‘Canada’s Drag Race’ Recap: No Ru, Eh? No Problem!

Sure, the show feels a little crafty - but despite what Michelle Visage thinks, that's by no means a bad thing.

Canada's Drag Race S1E1 recap

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Debuting while All Stars 5 is still mid-season, there was always the risk that Canada’s Drag Race would get swept to the side. Waiting a month more might’ve given these 12 queens some breathing space, but they probably don’t need it: after one episode, they’ve got our attention.

Just like UK last year, Canada’s Drag Race feels like a breath of fresh air — a slight shake-up that makes Drag Race new again. And Ru-free, too: following the lead of Thailand and The Switch (Chile’s Drag Race, which also features COVID-19 conspiracy theorist Gia Gunn), Canada doesn’t feature Ru behind the judging panel.

Instead, the show’s three judges — model Stacey McKenzie, actor and hot man Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman, and S11 runner-up Brooke Lynn Heights — will split duties.

Brooke isn’t simply the new Ru, as we might’ve all thought. No one quite dares to step up into her spot, instead taking turns to walk in her shoes, with each voting on the tops and bottoms of the week, and a guest celebrity host introducing the runway.

It was a little jarring to watch Elisha Cuthbert walk down the runway, tell the queens they have to ‘lip sync for their life’ and make the same stilted jokes as Ru while introducing the panel, but the show’s very much still working things out. Hopefully, as both the season goes on, it realises it doesn’t need to follow Ru’s literal script and one-liners.

Where Drag Race definitely needed RuPaul’s name to get off the ground, the beast has outgrown its creator. If Ru decided to sit out future seasons to focus on ‘land management’ while still raking in residuals, the show could easily continue — given how checked-out she can seem on recent seasons (and Yvie Oddly hinting as much on Twitter), maybe this is something of a test run.

Ru’s absence wasn’t the only shift, though. Canada‘s debut was much looser than recent Drag Race seasons. You could even call it crafty, but despite what Michelle Visage thinks, that’s by no means a bad thing — though the queens might disagree, given how unflattering this episode’s lighting was.

Canada's Drag Race S1E1 recap

This lighting is so unfair to every one, and showed literally every imperfection on their skin. Brooke has none, so instead looks like a serial killer.

Since season 1, Drag Race has grown from a scrappy Project Runway ripoff into a massive mainstream industry, with A-list guests and huge finales. But after the S9 move to VH1, the show is as big and shiny as it can get. Unfortunately, that means it’s a little repetitive and soulless at times, especially as we get same-same challenges and over-produced storylines. It’s hard to keep a show fresh more than a decade in.

UK threw that out the window, and our fellow Commonwealth nation has followed the motherland’s lead. To do my duty and awkwardly quote from RuPaul, the show went back to its roots with a low-budget photoshoot and a dollar-store drag design challenge. The first episode led with charm and quirk: it was a joy to watch.

He Can Rock My Mountains, If You Know What I Mean

12 queens and barely a basic Instagram bad bitch in-sight. Like All Stars 5, this cast spans a wide age range, running from 21 to 38 — it might be the secret key to having a range of aesthetics and talents on the show, as almost all of them established their own unique identity in the 60-minute episode.

Well, almost everyone: a few strong contenders, like Kiara and Tynomi Banks, didn’t really get much screen-time, though judging by their runway looks, they’ll be around for a while yet. They’re also both beautiful out of drag — as are pretty much all of this cast, which means we can objectify them equally.

Canada's Drag Race S1E1 recap

Excuse me???

Who made a strong impression? Drag Race entrances are hard — ever since Laganja changed the game, the queens have felt the pressure to instantly brand themselves. It’s often too much.

Priyanka, a former children’s TV show host, was the first to enter, which always suggests she’s a producer favourite. She arrived in homage to another producer favourite, Phi Phi O’Hara.

Canada's Drag Race S1E1 recap

Riddle me this, riddle me that, Priyanka is already a front-runner, facts are facts.

Ilona’s Insta-live moment was great, mostly because she threw that iPhone to the floor. It was a sign of things to come — while she sold herself as a bitchy Insta-queen, Ilona seems to have a lot of wit, charm and club-kid fuckery to offer.

Between her Marina and The Diamonds ‘Teen Idle’ tattoo and the way she speaks, I’m getting the impression she’s a former Tumblr scene queen: finally, some real LGBTIQ+ representation.

Canada's Drag Race S1E1 recap

‘Let’s get LinkedIn!’ would’ve also been a great entrance line, if it was followed by a Laganja-esque dip.

Three more queens really made an instant impression. There’s BOA, who caught my attention not for her green-haired cow look, but the queen’s mixed reactions to seeing the ‘messy, annoying’ queen cast.

Then there’s Jimbo, who kept up her entrancing ‘ditsy psycho’ character almost all episode long — the show thrives off vulnerable moments, but I hope she never lets us in. An enigma wrapped in a riddle ‘wrapped up’ in Natalie Portman’s Vox Lux performance.

Canada's Drag Race S1E1 recap

This is the visual representation of that Mickey Mouse creepypasta that I’ve lost several nights of sleep over and will NOT be reading again.

Finally, there’s Juiceboxx, whose hand got stuck on her tights, a sign of things to come. She then falls over leaving the photoshoot mini-challenge and later has a panic attack on-stage.

It’s a harsh episode for her, but she’s very charming in her short time on the show, even if it’s pretty clear she was scared from start to finish.

Canada's Drag Race S1E1 recap

It’s lazy to just caption something and call it ‘2020’, but this moment — the utter failure of maintaining composure while things crumble, the quiet horror in Juiceboxx’s eyes — has a certain je ne sais 2020.

The first mini-challenge is a Rocky Mountains photoshoot complete with a fake mountain and some very real high-pressure winds. It’s mostly just people doing this:

Canada's Drag Race S1E1 recap

Kyne, above, wins for a sexy shot (not above). In my mind the winner is Jimbo, who gives Sheryl Lee in Twin Peaks: The Return a run for her money for best scream, even if Jimbo more looks like a Tim Burton-designed sex doll.

Then again, the scariest moment is when it seems like Ilona might rip her nose off by poking a flag-pole through her ring. Stacey McKenzie was clearly very concerned, but Ilona just rips off the nose ring and keeps going.

It’s silly, but it’s small moments like these that made me think she’s one to watch. Plus, it’s nice to see a First Nations queen on the show, as we’ve only had a handful on the US Drag Race, and Ilona is evidently ready to discuss her identity on camera.

Canada's Drag Race S1E1 recap

I also love the thought process behind putting the flag pole through the ring — it’s a real ‘I can do this so I will’ move.

With her mini-challenge win, Kyne gets to assign Canadian-themed boxes for the design challenge, which mostly make little sense to an Australian. It doesn’t matter.

Kyne runs around making jokes about sending other queens home, and it rubs the likes of veteran Scarlett Bobo the wrong way.

Both her and Lemon are portrayed as young, annoying queens this episode, but the shows offer Lemon a bit of time to fight against the vapid twink stereotype she says most clock her as on first impressions. At the same time, the edit sees her mention that she lives in New York and attended a prestigious dance school there multiple times, so they’re not doing her too many favours.

High Highs, Low Lows And Only One Poutine Pun??

On the runway, judging was very suspicious — I assumed both Kiara and Anastarzia would be in the top for their involved looks. For me, Starzi was probably the winner: she created a puffy winter jacket, and then styled it to look like an Adidas e-girl superhero. It was so… cool, for lack of a better word.

Canada's Drag Race S1E1 recap

This is immaculate.

Maybe this looked a little rougher in person, but I thought this was really clever and given a lot of character on the runway.

Priyanka’s look was that balance of camp-fashion the show usually loves too, transforming her nautical-themed box into a Bollywood fisher-woman look with crabs on her shoes.

When a leg fell off her pump, she gnawed at it — it’s a quick and smart move, one Kyne could’ve replicated as the balls on her flares fell off. Not literally, of course, but some sort of campy gesture could’ve gone a long way to inject some fun into a failing look.

Net gains.

In the top, though, are BOA, for her perplexing but very funny tits-and-potatoes-out dress; Jimbo, for a zipper-dress; and Rita Baga, who delivers an ornate snow coat with a skimpy dress underneath which sees her get frostbitten hands and ears before some cheese curds warm her up. The presentation really sells it, and she wins — not my pick, but I get it.

This is so ugly, but I love it.

Brands during Pride month.

Me at Brands during Pride month.

In the bottom are Kyne, Lemon and Juiceboxx, who comes out with what honestly might be one of Drag Race‘s worst looks. Worse yet, you can tell she knows it too: her head is down for most of the runway.

This tells me a story: ‘after school care kids make-over the meek student teacher and create a super inappropriate outfit with arts and crafts. She feels too awkward to not wear it, so she puts it on quickly and hopes no-one sees it, but the principle walks in and she’s instantly fired’.

The judges are super harsh on all the queens — maybe they haven’t quite worked out how to critique yet — and poor Juiceboxx crumbles in front of them. I would too. To her credit, she cracks jokes when she gets up again to hear the final critiques.

She’s a trooper, and turns it out in the lip-sync to Carly Rae Jepsen’s ‘I Really Like You’ — unfortunately, so does Lemon. It’s a bit surprising Kyne isn’t versing her, given both her outfit and attitude, as she’s pretty rude to the judges (and then late yells back-stage about BOA being in the top).

Her hair may be crimped, but Kyne is pressed.

I think Jeffrey nails it when he says Kyne and a lot of social media queens aren’t used to getting critiqued.  Take the reactions from pop stars when they get a mildly critical review — when you’re in a sycophantic bubble filled with adoring fans, the slightest criticism becomes the work of ‘haters’ and ‘trolls’.

There’s a lot of pressure in the competition that Kyne probably doesn’t experience on YouTube, so it’s understandable, but lashing out isn’t a cute look. She’s given a warning about snark by the judges: for her sake, hopefully she reins it in.

Next week, we’ve got an acting challenge. It’s early days, but Canada’s Drag Race has a lot going for it: hopefully it doesn’t get in its own way.

Canada’s Drag Race streams on Stan, with episodes available each Friday at 12pm AEST. All Stars 5 streams on Stan too, with episodes available each Saturday at 1pm AEST.

Jared Richards is Junkee’s Night Editor and Drag Race recapper. He’s on Twitter.