×

TV Review: ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race Holi-Slay Spectacular’

In the near decade since “RuPaul’s Drag Race” first debuted in a defiant burst of glitter and the softest of lenses, it’s transcended from camp reality show to bonafide phenomenon, TV gold to TV platinum. More than 100 drag queen contestants later, “Drag Race” has inspired countless careers, heaps of merchandise, umpteen catchphrases, a twice annual convention, and the undying scrutiny of a fiercely devoted fanbase. In other words: the series has become a franchise, and the power of a franchise is that it can guarantee an audience almost no matter what.

“RuPaul’s Drag Race Holi-Slay Spectacular” is maybe the biggest test of that undying faith yet. While initially advertised as a competitive Christmas pageant, the special quickly pulls a bait and switch, becoming both much sneakier and way less interesting than its festive first impression. Instead, it’s an hour-long commercial for RuPaul’s Christmas albums (“Christmas Party,” now available on iTunes!) wrapped in an aggressively cheerful bow that hopes to distract its audience from the fact that the wit and spontaneity that usually makes “Drag Race” so fun is nowhere in sight. 

This bland makeover is an especially impressive feat given how much sheer charisma is onscreen at any given time. The “Holi-Slay Spectacular” features some of the best and wittiest “Drag Race” contestants that have ever been on the show, including Latrice Royale, Trixie Mattel, Jasmine Masters, and Shangela (fresh off a breakout turn in a little movie called “A Star is Born”). The fun of a one-off special like this is that, much like the “All Star” seasons, it can bring together a group of outstanding personalities from throughout the show’s run to bounce off each other. This group, a few of whom will be back together on “All Stars 4” in just a week, was a particularly promising one.

But the “Holi-Slay Spectacular” is so concerned with reading its cue cards and squeezing in every ounce of album promo it can that it barely has any room left for the queens to do much more than lipsync to RuPaul. The show’s sketches have always been one of its weakest elements — the contestants are almost always funnier off the cuff than the material they’re given — and the “Holi-Slay Spectacular” is basically just one after another, scored to the generic pumping beats of RuPaul’s new Christmas oeuvre. (Which, in the spirit of reviewing the material I got: the catchiest song is “Get To You (For Christmas),” the blandest is “My Favorite Holiday,” and the one that will lodge itself into your brain whether you like it or not is “Hey Sis, It’s Christmas.”)

The only part of the hour that feels like true “Drag Race” is when the queens make their pithy entrances, spitting friendly fire at each other. Everything else, from the challenges to the banter between makeup applications to the final “climactic” lip syncs (all RuPaul Christmas songs, of course), is scripted to death. And just in case you managed to get invested in who might get crowned Christmas Queen, the special shrugs it off by crowning everyone Christmas Queen. (It’s more than a little depressing when Shangela, who’s competed on the show more than anyone and was frankly robbed of an “All Stars 2” victory, jokes that she “finally won!”) Even a late-breaking lip sync between RuPaul and trusty right-hand woman Michelle Visage loses any spark of fun it had when it cuts away to the queens oohing and aahing at unconvincing, twerking body doubles. It’s admirably silly, but like most everything else, not nearly as funny as the special loudly insists that it is. 

Once upon a time, Trixie got dragged on “All Stars 3” for doing an impression of RuPaul that was essentially just repeating “buy my album, now available on iTunes” over and over again. It wasn’t a good impression, but if the “Holi-Slay Spectacular” is anything to go by, it wasn’t exactly inaccurate, either.

Popular on Variety

TV Review: 'RuPaul’s Drag Race Holi-Slay Spectacular'

More TV

  • T.J. Dillashaw, right, kicks Cody Garbrandt

    Disney Plans UFC Broadcast for FX

    UFC matches will return to FX  – but not on a permanent basis. ESPN has been showing preliminary bouts to UFC pay-per-view events for the last while on ESPN and ESPN2, and then showing the main card on its ESPN+ subscription video service. In September, the early lineup will air on FX, which the UFC [...]

  • George RR Martin

    George R.R. Martin Says HBO's 'Game of Thrones' Ending Won't Influence Future Novels

    Geroge R.R. Martin is sticking to his original plan when it comes to the future of “Game of Thrones.” In an interview with The Observer, Martin claimed that HBO’s controversial ending for the series would have no affect on the endings of the last two novels. “No, it doesn’t. It doesn’t change anything at all,” [...]

  • Listen: 'Pennyworth' Producer Talks Delving into

    Listen: 'Pennyworth' Executive Producer Talks Delving into Alfred's Backstory

    Bruno Heller may have served as an executive producer on the Batman-inspired series “Gotham” for the past five years, but it’s actually real-life people (not superheroes) that intrigue the producer the most. It’s for that exact reason that Heller’s newest series finds him exploring the origin stories of Batman’s butler Alfred in the Epix drama [...]

  • "Trust Issues" - Dylan and Lizzie

    'Instinct' Canceled After Two Seasons

    CBS has canceled “Instinct” after two seasons. Series creator Michael Rauch announced the cancellation Friday on Twitter, writing, “I’m very sad to relay the news that @instinctcbs won’t be renewed for a 3rd season. We will double up this Sunday and our season/series finale will be Aug 25.” Rauch also thanked series stars Alan Cumming [...]

  • Maisel Day

    My Mostly OK Maisel Day (Column)

    When Amazon announced its first-ever Maisel Day, I was intrigued. For one day, Aug. 15, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” fans and Angelenos (fangelenos?) could hit up various restaurants, theaters and retailers throughout Los Angeles for special deals, all at 1959 prices. Among the gems: $2.50 makeovers, $0.99 pastrami sandwiches and $0.30 for a gallon of [...]

  • Nordisk Film & TV Fond Announces

    Nordisk Film & TV Fond Backs Joachim Trier, Ole Bornedal, Yellow Bird

    Nordisk Film & TV Fond has announced three features, two series and a documentary set to receive $1.4m in financing, as well as distribution, dubbing and cultural initiative support recipients. Doing so, it highlights some of the key titles moving forward in the Nordic region. Already backed by the Danish Film Institute’s largest ever grant [...]

  • TV News Roundup: 'Silicon Valley' Final

    TV News Roundup: 'Silicon Valley's' Final Season Sets October Premiere Date

    In today’s roundup, “Silicon Valley” returns to HBO on Oct. 27 and Quibi greenlights a new cooking competition show “Dismantled.” DATES The fifth season of Netflix‘s “Peaky Blinders” will premiere on the streamer Oct. 4. The newest season will continue to follow one gangster family in the lawless streets of Birmingham, UK during the midst [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content