin-off, please.
- The pit crew guys are really trying their hardest when they finally get to open their mouths.
- Latrice is fabulous, but she should really start blending her makeup better with her natural color.
- Dida is shaping up to be this year’s Shangela now that she’s starting to show some personality, but she needs to fix those wigs and lotion up those legs.
- The “Oooh!” sequence between Max and Madame is painful to watch.
- Untucked Wisdom from Latrice Royale: “Bitch” means “Being In Total Control of Herself.”
- “They did their time and their out on parole, now they’re the hottest thing in Tuckahoe.”
- “Looks like Lil’ Orphan Annie sat in the sun too long and got a boob job.”
- “Team Madame LaQueer, you have some splainin’ to do.”
- “Madame is a pointing queen. She’s a Pointer Sister.”