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This is why we can’t get enough queer reality TV

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Colin Crummy
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Alyssa Edwards in Netflix's Dancing Queen

What is it about the likes of Drag Race and Queer Eye that proves so compelling? Colin Crummy investigates.

Can’t wait to catch the next series of Queer Eye? Already imagining your fantasy line up for RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 4?

Well, you’re in luck. Because this week sees the launch of Dancing Queen, a docudrama following Drag Race alumni Alyssa Edwards in her day job of head honcho of a Texan dance studio.

The eight part Netflix show sees Alyssa plays inspirational mother, navigate her own personal drama and take time to throw some shade at pushy parents. If you’re a fan of Drag Race or Queer Eye, Dancing Queen is likely to have you gagging.

Queer reality TV like this has never been more popular. Queer Eye relaunched this year to critical and popular acclaim. Drag Race, almost a decade old, scooped all the major reality TV gongs at last month’s Emmys. Similar shows will surely follow.

So what has Drag Race got that leaves the others in the shade? It started life as a small, low budget production on niche gay TV network in 2009 but by 2018 Drag Race’s diverse line up chimes with the times. 

‘There are so many different types of people represented from queens of colour to transitioning queens,’ says mega fan Amanda Thomas, a digital marketer from Edinburgh. ‘It’s nice to have a show that isn’t just about straight, white, cis people, as well as the fact it’s just good entertainment.’ 

Drag Race was originally modelled on America’s Next Top Model but, between death drops and major drag drama, it is unlike any other reality show. Queer Eye also trades in the same things as any makeover show. Jonathan cuts hair, which takes ten years off. Tan puts this week’s project in a French tuck. Bobby, meanwhile, redecorates their entire frikkin’ house and gets the least amount of airtime.

It is all giddy and cute and Antoni’s a snack, even if he can barely make one. But what is it that makes Queer Eye pre-eminent in the genre? It is because this is more than a makeover show, says QE stan Alice Carroll, a PA living in London. ‘I love that they don’t try and change the essence of the person they are making over,’ she says. ‘They find the best bits of the person and play to their strengths. They just help them to be the best and happiest version of themselves which is all anyone wants for the people they love.’

Love is at the heart of both these shows. The most important mantra of Drag Race is the one recited at the end of each episode. 

‘If you can’t love yourself, how the hell can you love somebody else,’ intones RuPaul. 

The sermon, one of RuPaul’s finest, goes to the heart of LGBTQ people’s struggles. Having been dealt cards in life of shame and stigma, queer people have had to find ways to learn to love ourselves, even when the world around them doesn’t.

Queer people are not alone in experiencing oppression or discrimination; the challenge to love and accept yourself is a very real, widespread human experience. The queens on Drag Race may have larger than life personalities but they have human sized struggles to relate. And that’s quite a compelling thing to watch.

Below: watch the trailer for Dancing Queen

On Queer Eye, the fab five have credentials that are more than just the ability to make a mean guacamole. Jonathan, who in between putting face masks on sad, middle aged men, also tells them they’ve hot, totally DILF, real nice guys, what he’s really saying is that they have value. And what he says has power because he has had to learn his own.

The result is programming that is inclusive, warm and respectful to everyone, including women. These shows offer welcome respite on your streaming devices. 

‘Queer TV is more respectful to women, says Moya Lothian-McLean, editorial assistant at Stylist

‘Watching queer programmes is often such a refreshing, edifying experience because they don’t see women through a sexualised male gaze; or, if they do, it’s in a way that feels respectful and fun. It’s a breath of fresh air.’

Dancing Queens starts on Netflix this Friday. 

Image: Netflix

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