When real life is too much—and in 2017, every day is too much—pop culture’s first impulse is to escape into fantasy. And who knows more about fantasy than drag queens? Thus far, the RuPaul’s Drag Race industrial complex has produced two TV spinoffs (Drag U and RuPaul’s All Stars Drag Race), an aftershow of sorts in the form of Untucked, a couple of comedy specials, several live touring shows, and a whole mess of web series hosted by Drag Race alumni on Drag Race production company World of Wonder’s YouTube channel. Now, two of Ru’s little baby birds, Trixie Mattel and Katya Zamolodchikova, are leaving the nest, taking their web series UNHhhh—whose filthy, free-form virtues we extolled on this very website earlier this year—and expanding it into a half-hour show for Viceland.
Happily, the duo’s comedic chemistry, which was allowed to run free as a majestic stallion with the wind blowing through its luscious mane online, has made the transition from YouTube to TV fully intact. Each episode of The Trixie & Katya Show opens with a segment where Trixie and Katya riff on the topic of the week, playing Katya’s blunt self-depreciation off of Trixie’s inspired free association. These segments are like hanging out with two of your funniest—these two are much better at improv than most stand-up comedians, and the jokes come fast and razor-sharp—most dirty-minded friends, and frankly a half hour of that would be better than fine. It would be pure heroin for Drag Race fans. But TV demands some sort of structure, and so after the opening riff The Trixie & Katya Show breaks off into segments, some regular and some one-offs.
Some of these these segments—including a “Man on the Street” bit featuring the stars out of drag, a green-screen interview segment called “Giving Heads,” and a closing bit called “Things That Make Us Go Unhhh” that’s sort of like Bill Maher’s “New Rules,” only way less smug—are funnier than others, meaning some are “pee your pants” funny and others are just regular funny. But by and large they all land. Trixie and Katya are at their best with edgy, boundary-pushing (but not especially political) material, which leads to a lot of explicit sex talk, like the shockingly frank discussions of coke dick and Katya’s love of priest porn. Even the third episode, “Death,” is full of sex jokes. So yeah, maybe don’t watch the late-night drag queen comedy show on the pot channel with your granddad, unless your granddad is a pot-smoking drag queen.
It’ll be interesting to see where and how far Trixie and Katya can take this format. Many of the recurring gags are carried over from the web series, and although Trixie & Katya the TV show feels just ever so slightly slower paced than Trixie & Katya the web series, that simply means there’s a joke every two seconds instead of every second. But UNHhhh lasted for 68 episodes on YouTube, and while Katya remains as solid as ever, Trixie has grown immensely as a performer since her days on Drag Race. In making the transition to TV, the duo has made all the right decisions, embracing ‘90s kitsch in the MTV-inspired graphics that bookend each episode and making some concessions to the new format while hanging on to what made the web series popular. At this point, it’s a matter of stamina. And we’re sure they’d both have a good comeback about that.