Welcome to my review, recap, and power rankings of the second episode of Drag Race Belgique Season 1 – “Les Incontournables.” This is an advertising challenge for famous Belgian foods, paired with a bande dessinée runway.
It’s a drag and marketing communications and comic books crossover en Français – literally the most on-brand possible thing on the planet for me! If the mini-challenge had somehow been about databases instead of leafblowers it would’ve felt like they were directly tapping my interests as inspirations for the show.
(Dear Drag Race: If you are listening, I am available for appearances on Down Under!)
This was an intriguing episode both because of the commercials the queens created and the resulting judging.
I felt as though the commercials for Belgium’s Les Incontournables (“the unavoidable”) said a lot about the talents of Belgian drag artists and the nature of Belgian humor. Everyone was incredibly capable in the commercials, with no queen that seemed in over their head. That is never the case on US Drag Race, where it seems like there is always someone flummoxed by learning lines or playing to a camera.
Was that down to the level of experience of this cast? Or, was Rita Baga a kind and nurturing director as a former contestant? We’ve seen both Brooke and Nicky coach queens through acting challenges before, and I don’t know if either of them have managed to produce such a smooth set of performances.
Les Incontournables commercials also each had fully-formed story arcs that were less about punchlines (even when packed with goofy moments) and more about storytelling. I never expect the same level of quick, quippy humor from US Drag Race on international versions, partly because that’s largely driven by Ru’s short attention span. However, there was something that felt quite cerebral about how the queens tackled this challenge even compared to neighboring Drag Race France.
That cerebral quality spilled over to the runway, where the queens tributed their favorite comic characters in a “Hors des Cadres” theme – meaning “out of frames,” or breaking their characters out of their panels. Some queens went for literal interpretations that allowed them to mime their characters in real life, while others adapted high fashion versions – but, they were all very smart.
Then, we came to the judging.
It felt quite upside down to me, with at least one obvious high and one obvious bottom ignored for critiques. But, it was also exceedingly kind. I wasn’t expecting that, especially after the often-picky judging on France. The judges gave positive comments after each commercial aired and applauded after each set of critiques. They also pulled back on reading one queen’s runway after she gave an emotional explanation. Queens in the bottom got plenty of encouragement, and even one top queen merited a specific warning of what to do differently in the future.
I love the positive, affirmational quality of this style of judging. It didn’t feel nice just for the sake of being nice. It felt like everyone was acknowledging that the artists up on the stage are humans who are working incredibly hard, and treating them fairly matters more than making a salacious television show.
I wonder if the puzzling judging and the kindness are two sides of the same coin. One thing I’ve learned from living in New Zealand is that giving and receiving criticism can vary widely across different cultures. Maybe some of the drag elements we are used to critiquing on other international franchises are simply not part of what a Belgian judge would ever call into question. Maybe the tone of some Drag Race critiques is incompatible with the vibe of reality TV in Belgium.
The unexpected judging means my Power Ranking from last week’s talent show has had some major flip flops, which has shuffled my pre-season ranking even further! I don’t mind that at all. Honestly, I think it’s quite fun that so far it feels like Drag Race Belgique is departing from the easily-calculated formula of Drag Race success.
(Want to watch Drag Race Belgique outside of Belgium? For most of the world, it’s available as part with a Wow Presents Plus subscription as soon as the episode is done airing.)
Lecteurs, start your engines. Et, que la meilleure Drag Queen gagne!
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