I can’t attest to the entire slate of Netflix series — there are roughly 200 million of them — but I hazard to guess that among the original documentaries, standup specials, movies, comedies and dramas, there’s been nary a traditional reality show among the lot… until now. Because on Friday, Dancing Queen drops all eight of its episodes.
This might not be cause to take notice, except that the location of the series is North Texas and the subject of it is Justin Johnson, better known by the nom-de-drag Alyssa Edwards. Alyssa, of course, is a fierce local pageant queen, and a fan favorite from her stints on RuPaul’s Drag Race, but out of dresses, he’s Justin, an experienced dancer from Mesquite, Texas. And over in Mesquite, he’s better known to stage moms and tween girls as the demanding studio owner and coach who turns little princesses’ dreams of being ballerinas into something approaching reality.
If you’ve seen Dance Moms (or Toddlers and Tiaras, etc.), you probably have a sense for the kind of show Dancing Queen is; the tension gets uncomfortable in Episode 2, when Justin has to pick the “haves” and “have-nots” among his students, and at least one mom confronts him about how he could pick another girl over her daughter. But Justin defuses the situation by reassuring the child, if not the parent; when mom then gets vicious, he walks about.
Let that sink in: The drag queen avoids the fight and takes the higher ground. That alone sets this show apart.
And maybe only that. The “candid” moments, as with most reality TV, are contrived (Justin revisiting the home he grew up in, as if it just occurred to him on the spur of the moment to drive by), even if the emotions are authentic; the beats predictably divided as if by commercial breaks (even though there are no commercials on Netflix). It might as well be scripted.
But then there’s Justin/Alyssa, whose homespun, scrappy, buck-toothed trashiness gussies up into an equally trashy glamour queen, makes a likable onscreen personality (though nobody need me to tell them that). And the local scenery (The Tejas Motel on I-30 makes a fleeting appearance, as does the Round-Up Saloon, among other locales) and seeing some of the background people will trigger nods of familiarity for locals. (They use the industrial-strength filter in many of the scenes not seen since a pound of Vaseline made Joan Collins look 20 years younger.) On the other hand, Justin is the only memorable character in the two episodes made available for preview. And because the entire first season can be binged in an afternoon, I’m not sure what will compel viewers to come back a year from now…. Unless you think they might bring you in to be a star. Good luck with that.
— Arnold Wayne Jones