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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Tonal imbalances and missed signals bog down RuPaul’s Drag Race: Vegas Revue

RPDR: Vegas Revue
RPDR: Vegas Revue
Screenshot: VH1
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So far, RuPaul’s Drag Race: Vegas Revue has run on high-stakes energy. A ticking clock has loomed overhead, counting down to opening night. Will the queens learn their choreography in time? Can they get the show ready with only two weeks left? That question is answered in “The Weakest Link” as the cast comes down off their “Opening Night” high and sits for their morning-after press conference: Yes, they pulled it off. What next?

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The episode begins with the queens, beat for the gods and looking fabulous, heading to the Flamingo bright and early the morning after opening night. They’re taking press questions and hoping to build some positive buzz for the show. As Yvie and Derrick say, their hard work won’t mean much if the audience stays home (observations that land rather differently six months into COVID-19-related shutdowns). Any nerves over the press reaction are lifted, and the queens can relax into their daily routines.

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Kameron, Naomi, and Asia head to the gym to work out, an aspect of many performers’ lives that Drag Race rarely mentions. It’s great to see the queens in this context, taking a moment to talk as they rest between sets. Naomi asks about Asia’s family and the topic moves to her parents, both of whom have died. Family is a tricky topic for Asia and there are conversations about her family she has yet to have with Brett, her fiancé, so Asia asks Naomi and Kameron to keep their conversation in confidence.

Asia’s family won’t be coming out to see the show, but Kameron’s mom will be and Kameron is particularly excited for Andre, the person she’s seeing, to come out as well. Asia is blunt, asking, “So is he your boyfriend?” Kameron reiterates that they aren’t doing labels, and being long distance makes things hard, but it sure seems like Kameron is looking for the kind of meaningful relationship Vanjie has been talking about since the premiere. After a break for more core exercises, Naomi starts doing exactly what she and Derrick were cast to do, along with slaying the live show. She stirs the pot, asking who Kameron and Asia consider the weak link in the cast.

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Kameron backs away from the question, wanting to avoid conflict the way she did throughout season 10 of Drag Race. Asia notes that they all have different strengths and weaknesses and asks for a bit more specificity. When Naomi lands on teamwork as a category, she is not ready for Asia’s answer. Asia says Naomi is the worst teammate of the six, and she cites specific examples when pressed. Asia isn’t mean-spirited when she answers the question, but she completely misreads the room. Naomi is not ready to hear this. She shouldn’t have asked the question, but Asia should have taken a page from Kameron’s book and side-stepped it.

Not reading the room becomes a bit of a theme for the episode. After the next performance, Derrick, her boyfriends Mack and Nick, and Vanjie head to Charlie’s, a gay country western bar. Derrick is looking to play matchmaker for Vanjie. They’re joined by some of the Pit Crew and they kick off the night with shots. Right away, it seems clear Vanjie and Derrick and Mack have different goals for the evening. They’re looking to find Vanjie a hookup, while Vanjie wants to find a meaningful connection. Vanjie makes a point to make introductions not as Vanjie, but as José. José is a bit leery of potential love interest Drew, who goes on about having seen Vanjie perform. Mack takes this as a plus, but to José, it’s a red flag. He’s not looking to date someone who’s into him for his drag persona. The warning signs continue when Mack pushes José into getting lap dances from strangers. He’s clearly uncomfortable, and he pulls the plug on the evening.

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RPDR: Vegas Revue
RPDR: Vegas Revue
Screenshot: VH1

The next day, Derrick invites Vanjie out to lunch to apologize, surprising her with a setup. Derrick has invited Drew along to lunch and she heads out shortly after, leaving them on an impromptu date. Neither seems all that thrilled. This would be an awkward situation at the best of times. Add a camera crew and every pause gets heightened. By the time Drag Race fan Drew is asking Vanjie where exactly she lives—seriously?—the date is dead, and Drew’s calamari hasn’t even arrived.

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Back at the Flamingo, Yvie and Derrick commiserate with Vanjie over the dud of a lunch date, before planning another activity for that evening, a cast pajama party. They start up a game of Truth or Dare, with Yvie playing matchmaker and daring Nick to kiss Naomi, who Yvie knows has been crushing on him. After their quick snog, Derrick’s spin lands on Asia, who picks truth. Derrick decides to stir up the simmering Asia and Naomi tension. Instead of keeping things playful, Derrick again misreads the room and needles Asia, revealing that Naomi has been complaining about her to Derrick. Asia feels betrayed that Naomi talked to Derrick instead of coming to her and she gets emotional. Done with the conversation, and with being vulnerable on camera, Asia takes off her mic pack and leaves. It’s an abrupt and unsettling end to the episode, and the least satisfying of the season so far.

Larger events loom on the horizon, from Yvie’s teased doctor’s appointment to Kameron and Vanjie’s make-out session to the inevitable shutdown of the show due to COVID-19. But for the moment, all Vegas Revue has to draw on is interpersonal drama, and when the cast are not on the same page about what kind of show they’re on, it’s hard to enjoy. Derrick and Naomi feel like they’re on a salacious and breezy reality soap, while Asia and at times Vanjie and Yvie are on a much more earnest, serious show. Those worlds can overlap effectively, but “The Weakest Link” misses the mark, pushing the queens to talk past, rather than with each other. Hopefully Vegas Revue has something more substantive up its glittery sleeve for the next episode, as the season enters its second half.

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Stray observations

  • Drag Race makes a point of having the queens wear one outfit for all their talking head interviews, so that the editors can take footage from any point during the season and edit it in seamlessly to suit the narrative they’re building. Not so here, and the queens’ changing looks are jarring, particularly Asia’s three very different ensembles early this episode.
  • I wasn’t the biggest fan of Kameron during season 10, but I’m gaining an appreciation of her on Vegas Revue. Her understanding toward Asia at the gym speaks well of her.
  • Asia’s workout struggles are real, “Ain’t no core down there.”
  • The clips of Naomi performing in the show are great. Hopefully these montages continue for the rest of the season.
  • For someone so offended by Asia’s comments, Naomi all but quotes them when describing her approach to getting ready in a difficult workspace.
  • Yvie’s visit to the burlesque show—pretending to just pop in, with a camera crew—is stilted and fake. They would have been better off acknowledging that they’d coordinated ahead of time. It’s neat to see other performers featured, however, and to see Yvie get up there and try their choreography.
  • Here’s hoping Vanjie finds her rocky road.
  • It’s hard not to notice the constant stream of alcohol, and how it’s fueling the show’s least comfortable situations.
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