There are no two ways about it: RuPaul is spectacular. As a drag queen she is iconic, and out of frocks and wigs, RuPaul Charles is charming and delightful. If this sounds a bit fan-girrrrl (“drag” it out like the queens do) gushy then perhaps I’ve understated it.
As host of the immensely popular Drag Race reality series, and its various sequels and spinoffs, Ru took his career beyond the stage. Now, he stars in the scripted series AJ and The Queen and the obvious question is “can he act?”. As it turns out, yes, he can.
The show enlightens us as to “where does he put it?” – if you listen carefully.
Look, there probably aren’t going to be a whole lot of mainstream awards (hair, makeup and costumes notwithstanding) coming this way; the series – co-created, co-produced, co-written with Sex And The City creator Michael Patrick King – is not lofty. It doesn’t involve much in the way of fancy cinematography and camera tricks. Some of the characters are more like caricatures, and the villains are often ridiculously farcical. Overall it’s fairly textbook in terms of plot development.
But is it entertaining? Is it utterly fabulous with big lashes, bigger hair, and fistfuls of rhinestones and sparkle?
Well, hell yes!
RuPaul plays drag queen (obviously) Robert Lee so it’s a definite warm and comfy zone. Even so, he is convincing in his role. A little bit older, Robert aka Ruby Red, is blissfully happy to be in a loving relationship with hot and hunky Hector (Josh Segarra). They have big plans to use Robert’s life savings to open their own drag club. It’s only a small spoiler (it’s in the first episode) to say this doesn’t work out.
Scammed out of his money, a mortified Robert sets out from New York City in his battered old RV (which turns out to be able to hold an immense wardrobe for any and every occasion on the road) on a cross-country tour which will culminate in a pageant in Texas.
Before he gets very far, he discovers a stowaway, 10-year-old AJ (Izzy G), who demands to be taken to her Pop Pop in Texas. (The kid’s mom is a junkie hooker who has been evicted from the apartment above Robert’s.)
“This show isn’t about a drag queen in a kids show. This is about a kid in a drag queen’s show. It’s edgy, and it has some dark themes in there,” RuPaul told Vanity Fair – the first drag queen to land a Vanity Fair cover, appearing on the front page of the publication’s January issue.
“It was something I was eager to explore. To prove to myself that I’m not dead inside. I proved to myself that I could pull those emotions up. It’s intoxicating.”
Since AJ is an accomplished little scammer and tries to rob Robert more than once, things are a little tense in the beginning. As the bumpy story unfolds, the two grow closer, and have themselves some fine adventures on their road trip as they meet friends and foes.
Also in the cast are no less than 22 real drag queens; RuPaul has them at his manicured fingertips from all the seasons of Drag Race.
The enchanted RV delivers a treasure trove of costumes for planned as well as impromptu performances along the way. Anyone who knows anything about drag knows how long it takes to become a queen; through the magic of television, this process is greatly reduced. But hey – fiction, am I right? In this instance, who cares anyway when you see the result.
AJ and The Queen is, at its heart, sweet and engaging, and is full of messages of hope, acceptance, understanding and inclusivity. Robert is a disciple of Oprah and frequently refers to her old shows. It’s a lovely nod to his heroine, who has interviewed RuPaul, even as far back as 1995.
Izzy G plays AJ as a real brat at times, which is somehow the most realistic portrayal of a child that age I’ve seen in a long time.
Also in the cast are no less than 22 real drag queens; RuPaul has them at his manicured fingertips from all the seasons of Drag Race. Look out for Bianca Del Rio, Trinity The Tuck, Pandora Boxx, and more. Fan favourite Latrice Royale plays Robert’s blind friend Louis aka Coco Butter for pure comic relief, and is adorable.
Look out too for some big-name guest stars in the latter half of the series.
This show is going to be a non-stop binge for anyone who loves themselves a gorgeous man in heels and a dress. It also enlightens us as to “where does he put it?” – if you listen carefully.