RuPaul’s Drag Race U.K.
Of all the words I’ve adopted in my years of living in the U.K., one of my favorites is the adjective ropy. It’s sort of like the American adjective cheesy but different. Something is ropy if it’s trying to be polished and glamourous but doesn’t have the means or refinement to pull it off. If you want an example, look no further than the first season of RuPaul’s Drag Race U.K., which had some great moments, but neither the queens nor the production lived up to the polish we’ve come to expect from the American mothership.
I settled into the new “series,” as the Brits say, ready for it to be ropier than a bondage seminar, but instead I was pleasantly surprised. Maybe my expectations were lower, maybe the quarantine had me thirsting for any new content, but the queens this time around just seem a lot better. Well, with the exception of Tia Kofi, whose billowing wig was so diaphanous but thick that it kept getting tennis balls stuck in it during the mini-challenge. Sorry, Tia, but you’re ropy.
The first queen in the door is Lawrence Chaney, who is Scottish and jokes that she comes with subtitles. I have a feeling we’re going to need them. I was shocked when season one of the show didn’t feature even one Scottish queen. That means there was a Canadian on the show before there was someone from either Scotland or Wales, both of which are represented this season. And Tayce is not only Welsh, but a Welsh person of color. What are they going to find next season? A unicorn from the Isle of Man?
Lawrence is wearing a curly Joan Fontaine purple wig and is mean not only to herself but to every single queen who walks through the door. She is already my favorite.
Cherry Valentine walks in, and immediately her headdress hits the top of the door, prompting her to make her entrance yet again. She’s wearing a black bodysuit with red sequined gashes all along it, and I am shocked that someone from Darlington looks so good.
Tia Kofi, with the best name of the bunch, arrives in a Scary Spice wig and a leopard-print bodysuit that goes all the way down to her fingertips. I really hope Mel B is the guest judge this week, because she is the only person who will appreciate this outfit. Tia jokes that she is going to give us a reveal, but there is no reveal. Well, at least she’s funny. She tells us she doesn’t care about looking good, and, well, it shows.
Bimini Bon-Boulash is wearing a barely there pink harness outfit with her tits and front bottom covered by some nude hose and rhinestones. She tells us she’s a vegan, which we should know because she never stops going on about it. A vegan who won’t stop talking about her dietary choices? Groundbreaking.
Ginny Lemon comes in with a face painted for the back row and wearing a lemon-yellow fur hat and an old-timey dress that makes her look like Carol Channing’s older sister. Then we see her out of drag and she has a neon-yellow mullet and looks like Elton John’s lesbian niece. We are four queens in, and this is already the second boy who has a highlighter-hued mullet. I am very scared. Add that to Lawrence’s Eraserhead-at-the-beach boy haircut, and the results are pretty awful. In fact, there isn’t one queen in this whole season who has good boy hair. I would like to blame the pandemic, but I don’t think I can.
Ellie Diamond, also Scottish, shows up in a pink dress with a heart cut out of the bosom, and between the hair, clothes, and makeup, she’d better hope Trixie Mattel can’t sue her for copyright infringement.
Sister Sister walks into the room purse first, and along with her Bettie Page wig and a frumpy dress that’s so ugly it’s high fashion, we see that she has a glittery circle painted around her mouth. Imagine seeing that on the other side of a glory hole. She’s from Liverpool, but I can actually understand what she’s saying, which means she has either had elocution lessons or a full head transplant.
Tayce, who scores an eight on the Ugly-Boy-Hair-Ometer, is Welsh, wears a long black wig and a black-and-white jacket, and looks like a girl you went to fashion school with, if you went to fashion school.
Joe Black is from Brighton and is our second queen with a boy name, and I’m having Derrick Berry flashbacks; someone better check on me because nothing puts me in a coma of hatred like thinking of Derrick Berry. Like Derrick, Joe says she is world-renowned for her cabaret shows, which probably means she’s going home first. She is dressed like Glenn Close in Sunset Boulevard, and it looks good and expensive, though it is not especially original. Also this whole episode and not one Meet Joe Black joke? For shame.
Veronica Green is from Lancashire and is wearing a purple fishtail dress with a huge purple bow, and she looks like an extra from Pretty in Pink. Then we see her as a boy, and she has glasses and suspenders and looks like an extra from Revenge of the Nerds. This all makes me sad because there is a zero-sum chance Veronica was alive in the ’80s.
Asttina Mandela already makes me mad because I’m going to have to remember how to spell her name all season, and why there is only one S and two T’s I have no idea. Anyway, she is basically the nonproblematic Azealia Banks, and I am here for it.
Finally, we have A’Whora with her inexplicable apostrophe and equally inexplicable orange face makeup as a boy. She’s dressed as slutty Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, which would be cute if she didn’t throw her basket for no particular reason. Also, all the girls say she’s drama, and I’m ready to give her the Phi Phi O’Hara Award for Unlikability after she’s been on my screen for about ten seconds.
The mini-challenge is the standard photo shoot with the queens that never results in very good pictures. This one is Wimbledon-themed, and the girls have to look cute while getting balls thrown at their faces. You know, just another night in the West End. The one highlight is that the photographer, former boy-bander Kevin McDaid, is as fine as all the china in the shop. Ru tells us he has photographed Rita Ora, Jessie J, and Cheryl, to complete the trifecta of British pop stars Americans only know about if they listen to Who? Weekly.
Ru tells the girls they have to dress as a British gay icon and then pretends to shock them all by saying they need to come up with a second look inspired by their hometown. Really? Is that a shock? This is the first episode of Drag Race. Aren’t there always two looks? I was just shocked that they didn’t have to make one of them out of prawn-cocktail-flavored crisps or something equally awful and British like that.
The gay-icons drag is a bit of a mixed bag, and I wish some of the queens had done more interesting interpretations of British gay men instead of just the women gay men love. Tia Kofi’s turn as computer pioneer Alan Turing is a good effort, but a suit with rainbow binary code does not an Alan Turning make. Veronica’s Boy George is excellent, if not too faithful. But most of them are sort of like Joe Black’s David Bowie, which is just him in drag with red hair, or Cherry Valentine’s Freddy Mercury, which is just drag with a mustache. Tayce and Asttina both go as Naomi Campbell because, well, there aren’t enough Black British gay icons, and if there is one person who deserves to be doubled down on, it’s Naomi.
The hometown looks are a bit better, but there’s a duplication, too, as both Tia and A’Whora go as Robin Hood to represent Nottingham. In this archery duel, A’Whora’s short, spangled number looks a lot better than Tia’s Lord of the Rings costume straight out of a bag. I was especially impressed by Tayce as a camp version of the Welsh flag and Cherry Valentine’s steampunk train station — though, to be fair, every British town has a train station, not just Darlington. But her soot-inspired makeup and smoke blowing go a long way.
The tops of the week are Asttina, particularly for her East London round-the-way girl, Lawrence as Diana Rigg and a latex stained-glass window that looks like it cost her a year’s wages, and Ellie Diamond, who does a killer Lily Savage (who is sort of like the working-class English version of Dame Edna and definitely worth checking out on YouTube if you can manage to understand her accent) and a bondage-inspired Dennis the Menace, who I had no idea was Scottish. Well, tie me up and drown me in Irn-Bru.
The bottoms are Joe Black for a stringy David Bowie and a golden Brighton Pavillion, Bimini for some lady I had never heard of and a slutty Norwich soccer hooligan, and Sister Sister for her lackluster Dusty Springfield, but I was won over by her Scouse woman in pajamas, rollers, and fuzzy slippers. (A Scouse is a person from Liverpool. No, I don’t know why. Yeah, I know it’s weird.)
There are actually some queens I thought were a lot worse, notably Tia and Veronica, whose hometown look is just a giant red dress she tries to tell us is a Lancashire rose. Girl, I have not seen a bigger stretch in all of the Pilates classes in all of the world. I think either of these two should have replaced Bimini, whose hometown look I thought was brilliant and a little bit different from everyone else’s much more traditional drag.
In the end, Bimini has to lip-sync against Joe Black, who, let’s be honest, didn’t really seem to try in this challenge. I swear these were two costumes she just had in her arsenal (or maybe up her arsenal), and she was like, “I can say this is David Bowie even though it’s not, really, and I can say this is the Brighton Pavillion even though everything about it is wrong from the color to the time period. They’re not going to notice.” Oh, girl, they noticed. When it comes to the lip sync, Bimini is doing headstands and backflips, running all around the stage with her ass hanging out and her tucking tape waving hello at Michelle Visage, while Joe Black just kind of stands there doing as little as she can. It’s Charlie Hides all over again. What is up with these British cabaret stars who don’t try? It makes total sense that she gets the hook, but at least this season, we’re being spared the rope.