By ADAM BUCKMAN
NEW YORK, March 31, 2010 — The funniest show on TV is not a sitcom or a sketch show or a late-night comedy show.
It’s a reality show whose reality, paradoxically, is the art of illusion. It’s “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” now nearing the conclusion of a triumphant second season on the gay-themed cable network called Logo. (Original episodes air at 9 p.m. Mondays; the season finale is April 26.*)
The idea of watching (very) effeminate gay men who are passionate in their adoption of female alter egos might not appeal to everyone, but for those with open or even semi-open minds, watching this show is one of the most rewarding and eye-opening experiences you can have these days in front of the tube.
It’s an elimination/competition show patterned loosely on the “Project Runway” model, with RuPaul — perhaps the world’s most famous drag queen — presiding as host, chief judge and Tim Gunn-like mentor for a group of contestants all hoping to be crowned the next drag superstar.
Few episodes of any show airing this year will likely equal the hilarity and camp quality of this past Monday’s show (March 29), in which the remaining four contestants — sweet and sour Tyra Sanchez, devious Raven, clueless Tatianna, audience favorite Jujubee and tender-hearted Pandora Boxx — were challenged to dress five aging gay men in drag and then cavort with them before a panel of judges that included special guests Debbie Reynolds and Cloris Leachman (one-time “Project Runway” contestant Santino Rice is also a judge on “Drag Race”).
At the center of it all is RuPaul, a drag impresario without equal, who handles the proceedings with drop-dead seriousness as if the stakes couldn’t be higher, all the while giving just the right faint impression that he knows deep down this whole pretend pageant is just one big lark.
Among other titles, RuPaul is the queen of the reality-show catchphrase, as when he — dressed in over-the-top drag himself — orders each week’s booted contestant to “Sashay away!”
But before he renders his final verdict, the contestants in the bottom two must compete in a lip-synch face off, a talent for mimickry that is apparently a hallmark of drag performance. Each episode of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” achieves a kind of comedy nirvana at the moment when RuPaul adopts the most serious tone of voice he can muster to direct the bottom two to “lip-synch for your life!” That’s when you know you’ve crossed over to a place TV has never gone before.
Contact Adam Buckman: AdamBuckman14@gmail.com