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RuPaul's Drag U: “Tomboy Meets Girl”

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I love me some RuPaul’s Drag Race.  I love the glitter, the ridiculous challenges and most of all the humor that ranges from blush-inducing bawdy to math-teacher-style corny.  It’s a show where everyone’s in on the joke, no one more so than RuPaul himself, which is always delightful since the hosts of all the other reality TV programs are about as much fun as a bundle of sticks.

Drag U is the “get you through the summer” version of the show, I.E., a spinoff featuring pretty much the same people generally doing what you liked before only slightly different and not quite as good but you’ll watch it anyway.  The show features sad homely straight women who need to be glamorized by drag mentors in order to improve their lives (why or how isn’t really that important). This is a cute concept except that there are two problems with it: 1.) The whole “change your life by the end of this episode!” format has been done to death and 2.) Homely straight women on the show means less drag queens which means less sassy cross-talk.  If Drag Race is heavy whipping cream, Drag U is merely skim.

The show begins with a winkingly ridiculous introduction, featuring, amongst other things, a drag queen riding a porpoise and prancing unicorns in the background. I think the challenge varies slightly on the same theme every episode: tonight we met three butchy ladies who for some reason need to get girly.  I know the show is about frivolity and fun but there was something about this premise that nagged me a tiny bit: drag queens, especially those like Ongina and Nina Flowers, play with gender constructs, so why do these ladies need to wear flashy dresses and a lot of makeup to prove their femininity? (Other than the one who was going to do it in order to recover from a past sexual assault: eesh.)  

The show played out like the episode of Drag Race where the contestants had to dress old gay guys up in drag: drag “professors” Ongina, Raven and Jujubee attempted to teach the gals how to dance, walk, lipsynch and wear ostentatious hair, makeup and clothes in order to match the potential visions shown to them via the “Dragulator.”   I felt bad for Reyna, the girl who clearly had some major issues regarding vulnerability and femininity: she got a pretty shitty makeover.  The temperature of her messness was quite warm if not out-and-out hot.  

I think because of the pretty plain setup of the show, or because of the women’s relative shyness, the queens had to inject a bit of drama into the episode, so there was a mini catfight between Jujubee and Raven over a wig (although Jujubee v. Raven feels so contrived, since if you watched the last season of Drag Race you know that Juju and Raven were on the same team. It’s Tatianna who is Raven’s enemy, not Juju!)  

The ladies were then judged on a runway walk and lipsynching competition and basically the one who looked the prettiest won.  Her husband claimed to be thrilled with the transformation but I can’t imagine a straight man being excited that his wife looks like a drag queen: maybe he was just happy it was for one night.  

But, you know, whatever, I watch Rupaul’s shows because they’re fun, not because they make so much sense and teach me a lot.  It’s in little silly details like Ru’s fake typing during the Dragulator sequence, names like “Saline Dijon” and how Jujubee refers to Reya’s boobs as “This whole mess right here” and means that as a compliment. RuPaul too has a very old-timey sense of humor about him: he loves spoonerisms and puns (“draguate with top honors”) and in this episode revived the ancient vaudevillian “walk this way” joke. I also particularly enjoy RuPaul’s occasional lapses into Disney Villainess behavior, like when he yells “Silence!” on Drag Race and now “Door!” on Drag U.

Since Drag U involves way more “straight men” (IE non drag queens) and a rather bland dose of sincerity, I don’t think it’s quite as delightful as RuPaul’s Drag Race.  If you’re not into Drag Race, Drag U probably won’t convert you, but for Drag Race fans with nothing to do this summer except watch their “tinted moisturizer” run, this will do.

—”All right, Mangina.”

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