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What To Watch For When Watching 'RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars'

Behold the assembled contestants of <em>RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars</em>, Season 2.
World of Wonder/Logo
Behold the assembled contestants of RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars, Season 2.

Lace front, true believers!

RuPaul's Drag Race returns tonight.

Technically, RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars, wherein 10 drag queens who missed out on being crowned America's Next Drag Superstar over the show's eight previous seasons return to compete for a cash prize of $100,000 and induction into RuPaul's Drag Race Hall of Fame.

(This is the second All-Star season, and there were three seasons of the off-season offshoot RuPaul's Drag U, in which RuPaul did not appear in drag and about which we do not speak.)

Across the country, legions of hardcore Drag Race devotees are already chilling the glasses and muddling the mint in preparation for tonight's premiere. We know what to expect.

But maybe you don't. Maybe you've only heard about the show from the gang in HR, or caught the tail end of an episode while flipping between It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia and South Park. Maybe your wife's gay friend Gerald told you he thinks you'd like it, and --

... What?

No, Gerald is not hitting on you. Geez, this again. Where to --

He just legitimately thinks you'd enjoy it, OK? Because it's really pretty great.

Why is it really pretty great? Let's count the ways:

1. Time

This won't mean much to you, but the show's time slot has changed this season, from 10 p.m. ET on Mondays to 8 p.m. ET on Thursdays. That's mostly a good thing. This show is a tonic, both in the sense that it offers a temporary respite from the cares of the workaday world and that it mixes well with vodka. As such, it's better suited to later in the week. You can show up to work Friday a bit woozy and nobody will much care. But Tuesdays you got that weekly all-staff first thing.

Related: It's a lot easier to get a viewing party going on a Thursday than a Monday. You should at least invite Gerald over — trust me, it'll help — and there's no way you're getting Gerald to schlep over to your place on a Monday night.

Granted, the earlier time slot is not ideal. It's summer, so the sun will still be out at 8, and drag queens, like Nosferatu, shun daylight. Drag needs to happen late. Luckily, Logo is Logo and can be counted upon to rerun every episode until the pixels wear out. Thursday night's episode, for example, will be broadcast at 8, and then again at 9:30, and again at 11.

Go for the 11.

2. Host

A lot of reality show hosts simply flavor the mix; RuPaul is the mix. The show feels like an expression of her sensibility, which is one that values hard work, professionalism, self-respect and humor. Many of the contestants on RuPaul's Drag Race share back stories filled with emotional and financial struggle; RuPaul is consistently warm, but never indulgent. Fair, but firm.

Is it weird to say that a show where men dress in outlandish outfits is rigorous? That's the feeling you'll come away with, and its source is RuPaul. The contestants call her "Mama Ru," and it's not lip service. She expects much and can be quite cool to those who do not meet her standards.

Look for: The weekly segments when RuPaul, out of drag, checks in on the contestants' progress. When he finds them falling short, he can offer a sharp rebuke in a butter-wouldn't-melt-in-his-mouth tone, with a dazzling smile.

3. Judges

Carson Kressley and Michelle Visage return to judge the contestants. Kressley is on-brand here: sharpish and quippy. Visage slips easily into the "jaded broad" role well. Think Rosalind Russell, if Rosalind Russell held vehement opinions about contouring. (Ask Gerald who Rosalind Russell was.) They are joined this year by (it hurts to type these next two words) YouTube sensation Todrick Hall, because kids today, with their raccoon coats and their phone booth stuffing and their goldfish swallowing.

Look for: Visage to call a contestant out for her lack of commitment to glamour.

4. Contestants

A nice mix of queens who made strong impressions in past seasons (when Alyssa Edwards comes out, turn to Gerald and say "Back rolls?" Trust me, he'll be impressed) and those who will likely fall into a "redemption" arc to overcome less-than-congenial on-air behavior (Roxxxy Andrews).

Look for: Edwards and Coco Montrese to announce they have quashed their beef, only to have it flare anew somewhere down the road. Look for Adore Delano to present like a blissed-out sorority girl on her sixth day at Burning Man — and to take the crown.

5. Format

Every week the same, and not terribly different from other competitive reality shows: Introduction (the queens mill about); Mini-Challenge (the means by which that week's performance teams are chosen); Main Challenge (teams rehearse and perform some drag-adjacent task); RuPaul's Entrance (about which more later), Runway Look (the queens walk the show's runway, duh); Judging (of both the Main Challenge and their Runway Look); and Lip-Sync For Your Life (the two lowest-scoring contestants must lip-sync to the same song).

This season, however, switches the lip-sync segment up. Now the two top-scoring contestants will lip-sync to the same song, and the winner will choose who goes home.

Look for: In next week's episode, the Main Challenge will be the Snatch Game, in which contestants will be asked to do celebrity impersonations, and maintain them in an impromptu game-show setting. Their choice of celebrity is just as important as their ability to mimic the celebrity in question.

6. Performances

The lip-syncs at the end of each show are often thrilling, frequently funny and at times genuinely moving.

Look for: Death drops (ask Gerald); Andrews to attempt to top the iconic Season 5 moment when she removed her wig (generally considered a hack move) to reveal ... a second wig! The opposite of hack!

7. The lingo

Drag is many things, but it is first and foremost a community, and like any community, it has its own argot. This show has, for better or worse, broadcast that once fiercely protected jargon into millions of living rooms and turned it into catchphrases traded in office break rooms across the country: fierce, throwing shade, beat your face, realness. Also: Look for execrable puns. Lots of them. All the time. Puns are a thing beloved by both drag queens and your dad.

Look for: RuPaul's admirably blunt weekly invocation to the assembled contestants: "Good luck, and don't f*** it up." It will of course get bleeped by Logo. If you're up for it, buy the episodes over a streaming service that allows explicit language, to get the full effect.

8. The entrance

As noted above, RuPaul spends most of each episode out of drag, in natty, colorful (and very skinny) suits, because this show knows to hide its mirror ball under a bushel until just the right moment, each week.

That moment comes generally about 3/4 of the way through an episode. The music starts (RuPaul's own "Covergirl"), the lights come up, and the silhouette of RuPaul appears. Finally, a spotlight falls on her, revealing RuPaul in full — gorgeous, statuesque, and regal. No drag, only queen. This moment has occurred over 100 times by now. And every time, it is great television.

Look for: That moment. Bask in it. Turn out the lights in the living room. Put down the cocktail. When the music starts, quickly turn to Gerald and take a bet on what color she'll be wearing (hint: green is always a good guess).

And when the moment is over, having shared something real, something meaningful, reach across the couch and — gently — take Gerald's hand in yours. You can turn the living room lights back on, then, if you want.

Or not.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Glen Weldon is a host of NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast. He reviews books, movies, comics and more for the NPR Arts Desk.

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