RuPaul’s Drag Race UK is back for its second season (or series…), with a new episode being released every week on BBC iPlayer. To celebrate, we’ve lined up four rrramble writers (including a Drag Race virgin!) to watch each week and spill all the tea, with a new review coming to you every Sunday. Yas queens!
The second episode kicks off with the queens being shook (as always) about the first elimination. This has happened in every season, so is quite predictable, and I can’t help but want to shake them on the shoulders and say: you knew this was coming! I do enjoy the shade the queens throw at each other; I think it’s excellent when Asttina sassily deals with A’Whora’s rather snide comments, and I’m living for Ginny’s witty comebacks towards Lawrence.
More shade enters the episode as the mini challenge begins and the cast have to vote for who they think fits best into certain categories. (Side note: Ru’s ‘hung parliament’ joke had me cackling). Poor Tia Kofi gets nominated as the queen with the most basic style, and as much as I’m enjoying her sarcastic humour, for the time-being I’d have to agree. As we see on the runway after the main challenge, her simple dress is what blocks her from what could have been a defining win.
Speaking of the main challenge, the queens are tasked with performing a Rusical, a challenge that my family and I heavily anticipate just as much as the Snatch Game. It’s a chance for the contestants to show so many talents at once: singing, dancing, comedy, and just general stage presence. I always feel a little nervous when some queens really big themselves up. After watching all the previous series, I know from experience that this forewarns of elimination, yet in this episode you don’t know where to turn as there are so many of them promising they’ll deliver. And then there are those overcome with nerves, as we see with the so-called cockiest queen, Lawrence. Her crying is shocking as so far, she has seemed pretty tough—as Tayce says, “it’s only week two!”
After that, there is another emotional moment as Cherry Valentine opens up about her background. It’s touching (alarm bells do ring though as, again, this seems to be another forewarning of who’ll get eliminated), especially as it gets you thinking about the consequences of toxic masculinity and the negative affect that has on men.
The Rusical is impressive; I love it! It’s campy and comedic—at least those were the qualities my favourite performances embodied. Dark horse Veronica Green, who I think is quite lovable, really surprised me. I found her captivating and absolutely hilarious with her various rat nipples (a sentence I never thought I’d say).
I also adored Tia Kofi’s performance, but as mentioned, her runway was a disappointment. The same with Bimini, whose punk take on being a rat was brilliant while her look afterwards was not up to scratch. Although, hats off to her for improving vastly from the week before!
All in all, episode two is fantastic, with the Rusical offering very British campiness. As predicted, Cherry sashays away but I’m glad the producers squeezed in her background story as it opens up conversations about toxic masculinity while demonstrating just how fabulous someone can be if they rid themselves of it.
The question I was left with after watching last week’s episode was immediately answered this week; niceties have very much been given the boot, along with the now eliminated Joe Black.
First impressions are quite telling: I was very happy to see both Tia and Tayce back on the screen, but, as quickly affirmed by her gaining of the title “Secretary of Shade”, during this episode A’Whora continued to make me feel very uncool and a bit nervous. Does anyone else get school flashbacks when watching this show or is it just me!?
This week’s episode also had the first “Rusical” of the season. Now, please don’t come for me, but I’ve never been much of a musical theatre person. I have zero musical talent. I struggled with school plays (Year 6, we did Wind in the Willows, I played a stoat—do with that information what you will) and those productions had a budget of about twenty pounds. So, the concept of participating in a musical involving actual choreographers and an actual lighting rig and RuPaul, is enough to make me run screaming in the other direction.
All of that is to say that I really empathised with Lawrence Chaney this episode. Being forced to participate in an environment where you really do not thrive (whilst being surrounded by people who really, really do) is emotionally draining at best, and pretty traumatic at worst (did I tell you that I actually fell over on-stage during opening night as the stoat?). Often those talented people will just never be able to understand how anyone could associate something that they love so much with hopelessness and self-doubt.
I think the format of the episode (and of the show, generally) is deceptively clever, because whilst on the surface it feels like mindless entertainment, the ridiculousness of the challenges that are set really do highlight the extent to which the queens need to have mastered the art of performance, and I think one of the most crucial parts of that is usually detachment from the ego. Lawrence Chaney, for instance, might be much more of a master of comedy than A’Whora (I actually have no doubt about that) but that doesn’t mean that she can survive on comedy alone; obviously, for this show, you need to have a grasp of how you can present yourself effectively in different environments. Even in uncomfortable ones, you can do badly, but you still have to perform it, to make it memorable. You really cannot afford to lose yourself, however hard it might be.
God, I’m glad I’m not on this show.
I did give a big sigh of relief when Lawrence Chaney was able to stay, but it’s a shame to see Cherry Valentine go, especially after getting to know her a little more in this episode. I’m looking forward to seeing who’s going to excel and who might flop next week. I’m still hedging my bets on Ginny Lemon’s reliable eccentricity.
Starting off this week, I expected the queens to have to settle into Joe Black’s shock elimination. However, I did not anticipate a continued clocking of winner Asttina’s ASOS Discount Jacket – a pointless comment in my view. Herstory has shown that when it comes to Drag Race, coin does not a winning look make. If you can take something cheap and make it look chic, then I say bravo!
A new day starts with the queens taking a Secret Ballot to decide on four categories: A’Whora is Secretary of Shade, Tayce is Trade Minister, Lawrence is Leader of the House of Lording It Up, and Tia is Baroness Basic. The results aren’t too surprising to me, especially not Tayce – did we all clock his gorgeous Werk Room look?!
Though labelled basic, Tia gets to assign the roles for this week’s main challenge – RATS, the Rusical. However, awkwardness surfaces when two queens want the same role. With Veronica listing off her credentials and Cherry relying on another queen’s corroboration of her performance skills, I found it all a bit cringe. I can understand the need to really fight for your role and if it were me, I’m sure I’d bring up my Year 8 double billing in The Wizard of Oz…but when the justification process gets slightly desperate, I can’t. As Tia, I’d have just given it to someone else!
A standout moment this week was the honest discussion regarding Cherry’s traveller background. Growing up within a gendered structure and pressures of heterosexuality, Cherry acknowledges her own inability as a queer individual to feel fully proud as a result. In doing so, they highlight the great societal issue of toxic masculinity in its ability to severely damage and distort one’s understanding and acceptance of self. Having not yet told her dad about drag or being gay, Cherry’s comment that being a nurse as a man is considered equally problematic surprised me; reminding me how archaic the mentality is behind what it still means to be a “real man” in the minds of many.
When it comes to the Rusical, RATS is an all-out PRODUCTION and all queens perform well in my eyes. Tia was hilarious and Veronica put her money where her tail is…and certainly didn’t get caught in a trap! For the ‘Surprise, Surprise’ runway, she excelled in her Stepford Wife reveal for a deserved win. However, my personal favourite had to be Ellie’s outstanding triple reveal into all of Dorothy’s Yellow Brick Road chums!
Though I agreed both offered slightly subdued performances and lack lustre reveals on the runway, I still felt Cherry and Tayce made for an unfortunate bottom two. Tayce deserved the Shantay for her utterly beautiful performance of Elaine Paige’s ‘Memories’. However, my heart breaks to see Cherry go – forever my Valentine.
Full of emotion and entertainment value, this episode was a high-quality all-rounder, further establishing season 2 in its elevated form from a first season that had already captured the nation’s attention!
So, as the metaphorical curtain rises on week 2 in the werkroom, I feel more prepared for what this episode of DRUK will bring. I’m very much aware (thank you twitter) that a new series of the American version has also just been released, but I’ve deliberately decided to steer clear of that for now, so I can enjoy each in their own light. Comparison, as a wise man once said (either Theodore Roosevelt or Ross Mathews, I forget who) is the thief of joy, after all.
As a general point, I do think it’s slightly bad timing on the part of the production teams to have released both at practically the same time however. US Drag Race is in its 13th season, a fully established beast at the top of the reality food chain: there’s only ever going to be one winner, right?
Well, in some ways, I think yes. The quality of runway looks we’ve seen so far hasn’t quite felt up to the giddy heights our yank counterparts have previously hit. You can’t exactly compare Asia O Hara’s Tweety Bird mumu or Violet Chachki fall runway tartan reveal with Tia’s lack lustre flamenco dress, or Ginny Lemon’s bare hairy arse. But then maybe that’s not the point. The contestants themselves don’t seem to be taking it quite as life-or-death seriously, probably because there doesn’t seem to be the same weight of expectation of the U.S. version. Here, the queens are only following in the footsteps of one, rather than a whopping twelve previous sets of racers, and I think the lack of pressure allows for a bit more freedom and silliness. I’m enjoying the cheeky comments and playful atmosphere, and it all just feels a little more fun. If you want to show your bare arse, Ginny, go for it girl.
Having said that, I do hope the quality of the drag improves as the series progresses. I always love the Rusical challenge, but RATS for me, didn’t quite live up to expectations. I guess maybe the concept itself is to blame; it did feel a little stereotypical to give the British queens an old West End number to spoof, rather than something a bit more popular culture based. The Americans get the Kardashians or Madonna… we get Lloyd Webber.
To be fair to her, Veronica really came into her own this week (I still don’t think she’ll end up on top though – she feels too polished, and we all know Ru likes a bit of rough around the edges in his winners) but overall, the Rusical didn’t stand out for me. In the words of the lovable Tayce however, “it’s only week two!”
And I think this is a good sentiment to take away from this episode – I’m enjoying the overall fun vibes and tongue-in-cheek Britishness of some of the humour, and I’m sure (or, I hope) there’s a bit more class to come. Or more bare arses. I’ll still be watching, either way.
Ru Paul’s Drag Race UK is available now on BBC iPlayer. Catch us next Sunday to see what the reviewers make of episode 3!