Drag queens aren’t—nor will they ever be—renowned for not being completely and totally amenable to corporate whoredom. That’s what they strive for, in fact. The ultimate goal and end game as established by the grandmother (no shade) herself, RuPaul. Yet for the likes of someone such as Katya Zamolodchikova (Trixie Mattel less so), the overt selling out to the evil empire of VICE—far less benign than World of Wonder, just ask Death by Audio and any other music venue in Williamsburg—is somewhat disheartening. As the tortured Sylvia Plath-Daria-Shirley Manson conglomerate persona rolled into the exterior shell of a Mira Sorvino relation, one’s hopes for Katya were that she would preserve the rectitude (stop thinking of a rectum) of her beloved character. But alas, the businessman inside, Brian McCook, would have been a fool to say no to the pay and fame upgrade of transforming the majestic campness of their web series, UNHhhh, into The Trixie and Katya Show. But the translation from catered to the LGBTQ community to LGBTQS(traight) community simply doesn’t compute, particularly with regard to the sanitization of their previously far more psychedelic, The Mighty Boosh-esque graphics and lo-fi aesthetic. It is, indeed, an exact replica example of Lelaina Pierce (Winona Ryder) surrendering her raw documentary footage to Michael Grates (Ben Stiller) to ensure that odious term, “mass market appeal.” As Michael puts it, “It’s, like, you have this great piece of work…and we have this audience, these kids…and it’s like trying to feed them meatloaf or something…and they don’t want to eat it, right? So you have to give them, like, ‘Here comes the plane. It’s coming into the hangar. Open up the hangar.’ But it’s still meatloaf.” And as Lelaina rightly cries out over her decimated art, “It was never meatloaf!”
Like a steroids version of every great TV duo from Beavis and Butthead to Kenan and Kel, the chemistry between Trixie and Katya is the kind that Svengalis dream about when creating that perfect Gentlemen Prefer Blondes formula. But their kitsch superpowers in the hands of the editors and producers at VICE have translated almost into an unintentional parody of mid-90s MTV shows like House of Style (which, to once again reference, Reality Bites also deftly does a sendup with as Lelaina watches In Your Face TV while in a depression coma). And even if Trixie and Katya are aware of this time period homage when they name check something like Next as the dating show directly responsible for the idea behind Tinder, no amount of “wink winking” can justly incorporate the vibe of UNHhhh into The Trixie and Katya Show. Whether this is a result of too much involvement from straights or a simple dumbing down of the product for the benefit of straights is at one’s discretion.
To iterate the point of tailoring the queens for straight people consumption, the “man” on the street interview segments of the first episode, “Hooking Up,” are neither entertaining nor enlightening (the way Trixie and Katya’s takes on drugs, drinking and Halloween costumes, for example, have been in the past). Why take the camera away from the “meat”—the deluxe New York steak—of the show and put it on the unformed beef of goonish straights walking the streets of Hollywood Boulevard? That’s how we end up having to watch slack-jawed responses to what the meaning behind the sexual terms “Eiffel Tower,” “Superman” and “Kentucky Tractor Puller” are.
And even if RuPaul is listed as one of the producers on the show, his head is clearly turned the other way with his tentacle loosely stuck into the project just enough to lend it so-called credibility. With the longest episode of UNHhhh topping out at 11:06 (for the best one, “Drugs”), maybe there’s something to be said for the timeless Shakespearean adage, “Brevity is the soul of wit.” Then again, he didn’t live to see this manifested in the form of “Where’s the beef?” Which is, in fact, what a seasoned viewer of UNHhhh will find herself asking when watching this new iteration of the show on the McDonald’s of “edgy” content.