Pop your tongues, gays and girls: Miss Alyssa has come to Netflix.
Dancing Queen, a new docuseries, follows Justin “Alyssa Edwards” Johnson in his work with the young and hungry dancers at his Beyond Belief dance studio in Mesquite, Texas. Note that I said “his,” though; while the RuPaul’s Drag Race veteran queen does pop up in drag to offer commentary on the proceedings, this isn’t really her show. Unlike the last mainstream TV effort from Drag Race alumni, The Trixie & Katya Show — which focused on the drag personas of Trixie Mattel, Katya, and later co-host Bob the Drag Queen — Dancing Queen is about peeling the layers back and introducing Johnson to audiences already obsessed with his alter ego.
Surprised? Maybe you shouldn’t be. Johnson has previously discussed not really appearing in drag at his studio. There was even an Alyssa’s Secret episode where some of his young dancers “met” Alyssa.
But considering that Alyssa is who viewers know best from Drag Race — as queens are only identified by their drag names even out of drag on the VH1 reality competition series — Dancing Queen can be something of a shock at first. Perhaps aware of this dilemma, Netflix made sure to include enough Alyssa to tide Drag Race fans over. In addition to the confessionals, Alyssa performs routines in the episodes to add some flair to the proceedings.
Truthfully, though, the show is best when Alyssa’s not around — and I sincerely never thought I’d say that. (INTO screened the first two episodes of the series ahead of its release.) Dancing Queen is a show about Johnson as an instructor, focusing on his relationships with his students. When the focus stays there, it’s a wonder. When Alyssa’s hyperactive, wig-laden head appears, Dancing Queen feels a bit aimless.
— Netflix Queue (@netflixqueue) October 2, 2018
Chalk it up to early indecisiveness about what the show should be, though. Because when Dancing Queen is good, it’s terrific. Johnson is hardcore as an instructor; even Alyssa’s appearance as a choreographer during Drag Race Season 10 didn’t signal what a hardass he can be. His love for his students doesn’t stop him from pushing them to be the very best. Some cry. Some question his decisions. Some get parents involved, to which he both listens when he needs to and tunes out when he doesn’t.
Through it all, Johnson is a pro; you can see where drag daughter Shangela got her professionalism. He’s also just as compelling to watch serious and out of drag as he is silly and in drag. There’s a charisma when it comes to Johnson (and by extension, Alyssa) that can’t be denied.
One of my favorite moments of the series so far was watching Johnson on a bad date. It’s a painstaking sequence, as boring as it is fascinating. What happens when a hurricane of personality meets an utter void? As it turns out, this date! You get the distinct impression that being a world-famous drag queen dating in small-town Texas must be near-impossible.
Overall, Dancing Queen is a delight, just a bit unfocused. If you’re expecting The Alyssa Edwards Show, brace yourself, because this isn’t it. But when the audience — and the show itself — accepts that fact, Dancing Queen will be a better show for it.
Dancing Queen is streaming on Netflix now.