RuPaul’s Drag Race UK Premiere Shows Real Potential

Prem Posted by Prem at October 4, 2019 18:58:12 October 4, 2019 18:58:12

Translating a show across the pond is often a tricky task. Despite a shared language and history, British and North American audiences have different senses of humour, use different cultural references, and even have different sensibilities. Jokes that are acceptable on one side might offend the other. This makes it tough to gauge how well a show might fare in the other country. 

When RuPaul’s Drag Race UK was announced, I was a little worried that the show might have a hard time dealing with this challenge, especially because the show isn’t really known for its subtlety or nuance. In my mind, it could go one of two ways. Either the show would be a spectacle of Britishness, to the point where it was stereotypical and ridiculous, or we would see a boring, watered down version of an American show with British contestants slotted in. Clearly, I was optimistic about the show’s success.

Yesterday’s premiere proved me wrong…for now. Expectedly, there was an abundance of British puns and flair, including a very Queen-like portrait of Ru in the werkroom. The format was also, for the most part, unchanged. Queens had entrances. RuPaul sent a message. There was a mini and maxi challenge and a final lip-synch. In a lot of ways, it’s the same show. Plus, the big prize is a digital show produced out of Hollywood, hinting that the ultimate goal of a UK show is “breaking” the North American market. But there’s also lots that’s new.

Having the British queens on brings a fresh, cultural perspective to the show. The drag is different and unique, and the queens are cheekier and maybe even a bit raunchier (though, that could just be a Drag Race thing). Ru even pokes fun at the fact that the show airs on the BBC. The best part, however, was that RuPaul leaned into this identity for the first challenge. The Maxi challenge featured two looks, one emulating the Queen and one drawing inspiration from the queens’ hometowns. In doing so, that challenge showcased a Britishness that wasn’t the homogenous, stereotyped version so often found on North American TV and Film. Instead, it modeled both the UK’s geographic diversity AND the individual personality of the queens. 

Side Note: I’m fascinated by The Vivienne’s teeth prosthetics. I always thought “British teeth” was just a stereotype. Do a lot of people actually get corrective work done?

I also love the British talent that’s on the show. Alan Carr fits right in with the show, but I was surprised to see Andrew Garfield in this light. He was relaxed, jovial, and made some of the best runway puns of the night. Why aren’t we talking more about him? Andrew Garfield is one of The Good Ones™!

From a branding and business perspective, it’s a smart move to keep up the Drag Race format in international versions but with a renewed cultural vigour. The big question here is, how long can that keep the show “fresh”? Will the UK version eventually develop its own personality, like how Drag Race Thailand has?

There’s potential. Already we’re starting to see some interesting discussions about drag in the first episode. A big theme for the premiere was “new and old” drag styles, and what it means to be a drag queen. Can you be on one of the largest platforms for drag if you haven’t even been to a drag show? These aren’t necessarily new questions, but they seem to be more relevant, and maybe even important to the UK girls. I’m interested to see where this show will take us, both in terms of drag culture, but also Drag Race as a franchise. It also might give us a good sense of how Drag Race Canada might fare in the coming months. And for Lainey’s sake, I hope we see more of Baga Chipz and her obsession with the royals.
In Canada you can watch the premiere of Drag Race UK on Crave TV.

YouTube/ BBC Three/ World of Wonder

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