Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

A fun, if flimsy Rusical moves the RuPaul’s Drag Race season narrative forward

Illustration for article titled A fun, if flimsy Rusical moves the RuPaul’s Drag Race season narrative forward
Screenshot: RuPaul’s Drag Race
TV ReviewsAll of our TV reviews in one convenient place.

Season 13 has some big shoes to fill when it comes to the Rusical. Season 12’s “Madonna: The Unauthorized Rusical” paid tribute to a legend and did so in style and if that weren’t enough, the top four queens crushed their final challenge, performing numbers from RuPaul’s Drag Race Live. The season 13 queens are very talented, delivering strong performances in the improv challenge, but they’ll need more than charisma for their Rusical to stand out among the show’s recent offerings. They’ll need solid material to work with. Ultimately, “Social Media: The Unverified Rusical” is more “PharmaRusical” than “Bitch Perfect,” but what the episode lacks in dynamic Rusical performances it makes up for with satisfying narrative pay-offs, fun moments, and cast shake-ups.

The episode begins with the queens returning from the main stage and toasting LaLa. She’s only the fourth queen eliminated, but the cast has had extra time to bond this season, given the non-elimination episodes, and she’ll clearly be missed. The rest of the queens congratulate Olivia on her win, but Utica is clearly still a bit sore. She’s learned a valuable lesson from her second bottom placement; she needs to stop playing nice and start advocating for herself. Rosé and Denali are both frustrated over their safe streaks and they’re determined to do what they must to break through with the judges.

Advertisement

The next day, RuPaul enters the workroom—looking great in a colorful black fingerprint print suit—to announce the next maxi challenge. It’s time for the Rusical! The theme this season is social media. Each of the queens will be playing a different social media platform, from Twitter and Facebook to LinkedIn. They’ll record their vocals with Michelle Visage and then learn choreography from returning guest judge and director Jamal Sims, putting the whole production together in two days.

Each Rusical has one or maybe two spotlight roles and as the singer of the group, Rosé is determined to get the lead role. Casting will be determined by group consensus, and the queens start snapping up roles. Symone plays to his strengths and takes Instagram, Tina wants the biggest role, the emcee, Olivia goes for not-so-innocent Facebook, and Gottmik is all about the Russian bots. Denali wants either Twitter or the non-platform character, Foxy, but Utica also makes a strong play for Twitter and takes it. Rosé wants Foxy as well, and when Utica won’t relinquish Twitter, it’s time for a walk-off. Or more accurately, a mini audition. Rosé and Denali perform part of Foxy’s big number, a parody of “Don’t Rain On My Parade” from Funny Girl. Rosé sounds terrific and wins the cast vote, but Denali does a good job too and will likely be wasted as Russian bot number two, the remaining role. Denali is understandably frustrated. This is not the star-making turn he was looking for.

Illustration for article titled A fun, if flimsy Rusical moves the RuPaul’s Drag Race season narrative forward
Screenshot: RuPaul’s Drag Race

With the cast set, the queens get to work, studying their scripts. They’re thrown by a RuMail siren, but are delighted when they’re surprised by guest coach Anne Hathaway, joining them via video call. Tina asks for advice on making the most of an on-stage death, Rosé asks about campaigning for roles—just keep fighting, she says; Hathaway was the ninth choice for The Devil Wears Prada—and Mik attempts to buck up scene partner Denali by asking what to do when you’re passed over for your desired role. Hathaway’s advice is spot on: Steal the show anyway, and make sure you’re who they remember.

Advertisement

This is exactly the shot in the arm Denali needs and he asks about putting on accents. Hathaway cautions Denali against thinking of an accent as a place instead of as a person. Does Denali know any Russian women he can base his character on? Coming from the world of figure skating, that’s a yes. Hathaway excitedly asks if he’ll demonstrate an axel, which he does with aplomb. It’s absolutely charming, and the editors transition from this exchange to Utica’s final question, asking what Hathaway appreciates about drag as an art form. Her answer is thoughtful and fun, citing its joy and ability to promote acceptance. Plus the fashion is amazing, the puns are great, and who doesn’t love a boob or tuck joke? It’s a shame Ms. Hathaway was unable to film in person, but hopefully she’ll return in a non-COVID year as a guest judge.

After their advice session, the queens head to the main stage to record with Michelle, as well as David Benjamin Steinberg, who composed the Rusical with Erik Paparozzi. Tina’s up first and he sounds great, going for a Broadway grande dame inflection. Olivia sounds good and surprises Michelle and the queens with a few well-executed runs. Are there any other stealth ringers in the cast? Definitely not Symone, who has his own Kahmora “rooting for us” moment, tripping on the pronunciation of ogle. Kandy isn’t great either, but he powers through his song with plenty of personality. Elliott gets rough reviews despite sounding okay, so maybe he didn’t match the track? As for Utica, the role he fought for is based on the Modern Major-General’s song from The Pirates of Penzance, which means spitting out quick lyrics with incredibly precise diction. He’s in trouble and Denali must be irritated, watching from the sidelines. Why fight for a part you’re not up to?

Advertisement
Illustration for article titled A fun, if flimsy Rusical moves the RuPaul’s Drag Race season narrative forward
Screenshot: RuPaul’s Drag Race

It’s time for the choreography rehearsal and for once, Jamal doesn’t seem to be giving the queens anything too complicated. Olivia is confident with a simple waltz-like sway, but Symone struggles with a straightforward En Vogue strut. Utica looks incredibly awkward, trying for Hamilton-inspired movements, and Kandy even has trouble with the gyrations Jamal has choreographed. Rosé nails his routine, the episode skips past Elliott and Tina, and last up are Mik and Denali. They need to match each other, which is a problem for Mik, who doesn’t have nearly Denali’s skills, and Denali, who’d rather not dumb down his part. Denali looks to be a good partner, but Mik will need to up his game or look weak in comparison.

Advertisement

The next day, the queens strut into the workroom, excited for the Rusical. Symone is anxious, but the rest of the queens seem ready to go, and the topic quickly goes to their experiences on social media. Kandy talks about watching Aja get harassed for years after season nine, thanks to the now-iconic dust-up with Valentina. He also recognizes the good social media can bring and brings up his viral moment with “sitting alone in the VIP,” spinning an isolating moment into something positive. Rosé asks Tina about his experience being in the public eye when he dated Graham Norton and Tina commends Norton for his ability to handle the pressures of life under a microscope. The editors include pictures of the couple—Tina is not kidding about his unfortunate hair choices—and the topic moves to celebrity crushes. Boris Kodjoe and John Stamos get shout-outs before Denali asks if he’s the only one who had crushes on animated characters like Hercules and Aladdin. The other queens lose it, but Denali is definitely not alone; he’ll undoubtedly get plenty of Twitter love for this stance.

On the main stage, Ru walks out in a fabulous baby blue coat dress, blonde hair, and silver clutch. Michelle, Ross, and Jamal all play with their phones rather than banter, but as has been the case all season, they look great doing so. Michelle’s in a white suit with wavy hair and electric purple eyeshadow, Ross has a white suit with green leaves, and Jamal’s in a black suit with red flowers. The bit wouldn’t fly with a new guest judge, but with friend of the show Sims, it works.

Advertisement
Illustration for article titled A fun, if flimsy Rusical moves the RuPaul’s Drag Race season narrative forward
Screenshot: RuPaul’s Drag Race

The Rusical kicks off with Tina as the Em-she, channeling Cabaret and introducing the characters. Olivia is Marky Tuckenberg, inventor of FaceFaceFaceLook. Olivia nails the charm and deviousness of Marky and her vocals sound great. Rosé jumps in as Foxy, Marky’s scantily-clad friend, and is exhorted to cover up before the story moves back to Tina’s Em-she. She introduces four more social media platforms, in the style of Chicago’s “Cell Block Tango.” Symone is Miss Instaglam, Elliott is Miss Toktik, Utica is Lady Tweets, and Kandy is Rev. Dr. Mrs. Linked All-the-way In. Symone’s vocals are pretty weak, but had she committed more fully, she could have definitely pulled it off. As Ross will later comment during judging, there’s something apologetic to her movements when she needs to be selling complete, delusional confidence. Utica makes it through her patter number, with what seems to be greatly pared down choreography. Kandy is rougher. Her wig immediately falls in her face, making it hard to tell whether she’s nailing her words. She also pulls open her blouse in a power move, but then later tries to hold it closed, seemingly embarrassed, undermining her character. Elliott closes the section well, thankfully, delivering her Billie Eilish-inspired Gen Z number with confidence and flair.

Advertisement

Foxy walks out and discovers she’s been banned from all of the platforms for overly revealing posts. She makes a plea for body positivity and against censorship, going full Broadway in an animal print spaghetti strap top, red thong, and red heels. The contrast in style and look is a hoot and the judges eat it up, along with her fantastic vocals. Then Mik and Denali crash the party as Natasha and Nikita, the Russian bots, and they rock their way through their song about sowing division over social media. This is the most energetic and fun number of the Rusical and it does a good job of incorporating the entire cast. Just as Lady Tweets realizes her grandmother is racist, the Em-she steps back in and is revealed as Friendster—a delightful twist. She brings everyone together, before dying mid-final note. Foxy rallies the group, inspiring everyone with a closing message about the importance of accountability and critical thinking online. It doesn’t really make sense, but it’s an ending, and certainly a happier one than anything looming on the horizon for these actual platforms.

On the runway, category is: Yellow Gorgeous. Tina comes out first as a taxi with a yellow off-the-shoulder dress, complete with tap light headlights on her chest. She looks cute and very Tina Burner, and gets points for not resorting to her usual palate. Olivia looks absolutely beautiful going Old Hollywood glam with a yellow fringed gown and yellow ostrich arm puffs. Symone stays more current in bright yellow suspenders connected to panties connected to boots, with a yellow coat and yellow curled up-do. Her inspiration is Big Bird as a pimp, and she nailed it. Utica goes older school than Olivia, in a 14th century sideless gown—a scandalous fashion for the time—made from strips of different yellow and yellow-accented fabrics. It’s creative and distinct, setting her apart from the rest of the queens.

Advertisement

Kandy is next in a look inspired by Beyoncé’s ruffled yellow dress from Lemonade. She has a long blonde wig with sunflowers scattered through her hair and while it’s not the most memorable look, it’s quite a departure for Kandy. She looks lovely. Elliott is the second queen with a taxi look. Rather than a dress, she’s in yellow vinyl pants and a jacket, with oversized shoulders of course, and a checkerboard bodice. It’s cute and, like Tina’s look, very distinctly Elliott. Next is Rosé, who goes campy and creative with her spin on Jim Carrey’s yellow zoot suit from The Mask. It’s straightforward, but polished and, continuing the theme, very Rosé. Denali also embodies a famous pop culture image, as the snake from Britney Spears’ “I’m A Slave 4 U” 2001 VMA performance. The body suit is simple, but it’s elevated by an intricate headpiece, which makes the look. Last is Mik as a yellow crash test dummy, but make it fashion. Even more volume in the ponytail would have been nice, but it’s another simple, clear, well-executed concept.

Illustration for article titled A fun, if flimsy Rusical moves the RuPaul’s Drag Race season narrative forward
Screenshot: RuPaul’s Drag Race
Advertisement

Ru gets right to business: Olivia, Utica, and Elliott are safe, and are sent to Untucked. That leaves Tina, Symone, and Kandy in the bottom and puts Rosé, Denali, and Mik in the top. All of the bottom queens are complimented on their runway looks, but dinged for their performances. The judges wanted more from Tina, particularly her death scene, Symone is read for her lack of commitment, and Kandy needed to find the camera more and hit with more precision. Rosé gets a partial read from Michelle, who considers her outfit closer to orange than yellow, but otherwise, she is heaped with praise. Denali is commended by the judges for going big and broad, bringing the laughs with her character, and Mik gets similar critiques. She went all in despite her insecurities with the choreography, which the judges appreciate.

As the judges deliberate, the results become clear. Rosé gets the win and a $5000 tip, and Denali, Mik, and Tina are all safe. That leaves Symone and Kandy up for elimination. Neither seems ready to go and neither received a final episode edit, so this really could go either way. The lip-sync song is Fifth Harmony’s “BO$$” and both queens are ready to fight. Right from the jump, the judges and the other queens are living for the performances. Both queens do well, and clearly it went over like gangbusters in the room, but to this viewer, it was a solid, competitive lip-sync with Symone edging out Kandy. However, Ru has the final say and she uses her once-per-season double shantay to save both queens.

Advertisement

“Social Media: The Unverified Rusical” may not be all that memorable, but it’s silly, engaging, and fun, and sometimes, that’s enough. It’s great to see Rosé and Denali finally make it to the top and receive some well-earned validation from the judges. It’s also good for some of the Winners Circle queens to be reminded of just how capable their competition is. There may still be nine queens left, but this episode’s shakeup of the standings promises a more competitive and interesting group dynamic, and a welcome win for the B Squad.

Stray observations

  • RuPaul’s Drag Race will be airing a special episode next week, looking at how filming was impacted by COVID, before returning to regular episodes the week after.
  • Symone and Kandy seem to have joined Tina in raising an amused eyebrow to Olivia’s aww-shucks innocence. It’s a fun thread to follow.
  • I would have sworn “ogle” is pronounced “ahh-gull,” not “oh-gull,” so I felt for Symone, getting stuck on “ooh-gull.”
  • Rosé is shady, though entertaining, in the talking heads this episode, gleefully in his element while some of the other queens struggle.
  • It’s probably not intended as such, but I loved Ru’s runway look as a drag version of Buffy’s fantastic coat from the season two finale of Buffy The Vampire Slayer.
Advertisement

Share This Story

Get our newsletter