Dragnificent! is one of two shows to come out in recent weeks starring RuPaul’s Drag Race alumni. While HBO’s We’re Here is charming folks paying for higher-tier cable (review coming soon), TLC’s Dragnificent! is giving fans of shows like Say Yes to the Dress a new opportunity to escape the ills of the world through dress try-ons, tears, and voyeuristic marital bliss.
The series stars some of my favorites, Bebe Sahara Benet, Alexis Michelle, Jujubee and Thorgy Thor, who act as magical godmothers to their weekly subjects, who are like their Cinderellas. The quartet’s goal is to empower women to look and feel their best on their wedding day, which is a noble goal. And indeed, the show is entertaining in its comforting setup—introduce the audience to the woman of the week, help her discover her inner diva, give her an amazing wedding day and reception, and have the woman of the week praise the drag queens for changing her wedding and her life.
If you’re looking for simple, easy-to-digest fun, Dragnificent! is it, especially if you’re already a fan of Drag Race. But there’s something that could be said about how simple the show is. A very strong argument could be made that the show is pandering to straight audiences, particularly straight women who might only view drag queens as fanciful objects or cartoon characters rather than fully-rounded people with backstories, pains, triumphs and hardships. These queens have had to overcome a lot of boundaries and upsets within their own families, socially and within themselves to get to where they are today. They didn’t just wave a magic wand and become superstars, much less marketable drag queen personas.
Does Dragnificent! play into that type of pandering? Probably not in a malicious way, especially since there are still barriers to entry when it comes to getting LGBT+ content on “mainstream” channels, despite the success of Drag Race. There’s still a certain stereotype that gets accepted more readily by networks, and having a gay team of men help distressed women falls into that stereotype. We’ve seen it work expertly with both iterations of Queer Eye, for instance. Or, even with Say Yes to the Dress and Say Yes to the Dress: Atlanta, there’s the prerequisite kindly gay uncle figure that fits nicely into the puzzle of straight women looking for that “fabulous” touch to their lives. It makes you wonder how many of these women truly welcome these men for who they are, or do they just see them as talking accessories that will supplant them with magical wisdom, with the women giving nothing in return in terms of support or understanding.
This can be seen in the first episode, in which the woman subject in question asks the drag queens not to show up to her wedding in full drag because the wedding will be held at a small Catholic church. This request comes after 1) asking to be on the show and knowing what she was signing up for 2)receiving all of the help from the drag queens and 3)complimenting them on how courageous and fashionable and outspoken they were.
I understand some areas are thought of as being more conservative than most, and perhaps the queens in question didn’t have a problem with the request, but it seems like something was amiss, particularly with how the show provided the queen’s voice-over explaining that while they weren’t going to the wedding in drag, they would certainly show up in drag at the reception. The voice-over gives the appearance of trying to smooth over what could be a thorny topic in an otherwise frothy episode. But for me, it did just the opposite—it highlighted what was already a record-scratch and made it even more apparent.
Overall, though, Dragnificent! is a cool show to watch if you support these queens and want to see them succeed. I feel like the show has a lot of potential to be a fun, if simplistic, way for straight audiences curious about the world of drag and LGBT+ entertainment to welcome drag queens into their lives. It might be asking too much, but I’d hope that the impact of this show could make more of Middle America aware of (and care about) issues and topics that affect LGBT+ Americans, which include those in their families and neighborhoods. If the show can figure out how to handle thornier subjects in a way that doesn’t feel like it’s excusing bad behavior from straight women, then the show will have found its center.