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Ru Paul’s Drag Race UK: Episode 1

The twelve Drag Race contestants pose on white plinths. Each queen is wearing a bold monochrome outfits, each a different colour of the rainbow, and striking a fierce pose.
The twelve contestants strike a pose

RuPaul’s Drag Race UK is back for its second season (or series…), with a new episode being released every week on BBC iPlayer. To celebrate, we’ve lined up four rrramble writers (including a Drag Race virgin!) to watch each week and spill all the tea, with a new review coming to you every Sunday. Yas queens!

Daniel

Back for more British beauty, boldness and buffoonery!

We start with entrances, a known pivotal moment for queen and queer alike. The sound of bagpipes announces Scottish lass Lawrence Chaney, followed by Cherry Valentine, looking gorgeous… although betrayed by her headdress upon entering the ‘Werk’ Room. Ellie Diamond was perfection in a pink garment made entirely by her own hand and Joe Black entered in stunning old Hollywood glamour, her reputation preceding her. My favourite entrance line came from Asttina with a simple “…Rude” – a mood for me as a Christmas temp in retail.

The first mini challenge is a Wimbledon-themed shoot (which was practically my go-to when trying to escape the unfortunate realities of P.E). Though some attempt to serve a fierce pose, the majority understandably turn towards a comedic approach. 80s feel Veronica Green decides to lay down with the Pit Crew for a family photo moment and I get the urge to do a fitness video together in prime colour spandex.

As the queens prepare for the first main challenge, we see some important topics arise. Lawrence’s reluctance to de-drag in order to remain “untouchable” highlights issues of self-image and self-confidence within the LGBTQ+ community, whilst Asttina and Tayce’s double choosing of Naomi Campbell for their Icon sparks a discussion over a lack of queer representation for POC within the UK. As viewers, we are reminded of the power this show has to create awareness and discussion within society.

Now time for the runway. I just adore the campy commentary from celebrity guest judge Elizabeth Hurley throughout. For ‘British Gay Icon’, both Asttina and Tayce showcase black excellence at its finest in their respective Naomi looks, and Tia Kofi surprised as Alan Turing, in a suit of rainbow coloured coding that stood for ‘Love’. For ‘Queen of Your Home Town’, Lawrence served some avant garde stained glass artwork, and as for Ellie Diamond in her vampy take on Dennis the Menace – Beano she betta don’t!

Overall, season two looks promising with more British grit and wit and less of Ru fumbling to make sense of the British references. Sister Sister’s earlier summary that “It’s just nice to be out”, reminds us of the current times and the show’s potential for offering a much-needed reprieve from Miss ‘Rona.

Asttina Mandella takes to the runway as Naomi Campbell, in a large flowing black dress, her hair scraped back in a bun. She stares directly at the camera, her mouth slightly parted. She looks assertive and confident; fierce.
Two better than one? Asttina Mandella as one of the night’s pair of Naomi Campbell looks

Yangdzom

Some might complain that there’s too much Drag Race going on at the moment (with Season 13 airing pretty much at the same time as the second UK season). Personally, I am very content with a Drag Race overdose; I can’t imagine the series will ever stop bringing me entertainment. Another UK show is especially exciting since it’s so close to home. You know the references, you get the British humour, and you feel proud that fabulousness does actually reside in our rather rainy country.

The first episode is always exciting because as the queens introduce themselves, the viewers begin to get an idea of who they are rooting for and who they want out. I think drag queens are very special, glamorous beings so for me, there aren’t really any contestants I strongly dislike (I probably wouldn’t mind waving goodbye to A’Whora though—I get bad vibes from her). Queens that stood out to me during their entrance looks were Tayce, Ginny Lemon, Asttina Mandella, and I just can’t get over how good a name Bimini Bon Boulash is! For now, they are my favourites and I can’t wait to see what looks, performances and/or comedy they have to offer.

From the start, Season 2 is very different to the first. I feel like the cast is pretty look-oriented, and this definitely isn’t a bad thing in the world of drag. What I mean is these queens bring a certain confidence with their varied styles, which I didn’t get so much in Season 1. Looks, of course, aren’t everything, but seeing the contestants’ different takes on drag highlights the artistic eye all aspiring drag queens should have. The power of the visual also helps the viewer become completely immersed in the campy, colourful drag world. It brings you a sense of awe as you watch a queen strut her stuff, their confidence oozing through to you so you feel just as glamorous, even though, in reality, it’s lockdown 3.0 and you’re lounging on the sofa in pyjamas (that was the case for me, anyway).

This is why I was very pleased that the main challenge this episode was to serve two runway looks. The themes were well-chosen and I especially thought celebrating UK gay icons was powerful. That, to me, is patriotism done right. I was surprised with who ended up in the bottom, and a little sad. I thought a couple of looks were far more boring than the two who had to lip sync (I am once more referring to A’Whora). Plus, they were two queens who had made a good first impression on me, so it was a shame watching them lip sync to an iconic song while knowing one of them would have to go so soon. That, however, is how the competition plays out, and what keeps the show so riveting. I’m already impatiently waiting for the next episode to air, and am so happy these queens are representing UK drag in such visual ways.

One of the queens, A'Whora, pouts at the camera, hands on hips. She wears a striking cold shoulder blue dress and large, bejewelled earrings.
Will we see ‘More’a of A’Whora?

Georgia

My relationship to Drag Race is very much a lock down love affair – an intense summer fling, rather than some people’s slow burning devotion. I devoured all 12 series over the course of the pandemic, allowing me to watch it episode after episode, secure in the greedy knowledge that there would always be more to follow…

I think for me, it has worked so well as my lockdown viewing, because of the regularity of it: there’s something soothing about the formulaic predictability of each episode – while the world outside may be falling apart, at least you can rely on hearing ‘good luck, and don’t fuck it up’ and a joke about Michelle Visage’s breasts. 

So it was with some trepidation that I approached Drag Race UK. Having seen only seen snippets of the first series (and not loved it) I felt that I was straying from my familiar well trodden path of comfort viewing. Would it all just feel a little too strange, the same but somehow not the same… sort of like Ru’s own questionable Madame Tussauds waxwork?

But actually, any of these fears soon eased. Yes, it was different. But while the parts I’d caught of the first series had felt a bit forced and patronising – including about 5 references to the queen within the first minute (when will Americans learn that most of us couldn’t give a shit about the royals?) the tone of this episode seemed more self aware. Ru’s opening ‘ello Guvnor’ felt playful and self-deprecating, rather than a desperate attempt to ‘get’ British culture. And there was something about the distinctive Britishness of the queens themselves that actually made me enjoy the show in a different way. I can’t exactly imagine Alyssa Edwards dressing up in a Norwich City leotard, or Latrice Royale quoting Susan Boyle (although having said that, I think this may actually be a fabulous idea… Drag Race producers, if you’re reading this: UK/US crossover?!)

This opening, perhaps partly due to the fact it was the introductory episode, was also mainly free from the sometimes cloyingly sad backstories I’m used to in the American version. Hilarious Glaswegian Lawrence Chaney (my hands down fave so far, for the name alone) does show a moment of vulnerability, where we hear her open up about her insecurity around her looks. But the moment feels real and genuinely touching, rather than a scrape around the barrel for a sob story to fill air time.

I’m not normally a huge fan of these opening episodes with the long-ass introductions, and in my Netflix binge was often even guilty of skipping the first episodes (sacrilege, I know). But I actually enjoyed getting to know these queens; I felt more invested than usual in where they were from and what their stories were, maybe because unlike in the U.S. series, I actually know about the places they’re referring to. Either way, it definitely feels like the producers have learnt a lot from the first UK series (maybe it’s just like pancakes, and the first is always a little dodgy?) and I am READY for episode 2. Bring back my girls…

We see the Werk room entrance, entirely pink from ceiling to floor. Either side of the door are symmetrical mannequins, pink cabinets, and shelves. The word 'WERK' is lit up in a florescent pink sign on the wall.
The infamous Werk Room is back

Saskia

I’ve always felt guilty, as a member of the LGBT community, about never having watched an episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race. I always understood adoring the queer-coloured mayhem of this show to be one of my sacred duties, but just the advertising had always been enough to make me anxious; the closest I’ve ever gotten to properly watching reality TV is Queer Eye (big love), which I don’t think really counts. It’s far too gentle and sans impassioned murder threats to really be compared to any of the elimination-based shows. So, all of that’s to say that the wonderful garishness of Drag Race is certainly outside of my comfort zone, but I was determined to come into the show with an open mind. 

I did find the first thirty minutes or so stressful; the dynamics between the girls gave me war-like flashbacks back to my all-girls secondary school, specifically the painfully thin line between passive aggression and genuine friendliness. But once the challenge of picking out two looks was announced and the drag queens started to take off their makeup and essentially reveal what was underneath their armour, you could see the genuine empathy and concern that everyone had for each other. 

I found everyone’s confidence really refreshing. There was minimal self-deprecation, and even those who did make jokes weren’t being cruel. Perhaps this quiet understanding of comradery between everyone will disappear in the weeks to come, I don’t know (ignorance is bliss) but for now everyone seems to value the sense of community at least as much as their desire to win. I also think the show and its non-stop glitziness is therapeutic. Everything is so intense and simultaneously so detached from anything going on in my own life, that for a precious hour I forgot everything I had been worried about before I started watching. 

Initially, I couldn’t decide on a favourite queen. They were all doing their own thing to the extent that I found it hard to know who I actually liked the most. I think I have the most respect for Ginny Lemon at the moment, and I hope that she wins, just because she is so different from the stereotypical idea of the drag queen who really focuses on expressing their sexuality. She’s just on another planet altogether. A fluorescent yellow planet. 

I was also really surprised that Joe Black was the first one to be eliminated. I understand that his outfit referring to the Brighton Pavilion wasn’t accurate but like… it was so intricate and looked like he’d put a lot of effort into it, versus Bimini Bon Boulash, who’s second outfit was essentially a torn up Norwich City shirt.

I never thought the phrase ‘Sachay away’ could make me feel so sad… Ah well, I’m excited to see what next week brings, and to get to know the queens a bit better as well. 

Ru Paul’s Drag Race UK episode 1 is available now on BBC iPlayer. Catch us next Sunday to see what the reviewers make of episode 2!

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