May 15, 2015
Netflix told me to watch RuPaul’s Drag Race
Portlandia, from what I can tell after watching a couple of episodes, seems to be a hipster-baiting version of The League of Gentleman. It’s a sketch-based comedy show with reoccurring characters that all seem to exist in a fictionalized version of Portland, Oregon. And from what I saw, it was quite funny. The first episode was a bit iffy, I thought, but it found its groove quite quickly. I need to watch a few more episodes before I feel I have a reliable opinion, but yeah, Portlandia seems to be a decent show. So of course Netflix thought since I watched that, I’d enjoy a reality show about drag queens.
This isn’t unfarmed soil. Where recommendations from its streaming service are concerned, Netflix has seemingly been smoking crack for a while now. I have a theory that this is intentional, or at least some sort of bug they’re not interested in fixing. Netflix tells you to watch something silly, you laugh, then you get on social media to tell people about it. Free advertising brought to you by the algorithm that for some reason thought you’d like to watch The Rock because you just got done with The Naked Gun.
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So I decided to play the game a little bit. Alright, Netflix, you reckon I should watch RuPaul’s Drag Race? I’ll watch RuPaul’s Drag Race. The first episode of the first season. Maybe there’s a method to the madness. Maybe I’ll be able to work out what your thought process is here. And if nothing else, it’ll give me something to write about without having to get up and leave the house. That’s always appreciated.
I’d never watched RuPaul’s Drag Race before. No particular reason, it just never ended up in front of me. I’m not sure it’s even been shown in the UK, although it must have been, since we get any old shit these days. I knew of it though, because the Internet. I even know RuPaul’s signature dismissal line to each eliminated contestant: “Sashay… away.” Pop culture in the 21st Century has never been more like any other sort of culture in how aspects of it end up in your head almost accidentally at times.
I went into this thinking there might be elements of parody. Maybe that was why Netflix linked it with Portlandia, because it took the light reality competition template and had a bit of a laugh with it. It didn’t. Well, that’s not completely true; there’s a photo shoot task at the beginning that feels like it’s there because that’s just what these shows do, but other than that, the whole thing is played remarkably straight (no pun intended). It takes the America’s Next Top Model …model of grouping a bunch of different personalities together in an enclosed space and making them compete for the same goal, and runs with it.
Which might explain why I quite liked it. America’s Next Top Model was for a long time a secret pleasure of mine, although it’s not anymore, partly because I’ve just admitted I liked it publicly, so it’s not all that secret anymore, but mostly because the latest season is abysmal, changing stuff seemingly for the sake of change, and being obsessed with social media bollocks. Twitter, I love you, but you’re ruining everything.
So, yeah, I quite liked RuPaul’s Drag Race. It scratched that itch I get for something a little bit trashy every once in a while. It doesn’t stray too far outside the box, and ticks off all the usual boxes where the contestants are involved: You have your plus-sized one (who incidentally was eliminated first. I kept trying to imagine the reaction to that had Tumblr been the thing it is today back then; so much rage, even if he was a bit rubbish, speaking honestly). You have the slightly naive one. You have the one that’s a tiny bit scary.
You have the one that might have had a bit of work done; “Her nose is as real as her name,” one of the judges throws out at one point. Her drag name, incidentally, is “Rebecca Glasscock,” so… I can see her point.
One thing I did notice that sets Drag Race apart from other shows like this is a lack of bitchiness. It’s not totally absent. During the “Drag on a Dime” challenge, lines such as “Porkchop looked like a football field” are uttered, but for episode one at least, there was a definite sense of camaraderie, which I don’t think was unintentional. RuPaul has always represented the drag community in a classy, fun way, and I can’t see her wanting to undo all the good work she’s done over the years for the sake of one hour a week on Logo.
Speaking of RuPaul, there’s really nobody else who could have hosted this, is there? Incredibly likeable and warm towards the contestants, she anchors the thing with an air of fabulous, caring authority. It doesn’t feel like an act—she seems to genuinely care about the contestants, and wants them to achieve their potential. I like her more than I’ve liked Tyra Banks for a good long while, that’s for sure. Also, whether dragged up or doing the dude thing, I have to say, that is one fly motherfucker.
I wish I looked that good in a suit.
Is all this enough to get me to watch more of this show? Yeah, I think it is, honestly. It’s good, shut-off-your-brain entertainment that didn’t annoy me or make me roll my eyes at any point, which is one of the best things I can say about these shows. RuPaul is awesome, the contestants are interesting and have distinct personalities, and I already have opinions about who should and shouldn’t win, so they’re doing something right.
Well done, Netflix. You got me right. I still can’t figure out why you recommended it to me, though. There’s no connection to Portlandia. Well… maybe hipsters. I can see hipsters really liking both these shows. Oh God, that’s it, isn’t it? Netflix thinks I’m a bloody hipster.
Eh. I’ve been called worse.