Pinch yourself. Slap your face if necessary. Just be reassured you’re not dreaming: RuPaul’s Drag Race UK is here and it’s absolutely everything you were hoping for and plenty more.
Sickeningly funny, filthy and fierce, the new entertainment extravaganza is a mother-tucking triumph for the BBC.
We shouldn’t really be surprised. The format of Drag Race UK is virtually identical to the original multi-Emmy-winning US version: a roster of the best drag queens in the land are set a series of outrageous style, singing, acting and comedy challenges by ‘Mama’ RuPaul Charles, all to test their “charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent”. (We’ll let you work out that acronym by yourself.)
And exactly like the US show, TV host (and now Strictly star) Michelle Visage sits on the judging panel alongside Ru and a rotating pair of wise-cracking comics (including the likes of Graham Norton and Alan Carr in the case of Drag Race UK). The epic lip sync battle at the end of each episode – where the bottom two queens of each week compete for their place in the competition – has also stayed.
Even the show’s fluorescent pink workroom, high-tempo editing and background music have been taken directly from its American (drag) mother show.
One massive change, however, is the language: it’s fantastically filthy. Drag Race UK is rude, crude and, most importantly, outright hilarious – its opening episode containing uncensored f-bombs exploding every few seconds and more sexual innuendos than an entire series of Bake Off.
From shouts of “I’m s***ting my knickers!” to “the best head you can get is on your hands and knees!”, it seems genuinely unbelievable – as RuPaul reminds us throughout – that Drag Race UK is released under a BBC banner.
But whichever minor miracle it took to get Drag Race UK released by the broadcaster, the show serves a platform to the contest’s brilliantly foul-mouthed stars – ten British-to-the-bone drag acts.
There’s Baga Chipz, a “right trollop” and Coronation Street superfan, who enters the show declaring she’s “unique as f***, mate!”. She’s followed by The Vivienne, a queen who slays the first episode with a perfect Kim Woodburn impersonation. Joining them are “The Gemma Collins of drag” Cheryl Hole, the Belfast-born Blu Hydrangea with her “GCSE muppet art project drag” and Vinegar Strokes, a queen who strides onto the show with a hysterical Kat Slater-inspired entrance we won’t spoil here.
Although many worried that such Brit references would be tempered to emulate the US show’s international appeal, the exact opposite is true. From nods to VK blues, pot noodles, Scouse housewives, Deirdre Barlow and chip shops, Drag Race UK has plunged straight into the British zeitgeist, reaching references only native viewers will understand.
In fact, often the references are so niche even RuPaul is left mystified. But rather than hatching an awkward moment of misunderstanding, he diffuses any translation difficulties into yet more laughs with a well-timed gag. Like the queens, it’s clear he’s having the time of his life.
The judging panel of RuPaul’s Drag Race UK episode one L-R: Alan Carr, RuPaul Charles, Andrew Garfield and Michelle VisageBBC
Based on the show’s first episode, the ten queens are, quite simply, the best line-up on a British TV competition in at least the last decade. Well, in terms of laughs-per-minute anyway. That said, while they effortlessly serve up punchlines, fans of the super-polished drag seen on the US show may be disappointed by the standard of outfits showcased Drag Race UK – there’s certainly no pageant queen to rival Brooke Lynn Hytes.
But although their edges are rough and finishing far from polished, the queens’ sup-par seamstress skills simply don’t matter. Without giving too much away, when challenged to deliver two regal looks in episode one, the queens serve up some brilliantly creative and hilarious looks on the runway. Sure, the results are more primary school fancy dress than high fashion, but we guarantee you’ll be belly laughing by the end.
And the best bit? The show is only set to get better. Considering how the queens are more performance-pointed rather than couture-centred, episode one’s fashion challenge should be one of Drag Race UK’s weakest weeks. All the acting and comedy challenges – including the much-awaited celebrity impersonating task Snatch Game – are just around the runway.
Shantay, you stay, Drag Race UK – and please stay on our screens for many many years to come.
Now let the music play.
Drag Race UK will start on 3rd October 2019, available on BBC iPlayer from 8pm