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From left to right: Murdoch Keane, Spankie Jackzon, Petmal Petelo, Awa Puna and Amanduh la Whore. (Photo: TVNZ+)
From left to right: Murdoch Keane, Spankie Jackzon, Petmal Petelo, Awa Puna and Amanduh la Whore. (Photo: TVNZ+)

Pop CultureFebruary 1, 2024

Review: The Boy, The Queen and Everything in Between struts more than it stumbles

From left to right: Murdoch Keane, Spankie Jackzon, Petmal Petelo, Awa Puna and Amanduh la Whore. (Photo: TVNZ+)
From left to right: Murdoch Keane, Spankie Jackzon, Petmal Petelo, Awa Puna and Amanduh la Whore. (Photo: TVNZ+)

The new series from New Zealand takatāpui legend Ramon Te Wake is as sprawling as its title, for better and worse, writes Sam Brooks.

It’s a tale as old as time: Boy goes to jail. Boy gets out of jail. Boy is forced to work with his estranged drag queen father at her bar so he doesn’t go back to jail. Drag queen father has mixed feelings about all of this. Drama, and hijinks ensue, as they tend to do with both families and drag queens.

The Boy, The Queen and Everything in Between (not even going to attempt to acronym that), which drops in its entirety on TVNZ+ today, is the new series from Ramon Te Wake, the documentarian, singer-songwriter and presenter who famously fronted Māori Television’s first queer show, Takatāpui, back in 2005. 

Te Wake writes, directs and produces this series, which follows not just the difficult relationship between the boy and the queen – also his father – but the ups and downs of the club she runs, and the understandably colourful community that has built around it.

The good

It’s right there in the title: The Queen. Adam Dehar (also known as gender illusionist Amanduh la Whore) plays Maxine, and finds gorgeous layers within the character. Maxine isn’t a perfect person, and definitely not a perfect father, but Dehar doesn’t shy away from the unlikeable nature of the character. Rather than just playing her as catty and petty, the actor manages that trickiest of emotions: she actually feels properly tired. Dehar reminds us that Maxine isn’t just a person with a long list of unwarranted grudges, but someone trying to keep a business and a community together.

That performance doesn’t happen without some very assured writing, though. It’s extremely clear that Te Wake understands the world of the series, which also gives it a very clear sense of place. Las Vegas Club (which may well be one of our nation’s most filmed locations) feels especially tactile, but seeing Karangahape Road explored during both the day and nighttime is equally appealing.

Even more apparent is that Te Wake understands the relationships that build up around a drag club. The best scenes in the first few episodes are not actually between Maxine and his son, Jacob (Niwa Whatuira), but between Maxine and the ailing Gigi (Jochanelle Pouwhare). It’s a true delight to see two old queens bicker, banter, and bitch their way through their scenes; it’s a hard, and deeply, specific thing to capture a decades-long relationship in only a few scenes, but Te Wake and the performers do it, and do it well.

The not-so-good

It’s a little bit neat that what is good and less good about the series can be delineated as cleanly as its title. While the titular queen is the best part of the series, and where its sense of footing feels most secure, the titular boy is less well-drawn, though his will-they-won’t-they relationship with Hope (a winning Awa Puna) is one of the more fascinating parts, building from new coworkers to friends, to potentially something more. 

It’s less that the series missteps, and more that it strides much less confidently whenever the focus is on Jacob. His backstory feels trope-y – he lives with his ex, the understandably aggrieved mother and sole caregiver of his child – and his inner life feels hazy. Exactly how he feels towards his father is much less clear than the other way around, and it’s not a fault of Whatuira’s performance, but more that the writing leans on what is familiar rather than what is deeply understood. This is only made more clear when put in relief to the scenes in the club, and especially between Maxine and her friends.

The verdict

The country, and the world, needs more stories like The Boy, The Queen and Everything in Between. Slice-of-life stories about communities, and relationships, that are rarely explored onscreen do all of us good. 

While it might not be the most well-rounded series you’ve ever seen, it more than stands up on its own stilettos, without needing to be handled with the critical kid gloves of “worthy representation”. Hell, when the series is at its best, it truly sparkles. Like all of the best television, it clearly comes from an authentic place. That authenticity is hard won, and even harder to convey. 

The Boy, The Queen and Everything in Between is available on TVNZ+.

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