What does it mean for Drag Race to suck?

Image by Renee Barrera

I’m a really big fan of Rupaul’s Drag Race. As a professed autist, I take it very seriously. I discovered the series about five years ago, just after season six came out, and I binged all the way through and hopped on the livewatching train at season seven.

In hindsight, this was an absolutely hilarious time to get into the fandom. I enjoyed the first six seasons completely detached from the online discourse surrounding them, and I loved them for what they were: trashy reality TV with a heavy dash of talent and a heart of gold. Even if that gold was barely covering a veneer of sickly-sweet homonationalism, the early show had a vision, and it executed it well. Bebe, Tyra, Sharon, and Jinkx were all stalwarts of personality and storyline, and every hackneyed challenge and pulse-raising lipsync felt imbued with a sense of importance that few shows in the genre could capture.

Drag Race has always been heinously overproduced. It’s easy to look at Silky Nutmeg Ganache sending home Nina West and decry slipping standards, but season one still has the most bullshit elimination today, when Jade Sotomayor was snubbed for Rebecca Flared-Jeans-And-Lipgloss Glasscock. The grunge got far more visible in season five, when the editing acquired a surreal, cracked out languidness, and season six, when the colour correction was tuned to the bubblegum-pastel tones of Jade Jolie’s anus. Still, the show cruised by on bankable storylines, funny moments, and its undeniable charm.

But then season seven happened, and the seams really started to show.

What do you get if you mix one half Instagram queens and one half bitter old pageant hags? Potentially an interesting season, that is, until you pour on the cloying, flavour-destroying skunk piss of an endless barrage of group acting challenges. Looking back, it’s crystal clear that Ginger was lined up to win it, but was thwarted by her allegiance with the bitter old-lady brigade. Violet, a no-fucks-given ND icon, was given a flaccid conceited-to-congenial edit and, after puffing her way through the Shakesqueers and Don’t play with doodoos in sickening looks, rightfully crowned.

At the time of season seven, there was a general feeling of “What’s happened to Drag Race?” It came odd out the gate, with uncanny valley workroom entrances, and things only went downhill when they iMovie’d their way into making Fame use Max’s newspaper to blot her make-up.

(Oh yeah, Max. You’d think given the way I described season seven above, she would’ve done fantastically. That didn’t quite turn out as expected.)

This morning, I saw an article asking, “Is season eleven the worst season ever?” The thing is, ever since season seven broke the mask, I’m not sure what constitutes a bad Drag Race season. Is it poor editing? Bullshit eliminations? Challenges written by West Hollywood typewriter monkeys? Lacklustre casting? Forgettable final-four songs?

The thing is, despite its many flaws, season seven still holds my interest today. I’d rewatch it. I can’t say the same about season eleven, or All Stars 3. It’s not that these seasons were dramatically worse than seven, it’s just the general fatigue.

Everywhere you look in the Drag Race fandom, people are disinterested. “We need a hiatus” has become the rallying cry of a fanbase that was once gasping for content in the between-season droughts. But now, a lengthy off-season would be a miracle. It would give the producers, the fans, and the would-be queens a chance to recharge and flesh out. They might even be able to find capable challenge writers. RuPaul would remain as plastic as ever, but that’s part of the shows charm and meme factor.

Drag Race has firmly landed in turd city, but it’s not too late to turn back around and head for the carwash. Because lord knows, it needs the wash.

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