10 January 2020 22:34

Anne with an E Netflix Amybeth McNulty

Is RuPaul Netflix Show AJ And The Queen A True Story?

Even without RuPaul, Netflix's AJ and the Queen would be great. Embarking on a trip from New York City to Dallas, Texas, title characters Robert Lee (aka drag queen "Ruby Red," played by RuPaul) and his kid companion AJ (played by Izzy G) burn through misadventures, musical numbers, and guest appearances like road fuel. But for fans of its creator and star, RuPaul Andre Charles, AJ and the Queen is something else. A venerable institution of creativity, RuPaul is often lauded as the "hardest working queen in show business." He's got his Emmy Award-winning reality empire RuPaul's Drag Race, his weekly podcast with Michelle Visage, an extensive discography including Billboard Top 100 hits and three Christmas albums, guest spots on everything from Grace & Frankie to BoJack Horseman, and a convention attended by thousands in his honor twice a year, on both coasts. For many, that laundry list of accomplishments is "RuPaul." Appearing on Drag Race and magazine covers (most recently Vanity Fair's), Ru presents a fantasy — an impenetrable wall of charisma, uniqueness, nerve, and talent that represents a deity as much as a person.

A touring drag queen with a fabulous wardrobe and some shitty luck, Robert had plans to open the biggest club in the Big Apple. Recently orphaned with a mouth like a sailor (of the Village People, no less), the 10-year-old misfit stows away in Robert's luggage as he's leaving New York. It's as if the icon is finally talking to his childhood self — an exercise he's put Drag Race contestants through for years — and letting viewers listen in. From Chad Michaels performing Cher's rendition of "Waterloo" to Monique Heart and Latrice Royale burying the All Stars 4 hatchet at a barbecue, easter eggs for Drag Race fans abound. The premise is that AJ (Izzy G.), a 10-year-old ragamuffin with absent parents, falls into company with Ruby Red, a down-on-her-luck drag queen played by RuPaul Charles.

The arc of the season is a 90-minute story at best, and watching Ruby and AJ go through the motions of Clorox-wiping a hotel room just to fill two more minutes of an episode is bad in a way that no intentionality could excuse. AJ is also exactly the character you assume, from the moment the kid steals from Ruby Red, runs down the fire escape, stows away into Ruby's RV, and reveals in a big surprise moment at the end of episode one that she's a girl. A maudlin montage features Ruby lip-syncing along with "Endless Love," AJ staring longingly into a pet store at a dog she cannot have, and a con man baddie named Hector (Josh Segarra) reluctantly picking up tricks at a gay bar so he can buy new tires for his muscle car. On AJ and the Queen, RuPaul as Ruby Red stares out at a 10-year-old using very large fake tits as swim floaties, and a saccharine-sincere piano score comes in, daring you not to laugh. The thing I still can't decipher is whether its camp tendencies are, like RuPaul's Drag Race persona, accompanied by a knowing wink.

Lady Danger, Ruby's blind roommate who yells "I'm blind!" at least once an episode, Ruby herself pretending to have been knocked unconscious in the middle of a drag performance before rising perfectly to the crescendo of Sia's "Chandelier" — moments like these suggest that AJ and the Queen is trying hard for "campiness" and failing dramatically in the execution. She ends the essay by saying that the "ultimate" camp statement is "it's good because it's awful." Whatever its intention, AJ and the Queen is indeed awful. RuPaul has established himself as a Jack (and Jill) of all trades in the entertainment industry but is upping their game in new Netflix series, AJ and The Queen. Joining forces with Sex And The City creator Michael Patrick King, RuPaul helped create as well as stars in the new series, which sees a drag queen and a 10-year-old head off across state lines to a beauty pageant in the back of a trusty RV. Robert (Ru), who by night goes as fabulous drag queen Ruby Red, burns all their bridges in their regular performance spot in New York as they prepare to start a new life with her own rival bar set up alongside her boyfriend (Josh Segarra).

However, it turns out that he was a grifter, and deliberately targeted her alongside wannabe mobster Lady Danger (Tia Carrere) – with nothing left to do, she's forced to hit the road again… and discovers she's got a stowaway in her cross-country performance scheduled in the form of troubled neighbourhood kid, AJ (Izzy G). She's entitled in a way that's unnecessary, and the fact that Robert wants to keep helping her is baffling at times. Hector (or whatever his name is, depending on his target) is just as bad, and at times literally tears up hotel rooms out of frustrations as he chases the pair down, and makes you wonder how he managed to hide that side of him from Robert for so long. For the Drag Race fans though, familiar faces crop up throughout the trip, and they often provide the comic relief and heart of the show, as they interact and teach AJ, and Robert, lessons in a variety of ways. At my count, there were 27 – including star turns from Latrice Royale as a hustler/drag royalty of Jackson, Chad Michaels (complete with her impeccable Cher illusion) and Trinity The Tuck as the queen to beat at the final pageant.

Prepare to catch all the Drag Race cameos in the series (Picture: Netflix) There is also more than one nod to the film that made this show exist in the first place – Priscilla, Queen of the Desert – including several costume moments and pieces. This RuPaul dramedy may be a little more style over substance and at times a little ridiculous, but there is something about it you can't help but love by the end. Izzy Gaspersz and RuPaul Charles Photo: Beth Dubber (Netflix) RuPaul Charles, the man who helped transform drag from an underground movement into a pop culture phenomenon, is fond of emphasizing the power each of us has to not just invent but reinvent ourselves as the person we want to be—something that is fascinating to consider in the light of Charles' new persona as, potentially, a true actor. Charles teamed up with Sex And The City executive producer Michael Patrick King to co-create the Netflix comedy AJ And The Queen, and the pair keeps the narrative simple, invoking tales of intergenerational friendship like Paper Moon, About A Boy, The Professional, and more—but with 100 percent more wigs. In the series, Robert (Charles) is an aging drag performer, with the stage name of Ruby Red, who has spent years working to save enough money to open his own club (proposed name: Queens I n Queens). Wi th her mother proving unreliable, AJ wants to move in with her grandfather in Texas, and Robert reluctantly lets her join him, even while Hector and his accomplice Lady Danger (Tia Carrere) are trying to chase him down. Pre-Air Pre-Air AJ And The Queen B+ B+ AJ And The Queen Created By RuPaul Charles and Michael Patrick King Starring RuPaul, Izzy G., Michael-Leon Wooley, Josh Segarra, Tia Carrere, Katerina Tannenbaum Debuts Friday, January 10 on Netflix Format Hour-long dramedy; complete first season watched for review Meanwhile, the show's guest stars include a legion of well-known drag queens who owe a lot of their fame to appearing on Drag Race, including Ginger Minj, Latrice Royale, Trinity T he Tuck, Pandora Boxx, and more. Like Charles, they're not playing their established drag personas, preserving the show's veneer of fiction. But said fiction does lead to something that's hard not to think about while watching: Whether or not, in the world of the show, a drag performer named RuPaul ever became a game-changing superstar who, over the course of decades, completely changed the public awareness of this subculture. This is Ruby Red, NOT RuPaul. This matters a great deal when you consider just how iconic RuPaul is to the world of drag. And also, by choosing to play a character separate from his RuPaul persona (admittedly with some familiar crutches), he has somehow found a way to be more vulnerable and open than ever before. In the pageantry of that show, it's not off-putting, but because AJ And The Queen actively courts a more grounded feel, there are points when you want to take Ruby aside and talk to him about his problems. On balance, AJ And The Queen doesn't avoid moments of camp, and that's not a bad thing—no one needs this show to be The Wire.