‘RuPaul’s Drag Race UK’ S1E1 Recap: Blimey, This Is Proper British, Innit?
Will this be the fresh air 'Drag Race' fans need?
After about half a decade of rumours and whispers, RuPaul’s Drag Race UK is finally here, and proves that the original’s sluggishness might be fixed with a bit of breathing room. Free from continual references to past seasons or contestants, these 10 queens are given room to establish their presence and personality immediately — or, in the case of Gothy Kendoll, not establish it.
It’s tough, distinct competition this year: where many of the US queens approached for the show held off competing in the grand experiment of Season 1, the UK version could attract anyone they wanted. And they did.
There are some huge names in this cast, such as Vinegar Strokes, Divina de Campo, and The Vivienne, who was previously the ‘UK ambassador’ for Drag Race back in 2016.
If that last bit doesn’t ring a bell, that’s because whatever it was supposed to be — The Vivienne was flown out during filming of S7 — didn’t make it to air. We’re guessing it was supposed to be a back-door announce for the UK show that fell through.
Casting didn’t stick to established acts, though. The first episode sets up the classic Drag Race rivalry of old vs. new, with three of the cast members — Gothy, Scaredy Kat and Blu Hydranga — all under 22.
They’re all distinctly much more ‘American’ than the other competitors, clearly taking inspiration mainly from Instagram: Scaredy Kat, 19, even says she’s never performed, though her ease in the photoshoot-cum-acting challenge (well, photoshoot-shit-her-own-head-out challenge), suggests that might not be as big of a deal as it once seemed.
After all, personality is what really matters most when it comes to sustaining a career after Drag Race. Unfortunately Gothy was a little too nervous on the show to roar out of the gate.
Online, it’s already more present, retweeting memes and making jokes about her short-lived time on the show. Gothy is a queen of the internet; we’re sure she’ll make the most of being the chavvy Victoria Porkchop Parker.
How’s Your Head? Well, I’ve Had Several Complaints.
Our first mini-challenge is a severed head photoshoot where the queens also say a one liner, which is wonderfully stilted. Ru is much more lively than we’ve seen in years: the UK version’s been a dream for a while, and he seems genuinely ecstatic to be there.
The challenge also quickly establishes each girl’s personality, and we’re given the first warning signal when Gothy doesn’t quite understand what Ru wants from her line delivery. It feels like a bit of a convenient plot line to give Scaredy the win, but hey, would it be Drag Race without a producer-ruled challenge?
While we’re on the Scaredy train, it’s stunning she’s never been to a drag show before, and we have a feeling by the groundwork laid here she’ll be around for most of the season. There’s also the odd edit to make it seem like she’s a straight drag queen, rather than bisexual. No doubt the clarification will come later, but it stood out — Scaredy’s relationship with a bio queen is interesting as is, and it felt like a simplification of the truth, very much against the show’s message.
The main challenge is two looks: a hometown look, and a Queen Elizabeth realness. While in the workroom, we discuss British topics such as teeth, royal reception, and regionalism — a lot of these queens live outside of the major cities, and travel for work, which is somewhat surprising. It speaks to their differences in style, and while we have no idea where most of these places are, it lands like a really balanced picture of the UK’s drag pool.
Colonial Empire? I Hardly Even Know Her!
In honour of the Sydney Gays podcast (RIP 2019-2019), it’s time to talk this week’s peaks and pits. The highest peak is Alan Carr, who joins the panel as a regular guest judge swapping out with Graham Norton. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and perhaps this season will make us all appreciate Carson Kressley’s bottom/top jokes, but for now, we’re in the hands of a real comedian.
Drag Race superfan Andrew Garfield is there too. As a straight man he gets a little confused and gives overtly earnest advice to each queen about acting, and while it’s incredibly sweet, it’s not really the tone of the show. Queers do it better. Speaking of, our favourites were the queens who went full camp with their queen looks, since royalty deserves to be laughed at.
The Vivienne takes the crown — or badge, rather — this challenge, and it’s hard to not see why. Her Pete Burns look and Queen take were completely different, showing a real versatility (I can say that word now Carson isn’t around).
Other highlights were Sum Ting Wong’s stamp look and the hometown looks from Cheryl, Baga and Divina.
There really weren’t too many pits. This is a talented cast, and the queens evidently came ready. Vinegar somewhat fairly ends up lip-syncing alongside Gothy for a so-so runway presentation, but Cheryl landing in the bottom three for not giving her queen a handbag feels, ironically, like a real straw-clutch.
The lip-sync to Dua Lipa’s ‘New Rules’ is a bit of a mess from Gothy, but it’s also a fitting tribute to the pop star — bless her, but she certainly isn’t a dancer either. We say bye, and nine contestants remain: the smaller cast is much appreciated after S11’s bloated 14 queen-strong season.
While most fans (and this recapper) were seriously fatigued earlier this year, Drag Race UK carries a different energy. Hopefully that’ll pull through, and remind us all why we love this show.
RuPaul’s Drag Race UK is available to stream on Stan, with episodes dropping 8am AEDT each Friday.
Jared Richards is a staff writer at Junkee, and co-host of Sleepless In Sydney on FBi Radio. Follow him on Twitter.