I’ll admit to being a little skeptical about RuPaul’s Drag Race: Vegas Revue after VH1 posted the first three minutes of the premiere online. I wasn’t exactly looking forward to it before that, per sé, but I was intrigued at what the show could be. What put me off about the preview was that queens were seen promising drama over and over, but the clips of drama we saw were milquetoast at best. Case in point: Naomi Smalls, Season 8 and All Stars 4 supermodel queen apologizing for being late. Season 11 winner Yvie Oddly’s exaggerated “How DARE you?!” response is clearly a joke…but the preview plays it up for real drama.
Then there was the heavy focus on Season 10 and 11 breakout star Vanessa Vanjie Mateo’s hookup with Season 10 finalist Kameron Michaels, which I didn’t think I needed after a season of “Branjie”—the couple name for Vanjie and Season 11 runner-up-turned-Canada’s Drag Race host Brooke Lynn Hytes. And finally, you had the dark promise of COVID-19 shutting down the show, which is both necessary to include and something I deeply don’t want to think about. (Though the Legendary finale handled the COVID-19 outbreak’s on their show beautifully.)
So, okay, maybe I was more than a little skeptical. But after watching the premiere, I think there’s something pretty interesting in Vegas Revue. It’s more of a Bravo show than a Drag Race one, more akin to one of their workplace dramas like Below Deck or Vanderpump Rules. The difference, of course, is that we know all these characters from their previous time on Drag Race, not to mention keeping up with them in the years since. They come in with some pre-baked drama but don’t rest on it. The premiere does a much better job of selling me real upcoming storylines than the preview did—or, rather, could.
The secret of RuPaul’s Drag Race: Vegas Revue is that, while it ostensibly only has six main cast members—Vanjie, Kameron, Naomi, Yvie, Season 10 fan favourite Asia O’Hara, and Season 8 and All Stars 5 Britney Spears impersonator Derrick Barry—it actually has a crucial seventh player. Call her a Friend of the Dragwives, in reference to the “Friend of” recurring characters on the Real Housewives shows. (Speaking of Housewives: The queens basically get taglines in the opening credits, which is a fun touch.)
This Friend of the Dragwives is one of Derrick Barry’s boyfriends, Mack. If you’ve watched Season 5 of RuPaul’s Drag Race, you likely know her better as Nebraska Thunderfuck, Alaska’s one-time drag daughter in the makeover challenge. Mack is technically featured in the preview, comforting Derrick in one scene, but his involvement in the first episode is much greater. As the Vegas resident of the group, Derrick invites all the girls over for a party, only for Mack to openly beef with Naomi. Derrick and Naomi had bad blood in their season, which leads to some leftover tension, but Mack is the one who lights the match and starts the fire.
“I don’t know what you want from me,” Naomi tells Derrick and Mack after exchanging some shady words at the party. “I don’t want you to be such a bitch,” Mack fires back. Then, when Naomi says she’ll happily go if Derrick doesn’t like the way she’s acting, and Derrick insists that’s not the problem, Mack throws more gas on the fire: “I don’t like the way that you’re acting.” Later in the episode, Mack shows up in full Nebraska drag while the girls are having a night out gambling, which promises even more drama in the second episode.
Bringing Mack/Nebraska in as a villain is the smartest thing Drag Race: Vegas Revue could have done. It keeps us from directly rooting against any of the dolls—who we’re all supporting as they put on RuPaul’s Drag Race Live! at the Flamingo Las Vegas. That was my primary fear about the drama in the trailer: that production would squeeze any droplets of backstage drama out of the queens, and leave us not rooting for them by the end. Mack gifts us Bravo-style drama without the risk of turning us against one or more of the queens.
Also better than promised: The Kameron/Vanjie storyline. Yes, it’s a bit heavy-handed asking Vanjie if she’s looking for love in Vegas and all that. But the super interesting wrinkle to it all is that Kameron is seeing someone in New York, and has been for quite a while. They’re not exclusive or defined, but it’s clearly a relationship that means something to Kameron, which will make her hookup with Vanjie all the more thorny to unpack. Meanwhile, Vanjie says she wants “The Notebook, not a Post-It”—in other words, she wants romance, not a fling—which is in direct contradiction with Kameron having someone she’s seeing elsewhere. Messy! But the right kind of messy for a show like this.
In terms of the actual putting-on-a-show storyline: I’m iffy on it. I actually like RuPaul’s inclusion as a Lisa Vanderpump-type figure: Dropping in only occasionally, offering correction, and that’s about it. It’s the right dose of Ru to be effective. But I’m just not sure how compelling storylines like “Asia isn’t off-script!” or “Kameron’s having trouble with the choreography!” will be. It’s like the choreography drama of a Drag Race Rumix challenge made into a full mini-season of TV.
I’m much more invested in the queens’ personal relationships, both with each other and with others. I want to hear about Asia planning her wedding with a fiancé many states away! I want to see Yvie and Naomi bonding over pedicures! I want to learn more about Derrick’s home life! It’s not every day you see a throuple in bed together on TV, after all. Luckily, with opening night being in the second episode, I have to imagine the drama will largely shift to personal stuff afterward.
Whatever quibbles I have with Drag Race: Vegas Revue I have so far—some sluggish pacing, a bit too heavy a producer hand in confessionals—they are outweighed by how intrigued I was by the premiere. Fans of Drag Race might miss the competitive aspects, but fans of Bravo shows should feel right at home. This kind of show isn’t where I expected the Drag Race franchise would go next, but now that it’s here, I’m thrilled to watch what happens.