Things I Watch When I Am Ironing #15: The Rain

Bunker door

Apparently the British don’t like dubbed dialogue – I think it must be childhood memories of The Flashing Blade which was first terribly and then hilariously dubbed.

We prefer to struggle with subtitles, meaning you can’t take your eyes off the screen.

But Netflix have now decided that reading is just too much of a drag and have dubbed their Scandi thriller The Rain, claiming people only notice the dubbing 20 minutes in.

Alba August as Simone in The Rain

Simone (Alba August). Good to know you can still get your highlights done in post-apocalyse Denmark

This isn’t true – you notice straight away, because it is so awful, but forget after 20 minutes, because the rest of the show is even worse.

It does mean though that I can iron and still watch, without burning holes in the laundry.

To be fair, the first two episodes of The Rain are pretty good. It kicks off straight away without any tedious scene-setting. Within the first ten minutes our heroine Simone is hustled from school by her father and into a car with her mother and younger brother Rasmus.

As they head out of the city, escaping an ominous rain cloud, she demands to know what is going on and her parents don’t tell her.

Why do they do this in dramas? Why the hell can’t the grown-ups just say ‘we have to leave because blah blah so we are going to blah blah and then blah blah will happen’. Is it supposed to create tension? Because it doesn’t.

Instead, they all shout and argue and have a car crash, luckily very close to a secret underground bunker her father knows about. The father immediately heads off, but refuses to say where he is going, why, what for etc.

Then, basically because she hasn’t been told what is going on, stupendously stupid Simone opens the bunker door and gets her mother killed. Which kinda serves Mum right for trying to make hot chocolate instead of explaining to her panicking kids WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON.

What is going on is that the rain carries a vicious virus that induces fits, vomiting and death within minutes. And Simone and Rasmus’s disappeared dad has something to do with it.

Rasmus (Lucas Lynggaard Tønnesen). Surprisingly buff after six years in a bunker

Fast forward six years – yep, SIX YEARS – and the food is running out so Simone and Rasmus – now a sulky 16-year-old – have to head out into the forest. They are found/capured by the inevitable band of hard-bitten survivors, and so the fun begins.

Or it would, if the stroppy teens did anything else other than bicker, look soulfully at each other, have shouting matches, discuss whether they are virgins or not and do utterly stupid things.

Thing is, unlike Walking Dead, which is set in America, where any kind of madness goes, this is set in Denmark, where they are into pastries and good coffee, not brutal torture or callous killing. We like the Danes – they are civilised. So the sense of real menace that hangs around other post-apocalyptic stuff just isn’t there. We know they will be ok, because it is Scandinavia.

After six years there is going to be no food left – nothing – yet no-one has scurvy or appears anything other than buff and healthy. And, except where it helps the plot, no-one seems that hungry either. The gang move from place to place because Simone wants to find her dad, when surely staying in one place and planting something would be the clever thing to do.

But clever thinking doesn’t feature much in The Rain. Why do they wander through the streets with bulging rucksacks in the open in broad daylight when they know people are going to be a mite peckish? Why don’t they have any weapons apart from a single rifle (which, to be fair, does have infinite ammo)?

This is the gang. They are hungry and angry but at least they have shiny hair

Why are massive buildings still standing? Nothing is overgrown or collapsed, there are just a few badly parked cars (it is a rule in post-apocalyptic dramas that all the cars must be badly parked) and a bit of rubbish blowing about.

The storyline is a bit barmy, but you can forgive that if everything else – characters, dialogue, setting etc – is up to scratch. But by the time we finally get answers we don’t care much, because none of the characters are worth caring about.

Things I shouted at the TV while pressing creases into skirts

  • Don’t open the door! Don’t open the door! Why did you open the door? Close the door! Close the fucking door!
  • Why did the missing father plug in his phone to recharge it and then walk off without it? Just to leave a great big humungeous clue behind? Surely not.
  • OK, so everyone needs a back story, but does it have to involve some naive Christian getting drugged and raped by her classmates at the first party she ever goes to? Couldn’t the writers have come up with something more convincing and a damn sight less cheap and lazy?
  • That dog that was sniffing around minding its own business. Is it ok? Did it find something nice to eat?
  • Why is everyone’s hair so shiny? How do they wash it when the water is all poisonous?
  • How come no-one has a beard, where are the razors? How come they are all so clean when the water is poisonous?
  • They just shot a woman because she put one foot in a steam and the water is poisonous. Yet earlier, how come they all tramped through a forest where it had been raining and no-one got a drop of poisonous rainwater on them?
  • Don’t go on the roof, it’s just been raining! There will be rainwater everywhere, on the railings, on the floor – and the rainwater is poisonous. Oh. You’ve gone on the roof.
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Things I Watch When I am Ironing #14: The Shannara Chronicles (Series 1)

The Shannara Chronicles series 1 is on Netflix

I read the Terry Brooks Shannara books way, way back in the dark and misty age of my teenage years.

I can remember little about them apart from a lingering preference for carrying marbles in my pocket and clutching them in times of strife hoping for elfstone-like powers.

So, out of all the fine fantasy that is out there, I think dramatising this was an odd choice.

Shannara always was little more than Tolkein fan fiction, and while there is nothing wrong with that, why not just watch The Lord Of The Rings on repeat?

The producers would have been much better served launching into Scott Lynch’s genius Gentleman Bastards series or Joe Abercrombie’s definitive grimdark First Law world (please please please).

Not enough magic in them for the special effects fans? Then how about VE Schwab’s Shades of Magic series – all those other Londons would be mindblowing.

The bad guy. You can tell by the piercings

But they didn’t, ‘they’ went for tired and tested tropes – elves, magic swords, an ingenue farmboy who is actually the son of a great magician, some sort of tricky quest, demons plotting to take over the world because, y’know, they are angry and evil and it’s something to do while they wait for the piercing shop to open.

This could have worked, if it wasn’t for the similarly tired and tested script and staging and costumes and… everything really.

The demons had voice changing machines so they all sounded like something off the Exorcist. Human baddies could be sussed by their bad hair decisions – pink stripes, unlikely up-dos, random scalp shavings.

Female characters had figure hugging outfits, long loose hair and bare arms, no matter how much fighting they were doing or how many scratchy forests they had to battle through. And they all look the same. I never managed to tell the difference between the two leading women, apart from when I could see the pointy ears on one of them (elf princess).

And the elf blokes all seemed to be princes and all looked the same. I can’t even say how many princes there were, and I watched the whole damned series. At least three of them got killed, none of them had hair that moved an inch and all of them wore super-tight elven t-shirts to show off what buff elves they were.

The elf princess one and the one who isn’t an elf princess. Can you tell them apart?

You know what it was like? A 1960’s American serial, when the Yanks did it all so much better and more slickly than we did (apart from The Avengers, obvs. And Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased). And The Prisoner) Think Rawhide or Batman or Lost on Space or Bonanza or Gilligan’s Island – cliffhanger endings, reprobate reoccurring characters, unsmudged make-up and terrible dialogue. Really terrible dialogue, like ‘Let’s go save a tree!’ ‘Are you hurt?’ ‘It’s just a scratch’. ‘So-and-so – Wait!’ ‘Why should we trust you?’ ‘What choice do you have?’ ‘We’re gonna make it’ and ‘Er, guys…’.

This was distracting, amusing TV but an opportunity wasted. If you want a compelling, original story involving a giant, dying tree, then read The Ninth Rain by Jen Williams – I’m devouring it right now and have started rationing my reading time as I don’t want it to finish.

It has blood-drinking elf-types, green-fire blasting witches, beetles that eat you from the inside out, weird and hideous monsters, well-rounded female characters and giant bats. Imagine that on screen.

Things I think about when I press open seams

Read this instead. It’s good

  • When they say ‘trole’ they mean troll. Took me two episodes to realise this.
  • If it is thousands of years since a nuclear holocaust wiped out our world, how come there is still air in the balloons the elf and the other one stumble across in that ballroom?
  • Why doesn’t the blond half-elf whistle for that elf he saved (Pluck?) and his big bird when he gets in a jam?
  • What was with the hoe-down party and the big hats? I really lost the thread of it all in that episode.
  • The horses. They appear and disappear every time someone has to hide in a secret cave or underground tunnel. Who feeds them? Are they ok?
  • Is Eritrea a country or a person?
  • The San Francisco sign turning into ‘Safehold’. I quite liked that. It was all a bit Planet of the Apesy but I liked it.

Things I Watch When I Am Ironing #13: Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency

Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency

In my first A-level English Lit class, Miss Pitt – whose make-up resembled fine-grain Polyfilla and who must, I now realise, have been wearing a curly clown wig – wanted to know what we were currently reading. I don’t remember what the rest said – stuff that garnered nods and even the odd frosty smile or two, like Marilyn French and DH Lawrence.

I was eaten up with nerves – I hated speaking in class and didn’t know anyone. When she turned to me I forgot to say “W Somerset Maughan” (which was a bit true) and told the truth: I was deep into the Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galazy ‘trilogy’ by Douglas Adams.

Miss Pitt sucked in her roughed cheeks and curled her glossy lip. “Oh Joanne,” she sneered.

Invincible, growly-voiced Bart

Invincible, growly-voiced Bart, my hero

Yeah, well, chez on you Pitt. Douglas Adams is now universally recognised as a visionary and a genius, still inspiring books, films and TV shows today (you can’t say that for Marilyn French).

My proof – Netflix’s Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency.

I read the Dirk Gently books when they came out, enjoyed them but never felt tempted to revisit. All I can remember now is stuff about a horse in an attic, a sofa on some stairs and an Apple Mac.

The Netflix series may draw its inspiration from Adams’s detective, but it has – probably wisely – run with plots and characters of its own. And they are brilliant.

Farah and Tina track down a Michigan mom turned evil sorceress. As you do

Farah and Tina track down a Montana mom turned evil sorceress, as you do

Goofy Dirk Gently believes in ‘the interconnectedness of all things’. He’s also a bit psychic and a lot geeky. In series 1 he hooks up with loser bellhop Todd Brotzman (played by Elijah Wood, the only actor in the whole thing I remember coming across before). Todd has a sister called Amanda, who suffers from a weird condition where she has hallucinations that feel real. Dirk has a whole load of baggage from his time in a CIA-spinoff called Blackwing.

Blackwing is a facility where Dirk and various other weirdos were brought together. Most of these weirdos are now rampaging around America, murdering people in a holistic way, pretending to be squeezy toys or driving around in a van drinking other people’s emotions. There is a LOT going on, and the best thing to do is buckle up and enjoy the ride.

The plots are madcap capers, but they do come together, even if they fry your brain. Expect body-snatching, time travel, alternate realities, magic wands that do real magic, people with pink hair, giant scissors for swords and human dogs.

The thing that lets a lot of these seasons down – too much dull relationship stuff – doesn’t spoil Dirk Gently. Todd and Amanda fall out big time, but this helps drive the plot; Todd being Dirk’s first and only friend could teeter into yukkiness but hasn’t (yet).

Instead, we have so many Technicolour characters it is difficult to pick a favourite. Bart Curlish, a holistic psychopath, is hard to top, but there is also cool-and-hard-with-a-vulnerable-edge Farah Black, thick as brick with a gun Hugo Friedkin, the incredible Rowdy 3, turncoat Ken…

The Rowdy 3. Yeah, there's FOUR of them. That's the point, durr

The Rowdy 3. Yeah, there’s FOUR of them. That’s the point, durr

Series 2 featured less Bart than I would have liked, but it did introduce decent new characters, like nice Sheriff Sherlock Hobbs, tripped out Tina Tevetino and fairytale strange girl with rainbow hair (called The Beast, I have no idea why).

Dirk Gently also wins with the number of funny, evil, clever and strong female characters it features, scoring a nice balance even though the two main characters are men.

It is bright, quirky, witty and violent.  DH Lawrence it ain’t.

Things I think about when I try and match up three dozen pairs of black socks

  • Is that Bart’s real hair or an actual bird nest made of the stuff that comes out when you take out the vacuum cleaner filters?
  • Amanda’s eyeliner = a work of art.
  • That boat in a field in series 2 – what was all that about? Where did it come from?
  • And I’ve forgotten what happened to the kitten-shark in series 1. Hope it’s ok.
  • The missing person cops in series 1 – they were good. Killing them, that was a shame.
  • Lux Dujour – why has no-one called their band that yet?
  • I don’t trust Farah’s brother.

Things I Watch When I Am Ironing #12 : Dick Turpin season 1 (1979)

Dick Turpin title sequence

When I was twelve, Dick Turpin was the most exciting programme on a TV calendar that included such classics as The Muppet Show, 3-2-1, Tales of the Unexpected and Not The Nine O’Clock News, as well as unappreciated gems Sapphire and Steel (sheer brilliance), It’s A Knockout and Rentaghost ***pause for misty-eyed reminiscences***.

Robin’s Nest and Man About The House – Richard O’Sullivan’s previous shows – had never darkened our black and white screen, which was fiercely policed by my father, who would have no truck with light comedy (Are You Being Served and It Ain’t Half Hot Mum excepted).

Therefore, I had no preconceived ideas about O’Sullivan as a lightweight beta male flummoxed by female flatmates and one-armed kitchen hands. To me, he was a dashing, dandy highwayman with a strong sword arm and a warm heart.

Dick Turpin & Swiftnick

Dick and Swiftnick. What larks they had

I loved the series so much I bought the book (see previous post), and reading must have cemented the storylines in my head, because I can remember every one of them. For someone who regularly forgets where the reverse gear is on my car, this is momentous.

I also discovered  that when it comes to fiction and drama, most of the things I love now are just a midnight gallop away back to Dick Turpin. Outlaws! Swords! Flintlocks! Dastardly plots! Rougeish heroes! Cunning tricks! Feisty women! Inns and ale and pies! Billowing white shirts! And I thought my finely honed writing style was the result of decades of experience and painful fine tuning.

Apart from the nostalgia hit, the programme itself has survived the last 38 years with surprising robustness. The acting is low key but solid, and while all the action seems to take place around the same field and tumbledown barn, it is still exciting and atmospheric.

A favourite episode is The Poacher, when Dick and his sidekick Swiftnick come across a perfumed fop called Wiloughby who has – apparently – just been robbed. Dick later fools Wiloughby by pretending to be a bewigged buffoon himself, but in a double twist, Wiloughby turns out to be a highwayman in disguise. The scene where they are trading quips while swordfighting back to back is sheer swashbuckling fun.

The Imposter, where Swiftnick’s uncle is shot and everyone blames Dick, is both shocking and satisfying, but the best episode is the last one of the series, The Jail-birds. The main characters – both good and nasty – end up locked in a cell together. There is very little action, just a lot of smart dialogue, some real history chucked in, a cunning twist and the re-emergence of a forgotten character as an unlikely saviour.

Scene from Dick Turpin

Richard O’Sullivan punching his way out of a brown paper bag

Dafter episodes involve Dick being mistaken for a prize-fighter and having to beat the local big bully (cue snorts of derision from my father, who hooted that Richard O’Sullivan couldn’t punch his way out of a brown paper bag. Why the colour of the bag mattered, I have no idea).

Having a rogue highwayman who turned out to be a beautiful woman (gasp! how could no-one tell?) in The Pursuit was an excuse to inject some frilly 17th Century lingerie into the show and The Hostages – where big baddy Sir John Glutton suddenly develops a never-before-mentioned niece and Swiftnick is involved in a half-arsed kidnap attempt – felt as if it had been dreamed up on the back of a beer mat.

I was gutted to discover Series 2 isn’t on YouTube, but there is a DVD – and Christmas is coming.

Things I Watch When I Am Ironing #11: American Gods

Ian McShane as Mr Wednesday in American Gods

Big Neil Gaiman fan here. I especially liked Ocean At The End of the Lane and Neverwhere. I bloody loved Neverwhere. I never read American Gods though, so apart from a big bowlful of magical realism, I didn’t know what to expect.
I still don’t know what to expect.

The thing that I suppose has put off anyone trying to adapt American Gods before, is that it isn’t a start to finish story but a massive ever-evolving circle.

Czernobog

This is Czernobog and this is his hammer

Nothing is explained, and at the start you have to just sit back and enjoy the road trip.
It is the stunning cinematography that kept me watching at first; one tiny but exquisitely crafted scene saw a road map of Illinois swivel and transform seamlessly into the lock on a motel room door.
No-one strikes a match in American Gods without the scene slowing down and zooming in so you can see every particle of the match, hear every crackle of the tiny flame.

The plot is a road movie crossed with a fantasy quest: An extraordinarily dense ex-con called Shadow Moon is taken up by a mysterious con-artist called Mr Wednesday.
Wednesday is travelling through middle America visiting oddballs and persuading them to meet him in Wisconsin for a war.
They – or, to be precise, Shadow – are pursued by some Bad Guys who take over TVs and talk in riddles.
It takes Shadow a long, long time – the whole series in fact – to suss out that Wednesday is recruiting a gang of old gods to fight the new gods and that his boss is one of the original old-style war gods, Odin himself (the clue was in the name – Odin/Woden’s day = Wednesday).

Put like that, it sounds a bit like a Marvel super heroes movie, but it’s not even on the same planet.
In Gaiman’s world, gods aren’t buff do-gooders with a paper-thin backstory. Instead, they rely on worship – on people praying to them, sacrificing to them, building altars to them.
Once they are forgotten by their disciples, they die. In modern day America, the gods are now technology, media and globalisation, and they are vast and powerful, taking over many of the old beliefs and forging them again – like turning Easter into a chintz-fest of white rabbits and pastel-coloured macaroons.

Is your heart heavier than a feather? Well, is it?

The old gods are muttering in damp apartments or desperately flicking through Tindr in search of worshippers. They were brought to America by settlers, and some of the best scenes in the series depict how this happened.
A boat of early Viking raiders summon Odin, and leave him there when they decide the New World is a bit too rubbish. An Irish woman sentenced to transportation brings with her belief in the little folk; a Muslim woman who heard tales of the Egyptian dieties from her mother holds them in her heart when she moves to America; Ghanian teller of tales Anansi, the spider god, arrived with slaves in the sweating hold of a Dutch cargo ship.

The clincher as to whether I loved this series or just sort of admired it came at the start of episode three. The Egyptian woman – now living in Queens – falls off a rickety stool, dies, and is visited by Anubis, who weighs her heart and invites her to choose which door she will pass through into the underworld. This small scene was breathtakingly beautiful. The camera falls dizzyingly down through the apartment block, then journeys back up the fire escape to a sun-crossed land of ancient deserts. The woman’s face is careworn but beautiful, the colours are like a hand-tinted sepia film reel. I had to watch it three times.

Laura Moon

Laura Moon. Dead wife. With flies

If there is one thing American Gods has, it is depth. We don’t need to see the goddess Bilquis absorbing people into her vagina (yes, she actually does that. Loads of times). We don’t need to hear Anansi, Ghanian god of storytelling, tell it like it is to a sweltering hold of African slaves. But they give the series a boundless horizon, a sense that anything could happen.

And we will have to wait until the next season to find out exactly what is going to happen. Series one ends with nothing resolved and everything still to play for. I can’t wait that long – I’ve started reading the book.

Things I think about as I colour-co-ordinate my pegs

  • If Shadow’s dead wife Laura Moon is brought back to life what will happen to her half-rotted body? And what about the fact she has no organs? How does this resurrection stuff work anyway?
  • She tried to kill herself with fly-spray and is now surrounded by flies attracted to her rotten maggoty flesh. I see that. But don’t get it.
  • And why is Laura so superhumanly strong now she’s dead? OK, enough about Laura now.
  • Shadow Moon is really a bit of a docile thickie, so why are the nasty new gods so keen to recruit him? Why does everyone already know who he is?
  • Is a leprechaun a god? I thought they were just like Little People from the land of faerie, hanging about around rainbows and stuff.
  • That bank job Wednesday pulls, acting like a security guard. Would that work? (Asking for a friend).

Things I Watch When I Am Ironing #10: Ripper Street, Seasons 4 & 5

Ripper Street Season 4 (Amazon)

I was SO pleased when Amazon took over Ripper Street after the BBC wandered off. And now I am SO pleased it is over.

Ripper Street had a great cast, a steampunk script and an endless supply of blood and gutsy murders. Season 4 continued this to some extent, luring perpetually troubled Inspector Edmund Reid (consistently good Matthew Macfadyen) and the irritatingly perky Mathilda (Anna Burnett) back to dirty Whitechapel from the seaside backwater where they had been living in boring peace.

As Bennet Drake (best side-kick ever Jerome Flynn) is now the boss of H Division, and Reid a mere special constable, tensions are inevitable. This is compounded by the fact that Long Susan (MyAnna Buring) is about to be hanged and Captain Jackson (Adam Rothenberg) is acting all drunk and not bothered and their son, Connor, is to be brought up by Rose (Charlene McKenna) and Drake. Oh, and Mathilda is making all the eyes at desk sergeant Drummond (Matthew Lewis), who resorts to reading Dracula to try and impress her.

Jedediah Shine, Ripper Street

Don’t dial 999 for him. Jedediah Shine, brilliantly played by Joseph Mawle

So far, so Ripper Street. Storylines involving amateur footballers and blood splatters, an evil workhouse owner and a blood transfusion gone horribly wrong recapture the grisly magic of Ripper Street of old.

However, there were some sneaky storylines underlying it all that should have alerted me to what awaited in Season 5. Firstly, there is Augustus Dove (Killian Scott), an unbelievably young and even more unbelievably reasonable assistant commissioner. Then the cold case involving the murder of a local rabbi and talk of a Whitechapel golem. Finally, there is Long Susan’s execution. She killed 52 people just so she could put a hospital in her front room! We don’t feel sorry for her, and Jackson is better off without her. Instead, he comes up with a daft plan and saves her from the rope. Boo.

Season 5 has a single storyline. Even the title music has changed, and Reid keeps forgetting to shave, just so you know that everything has taken a darker turn. Pantomime villain Jedediah Shine (played terrifyingly well by Joseph Mawle) turns up to take over when Drake is killed, Rose – who seemed to be a completely different person than in previous seasons – turn traitor then trundles off to Blackpool and Augustus Dove decides to bring up Connor, with the help of a cruel governess. Reid, Jackson and Long Susan hide out in a theatre owned by Jackson’s previous amour, the witty Mimi (Lydia Wilson), who had some of the best lines in the series.

It all trundles along, with everyone knowing what is going on but no-one able to bring anything to any kind of conclusion. In the end, I forgot I was watching the final series, wandering over to iPlayer documentaries and YouTube film noirs when I was ironing instead. Then a severe sinus infection knocked me flat into bed for three days and all I could do was stare at the iPad and sniff. It seemed the ideal time to finally cross Ripper Street off my list.

Long Susan and Nathanial Dove

Long Susan and Nathanial Dove – we know what awaits them, and it ain’t a happy ending

It wasn’t all bad. David Threlfall as Abel Croker was an excellent addition to Season 4, and jaunty Sergeant Thatcher (Benjamin O’Mahony) made up for the absence of old favourite, slimy journalist Fred Best, who was killed in Season 3. Nathaniel Dove (Jonas Armstrong), Augustus’s murderous brother, was brilliantly portrayed, as you wondered who was the real animal – the man who couldn’t help himself, or the one who could but killed children to cover up his brother’s madness.

As always, the staging and photography was a treat. The smoke of the Thames Ironworks, peeling plaster of Newgate Gaol and billboard-plastered alley walls were all atmospherically recreated. But the final series just wasn’t Ripper Street, it was a two-episode storyline stretched so much you could hear the whalebone snapping.

A lot of critics disliked the final episode, but I thought it redeemed the series somewhat. By wrapping the storyline to its obviously inevitable ending half way through, it left the second half open for flashbacks (Drake and Best reappear!) and a lingering farewell. Reid carries on, his best friend dead, everyone else he cares about moving on and moving away. He remains at Leman street, haunted by the one crime he could not solve – Jack the Ripper – and spending the last minutes of the old century alone, reading through the night’s crime reports.

Things I think about when I sort through the linen basket:

  • Did Augustus Dove’s lisp get more pronounced as the series went on or did I just become more attuned to it?
  • Who caught the eels for the Sumner family before Nathaniel turned up? Thatcher said they were the ‘best eels in London’…
  • I lost track of Rachel Costello (Anna Koval) that determined new reporter who was on Dove’s trail. Where did she go after Shine menaced her? Why didn’t she scream blue murder to the people in the next office when he had his hands up her petticoats?
  • Why did clever Mimi have to go and marry some old bloke? Why couldn’t she carry on having cosy suppers with poor lonely Inspector Reid? Why?

Things I Watch When I Am Ironing #9: RuPaul’s Drag Race, Seasons 2-7

RuPaul

***NO SPOILERS*****NO SPOILERS*****NO SPOILERS***

I was introduced to RuPaul’s Drag Race by my step-daughter, who said her proudest moment would be if her brother ever appeared on it.
I don’t know why it isn’t more of a (female?) phenomenon in the UK, because it combines everything you could want from a hard-fought reality show, as well as providing for all your comedy, high fashion, emotional backstory and killer bitchiness needs.

Sharon Needles. Need I say more?

Sharon Needles. Need I say more?

RuPaul Charles is a drag queen (read ‘Drag Superstar of the World’). Out of drag, he is a very tall, slim and slightly geeky black man. In drag he is an amazing glamazonian with blonde hair, model-looks and sequined designer gowns. We are not talking Danny La Rue here.
The programme is sort of a Great British Bake-Off for drag queens, of which America seems to have an unending supply. At the start of the series, 12 men dressed up as women pitch up in a large workroom and are giving various tasks to do. At the end of each week, one is sent home until the season finale crowns the Next Drag Superstar.
RuPaul is the Mary Berry in heels and a corset presiding over it all, helped by a panel of C-list judges. He offers inspiring advice and killer put-downs in equal measure.
It is as hilarious, eyebrow-raising and gross as it sounds – as well as inspiring and touching.

Courtney Act

This is Courtney Act. She. Is. A. Man

In the UK, we see drag queens as little more than pantomime dames. In Drag Race, where drag is an art, it is obvious they are so much more than that. There are the comedy queens, of course, but there are also the pageant queens, in foot-long false eyelashes and over the top prom dresses, the fishy queens who look so much like women (fish=woman, you don’t need to know why) it is unnerving, the East Coast queens in their weird, edgy drag that usually involves sticking bits of hairdryers all over a bodystocking and talking about My Art and the plus-size queens with their Large and In Charge ethos.
The tasks are either silly, hilarious or just ewww.

The queens have to dress non-drag men up as fellow queens, take part in mini-Broadway shows or exercise videos, record a song (promoting whatever single RuPaul has just released), dress puppets up as fellow queens or guess the colour of a load of beefy assistants underpants.

Stacey Lane Matthews

Stacy was chunky but not very funky

At the end of every show there is a catwalk, where they have to strut in their best drag to a different theme each week, ranging from Gold Eleganza to Executive Realness. After telling each queen how she had let herself – and, more importantly, Mama Ru, down, RuPaul selects the bottom two who will have to Lypsynch For Your Life.

Cue over the top dance moves, splits (‘she dropped it like it was hot’), and wig swinging (in one memorable Lypsynch, one queen dragged off her wig only to reveal another wig underneath). Ru delivers her verdict, telling the losing queen to ‘Sashay away’, which she does with her head held high and a few bitchy words for the camera back in the workroom. You don’t get that on Strictly.

Stacey Lane Matthews

Stacy Layne out of drag. Or is she?

The show’s production values are as trashy as the queens’ outfits. Sponsors get any number of mentions, the stages are tiny, the audience, when they have one, is about a dozen people. Everything is held together with hundreds of catchphrases you will soon find yourself incorporating into everyday life, such as remember – don’t fuck it up, or no tea, no shade, no pink lemonade and can I get an Amen in here? Oh, and a phrase for every situation – don’t blow your nose on the fabric, baitch!

Stuff I think about when sewing on my sequins:

  • You need a suitably draggy name – try Pandora Box, Sharon Needles, Milk, The Princess, Ginger Minj, Shangela, Penny Tration and Jujubee for size.
  • You have to be gay. You don’t have to be, but they all are.
  • You have to be able to read – give someone a dressing down in the most bitchy way possible (usually preceded by donning a pair of plastic glasses and announcing ‘the library is open’).
  • You have to say fuck a lot. All the queens swear vilely, all the time.
  • You have to know how to tuck (go look it up) – a meaty tuck is to be avoided at all costs. You also have to cinch (to avoid hogbody) and pad. It’s a whole new world.
  • You have to have a tearful back story. Actually, this isn’t true. Some of the queens have lovely, supportive families, but they are in the minority. Most were bullied at school for being gay and effeminate, many have parents who can’t accept their lifestyles, some are totally estranged from their families. Ah, the shade of it all…
RuPaul season 6 lineup

The Season 6 line-up – fave series so far. Every queen was a winner (except Laganja Estranja, obvs)