RuPaul's Drag Race: “It Takes Two”
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RuPaul's Drag Race: “It Takes Two”

B+

RuPaul's Drag Race

“It Takes Two”

Season 4.5, Episode 1

How amazing is it that we live in a world where we not only get a show like RuPaul’s Drag Race, but it lasts for so long that it actually gets an All Star season? RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars is everything we love about this show taken to another level with the returning queens competing in pairs for the entirety of the competition. The costumes are more fabulous, the personalities are more over-the-top, and the editing and writing is as sharp as ever. And with only six episodes, everything is accelerated, especially the drama. Right off the bat, RuPaul throws a wrench in the works by bringing back Mimi Imfurst, who was not only eliminated early, but isn’t even likably memorable a la Tammie Brown. She apparently won the fan vote on Facebook, so the audience has no one to blame but itself for her presence on the show. Granted, I wouldn’t put it past this show to completely fabricate results for dramatic effect, because manipulation is the name of the game on Drag Race.

The episode begins with the usual parade of bitches into the workroom, starting with Pandora “Raspberries!” Boxx—tragic, doomed Pandora Boxx—showing up looking fierce in a black and white dress. She’s bubbly and confident and nothing can bring her down. Yet. Pandora gets screwed by this competition again, but we’ll get to that later. The queens make their way in, showing off all the fancy new things they gotten since competing; for some, that means stronger make-up skills and bolder costume pieces, but for others (Raven), it means something a little more surgical. Girl definitely had some work done, and when she first shows up in the workroom, she looks like the glammed-out offspring of the Joker and Janice the Muppet. She’s one of the most conservatively dressed of the queens, and the only person that shows up looking more casual is Jujubee, who is giving us steaming hot fish in a little black dress. Alexis Mateo, Shannell, Chad Michaels, and Nina Flowers all have very clean looks that are consistent with how they appeared in the past: Nina’s face is flawless as ever, and Chad and Alexis are showing off their curves. Shannell dresses like Regina from Once Upon A Time, which isn’t a good thing, even if I’ve said that character dresses like a drag queen on that show.

Yara Sofia shows up dressed like Puerto Rican jailhouse Barbie, while Manila serves up pure Cruella de Vil realness, complete with a hat that holds her cigarette for her. Few queens are able to do camp like Manila, who brings some sophistication to her exaggerated comedy. Pandora is the middle ground between Manila and Mimi, not quite at Manila’s taste or style level but still miles above Mimi’s kitchen sink desperation. (Mimi’s sad entrance line: “Life is like a paycheck. A generous figure is always nice.” So much groaning.) And then there’s Tammie Brown, who just may be this show’s breakout star after her incredibly entertaining performance in this episode. She’s a nonsequitur machine who has no problem yelling random shit to throw others off guard, and she brings a legitimately carefree energy to the competition. The rest of the queens appear to be in it to win it, but Tammie’s just having fun, and that might take her pretty far.

Everyone’s already pissed that Mimi’s there in the first place, and then RuPaul shows up to tell them that they’ll be competing in pairs, which means someone is going to get saddled with the dead weight. The way that the queens are paired off is pretty brilliant: They have a box with a picture of each queen, and they hold up the face of whom they want to be partnered with. If there’s a match, the two are paired, but if not, the picks continue until a match is made. That’s how we end up with first round pairings like Raven/Jujubee (Rujubee), Chad/Shannel (Shad), and Tammie/Nina (Brown Flowers). In the second round, Yara/Alexis (Yarlexis) and Latrice/Manila (Latrila) come together, leaving the sad, so-confident-10-minutes-ago Pandora Boxx with the wretched Mimi Imfurst (Mandora). It goes as badly as would be expected.

The girls’ first challenge is a photo shoot where they’re taking two pictures: a “half baked” shot with the two men wigless and only partially painted and an “opposites attract” image where they show what makes them different from each other and the competing pairs. There’s also going to be a “wet and wild” element because the first challenge has to have something to make it a little embarrassing, and in this episode, it’s black rain. (“Black rain? Why it gotta be black!?”) Also, they have to do each other’s makeup because Ru is cruel like that.

Chad and Shannel are a pair of anal retentive perfectionists that over-think everything, and they try to do something edgy by putting red makeup on their necks because they’re all on the chopping block, but it looks more like a rash. Ru isn’t convinced that their uptown/downtown concept is going to play, especially because Chad doesn’t read as “downtown” whatsoever. But Chad continues to have this misconception that she’s rough around the edges and gritty, when even her most raggedy look is still pristine and polished. Surely enough, when she comes out for the photoshoot, Chad looks more Heathers than Pretty Woman. Shannel and Chad get the humble edit this week, spending most of the episode talking about how amazingly professional and clean they both are just to have it bite them in the ass on the runway.

Getting stuck with Mimi immediately sucks the wind out of Pandora’s sails, and she’s defeated before the competition really begins. Mimi gives Pandora clown lips during the trial make-up run, and it’s understandable why Pandora would be so bitter about getting paired with Mimi. Pandora is campy and silly, but she does have a glamorous side that has been cultivated since leaving the show, and Mimi is a crutch that she doesn’t want to have to carry for the entire competition. When asked by RuPaul why she thought the universe brought them together, Pandora responds, “I’m a glutton for punishment?” Yeah, it sucks that she got dealt a bad hand, but if she had a better attitude and tried to make something good out of a bad situation, she could have kept Mimi in check. But by going into a depressed, isolated place, Pandora allows Mimi to go out of control and ruin their chances of success. By not working together, they both fall, and no matter what their concept (they settle on hooker and housewife), without that synergy, they just won’t succeed.

Raven and Jujubee decide to be naked and clothed, with Raven dropping trou for the photoshoot. They have no problems in front of the camera, and their friendship and shared sensibilities make Rujubee one of the teams to beat. The other standout photo shoot comes courtesy of Manila and Latrice, who go for a classy/trashy contrast that ends up working incredibly well with the black and white background of the photo. Manila and Latrice have an overwhelming affability that radiates off the screen, and this photoshoot proves that they have both the high fashion and spirited performer sides of the business down. Nina and Tammie also go for the classy/trashy look (which is essentially housewife/hooker), and they struggle to find even one picture that they’re both really passionate about. Alexis and Yara switch personas for their look, but it’s not something that would read if the person looking at the photo didn’t know their usual personas.

After the photoshoot, Mimi goes to talk to Pandora about her feelings, and Pandora basically lies instead of just saying that she wishes she wasn’t stuck with her partner. She says that she’s worried the judges are going to take Mimi’s past performance into account on the runway, but that’s not the real reason why Pandora won’t try to act like a teammate. Simply, the other queens don’t respect Mimi for myriad reasons: her obnoxious attitude, her put-on identity, her lack of sisterly love when she got Alexis fired from her regular bar gig. (If you’re not watching Untucked, you are missing required viewing, including a Willam cameo this week.)

On the runway, RuPaul serves up a tall glass of neon pink lemonade with a tight tie-dye dress, and she’s joined by a panel including the usual suspects Santino Rice and Michelle Visage with returning judge Ross Matthews and supermodel guest Rachel Hunter. “Gentlemens, start your engines, and may the best womans wins,” RuPaul says, beginning the runway festivities. Jarlexis is cute but utterly forgettable, immediately overshadowed by Latrila’s Teletubby realness (complete with a fanny pack television playing the video for Manila’s song “Hot Couture”). Manila is Tinky Winky and Latrice is a “Po black Teletubby,” which is basically the most clever thing ever. Rujubee goes for a Chicago-inspired burlesque look, and both queens look sickening. Tammie and Nina have this dark and quirky thing going on that is very interesting to watch, and their partnership is one that I can see being the most mutually beneficial to both partners. If Nina can take on some of Tammie’s vivaciousness and share some of her style knowledge with her partner, they could be a dominating force on this show. As of now, Tammie is pulling the focus from Nina, and she’s too beautiful a queen to get pushed to the background.

Shad are showgirls through and through, and they come out in some incredibly ornate costumes that are striking on the runway. They want to entertain with visual spectacle, and they definitely get the job done. Unfortunately, Chad’s outfit doesn’t help when he tries to defend their shoddy “opposites attract” photo by saying that he was going for a more understated look. Michelle responds with shock: “Bitch, look at yourself. Understated?!” While the peacock and sun goddess costumes may be a little much, compare Shad’s outfits to the blue dresses that Mimi and Pandora walk out in, which look like costumes from a high school production of La Cage Aux Folles. Pandora looks better than Mimi, who gets blasted by Michelle for losing a bunch of weight and then covering up her waist with a boa, but they easily have the worst look of the episode. The best goes to Latrice and Manila, who are joined at the top by Raven and Jujubee while the bottom four are critiqued.

After hearing from the judges, the contestants learn this season’s final twist: Only one person lip syncs for both of their lives. If the person sitting out sees a shemergency, she can tag her partner out and take over, but it’s a move that can only be used once over the course of the entire competition. When the bottom pairs are revealed to be Shad and Mandora, it seems like the obvious choice would be to put Pandora in the lip sync, but somehow, Mimi ends up going against Chad. There’s no way that’s going to end well, and there are a lot of questions surrounding Pandora’s decisions. Why let Mimi lip sync? Why wouldn’t she tap her out, especially after seeing Mimi’s breakdown in the All Star Lounge? Pandora was resigned to failure once she was stuck with Mimi, and its unfortunate to see her leave the show with so much bitterness. Surprising no one, Chad kicks Mimi’s ass as they lip sync to Paula Abdul’s “Opposites Attract,” with Mimi trying a tepid costume change to spice up a flailing performance. It’s the super-professional versus the attention-grabbing amateur, and once Chad whips out the Roger Rabbit, Mimi might as well start sashaying away.

The inclusion of Mimi Imfurst certainly adds drama to this episode, but it also tarnishes the All Star title a bit because no one would consider her a strong contestant. When RuPaul gives Pandora and Mimi the bad news, she refers to the former as one of the show’s most loved queens and the latter as one of the show’s most memorable, but she doesn’t mean that as a good thing. While it’s pleasing to know that we won’t have to endure Mimi for any longer, is it worth the price of Pandora? The episode ends on a very dour note, when normally even the most trying of eliminations turns into something hopeful by the end. “With great power, comes great responsitrannity,” Ru says toward the end of the episode, and the fans had the power to keep Mimi out of this show, but didn’t take on the responsibility.

Stray observations:

  • The introduction to Untucked is one of the most insane things I’ve seen on television this entire season. It’s a barrage of outrageous costumes and intense emotions that makes no sense without the episodes that put everything in context. It’s also wonderful.
  • Guess what movie Chad just saw/book Chad just read? I’ll give you a clue: “May the odds be ever in your favor.”
  • Latrice has really improved her makeup skills, and now it’s much less terrifying to see her on camera.
  • In Untucked, it’s interesting that Yara loses respect for Mimi when she changes her outfit to reflect the judges critiques because she considers that a compromise of Mimi’s true identity. It’s fun to find out how each individual queen views the commitment of being a drag queen.
  • “I love long walks, big dicks, and fried chicken.” Jujubee wants to be turned into all the .gifs.
  • “I look like I work at the mall.”
  • “The shade of it all.”
  • Mimi: “Shangela? She’s not in here.” Latrice: “CUT!” Would be the best shutdown of the night if not for this Untucked gem:
  • Mimi: “We are living in a world where people look at us like we’re freaks.” Tammie: “WUH! WUH!” She’s amazing.
  • “Smell her butt, smell her butt, she’s like a cat.” Tammy is so cray cray.
  • “I’m getting black rain in my brown flower.”
  • RuPaul: “There’s you ironing her back.” Pandora: “Well, I didn’t have a razor.”
  • “Couture meets cooter!”
  • “Latrice, if you want to sit around and eat shrimps butt nekkid, that’s fine by me.”
  • “Where did you put the friggin’ fur, Mimi?”
  • “Tell me about the neck thing. Were you in a fire?”
  • “(Cher voice) Shad!”
  • “You are serving crazy in any language [cut to amazing face from Tammy] and me gusto mucho.”
  • Jujubee on Willam once she’s left the room: “What a dumb bitch.”
  • Next week: The Snatch Game by way of Hollywood Squares? Looks like a strong group of fake celebs including Yara as Charo (yay!), Jujubee as Kim Kardashian, and Shannel as Lucille Ball. Sad that Pandora won’t be competing, but yay for Vicki Lawrence and Busy Philipps!

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