Hide your feather boas, because drag trio Shangela Laquifa Wadley, Eureka O’Hara, and Bob The Drag Queen are about to strut their glittery, bejeweled heels into a small town in middle America every week to transform local residents into their drag daughters.
The latest show in drag TV’s ever-expanding arsenal, We’re Here has glitter to spare and an emotional core that elevates its simple premise.
Each episode establishes familiar beats: first there is the initial collision of drag culture and small-town life as the queens hilariously walk through town squares in head-to-toe drag decadence. The three queens separate to meet their new drag daughters, ask them about their stories and motivations, and mentor them through the entire drag process. Then, all 6+ queens unite for a one-night-only drag spectacular in front of a live crowd of locals.
“There’s no duct tape involved in tucking, right? Not for that….specific region?” — Clifton, Eureka’s drag daughter in episode 2
We’re Here would be nothing without the charisma, uniqueness, nerve, and talent of its central cast, because, gurl, can they command a screen. Bob the Drag Queen walked away from Rupaul’s Drag Race Season 8 with a well-earned crown. Eureka competed twice and became runner-up in Season 10. And the drag persona of Shangela has seemingly grown-up in the public eye: first on Season 2 and 3, then with cameos in shows as varied as Community and Broad City, and finally as a fully-fledged mama drag queen robbed of a title in All Stars Season Three. They’re seen their way around some lip syncs, mama, and it shows. They’re magnetic.
But We’re Here is at its best when it takes a pause from the traditional high-octane energy of most drag personas.. Led with a deft hand by director Peter LoGreco, We’re Here feels more like a documentary than a traditional feel-good reality make-over show, earning its sixty-minute runtime. The show takes its time wandering through the characters’ lives, stories, never skipping past smaller moments, like straight drag daughter Clifton bonding with his dog as he reminisces about his experiences with gay classmates from high school. Even during the show-stopping finales, We’re Here makes a point of showing tiny details backstage that are just as climatic for the queens themselves. By slowing down, and taking their time establishing the local character, the finale performances earn their extra ooh-ah-ah-sensation.
And a sensation they are; the final performances are where We’re Here really shines. Each musical finale was edited with a tender touch, full of close-ups of each drag queen’s face as a myriad of emotions flit across in front of the crowd: fear, excitement, confidence, and finally pride. When the audiences erupts in applause, the emotions can be felt through the TV screen.
LGBTQ+ Pride is the core theme here. We’re Here strives to show every facet of this complicated communal phenomenon. Each episode is not named for the characters it slathers make-up on, but for its setting: “Twin Falls, Idaho”, “Gettysburg, Pennsylvania”, or “Branson, Missouri”. Each element of the episode paints a picture of the strained relationships within the town itself, not just the civilians mentored by the central trio. We’re Here seeks to tell stories larger than one specific person, but of an entire community struggling with LGBTQ identity. Pride cannot belong to just one person, We’re Here argues, but to a collective.
The drag daughters themselves run the LGBTQ gamut: transgender men, bisexual women, amateur drag queens, apologetic former homophobes, straight allies. It goes well beyond the gay male perspective of sister show RPDR; LGBTQ identity is more nuanced than gay men dressing like women.
And their motivations for drag are similarly varied: queer people use it for self-expression, straight people use it to show ally-ship. In a particularly bittersweet moment, mother Erica tearfully confesses that her drag character represents an olive branch: a way to reach out to an estranged bisexual daughter after a less-than-accepting response to her coming out.
Regardless of the characters’ motivations for donning dresses, Shangela, Bob, and Eureka make their own motivations clear. They seek to use their art form as a tool to discuss queer issues within a large community. They seek to include a variety of perspectives: I commend the show for not exclusively drag-ifying gay men, but straight allies as well. We’re Here is as much for heterosexual audiences as it is for gay ones. Visibility matters.
“I hope that this performance will . . . show my family that my relationship with Mikayla is perfect the way that it is.”
Trans man Brandon stiffly smiles as his glitter beard is emphatically doled on. His nerves are palpable. A scene, later as he belts out the chorus to “This is Me” while dressed in a queer recreation of his wedding tuxedo, his vulnerability becomes his shield in front of a crowd of hundreds and a viewership of millions. ‘This is Me’ he mouths. ‘We’re Here.’
And if We’re Here’s tremendous opening episodes are any indication, it’s here to stay.
We’re Here is airing Thursdays on HBO.