At the beginning of this year, Netflix quietly released the dramedy, “AJ and the Queen,” starring the paragon of drag herself, RuPaul. RuPaul’s name carries a legacy people only vaguely understand. People hear the name and often think “Oh, the drag queen,” and don’t give it a second thought. You’ve probably seen her in a gif or heard her name as an answer to a jeopardy question. However, RuPaul is credited for heightening the drag scene by exposing people to what a drag queen is, with her charting dance songs from the eighties and her appearances on talk shows, and her fire has not died since then. Along with her Emmy award-winning reality television show, “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” the self-proclaimed glamazon is now starring in a Netflix show. An accomplishment, of course, but it would probably be more commendable if the show was good. Maybe that’s while it was canceled on March 6.
The premise of “AJ and the Queen” is ridiculous to say the least. The viewer is forced to follow drag queen Ruby Red/Robert Lee (RuPaul) who goes on a cross country road trip to escape a crazy ex-boyfriend and, along the way, befriends a ten-year-old who snuck into Ruby’s RV with the motive of finding her father in Texas. An immediate question that should come to mind is: How is a sixty-year-old man able to get away with traveling one thousand miles with an unattended, homeless ten-year-old? Let’s not think about that.
Overall the show’s visuals are loud, assaulting, and colorful to remind us that this is a show about a glamorous drag queen. The dialogue is obviously trying its hardest to be “hip with the gay youth, okurrrr.” The plot is so simplistic it’s almost infantilizing and the acting borders on atrocious. So why is this show so fun to watch?
Despite everything it clearly does not have going for it, the show, surprisingly, carries some charm. When you’re not too busy laughing at RuPaul’s attempts at making a facial expression, the characters aren’t difficult to root for. Ruby’s elementary school-aged best friend has a compelling storyline about abandonment and the struggles of parenthood and drug use, which almost makes up for the bizarre main plot of Ruby escaping an evil ex-lover and his eye-patch wearing sidekick. The conversations about what family means are important and sweet, and the growing bond between two people who are traveling together under extreme circumstances is almost possible to invest in. Also, watching our protagonists jump from drag bar to drag bar and seeing what performers they meet along the way is fun, if you ignore the fact that a ten-year-old would never be allowed backstage at a drag show. “AJ and the Queen” does a great job showing the feel-good and entertaining parts of drag, with the glamor, the quips, and the best aspects of the art. Drag as an art form seems so taboo behind closed doors, but “AJ and the Queen” sheds light on how unique and compelling a form of entertainment it has always been.
So no, I am not going to pretend the show is good. Giving it the benefit of the doubt, it could be said that “AJ and the Queen’s” ridiculousness is tongue in cheek, referencing the campy nature drag has had since the beginning of the underground club scenes. In order to enter into the acid-trip wormhole that “AJ and the Queen” is, it is important to leave yourself a reminder to never, even for a second, look at it under a critical lens. “AJ and the Queen” is only tolerable if you realize how horrible it is, and go into it for a laugh.