At the end of last season of RuPaul’s Drag Race, I bemoaned my growing Drag Race fatigue. With the show’s increased exposure and All Stars in the mix, the show’s perpetual presence made it hard to miss.
So, although the announcement of Drag Race U.K. at first felt a bit overkill, now that I’ve seen the premiere: I can’t get enough.
RuPaul’s Drag Race U.K. is airing on Wow Presents Plus and BBC Three streaming services, but the episodes air eight days later on Logo in the good ol’ U. S. of A. We’ll be recapping the eps after they air on Logo. Blame it on jetlag.
The show itself feels like a blessed return to form for a property that was beginning to feel more like a parody of itself. The production style harkens back to RuPaul’s Drag Race season one’s notoriously blurry camerawork, and the queens themselves feel a bit rougher around the edges. They don’t seem any less talented or seasoned than the U.S. competitors, but it’s not the sort of drag we’ve been accustomed to seeing on the series. There are a few things contributing factors:
The first is the show’s prizing. Unlike stateside, there is no big money prize at the finish line. Because the series is airing on the publicly-funded BBC across the pond, there are strict rules on prizes. (That’s why Great British Bake-Off winners get a platter.) These gals aren’t going to break the bank renting the runway for the competition if they can’t bank on recouping those costs.
The larger factors are cultural. Drag in the U.K. is a bit of a different beast. It lacks the pageant system of the U.S., so you won’t find the same sort of perfect polish. Singing live is more prevalent than lip syncing, and a little hair (facial or bodily) isn’t frowned upon.
The cultural differences are also what make the show absolutely delightful to watch. I’ll admit, I’m no Anglophile. Between the references and the accents, about three-fifths of last night’s premiere went clear over my head. And yet? I was tickled the whole way through. Just when the original Drag Race was becoming an echo chamber of self-reference, we’re dropped into a whole new universe with brand new catchphrases, inside jokes, vernacular and GIF-able moments. It’s thrilling!
Beginning with the iconic entrances, the pace is lightning quick. This is a LIVELY bunch, and the cackling soon fills the room. We can touch on some of the specific choices in our rankings below, but it didn’t feel like anyone produced a particularly memorable fashion, dramatic, comical or WTF “Ornacia” moment. The best look fine, and the worst, Vinegar Strokes, merely looks bad.
Despite oddly shaped hip pads, a less than stellar wig and what appears to be day face, Vinegar has a pretty high profile as an actress, even working previously with Michelle Visage. She assures us this will not affect Michelle’s notoriously tough judge, and we don’t doubt that.
After the entrances, Ru arrives with the new “Brit” Crew, who I assume arrive wearing their turtlenecks. Ahem. Anyway. Ru is there to reveal that the winner will receive their own streaming series in Hollywood, which, way to go, Wow Presents Plus. Ya gotta fill up all that content somehow.
The first photoshoot is a great mini-challenge. It’s a creative premise (the gals take two green-screen photos allowing them to pose with their severed head), and allows each girl a few moments to shine independently and, most importantly, it moves quickly. Without overcomplicating the shoot with returning queens or overly complex props, this ragtag setup is a great backdrop for each gal to flash some personality.
It’s also a great showcase for Ru. Typically the quickest wit in the room, it’s refreshing to see him try to keep up in real time.
I’m surprised to see Ru select Scaredy Kat, a drag newcomer, as the photoshoot winner, given the rather simplistic potty humor. Don’t get me wrong, I know Ru loves toilet humor, but there’s usually a clever spin on it. Scaredy’s defecation joke was bizarre, for sure, but it didn’t seem particularly witty or well conceptualized. If anything, it feels more like Ru picked it more for his “This is BBC” reaction line.
The main challenge unfolds on the runway where the queens are tasked with presenting a look reflecting their hometowns (many of which I’ve never heard of and didn’t understand the explanation and didn’t bother googling), and then they need to show us their take on the Queen.
Again, we’ll note individuals in the rankings, but the judges love Sum Ting Wong’s big, brassy bull and posh postage stamp interpretation. Baga Chipz gets high marks for her Amy Winehouse-inspired local lewk, although her ’70s queen read more septuagenarian than 1970s.
The Vivienne is the clear winner and one to watch going forward. She transform effortlessly from her punky Pete Burns to a queen on the hunt, and her makeup stuns Visage. The toughest judge couldn’t believe the contour Vivienne achieved, especially on her nose. She is selected this week’s winner … and awarded a RuPeter Badge. It’s a take on the Blue Peter badge popularized on a BBC children’s program. I mean, I’m sure they’d rather have a trip courtesy Al & Chuck travel or a lifetime supply of Hamburger Mary’s or a DoorDash driver to keep in their basement or WHATEVER, but this is a cute little way to track wins throughout.
Less lucky on the runway was Crystal. Her Queen lacked a signature purse, and, if Bob taught us anything, it’s that a lady do carry an evening bag. Vinegar’s ill-plotted Thames-themed gown fell flat, and her Queen was a royal bore. Gothy Kendoll didn’t walk the runway as much as she skittered across it emanating a nervous energy.
Kendoll gets a great piece of advice from solid guest judge Andrew Garfield. The handsome actor instructed the young queen, who earlier revealed a deep insecurity about her teeth, to learn to channel that nervous energy. Garfield suggests to stop fighting the nerves, and instead she should learn to ride them. It’s pretty good advice actually!
In the end, it’s Vinegar lip-syncing up against Gothy to Dua Lipa’s “New Rules,” and it’s brutal. Watching Gothy is like watching a children’s dance recital. She’s trying so hard, but you can see her laser focused on hitting the next move. There’s no connection to the performance, no vigor. Not that Vinegar gives us such a slam dunk. It’s a fine, fun performance, but Gothy’s lack of skills make the flogging feel gratuitous.
Vinegar gets to slay another day, while Gothy Kendoll is sent sashaying away.
As per custom around here, I’ll be ranking the girls week to week. Just a friendly reminder, these rankings are purely subjective, based on my personal taste, biases and loose understanding of the metric system. I’m writing these without seeing the following episode on Wow Presents Plus, and I’m doing my best to avoid spoilers.
All that aside, let’s dig in!
- If anyone made an impression on episode one, it’s The Vivienne. The towering queen had one of the most memorable entrance ensembles, sporting a red, high-fashion futuristic fantasy. Her runway, while not jaw-dropping glamour, evidenced an incredible eye for detail that will serve her well in this competition.
- Divina de Campo certainly thinks she’s one to watch. She got an early shady edit as she rattled off her IMDB credits, which might be an early clue that she’s this year’s big villain. I haven’t decided if I’m charmed or horrified by the DDC’s laugh, but there’s definitely something watchable about her. She didn’t get a ton of focus this episode, but what we saw signals she’s someone to keep an eye on.
- It was strange to see Blu Hydrangea miss out on the top three this week. Her coin runway was a more clever take than Sum Ting’s stamp, but I imagine her strange construction hometown getup dragged her down. She’s got a great personality and clear skills, hopefully she has more consistent judgment in the future.
- I love the energy Sum Ting Wong brings to her confessional interviews, leaning forward, eyes intense. It’s a small thing, but it feels odd to see! Sum Ting’s entrance had me worried, but she brought it on the runway. The stamp gown was troublingly simple, so we’ll see if there’s a lack of skill waiting to be put on blast.
- Baga Chipz feels like she’s going to be this season’s most polarizing queen. She’s proudly “infamous,” and, like last season’s Silky, she loves the spotlight. In the breakneck speed of the opening episode, Baga didn’t overstay her welcome in any scene, so, so far, so good. She put forth a strong showing on the runway, just missing the mark on her Queen makeup.
- Runner-up for this season’s villain is Crystal, whose early interviews made her come off as a less smart Sasha Velour. All the talk about how cool her drag is wasn’t cute, even as she tried to play it off as a joke. I wasn’t wowed by her humor in her entrance or photoshoot, but by the end of the episode I started to warm. (And, look, I’m not saying seeing Crystal shirtless out of drag did NOT play a part. Blame it on Instagram! I’m not proud!)
- The best part of Cheryl Hole so far is her name. Her intro interview segments were such a pastiche of Drag Race cliches and callbacks, they were practically Pop Art. Her Essex drag displayed a sense of humor, though, so I’m willing to give her a chance over the next few weeks.
- Scaredy Kat is already this season’s most controversial contestant. Having only been in drag for 11 months, Scaredy has never performed, never been to a drag show, identifies as bisexual and has a girlfriend, which some people think is noteworthy. I’m happy to see a little of contemporary attitudes toward queerness and fluidity, and I’m already over the Internet questioning Scaredy’s place in the competition. I’m more concerned with Scaredy’s lack of experience, personally.
- At first, I thought my aversion to Vinegar Strokes was more about me having to adjust my drag expectations to U.K. styles. But, hearing the judges, it’s clear Vinegar wasn’t even measuring up by those standards either. She’s got the attitude for sure, but I’m not sure she’ll be able to compete visually on the runway.
- Oh, Gothy Kendoll, what a short, strange journey. I’m sure Gothy makes some really cool art, but, in this context, the young queen was just not ready for prime time. It’s not an assessment of Gothy’s talent or worth, but this was not the right stage to showcase Kendoll’s best.
Disagree? Probably! Leave your rankings in the comments!