RuPaul is a force for good. His DragRace brand has not only brought sequins and lashes to the party but wider discussions around individuality, acceptance and courage to a much broader audience. The US series has now 15 seasons under its belt, if you include AllStars, and the UK production breathed life not only into the show but also its long-time presenters RuPaul Charles and Michelle Visage, who were more relaxed and candid than we have seen for a long time. And as for the lady Visage herself, all hail: her Madonna-week on Strictly Come Dancing may have sent her packing, but twice on prime-time UK weekend television, she broadcast her support for the LGBTQ communities in a way that was heartfelt, moving and insightful. Respect.
And so to AJ & The Queen, the latest superstar/Netflix collaboration to drop an entire season all in one go into our drag hungry pantiliners. Conceived by Mr. Charles and Sex & The City creator Michael Patrick King, AJ tells the tale of a drag queen (RuPaul playing the RuPaul lookalike Ruby Red) down on her luck following a love and dosh scam by the exceedingly handsome fraudster played by Josh Segarra (Segarra alone is worth the subscription fee).
She embarks on a nationwide drag tour whereupon a homeless young girl who looks like a boy, AJ, stows away in Ruby’s campervan and an unlikely friendship is forced upon them. AJ & The Queen certainly has its heart in the right place and at times is genuinely funny. The casting of Tia Carrere is spot on as the cheap botox administering, eye patch wearing villain side-kick, and the series is spot-a-star with a cast list that includes not only dozens of RPDR alumni, but a host of all but forgotten US TV legends.
As is the way with some Netflix commissions, in trying to be all things to all people it sometime is not clear who the show is aimed at or indeed who will like it. It is part road-trip, part lip-synch for your life, part kids adventure drama and the pick’n’mix approach means that some of the gags just do not land which is not surprising when it is repeated two, three and four times just to make sure we get it. Three episodes in I thought the acting might be terrible but then realised it is very much in style of part drama/part comedy caper that at times works and at others just seems odd.
This is not bad television. There are some beautiful kind and careful moments that are genuinely sweet. When Ruby and AJ happen across Lloyd, a Tennessee resident older man who has turned his B&B into a costume museum, Ruby and Lloyd lip synch Diana and Lionel style to Endless Love. When Lloyd’s excitable advances are spurned by his Diana he replies “but I’m lonely” and we believe him. There are affectionate nods to decades of LGBTQ friendly movies from Priscilla to Desperately Seeking Susan which run alongside sparks to ignite many a dinner table debate. When AJ says “I don’t want to be a boy but I don’t want to be a girl” there is more clarity in that one non-binary statement than in all of the objectional debates on any given chat show or social media platform.
It just feels a little clunky and that it may be trying too hard. I happily committed to the season as there’s something in there that means once you’re in there’s an investment in the story and characters that needs to be seen through. It is just that by the end I couldn’t help thinking that what RuPaul has said in ten episodes, could have been more powerfully shared in four.
AJ & The Queen is available now on Netflix.
RuPaul’s Drag Race both US and UK seasons return this year.
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