RuPaul’s Drag Race, for all its flaws, has become a staple of the reality television calendar. Mixing pop culture with petty drama, Drag Race provides light entertainment to audiences regardless of sexuality and gender – and highlights some of the greatest talents of the queer community at the same time. The show may have become more mainstream, but one thing has remained: the infamous lip-sync for your life, a two minute battle between contestants to establish who truly has the charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent to impress the all-seeing, all-powerful RuPaul.
To celebrate ten fantastic seasons of the show, I’m taking a trip down memory lane and counting down my favourite lip-syncs in Drag Race her-story.
Good horror television is difficult to come by these days. Sure, there is the exploitative and ridiculous American Horror Story, but not many that rely on a slow, atmospheric pace that creates thick-as-fog tension like AMC’s, The Terror, whose finale aired last week. The Terror introduces a new type of horror television, one that is disgusting, devastating, and thoughtful. It marries the supernatural with the potential of a desperate and terrified man, to create a freezing tapestry of unspeakable horrors.
Based on the 2007 novel by Dan Simmons, The Terror follows the failed Franklin expedition made up of two ships, HMS Terror and HMS Erebus, from 1845 to 1848. Led by Captain Sir John Franklin (Ciaran Hinds), their mission was to trek into uncharted Arctic territory in search of the Northwest Passage. However, Sir John was perhaps not the best choice for this journey, and his poor decision making leads to the ships becoming trapped in ice. What comes next is the slow unraveling of the ship’s crews and leadership, with help from a strange polar bear with a human face called Tuunbaq and something very wrong with their food supply.
Episode five of Westworld picks up from episode three’s cliffhanger where a mysterious man wielding a katana charges at Maeve. Enter Shogun World–this is the park where guests come when they find Westworld too tame, a concept which emphasizes guests’ desire for a stereotypically “exotic” experience. In an entertaining and cinematic episode, writer Dan Dietz and director Craig Zobel play with the nostalgia of Westerns and samurai films. While it featured stellar performances from Rinko Kikuchi and Thandie Newton, this episode shows how Westworld continues to subject its female characters to trauma to prove their strength.
When Maeve and company enter Shogun World, writer Lee Sizemore (Simon Quarterman) reveals that, in an effort to write as many stories as possible, he took their Westworld storylines and gave them a stereotypical Japanese twist to make it “new.” It is fascinating to watch these “doppelbots” recognize each other, particularly Maeve and the geisha, Akane (Kikuchi). They’re both sex workers, seen as pieces of meat to hosts and guests alike; they want to protect their own (Maeve and her daughter, Akane and Sakura, a young geisha); they both must suffer to grow.
Maeve discovers she can now mentally control other hosts. But, this new ability only comes after being beaten and choked by a ninja. As she gasps her last breaths and her eyes roll back into her head, Maeve realizes she can stop her assailant, even when she can no longer speak. Her suffering to gain this new ability is only one example in this episode of female characters needing to experience trauma to prove their strength.
This is a review of season two, episode one (“Chapter Nine”).
Marking the return of television’s weirdest superhero show, a familiar voice that sounds a lot like Jon Hamm announces itself over a black screen. “There is a maze in the desert carved from sand and rock,” he says. “A vast labyrinth of pathways and corridors — a hundred miles long, a thousand miles wide, full of twists and dead ends. Picture it. A puzzle you walk, and at the end of this maze is a prize, just waiting to be discovered. All you have to do is find your way through.”
This is a metaphor for madness, he eventually explains. The maze is in your mind and it is inescapable and all-consuming. But it is also an apt descriptor for Legion itself — the show is its own conundrum. Taking place from the perspective of David Haller (Dan Stevens), an incredibly powerful mutant who mistook his abilities for schizophrenia, Noah Hawley’s mind-melter goes to some audaciously trippy places. When you think one of your many, many questions will be answered, the story takes a 180 and leaves you hanging with even more questions to ponder over. It has an unreliable narrator, no one is trustworthy, and you can never even be certain that what you’re seeing is real. With all of that in mind, this show shouldn’t work — but season two’s first episode builds on the brazen visual bravado of season one to create the most uniquely mesmerising show on television.
Arguably the most fascinating phenomenon within television history is BBC’s Ghostwatch. It first aired on Halloween night in 1992 and never aired again on British television. The BBC kept it buried deep until they released it on VHS ten years later, with the DVD release in 2011. Ghostwatch was a programme with a very simple premise. It was broadcast as live television as its hosts explored the haunting of a very ordinary British family in Greater London. The story was based on the famous Enfield Poltergeist case which also loosely inspired the plot of The Conjuring 2, though was perhaps not as effective. The hosts themselves were real life television personalities Michael Parkinson (host of talk show Parkinson) and Sarah Greene (of Blue Peter fame), as well as Greene’s husband Mike Smith. It was written as a drama by Stephen Volk who eventually pitched to the BBC that they do a The War of the Worlds type of thing. Even though it aired under Screen One – the BBC’s drama department – its documentary on-air investigation style, in addition to real-life hosts, led the majority of its 11 million viewers to believe that what they were witnessing was in fact real.
The first season of Netflix’s Jessica Jones was something of a miracle for superhero television programming. Jessica is not your typical superhero — in fact, she rejects the label altogether. She drunkenly stumbles her way through one night stand after one night stand as a distraction from the trauma she experienced under the hands of Kilgrave. David Tennant’s unsettling villain repeatedly raped Jessica and forced her to follow his bidding with his mind control powers. The show’s first season was one of the most compelling pieces of television as an honest depiction of the psychological pain that comes with rape and abuse, coloured by the accessible premise of a pseudo-noir superhero tale.
*The following piece is by our guest writer Vikram Zutshi
On Jan 20th, David Lynch, unquestionably the foremost surrealist artist of our times, turns 72. It is as good a time as any to take stock of his eclectic and wide-ranging oeuvre, which includes film, music, art, literature, photography and architecture.
His films take us deep beneath the quotidian surface of small town America, a space he knows intimately, where sublime truths and dark fantasies play out, unhindered by the strictures of consensual reality. Early impressions and memories of an all-American childhood in rural Montana in the 50’s inform much of the artist’s work.