RuPaul’s Drag Race frequently alludes to the tight-knit, supportive communities that its queens hail from, but alas: because it is a competition, it mostly just shows them being total c*nts. Ironically, it has taken a new show called Shade: Queens of NYC to explore how drag queens act when they aren’t throwing shade. By removing the artifice and toxicity inherent in Drag Race — and every other reality competition, for that matter — Shade is pulling back the curtain on the personal and political pursuits of real-life working queens in a city that’s already naturally competitive.
At first, Shade comes off like a Real Housewives spinoff with (tucked) balls. The main cast members — which include a Juilliard-trained Korean opera singer and a local community leader — each have their own segment in the opening sequence. Plus, there’s a mild undercurrent of cattiness in several interactions between the queens, and they even have Real Housewife style taglines in this recent teaser for the show:
But because this is a thoughtful docu-series produced by Fusion TV — a “home for passionate and diverse people to share their stories,” according to a statement — Shade largely avoids focusing on interpersonal conflict and instead chooses to highlight real issues that modern drag queens face. In one clip from the premiere episode, Marti Gould Cummings, who moonlights as president of the Hell’s Kitchen Democrats, urges a congregation of local community members to “Trump-proof” their neighborhood. She then pounds the pavement with fellow queens Brita Filter and Holly Box-Springs to put up “safe space” posters around the neighborhood. The posters signal which establishments are welcoming to all ethnicities, orientations, gender expressions, and religions. Thus, instead of bickering and dumping drinks on each other’s gowns, these queens are actually forgetting their differences and coming together to effect positive change in their community. It’s a storyline that’s practically unheard of on reality TV.
While RuPaul’s Drag Race never shies away from detailing the long hours, hard work, and many struggles that go hand-in-hand with being a top queen, Shade: Queens of NYC has more time to explore the less-glamorous realities of drag. Instead of scenes of queens hilariously talking shit about each other behind each other’s backs, there are relatively conflict-less scenes involving fabric shopping. The queens of Shade aren’t larger-than-life personalities fighting for greater fame and fortune; these are real working queens just trying to get by and make a living. But in case you’re worried that doesn’t sound like an entertaining concept, you should know that each episode still features plenty of lip syncing.
Shade: Queens of NYC premieres Thursday, October 5 at 10:30 pm ET on FUSION TV.