Maybe I just needed a brief respite from the summer glut of crime dramas, but what a relief to watch a few hours of guilty-pleasurable TV that takes itself the opposite of seriously.
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Fans of high-camp/big-heart TV are in for a treat Monday night, as Logo unveils RuPaul's Drag U, a garish yet unexpectedly touching spin-off of the similarly over-the-top gender-bending RuPaul's Drag Race, that America's Next Top Model clone (though much more entertaining) where drag divas claw it out for top honors.
In Drag U, the statuesque RuPaul is back as giddy headmaster (in his male, if not especially masculine, guise) while several of his more colorful Drag Race protégés take on the "professor" mentor role. (In this week's premiere, arch-rivals Raven and Jujube face off as coaches, along with season 1's Ongina.) Their challenge: to take "biological females" who no longer feel fabulous—in this case, "tomboys" who are allergic to dresses and heels—and transform them into drag-licious queens for a day. Or, as RuPaul tasks his drag faculty: "You lady-boys need to show these boy-ladies how it's done."
And how it's done is by turns outrageous, hilarious and, most important, emotionally Ru-affirming as the dragsters instill confidence and attitude in their students, boosting their DPA (Drag Point Average) as they get primped, bewigged and even choreographed en route toward a runway "drag-uation" ceremony. "This isn't going to be pretty," mutters the biker chick Linda in preparation for becoming the Mae West-like Paya La Renta. Pretty, no; pretty enjoyable, yes.
"At least she doesn't have to tuck," remarks Ru ruefully of one of the contestants. While the competition is fun, especially when Jujube wigs out over rival coach Raven's backstage dirty tricks, it doesn't really matter which of the players wins any given week. They're all good sports, glowing in the spotlight and growing along the way. One contestant, who says the idea of being in a dress makes her feel weak, learns to find power in femininity. And Linda the biker chick finally concedes, "I am a beautiful woman."
Hear them roar while you roar with laughter. Drag U is as delightful as makeover shows get.
Meanwhile, Lifetime is all pimped out for big ratings (if it can steal some audience away from that powerful TNT Monday night combo of The Closer and Rizzoli & Isles), offering a classic example of campy TV-movie melodrama. The Client List, which could just as easily be titled Mama Will Provide—By Turning Tricks, takes salacious subject matter and subjects it to tear-blotched angst, though with a bit more wit than you might expect. The schmaltz is undercut by sass in the script by sitcom vet Suzanne Martin (Hot in Cleveland, Frasier), which hits all the usual manipulative beats from the "based on a true story" genre, but it's like the madam at Kind Touch Health Spa says: "We're like Dairy Queen, except not flattening."
Star/producer Jennifer Love Hewitt cries and suffers a lot—including a lickety-split coke addiction—before the redemptive end, but also gets to parade in a montage of fetching negligees while charming her clients with a sympathetic ear, home-baked cookies and even marital advice. "She's been busy as popcorn," says her approving madam in one of the movie's many quirky Texas-isms. (What is it with Texas and whorehouses, anyway?)
The Client List doles out T&A and sympathy in equal doses. Hewitt's character of Samantha (aka "Brandy") Horton is a former Texas beauty queen turned suburban wife/mom whose family has hit hard economic times, forcing her into "the most recession-proof business there is." It's all very broad (pun unintentional), including Cybill Shepherd's dry performance as Sam's snarky mom—reminding us how times have changed, because didn't Cybill star in at least a few movies like this back in the day?
At one point, granny Cybill barks, "I could eat a buttered monkey," and those with a taste for this sort of thing will similarly devour it, even when the fun stops and things get messily public.
"Why is this national news?" says a local barfly watching the shame unfold on TV. To which another bystander replies: "Because it's about sex and not about them."
RuPaul's Drag U premieres Monday, 9/8c, on Logo
The Client List premieres Monday, 9/8c, on Lifetime