Photo: VH1

There’s a moment in the first 10 minutes of RuPaul’s Drag Race Holi-Slay Spectacular thats reveal exactly what kind of spectacular we’re in for. There are hints before then—“candid” moments that are clearly scripted, a striking lack of nervousness and bravado on the workroom entrances, an energy more obviously congenial than usual, and a one-liner from Trixie that reminds us that, in case you didn’t know, RuPaul’s several holiday albums are, yes, available on iTunes.

And then RuPaul says, “And by the way, it’s a musical,” and all the queens—each so surprised by what’s happening in this totally unscripted, high-stakes hour of reality television—begin to sing along, each and every one.

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That doesn’t mean that the holi-slay spectacular is without its charms. Having assembled a group that contains some of Drag Race’s most charming, quick-witted contestants (your Trixie Mattels, your Latrice Royales, your Shangela Laquifa Wadleys) all but ensures that, even at its most brazen, the first-ever Drag Race holiday special can’t be entirely flat. Come on, they gather around a piano that Jasmine Masters is pretending to play in order to lip-sync Christmas carols before Latrice takes them, briefly, to church. Are you not entertained?

Yet the hour never quite fulfills on the promise of the ridiculous premise, and by the time it reaches a “surprise” ending that’s unlikely to surprise anyone, it seems clear that future Drag Race specials would be well-advised to make a choice. They can be either:

  • A) an anticlimactic, stakes-free, almost Brechtian exploration of all of Drag Race’s artifice, in which, as another congenial comedy program once said, “everything’s made up and the points don’t matter.”
  • B) An hour-long infomercial for RuPaul’s scintillatingly named new album, Christmas Party.

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Both ideas have a certain appeal. Anyone who’s watched this show for any length of time will know that shilling RuPaul’s latest project is a pastime baked into the show’s DNA at a fundamental level. (Shilling is what? FUNDAMENTAL.) The practice is so brazen, so unrepentant, that it goes well past tackiness, rounds the corner, and becomes somehow knowing and wry, as though Ru and the show are calling viewers out, daring them to protest. No one ever would. The artifice and shamelessness can be downright delightful, even when its only obvious objective is to incorporate every track on an album that’s now available on iTunes.

That second option might be familiar, but the first is equally, if not more, appealing. Imagine Drag Race as a hangout movie. Imagine Drag Race, but in the mode of Terrace House or The Great British Bake Off. Imagine Drag Race, but a musical, and everyone’s constantly either lip-syncing, painting, cracking each other the fuck up. Imagine them all competing for the satisfaction of a job well done, and they maybe get visited by the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet-to-Come (heh). Imagine a whole hour of shit like, “Get those chestnuts away from my face!”

But if you slap them together like they’re sharing space in a push-up bra, you get an hour that undermines the charms of both modes. The bit that’s still pretending to be a competition is robbed off all tension by the relaxed, obviously scripted feel of the segments. A casual conversation about great Christmas gifts becomes an in-mirror lip sync, which itself transitions into some sort of shared dream state where all the queens are running around in footie pajamas to a song that’s now available on iTunes. Both can be interesting, but the latter makes the former ring false, while the awkward transition between them keeps the song from being truly fun.

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Still, if the episode itself doesn’t make for a roaring good time, it certainly seems as if the queens and judges had a blast making it. That’s the main quality that keeps the Holi-Slay Spectacular from being dragged down by the weight of all those Anastasia Beverly Hills color palettes. Long after it becomes apparent that none of this is an actual Drag Race episode, that they’re all destined to lip-sync to a verse and change from a whole bunch of RuPaul holiday jams, the queens’ obvious enjoyment of the silliness makes it all an entertaining-enough watch.

RuPaul says at the outset of the episode that this is the start of a new holiday tradition. Not even the missteps found herein could keep me from hoping that’s true, but let’s likewise hope that Ru takes the recipe for this special, compares it with Grandma’s Christmas cookie recipe, and finds a new and better formula.


Entrances

Sonique! “Looks like you were naughty this year, because you got a bad bitch for Christmas” is, like, light-years ahead of back when you just used to say, “Trust,” and shit like that. That was good!

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Mini-challenge

Mayhem Miller won... nothing. Whatever, watching them all bounce around was a good time. Happy with the Mayhem win—the only thing anyone wins in the whole episode—because she did so well elsewhere. Still, I preferred Latrice’s reindeer flight.

Maxi-challenge

One of those “let’s-all-learn-choreography in arbitrary costumes” challenges the show loves so well. Lots of the makeup for those ’80s looks was a little wonky, and it was tough to see most of them for more than a second or two, but I dug Shangela’s jacket, and agree with Ross that Trixie’s dancing seems much improved. Eureka really needs to be careful with that knee, especially since she didn’t ask for one for Christmas.

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Runway

Jasmine, pal, cool idea, but we’ve got to see your face! Most of these were pretty good, but Mayhem’s Krampus was, to me, the clear winner... of nothing, because no one won anything. If you weren’t already convinced that they were all destined to win, Michelle’s unanimous praise surely must have done the trick?

Lip-syncs

Again, Mayhem was great. Ru and Michelle’s body doubles would have been much funnier if they’d only been used once or twice. Jasmine, you’re not going to go full Valentina on All Stars, are you?

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Stray observations

  • Michelle is so tiny that she actually looked like she’d been green-screened on the stage in front of those big present on stage.
  • “All Star rules have been temporarily suspended.” Uh, Ru... what All Stars rules? As far as I can tell, All Stars is basically the Drag Race wild west.
  • “Why it gotta be Black Friday though?”
  • “The stockings were hung…. Hee hee hee!”
  • “SOCKS”
  • “She’s like eye-porn. Wait, is that a thing?” “Come on, caged bird!”
  • “Whose child is this?”
  • “I’ve always said that Kim Chi is gifted.” Still got trouble with heels, though.
  • “Because I am what? Festive!”
  • Thanks for reading this review, now available on iTunes. We’re not yet sure who’ll be covering All Stars, as the great Oliver Sava has hung up his pumps and padding, but whoever it is will see you next week!

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