Given how many hours of RuPaul's Drag Race VH1 is putting out there (fan burnout be damned), it might seem odd that we'd recommend that you check out RuPaul's Drag Race: UK when it debuts on Logo Friday night. (New episodes premiere on the WOW Presents Plus streaming platform Thursdays at 3PM, one week before they're on Logo.) But fresh off of the premiere, we can happily report that the across-the-pond spin-off is very much worth watching even if your gas tanks aren't exactly empty on Drag Race content.
So what is it that makes Drag Race: UK so appealing? A few of the biggest reasons — and this season's fiercest new contenders — ahead:
At stake for the winners of a U.S. season of Drag Race are a one-year supply of cosmetics from Anastasia Beverly Hills and a cash prize of $100,000. It's a refrain so common you could recite it in your sleep. But things are quite different in Britain, owing in part to anti-sponsorship laws for state-owned TV stations like the BBC. So much like there is no cash prize awaiting the champions of the Great British Baking Show, the winner of Drag Race: UK will be "whisked off to Hollywood to star in her very own digital series." And for as much as streaming is the future and we all how WOW Presents flourishes … that is a chintzy prize to offer a winner. But it's also rather charming. These queens aren't in it for the money! They're in it for the craft!
With both RuPaul and Michelle Visage firmly in place as the figureheads of this universe, the continuity between the American and British versions of Drag Race is very strong. We wouldn't be at all surprised if the U.K. seasons end up feeding into the American All-Stars seasons, which are now airing once a year. But equally as delightful are the guest judges. Swapping off episodes in the third chair will be comedian Alan Carr and chat show host Graham Norton, and you really couldn't ask for a funnier or more astute pair. And judging from the first two episodes, they're not skimping on the extra special celebrity guests, which include Game of Thrones' Maisie Williams and Oscar-nominated actor Andrew Garfield.
Thus far, it's tough to tell if the differences in drag presentation that we're seeing can be chalked up to regional idiosyncrasies or just unique queens being unique. But the most concrete difference between the UK queens and their American counterparts are their references. From simple slang ("slag"; "gobshite") to style influences who are Brit-famous only, to regional differences within England (come on, you Essex queens!), there have been dozens of strictly British-isms so far. Even more fun is that Ru is privy to hardly any of them! We've all gotten so used to Ru being the ultimate arbiter of gay culture on this show, armed with her knowledge of the club scene, Paris Is Burning, Diana Ross, Cher, et cetera. It's disorienting in the best way to watch her be so unsure of the drag language she's watching.
While the ten queens who start the competition are quickly narrowed down to five, between them it really could be anybody's game. Clearly the judges have been fond of The Vivienne — as have the producers, if Viv's domination of the expository talking-head interviews in the first two episodes is any indication. Other faves include the bawdy Baga Chipz, the older-and-a-bit-self-conscious-about-it Divina De Campo, and the endlessly creative Sum Ting Wong. And then there's Crystal, the Canadian native and London transplant whose savvy about the game apparently wasn't enough to scare her away from rocking a hairy chest and pits.
Among the shakier-seeming queens: Vinegar Strokes has a very winning personality and a slight Patti LaBelle vibe with her face, seems to struggle a bit early on. Blu Hydrangea is an adorable Northern Irelander who could do body drag if she had any interest in contouring or padding her body. (She seemingly has none!) These are not the silhouettes to win over Michelle and Ru. Scaredy Kat seems pretty wedded to the kitty-cat aesthetic, which will serve her well until someone mistakse her for Grizabella (which I … nearly did in episode 1). Finally, Cheryl Hole seems like she would be a LOT to deal with in real life, but at least she has the best name on the season.
So consider this our official blessing to dive right back into RuPaul's Drag Race with this UK season. Watch on Logo Friday nights or get that WOW Presents Plus subscription and watch all that beautiful ancillary drag-queen coverage. You'll need to know where to look when this year's winner gets her lucrative web series!
Joe Reid is the Managing Editor at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, The Herald Sun, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.