The hand of the producers is rarely subtle on Drag Race. Coaxed and massaged and outright manufactured storylines are a fact of reality TV, and they don’t have to be a negative. Producer manipulation can result in incredibly dramatic moments and reveals, such as the surprise early elimination of Latrice in All Stars 4. That moment was initially shocking, but on reflection, it was masterfully built to and supported by the pacing, editing, and talking heads. It felt earned, but not ominously and repeatedly foreshadowed. This season has been much more obvious, with the producers and editors over-egging their setups, tipping the eventual episode payoffs from satisfying to predictable. That’s the case with “L.A.D.P.!,” an episode that should be a lot of fun, but ends up rather forgettable.
The episode begins in the aftermath of Brooke and Yvie’s epic “Snatch Game At Sea” lip-sync. Surprisingly, the queens don’t seem particularly gagged. Maybe there was too much down time during filming, maybe the other queens are disappointed neither frontrunner was eliminated, but aside from a few comments from Plastique and Shuga, the mood in the workroom is much more somber than one would expect after the performance Brooke and Yvie just gave. The conversation quickly pivots to expectations and pressure, with Yvie feeling the heat even more post-double shantay. Shuga gives the viewers at home a quick Drag Race statistics refresher: Only two queens have ever won after not placing in Snatch Game. Brooke and Yvie may still be the queens to beat, but based on the show’s history, the other competitors still have a good shot at the crown. If she’s going to contend, Shuga knows she needs to step up her game and differentiate herself from the pack. Silky isn’t worried and doesn’t think she needs to change a thing. One segment in, and both Shuga and Silky have their narratives for the episode.
Everyone is more energized heading into the workroom the next day—Nina even flosses her way in—and before long, Ru comes in to announce the latest mini challenge. The library is open! It’s time for the fan-favorite Reading Is Fundamental challenge. The queens must display their comedy writing and delivery chops by reading their fellow queens, roasting them with pointed, succinct, and hopefully original observations. As the season’s resident comedy queen, one would expect Nina to nail this challenge, but between her overeager pacing and friendly demeanor, she bombs the delivery of her first read and doesn’t recover. It’s never a good sign when you start explaining your punchlines. Nina may not do particularly well, but she’s utterly charming and the warm, somewhat confused reaction of the other queens sets the tone for the entire mini challenge.
Nina’s early bobble diffuses the usual tension that accompanies this challenge and instead of trying to live up to the impossibly high standards the fans and the queens themselves have for these reads, everyone just relaxes and has fun with it. Who knew that what this challenge needed was a few well-placed, good-natured heckles. Vanjie doesn’t do all that well either, but she’s fun throughout and has decent reads. Shuga and Plastique both get a few good lines in, and Silky’s performance is just plain confounding. A’keria does well and certainly exceeds expectations, having stayed mostly in her pageant lane this season, but Yvie and Brooke are once again the best of the bunch. Ru awards the win to Brooke. This iteration may not have been as viciously memorable as others, but it’s the most entertaining the library has been in seasons, breathing new life into an increasingly stressful, over-hyped challenge. Hopefully the producers will be able to recapture this easy-going, playful tone in future seasons.
It’s time for the maxi challenge, this season’s second centered on improv comedy. The queens must work with a partner to improvise a comedic scene for a COPS-inspired guilty pleasure reality show, L.A.D.P.!, or Los Angeles Drag Patrol. They’ll work with guest judges Fortune Feimster and Cheyenne Jackson to build entertaining and memorable scenes, playing the perps to Feimster and Jackson’s patrol officers. As the winner, Brooke gets to choose the teams and she wisely pairs herself with Nina. The two were dynamite together in the first improv challenge, and Brooke is looking to recapture that magic. Brooke then pairs Vanjie with Plastique, A’keria with Yvie, and Silky with Shuga. The pairings are pretty solid, with one #TeamBritney queen in each duo. Yvie may call shade, but on paper, each of these pairings has potential.
The queens get right to work, pairing up and looking over their scripts. After some back and forth between Nina and Brooke over who will get the showier role in their scene—Nina defers to Brooke, as she’s far less comfortable with comedy than Nina is—Ru comes through to talk to everyone, or more specifically, to establish their storylines. Ru meets with Silky and Shuga first. Their narrative is that Shuga needs to avoid being overshadowed by Silky. With Plastique and Vanjie, Ru quickly establishes that Plastique should steer clear of her Vietnamese accent, and that Vanjie needs to slow-build her performance. A’keria and Yvie’s talk is all about lowered expectations. Ru just wants them to, “Yes, and” and be funny, and for Nina and Brooke, Ru stresses drawing from Brooke’s dance background and really going for it.
When they get to the actual scenes, each of these narratives play out almost beat for beat, robbing the episode of a sense of discovery, with one big exception. Silky and Shuga are up first, Silky playing an illegal butt pad dealer and Shuga a disgruntled customer. Silky is strong right from the go, full of energy and selling hard to Feimster and Jackson. Shuga has a hard time keeping up, or even getting a word in. She’s solid, but far from memorable. Next are Brooke and Nina, as neighbors at a trailer park. Nina has called the police on Brooke, who is sunbathing nude in front of Nina’s trailer. Brooke takes Ru’s advice and uses her flexibility and physicality in her favor, but she gets so caught up in what she’s doing she completely abandons Nina, who finally stops waiting for her cue and jumps in. Unlike in “Diva Worship,” Nina isn’t able to anchor the scene and while she does a good job, she’s completely overshadowed by Brooke.
Vanjie and Plastique go third, playing two cats fighting outside a liquor store. They’re a complete mess, Vanjie coming out too big and neither Vanjie nor Plastique managing to communicate the plot of their sketch. Vanjie benefited from the clear structure and defined roles of the previous improv challenge, where she slayed. Here there are many more elements in flux and the scene quickly deteriorates into a free-for-all. Last up are A’keria and Yvie, playing twerking girls fighting over a particular stretch of road. Yvie does alright, but A’keria is terrific. She benefits from the lowered expectations set by Ru, but even without that, this is a breakthrough moment for A’keria. Like Silky and Brooke, she’s given a set-up that plays to her strengths; she can twerk all day long, and she puts that to good use throughout the scene. Silky doesn’t need any help with confidence, but Brooke and A’keria do, at least in comedy challenges, and being able to draw on known strengths helps them open up and really commit to the ridiculousness of their scenes.
The next day, the heavy hand of the producers is felt once again as the queens prepare for the runway. Silky, already flagged for her overconfidence at the beginning of the episode, blows off painting her face, killing time while the rest of the queens get ready. There’s less prep this episode, however, as category is: Face-kini. Inspired by Ru’s memorable judging look from “The Last Ball On Earth,” the queens need to put together a look that covers their entire face, only exposing their lips and eyes. Silky is up first, dressed as a fly (sans wings). Her look is fun, but under the lights, the slivers of exposed skin around her eyes pop against the black of her mask. It’s another example of a not-quite-finished runway from Silky. Shuga is next, sporting a fabulous My Fair Lady-inspired dress. Brooke looks amazing as a glittery zebra, while Nina goes A Clockwork Orange meets polka dots. Vanjie is in full-body red latex with a black braid, a welcome and dramatic change from her standard look, while Plastique’s look feels very Catwoman and doesn’t meet the brief, exposing most of her (gorgeously painted) face. A’keria’s plastic surgery-inspired look is fun and pointed, and Yvie goes full slime creature, returning to her preferred aesthetic.
Natasha Lyonne joins Ru, Michelle, and Feimster and Jackson on the judging panel and Ru quickly declares Nina and Yvie safe. It’s quite a blow for Nina, who at least gets a shout-out from the judges, albeit after she’s gone. Silky gets read, hard, by Michelle for not painting her face, but is complemented on her improv performance. She’s safe. The judges love Shuga’s look, but she faded too quickly in her improv scene. She’s also safe. That leaves Brooke and A’keria in the top, praised for their entertaining improvs and fabulous looks, with the win eventually going to A’keria. Vanjie and Plastique are in the bottom, both critiqued for their clearly last-place improv and their looks, though Michelle does make sure to thank Vanjie for changing up her silhouette.
After the previous lip-sync, just about anything would be a disappointment, and Vanjie and Plastique’s battle to Fantasia Barrino’s “Hood Boy” is merely alright. Both queens have given better performances elsewhere in the season. Vanjie starts out strong, hitting her dance moves, but she gets repetitive by the end, returning to her braid again and again. Plastique does fine, but she doesn’t particularly stand out. In the end, Ru declares Vanjie the winner and sends Plastique packing. While she’s had a few incredibly strong moments this season and consistently delivered beautiful looks, the field is narrowing and having failed to build on her momentum from “Farm To Runway,” it was time for Plastique to go. The start of this episode may have done its best to convince viewers that season 11 is still wide open, but more and more, the final four is solidifying. Vanjie and Shuga need to make strides and fast if they want to contend.
- The line of the episode, without a doubt: A’keria is “Clit Eastwood- she made my day.”
- I’m really pulling for Nina, but each episode it seems clearer that Ru isn’t interested in rewarding what she excels at. She’s definitely in my top four, but I doubt she’ll make Ru’s.
- This is an exciting episode for A’keria! It feels like her Trinity the Tuck transformation moment, a pageant queen finding her feet in comedy. This is the right time in the season to hit a new gear. Hopefully A’keria will push further and stretch her comedy muscles more as we head into the final stretch.
- Feimster and Jackson are fun in the improv scenes, but the highlight of the whole thing is Ru as the dispatcher.
- Despite really enjoying the reading challenge, none of the zingers particularly stuck with me. Sound off with your favorites in the comments.