Friday, January 10, 2020

REVIEW: 'AJ and the Queen' - Robert Is Close to Achieving His Dream Only for It All to Be Taken Away in 'New York City'

Netflix's AJ and the Queen - Episode 1.01 "New York City"

The story begins at the end of an era as Robert (aka Ruby Red) prepares for a new adventure. Elsewhere, young AJ endures the mean streets of Manhattan.

In 2019, the television industry aired 532 scripted shows across numerous outlets. The way people consume content now is different than it used to be. It happens according to one's own schedule. As such, it's less necessary to provide ample coverage of each episode in any given season from a show. Moreover, it is simply impossible to watch everything. As such, this site provides shorter episodic reviews in order to cover as many shows as possible. With all of that being said, here are my thoughts on the series premiere of Netflix's AJ and the Queen.

"New York City" was written by RuPaul Charles & Michael Patrick King and directed by Michael Patrick King

Ruby Red is a drag queen at the top of her game. This premiere features Robert as he is ready to quit the touring circuit in order to open his own drag club in Queens. He has been saving up and finally has the money to make it a reality. He feels loved and stable in his relationship with boyfriend, Hector. And then, everything implodes. Hector was actually a con artist who has taken all of Robert's money. And now, Robert has to go out on the road starting all over again. At times, it seems like the show is at its best and most vibrant when it focuses on Robert and Louis as drag queens who don't get the same respect as the shiny new young things performing at the clubs. Robert is perceived as too old while Louis has gone blind and deemed unable to perform. Both of them are incredibly talented and their bond together is absolutely electric. It's a fun character pairing. However, that doesn't seem to be the basis for the show. It certainly is in this first episode. But things seem likely to focus on the tour that Robert goes on with his stowaway, a runaway preteen named AJ. Now, it's clear that the narrative is always forcing Robert and AJ together. They present as a classic odd couple dynamic to form the heart of the show. He is a tall, vibrant drag queen with the confidence to rise up even when he is absolutely defeated. She is the plucky kid just doing whatever it takes to survive without having to return to the horrors of the foster care system. And yet, there is a perceived message about identity flowing throughout this story as well. It's a big shock to Robert when he realizes that AJ is a girl. He makes that declaration simply from seeing the long flowing hair hidden under her cap all the time. To him, that's the visual of femininity. AJ is a much more complex person than those specific terms though. This is a child who has no reason to be in Robert's care. In fact, it all seems like a scam just to ensure she doesn't have to return to the system. She insists that she has a grandfather in Texas which is where Robert is driving for his first tour performance. However, that seems tenuous at best. If she had a grandfather, child services likely would have contacted him to see if he could care for her after her mother went missing. It may all be a ruse in order to go on this adventure. Robert seems especially gullible. He trusted Hector with everything. And yet, he never knew any personal information about his boyfriend after seven months of dating. It was all about his own dreams and ambitions. Robert was blind to the truth simply because of Hector's stunning good looks. Even the police note just how handsome he is. It all makes sense from that perspective. But again, it doesn't seem like the show wants to dig any deeper than that. That's perfectly fine as well. It's okay if the show aspires to be a fun and glossy showcase for the skills of its various performers. The very first moments depict Ruby Red in all her glory on stage. It is a stunning entrance. It's just confusing following up that moment because it's unclear what the show is actually setting up as its core premise. The title gives some of it away. But a road trip energy isn't what this premiere is going for. Instead, it's more about the camaraderie of two drag queens who need each other when the rest of the world would rather get rid of them. That is devastating and traumatic. Robert fears that he can never trust his instincts about love ever again. He will have to find a way to build up his strength and resolve once more. That has the potential to be a captivating character journey this season. It just remains unclear how these various pieces will fit together. Plus, the tones of each will ultimately have to compliment each other in fulfilling and rewarding ways. The balance is handled well when it comes to Robert dealing with the wide array of emotions in his life. However, some characters are asked to play to the broad comedy like Lady Danger while others are asked to be more grounded in reality in order to help Robert with everything that is going on before the pressure breaks him.