Charisma! Uniqueness! Nerve! Talent!

Reality television has been on a roll lately. A roll of being not very good. All of my old favorites have gotten or are rapidly becoming tepid and forgettable. Happily, there's an exception to this trend: Season 4 of RuPaul's Drag Race just wrapped up, and despite starting on a rather janky note, it quickly morphed into one the best seasons they've produced.

I was skeptical at first, because there were, not to put too fine a point on it, some really fugly contestants. But every competition needs its cannon fodder, and the season still managed to get off to a roaring start with a post-apocalyptic (or "post-apopacloptic," according to one of the dimmer competitors) challenge and a frighteningly realistic fake-out that Shangela would be in the running for a third consecutive try at the crown. It only got better from there.

Aside from the usual stream of hilarious one-liners from the contestants and RuPaul herself, there was an enjoyable arc to the season itself. You had your clearly-in-over-her-head contestant (Jiggly Caliente), your lovable neophyte (Dida Ritz), your stalwart professional (Chad Michaels), and your mischievous troublemaker (Willam). And then, the big three. Two of them were a match made in reality show heaven: Good vs. Evil. Showgirl vs. Goth Girl. Light vs. Dark. Sharon Needles vs. Phi Phi O' Hara. These two couldn't have been more dissimilar, and they hated each other's guts from the word go. Their constant spats and struggles (not to mention the brief periods that they attempted to get along) turned a good season into an unmissable one. But even that epic battle wasn't the season's biggest hook.

Ladies and gentlemen, Latrice Royale. Gigantic. Ex-con. A laugh like the blare of an eighteen-wheeler's horn. Den mother. Taskmaster. Glamor girl. Miss Congeniality. When Latrice spoke, everyone listened. Santino apologized for an overly personal critique. Phi Phi, who would instantly attack anyone who criticized her, scuttled away meekly when Latrice expressed disappointment in her Snatch Game performance. RuPaul let her give a lengthy good-bye speech, a boon never granted to any other contestant. Latrice is a one-in-a-million contestant, and the viewing audience knows it.

Add to all of this some fun challenges (political debates, making over grizzled, older straight dudes, getting tossed around in the wrestling ring) and some fun guest judges (Elvira, Dan Savage, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, and many more), and it's easy to see why this season shined. The problems it had were minor, and all had to do with embracing stale reality show conventions, rather than skewering them, like Drag Race usually does. Dragging out reveals to unsatisfying conclusions (like the reason for Willam's disqualification) were hokey, and could have come straight out of any hackneyed episode of The Bachelor. Other than that, there's not much to criticize. This show is really hitting its stride these days, and the ultimate victory of Sharon Needles is the delightful cherry on this naughty sundae.

RuPaul's Drag Race - Season 4: A-


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