Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed in this review are solely those of Marlon Wallace and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of WBOC.
RuPaul Charles is the world’s most-famous drag queen. He as she has been in the public eye since the 90’s and has been modeling, acting and singing for over 30 years. A decade or so ago, he created his own reality-competition program called RuPaul’s Drag Race (2009). It didn’t really hit the mainstream until 2016 when it started winning Emmy Awards. RuPaul has won awards every year since then and has racked up six, Primetime Emmy Awards in total. He’s appeared on numerous TV shows as himself, out of drag, including two shows created by Emmy-winner, Michael Patrick King (The Comeback and 2 Broke Girls). When RuPaul was given a new TV deal, he hired King to help him write and direct it. Essentially, the series is a road trip where an entertainer is on tour going around to small venues around the country. Each episode is named after a city on that tour. What’s different here is that the entertainer in question is a drag queen and we get to see what life is like for drag queens both backstage and on stage all across the United States.
The tour ends up being a ten-city tour, which in reality might be too short of a tour, but in the design and structure of this series, it might be too long of a tour. Each city or each tour-stop seems to have a significance and distinct flavor, but after a while it becomes a bit repetitive. Yet, each tour-stop is capped or climaxed with a musical number from RuPaul that almost makes the repetition worth it. In drag and on stage, RuPaul is always entertaining and a thrill to watch. There is a somewhat exciting plot that thrusts or helps to push the series along. That plot itself loses gas rather quickly. It does provide for an interesting character and a dynamic that proves comical here and there, but that plot or rather side-plot weighs down the series more than uplifts. It’s more a distraction or padding to fill out the ten episodes. Each of which really should have been a half-hour in length.
RuPaul Charles stars as Robert Lincoln Lee who goes by the drag name “Ruby Red.” Ruby is a long-time drag performer, probably in his 50’s. He claims to be in his 40’s, which is quickly disputed. Yet, he’s still in great shape. He has a great body that when he’s in drag as a woman looks stunning and gorgeous. His dream though is to open his own club in Queens, New York. He wants to run his own business. He’s been saving up for years. His boyfriend of seven months is helping him out. The inciting incident is when all the money that Ruby has saved gets stolen.
Isabella Gaspersz or Izzy G co-stars as AJ Douglas, a homeless kid who lives in the abandoned apartment above Ruby. It’s kind of a surprise at the end of the first episode, but the gender of AJ isn’t what Ruby first assumes. Izzy G is credited as such, as to perhaps hide AJ’s gender or as such to help with the non-binary, gender nonconforming or gender-bending themes that this show is constantly grappling. Being a show about a drag queen, the idea of dual identities is exemplified not simply with Ruby but with AJ whose mother is a drug addict and prostitute, so AJ decides to do anything to get to Texas to find a so-called grandfather.
Michael-Leon Wooley (The Princess and the Frog and Dreamgirls) also co-stars as Louis Bell, a fellow drag queen known as “Coco Butter.” As a drag queen, it’s easy to see his dual identity. He’s also the sassy and very sex positive friend that every queer TV series or TV series by a queer creator needs. King who was also the writer for Sex and the City probably patterned this character after Samantha, as played by Kim Cattrall. Louis is like Samantha, if Samantha were poor, black and blind. Yes, Louis is a blind, gay man but he doesn’t let that stop him. Wooley isn’t blind in real life, which is a slight disservice to disabled actors. Finding an actor who would perfectly fit the character of Louis aka Coco Butter would have been a tall order, but someone like S. Robert Morgan (The Wire and Luke Cage) could have been a consideration. Nevertheless, Wooley is the best comic relief that this show could have ever had.
Josh Segarra (Arrow and Orange Is the New Black) also co-stars as Hector Ramirez aka Damien Sanchez. He’s the boyfriend of seven months who’s been dating Robert aka Ruby. Like him having two names, one real and the other an alias, he too deals with dual identities. Like AJ, he struggles with those dual identities. He perhaps struggles more so, but like AJ, it makes or pushes him to do things he shouldn’t, things that are criminal. He and AJ both share the trait that they’re thieves, having stolen from the same person. He ends up following Ruby on his ten-city tour and through it he’ll have to face those dual identities and possibly decide which one he wants to embrace. My favorite episode with him and probably overall would have to be Episode 7, “Jackson.”
Tia Carrere (True Lies and Wayne’s World) plays Lady Danger, a female pimp with one-eye who works with a lot of drag queens as well. She’s the veritable villain who ends up taking Ruby’s money but loses it and then wants revenge. Even she is dealing with dual identities. In her case though, she’s a con artist. Her other identity happens to be pretending to be real-life actress Lorraine Bracco whom Lady Danger can’t recall if Bracco was nominated for an Oscar or not. It’s one of the funnier running gags though in this series.
Along with Carrere, there are a boat load of funny, supporting actors who help to buoy this series into the frothy fun that it ultimately is. Yet, what makes it a very watchable show is the heart that RuPaul and King infuse into it. The main heart is meant to center around the relationship between Ruby and AJ, a quasi-parental relationship, but that might be too stereotypical a label to slap on it. It does all certainly culminate in a powerful and heartbreaking image of RuPaul in a beautiful, flowing ginger wig and a fabulous and stunning, red dress crouched in a wide-open, green pasture on a farm that at once has a fairy tale vibe coupled with a very unexpected ending.
Running Time: 1 hr. / 10 eps.
Available on Netflix.