Tops and Bottoms: A Final Look at 2022, Part 5

Ooooof, I feel like this part is when I start getting some flack.

38. Lady Camden (US Season 14)

Like I said with Bosco yesterday, Camden is someone I don’t think I would care that much about if she were on any other season. The “type” Lady Camden fits in is of the professional who is amazing at everything and doesn’t need to engage in the drama. Not that these are faults of Lady Camden, that she’s just that bitch who is actually good at everything, but that it’s a role that frequently doesn’t go anywhere and doesn’t contribute much to the screen. I wasn’t ready to hate Camden, more dismiss her as another front runner the show would focus on because they had to.

Thank fuck she’s on US Season 14, because Lady Camden truly gets to shine here.

Lady Camden never commands the story, at least not until the Saltine fight, but she’s always around, in the background, doing goofy shit. Minor moments like making fun of Angeria’s accent or her coyness about being gay when going to ballet boarding school really make her more approachable and fun. Even her stunts, like the Freddie Mercury reveal, are objectively silly. And I think being in this season really opened her up. Compare her to Symone from last year, whose cast never engaged with each other; while Symone is most exciting as a Queen in concept, she’s much less a personality.

Lady Camden benefits from being in a better season, but still deserves props for meeting the show where it’s at.

37. Pangina Heals (UK vs the World)

Controversial opinion?

Here’s the thing, I love that Pangina became the unquestionable break out star of UK vs the World. There’s the obvious reasons to love Pangina’s success, it giving validity to non-English speaking Drag Race, in fact Drag Race of developing countries. But there’s also the amazing metanarrative: that UK vs the World tried so hard to push a Tory and the audience, the world at large, rejected her for this Thailand princess. And she totally deserves it, because Pangina does deliver the goods, in both the challenges and on screen. She’s really likable and really sincere, someone who sharply contrasts the rigid British-ness of her surroundings.

The only thing really stopping me from being as on board with Pangina as everyone else is how unintentional it was. Pangina wasn’t supposed to be a breakout star, and to be frank that’s obvious from her edit. When you actually sit down and rewatch UK vs the World, there’s really not a lot to Pangina. You can follow her, specifically watch for her moments, but only if you do so intentionally, and frankly watching it that way is a fool’s errand. Once Pangina is gone, you have no reason to keep watching. And, yeah, it’s UK vs the World, you shouldn’t be watching anyway, but the point is Pangina doesn’t penetrate the cast and the show never treats her with respect. I do not think it’s a case of her being ESL, rather I think BBC just didn’t see worth in her and strung her along until it was time for her to leave.

Remember what I said about Le Fil’s elimination? And what challenge did Pangina leave?

UK vs the World didn’t deserve Pangina. If given a proper season, a season where she could show her strengths and be taken seriously, she could easily make the teens of my list, if not top 10. Pangina is great, her season let her down.

36. Yvie Oddly (All Stars 7)

So, what happens when you take Yvie Oddly, an obnoxious powder keg ready to explode all over the werk room, and remove any and all agents of chaos? Whatever the fuck Yvie in All Stars 7 was.

Like a lot of All Stars 7, much of the enjoyment you can get from Yvie is contrasting her with what we know about her. By itself, Yvie in All Winners is probably the least impactful you can be while getting a positive edit. The show does remind us that Yvie exists, but only just long enough for her to say something “alternative” or for the cast to mention her huge dick. Otherwise, she leaves little to chew on, just sitting around as a winner in a room full of other winners.

And that’s weird right?!

This is Yvie Fucking Oddly. This is the same opinionated, unflinching bitch who fought every single episode of US Season 11 with none other than Silky Nutmeg Ganache. This scab-picking, drama-attracting bridge troll, who had no right winning in her first season because the cast fucking hated her (Bless ❤ ), is now on a season with less drama than any given Top Chef. It’s staggering how miscast Yvie Oddly is. The show somehow took this demon from hell and defanged her so much she’s unrecognizable.

The fun of All Winners Yvie is that the concept is inherently ridiculous. This might me too high, but I get such a joy out of seeing Drag Race shove its problem child in their Sunday best to attend the reunion where they know nobody. It’s such a bad use of talent, it loops back on itself to being transcendent.

35. Icesis Couture (Canada vs the World)

It’s hard to know what to say about Icesis’s time on Canada vs the World. Part of me feels like I should base her off of the first three episodes, but another part of me finds that dishonest because her character is defined by how she left. Icesis is perhaps the most unique experiences to ever be on Drag Race, and it’s mostly due to timing and environment. Quitting is always going to be a noteworthy moment in Drag Race, and her doing it on a season this earnest and heartfelt really lets the moment sit with the audience. While this year’s other quit was framed as triumphant and as a moment of gaining agency, this one is somber and becomes the only thing the cast talks about for the last half hour.

I guess what I can say about Icesis’s quit is that no one is immune to mental struggles. This is still Icesis Couture: the proud, talented, dancing Bad Bitch of Canada Season 2. The one who stole the win from Pythia’s grasp and never looked back. The one who came back in Canada Season 3 to congratulate the final four and be something inspirational. And even with all of that, Icesis’s demons still got the best of her. She was not ready to compete again, a fact that had to just take everything out of her both because she was a winner and she was doing so well so far. And what’s so heartwarming was that everyone else completely understood. It’s uncomfortable because it feels so real, and you feel for Icesis even as she informs everyone she’s leaving. Quitting is not easy, and even though it was the right call, it will likely be something Icesis will always regret to a small degree. Not because she should regret it, but because out demons always know how to fuck with us.

It was fun to see Icesis again. And I sincerely hope nothing but the best for her.

34. Rita Baga (Canada vs the World)

Despite being in the public consciousness for only 2 years, Rita Baga has developed into an institution of Drag Race. Part of it is being so French-Canadian is hurts, part of it is her Drag being what your single aunt wears at the wedding reception. But I think the main reason Rita commands so much respect is that she’s great at delivering when it counts. Rita knows how to meet a season where it’s at, knows what hat to put on to make for the best TV. And much like how she meets Canada Season 1 in its insanity, she meets Canada vs the World is its sincerity.

This is still very much Rita Baga, just without the hard edges. Rita is much calmer here than she was in Canada Season 1, which I think it’s easy to blame her for becoming boring, but I chalk it up to not having to deal with Ilona Verley. Rita is in a much more stable, much less chaotic, season, and so her softer side comes out. Granted, it’s still Rita Baga, someone with some questionable runways and even more questionable wigs. There’s some things Rita just can not change, and her taste in hair will follow her to the grave. But it’s still a nicer edit for Rita, who clearly got burnt by the fan response to Canada Season 1. I personally don’t think she reaches the same heights as she did before, but I’ll never turn her down from my television.

33. Willow Pill (US Season 14)

First things first, props to Willow Pill for somehow rolling with RuPaul’s obsession early in the season with saying “It’s not a Big Pill, it’s a WILLOW PWILL!” Truly, I am shocked Willow didn’t at some point question the Wow Presents staff if RuPaul was senile.

I think a lot of people are quick to call Willow Pill transparent and fake, and I understand why. Willow Pill seamlessly integrates herself with who would end up being the most important characters of her season: Kornbread, Kerri, Angeria, etc. From just the premiere, she goes from the mockery of the cast, with her 00’s Angle outfit and terrible shoes, to the little sister of Kornbread, the start of their friendship in earnest. From there, Willow starts to expand her reach to the rest of the cast, becoming friendly with everyone and being someone no one else wants to see leave. And again, I get it. There’s an aspect of Willow that feels insincere, especially off the heels of Jaida and Yvie. I don’t know if I complete buy it.

However, I have few counter arguments that what Willow is doing is heinous. First of all, Drag Race has had many of friendships that were mutually beneficial. From Bianca and Adore to Shea and Sasha, we’ve spent more years in the age of Queens partnering up for business reasons than not. And speaking of Shea and Sasha, what Willow was doing wasn’t directly in contention with the rest of the cast. I’m much more cynical of Queens elevating themselves when it’s accompanied by them kicking everyone else down so that they become the only final two. Willow’s friendship with Angie wasn’t some awkward classist move against someone else. And lastly, it was mutual. To me it’s disingenuous to say Willow was the only one who benefitted from the agreement; hell I’d put money Kornreab approached her first. So look, as much as you may scoff at Willow is doing, this shit has been happening for years now, it’s time to wake up.

And I think we should give Willow credit because she’s a damn good winner. Willow has a clear vision and reference points, and uses them excellently. She’s funny and charming, and a good performer. Willow Pill seemingly has this cloud of cynicism and it frustrates me because it’s the kind of thing that should be over, say, half the damn cast of All Winners. As basic as her appeal is, I really like Willow Pill. She makes for a great first winner of the fourth arc of Drag Race, and I hope the others after her take notes.

32. Cheryl Hole (UK vs the World)

Oh my god, this lovable basic bitch!

In the dark times that was UK Season 1, Cheryl Hole was unquestionably the brightest star. Already iconic from the start of the season, Cheryl’s real claim to fame was becoming the Elissa Slatter of Drag: a vapid, clueless bimbo who, via everyone around her being hateful assholes, becomes the unintended hero and sole source of good of the season. It is both delightful and legendary, as Cheryl flounders in the endgame, a lovable presence that may not have deserved the shit from the judges she got, but it undoubtedly brought out the best in her.

And this is all to say that she was dead meat on UK vs the World.

My cynical nature about UK vs the World always crowning a British Queen had the caveat that, we all knew, it wouldn’t be Cheryl. As much as the show screwed Cheryl over her first season, I knew it would pull similar shit this time around. And everyone knew it. Cheryl knew it! Her constantly making mediocre jokes wasn’t just her running the meme into the ground, it was staring Drag Race directly in the eyes and dared them to prove she was right. And sure enough, they gave her the obvious BTM-OUT edit she knew she’d get. Cheryl went down, not as one of the season’s many victims, but as someone who knew exactly what it was going to pull, and beat them to the punch.

What I’m saying is Cheryl outfoxed production. Make of that what you will.

31. Jujubee (UK vs the World)

Jujubee has been a fixture of our lives for well over a decade. The importance of Jujubee really can not be overstated; while far from splashy and exciting, Jujubee is a consistent, well-drawn part of early Drag Race, and was instrumental in it becoming the institution it is today. Even in modern times, during All Stars 5, Jujubee could still rub elbows with the more obvious pets like Shea and Cracker and make a valiant attempt at that season’s crown. The power of Jujubee is such that she can materialize on All Stars 5, know nothing of the current Drag Race metagame, and still dominate the season via force of will. Jujubee is consistent and evergreen, both her appeal and her power.

Her time on UK vs the World is very odd, but that’s not really Jujubee’s fault.

It’s clear from the season that, at this point, Jujubee is just exhausted. They dragged her out to the other side of the world, tired and unprepared, and propped her up on stage, just for the name recognition. If Pangina shows how disrespectful UK vs the World was to people looking for their break, Jujubee shows how disrespectful it is to those who came before. And like with Pangina, Jujubee really does try to make good TV, even in this shit season. Chercutiree has absolutely entered my vocabulary. But at the end of the day, it’s still UK vs the World, still a season where Jujubee could have been replaced with a scarecrow and the results would have been the same.

UK vs the World wasted Jujubee, in fact the greatest sin of all.

30. Angeria (US Season 14)

The unintended theme of this section of the list is untouchably great contestants that we take for granted. As much as drama fiends thirsty for chaos, like me, may be dismissive of the Queens with a more “basic” appeal, they’re very necessary. They’re the ones who help keep the season grounded to some sort of normalcy, who make sure the show is still approachable. They might not be the splashiest contestants, but they’re the workhorses, and any proper season needs them somewhere to give the season a backbone. And Angeria is a perfect example.

Angeria comes alive as soon as you meet her, by far the biggest breakout star of the second half of the premiere. She’s open and lovely, someone who clearly wants to make good TV without feeling grating. Every moment with Angeria sparks a bit of joy, and even when she has to play a secondary part (which, sadly, becomes frequent as the season moves forward), you still have positive feelings about her.

Really, there’s not much else to add about why Angeria works so well: she’s very much what she presents on screen, a positive aura that may not be distinct but is always appreciated. She has fun little moments, like the aforementioned one with Lady Camden, but nothing specific that you can point out. Angie might peter our before the end, but that has more to do with the hellish filming schedule than her. Still, she does her job really well.

Year-End Look: UK Season 4

UK Season 4 is a massive step up compared to both UK Season 3 and UK vs the World. Everything those two seasons tried to do was done so much better this time around, a fact I largely credit to the cast. This season’s cast, much like US Season 14, feels like a natural progression and important next step for the franchise. And while they’re still noticeably more “tropey,” as is the way with UK Drag Race, no one feels played out.

Much like the crown jewel of the UK brand, Season 2, it’s easy to divide the season into three acts: the Sminty Drop era, the Dakota Schiffer era, and the Jonbers Blonde era. Unlike Season 2, these acts that don’t build on one another but instead recontextualize the cast and add new layers to the remaining contestants. Once the season starts to feel like it has found its groove and settled in after the first four episodes, there’s a paradigm shift after Sminty leaves and the new main character effectively becomes Dakota. And once you get comfortable with Dakota, she’s gone and Jonbers ascends, ruling the endgame narrative with an iron fist. These changes each affect the rest of the cast as well: Dakota really emerges as the dominate narrator after Sminty goes, Black Peppa gets increasingly frustrated as she watches her star fall, Pixie Polite emerges more and more from the shadows, etc. The season does still feel gradual, but these changes in pacing do help entertain the audience and keep them on their toes.

It probably looks odd to frame the season around these three people, who basically don’t play any role in the main plot (Danny vs Cheddar), but the reality is Drag Race is not about the destination. Drag Race, especially the UK sector, wears proudly on its sleeve who it plans of winning the show. And because of that, there’s actually not a lot of excitement possible with that drama, and especially not with the completely off-the-wall chance Black Peppa or Jonbers Blonde could win. So instead of trying to make Danny vs Cheddar exciting, the editors did the smart thing and frame the season around the supporting cast. Those two are always present, but they’re rarely notable, and it makes for a more dynamic viewing if you accept that the win is a foregone conclusion.

Which brings me to the season’s only problem: it’s based in the UK. I’ve said this many times, but the BBC’s strict, rigid view of what makes a winner has caused the franchise to already feel stifling and predictable. It would be one thing if this just affected who won, but given the suspicious paths Le Fil and Black Peppa went down, it’s obvious there’s much more production intervention than even on US Drag Race. Not only does it sell those contestants short, it frankly sells Danny and Cheddar short, to say nothing of the other questionable boots of the season like Dakota’s. It makes the season feel like a pointless, scripted drama, and while it can still be a lot of fun, it lacks emotional weight.

Drag Race UK has a lot of potential for true greatness, it just needs to get out of its own way. Once it does, it’s unstoppable.

Advertisement

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.