Former RuPaul’s Drag Race contestants Trixie and Katya found small screen drag queen stardom with their own show. Annie Fell discusses queer rebellion, webseries glowups and sex, drugs & drag queens in VICELAND’s The Trixie & Katya Show.
When Trixie Mattel and Katya Zamolodchikova first entered the workroom on the seventh season of RuPaul’s Drag Race, they both immediately stood out from their competitors. Taking one look at Trixie’s intentionally clownish Body Horror Barbie makeup, Jaidynn Diore Fierce remarked, “Uh, well, here’s another comedy queen.” (For the record, Ms. Fierce sashayed away two episodes before Trixie). While Katya seemed to fly under the radar among her fellow queens, her manically lucid confessionals quickly established her as the show’s Greek chorus. Neither Trixie nor Katya made it to the top three, but still somehow managed to be the most memorable personalities of the season.
Unsurprisingly (and deservedly), RuPaul’s production company World of Wonder gave those personalities a blank check in the form of a web series. Enter, UNHhhh. The guttural moan of the title appropriately encapsulated the weekly show’s modus operandi. Sitting before a green screen which animated their quips with iMovie-quality graphics, Trixie and Katya would rant with little-to-no focus about topics like drugs, plastic surgery, and porn. Though, as each episode’s intro states, it’s their show and “not yours,” they were occasionally joined by a guest. In an episode featuring fellow former Drag Race contestant Willam, the three discuss sex work with the gravitas of recounting what they ate for lunch – Willam and Katya have partaken, while Trixie’s only worked pro bono. The webseries went expectedly viral, with a majority of the episodes pulling in over a million views.
One of the few good things to happen in this trash fire of a year is that Viceland turned UNHhhh into a real cable TV series, aptly titled The Trixie & Katya Show. It follows a similar format to the web series, but has introduced the addition of “man on the street” segments – Katya and Trixie out of drag quizzing people on the streets of Hollywood – and interviews with guests who have thus far included a porn star, a mortician, and an anonymous guy they summoned from Grindr.
What set Trixie and Katya’s web series apart from the others hosted by RuPaul-iverse queens on WOWPresents and helped it become the channel’s only viral hit was its absurd-bordering-on-avant-garde visuals. Maybe my brain’s speedometer has been permanently busted by recreational adderall use, but the psychotic, jumpy editing that UNHhhh became known for was probably the most pleasing pacing for a TV show I’ve ever seen. While the Viceland version still has a manic energy, it’s overall more focused and streamlined, which is unfortunate, but understandable. The series kicked off with an episode focused on “hooking up,” tackling topics like having sex in drag and the late great MTV “reality” show Next. Though slightly tamer than its predecessor, The Trixie & Katya Show is carrying on UNHhhh’s tradition of aggressive quotability (e.g., Trixie on not being a big drinker: “You know, sometimes I’ll come home and have a tumbler of Total Care Zero Listerine; that’s it. And I keep a Four Loko in the house, but just for sterilizing wounds.”).
At UnPlugged, one of their recent live shows, Trixie stated of the series: “We have drag queens on television, and that’s great.” Not only is it great, but, in the Year of Satan 2017, it feels almost unimaginable. So many shows claim to be punk or boundary-pushing, especially within the context of our unfathomably regressive political and social climate, but The Trixie & Katya Show may be the only one that genuinely is. It’s not simply that they’re dressing in drag – there are plenty of regressive drag queens, if you count Adam Sandler and Matt Lauer – or that they’re discussing taboo subjects, but what makes the show revolutionary is that they present them in a way that is so wildly normal. They’re not talking about porn, sex work, or drugs to be outrageous or edgy, nor are they purporting to present a complex analysis of the effects of any of these things – they’re just making fun of the shit that they, and plenty of other people, encounter and experience in their daily lives. It’s a subtle kind of visibility – one that relies on blending in despite political alienation. They’re not trying to be radicals, they just inherently are.
At the risk of hyperbole, The Trixie & Katya Show feels epochal. Twenty-one years after the premiere of RuPaul’s VH1 talk show, The RuPaul Show, the duo seem primed to take his place as the mainstream flag bearers of queer rebellion. A half-hour comedy on a fairly niche cable network may not seem consequential, but in this nightmare of a political era, it feels big and necessary. No matter what, we have more drag queens on TV now, and that’s really, really great.