TV Review: We’re Here season 2 ★★★★★

The reliably uplifting GALECA Dorian Award and Emmy-nominated unscripted series We’re Here, created by Steve Warren and Johnnie Ingram, returns to HBO on Monday October 11th at 9pm ET/PT, streaming on HBO Max. It works within the same proven framework as season one, but enriches and deepens its storytelling and finds more time for some poignant on-screen bonding between the show’s superstar drag mothers—and consulting producers—Bob the Drag Queen, Shangela, and Eureka, fresh from her top four run on All Stars 6, and memorable cameo on America Horror Story.

Season two sees the much-loved Drag Race-alum, who all grew up in Southern states, continue their road trip across conservative America, rolling into small towns in their larger-than-life vehicles serving resplendent, heightened drag lewks to announce “we’re here” and adopt a local drag daughter for the week in the lead up to a to show the town will never forget. Essentially, this is Best Friend Race, with the queens harnessing the power of drag to help their daughters unblock whatever might be preventing them from fully embracing their truest selves—whether that be their gender identity or sexuality—or just giving them the courage to be more visible within their own families and communities, or putting themselves out there as an ally, even when that potentially means losing their jobs, like pastor Craig in Indiana.

Bob The Drag Queen, Shangela, and Eureka in HBO’s We’re Here. Season 2, Episode 2 in Temecula, CA. Photograph by Jakes Giles Netter/HBO.

As with Navajo queer photographer Nate and Navajo non-binary drag performer and activist Lady Shug in season one, We’re Here continues to centre folks who are rarely seen on mainstream television and in the media, as well as frequently sidelined within the LGBTQ+ community itself, and also examines often overlooked aspects of queer life such as longterm down-low relationships. Among this season’s drag daughters are James, a young neurodiverse queer trans man in Temecula, California; Akeelah, a Black trans woman living with her loving boyfriend Derek in Selma, Alabama; and Kaïs, a queer Muslim refugee from Tunisia trying to find a place that feels like home in Evansville, Indiana, where Barbara and Yvon, an older lesbian couple have quietly been working for LGBTQ+ rights during the 38 years they’ve been together.

Similarly, when it comes to selecting locations, these are places that are rarely seen on screen, let alone focused on for a one-hour show. Acknowledging that being visibly LGBTQ+ in these towns can often be challenging, dangerous, and even life-threatening, but without demonizing its conservative residents, We’re Here instead presents a way forward. A life where queer folks don’t feel that their only option is to flee to more liberal, queer-friendly cities, but are able to stay in, or return to, their home towns (that might have made growing up miserable) to make them that bit more accepting for the next generation by unapologetically being themselves and hopefully opening some hearts and minds. Staying right where you are and saying “we’re here” can be a brave act, and is a form of activism in itself, particularly at a time when there are alarming and persistent state-level attacks on trans, reproductive, and voting rights, while tragically the number of trans or gender non-conforming people who have been murdered in the USA in 2021 stands at “at least 37” according to the Human Rights Campaign.

Bob the Drag Queen, Eureka, and Shangela in HBO’s We’re Here Season 2, Episode 1 in Spartanburg, SC. Photograph by Jakes Giles Netter/HBO.

The season two opener sees the show return to Spartanburg, South Carolina where production was shut down due to the pandemic in March 2020 while shooting the season one finale. Cut to thirteen months later and the queens are back in town and reunited for a tea party at what will be that week’s open-air drag show venue—the grounds of a Black-owned, reclaimed plantation home—before reconnecting with their respective drag daughters. There’s Olin, a cis straight man who wants Shangela to help him to take a walk in his professional drag queen brother’s heels; lesbian plus-size model and tattoo-artist Faith who is struggling with being unaccepted by her family since coming out; and Noah, who opens up to Eureka about feeling that his gender expression is being stifled by his environment.

As the queens come together with their daughters again, the show captures those tentative post-quarantine human interactions we all experienced as we stepped back out into the world, navigating when it feels safe and appopriate to take off a mask, whether to elbow-bump or go right in for a hug; moments that feel particularly significant in a series about the power of human connection, and creating an in-person, real-life queer community.

Eureka and drag daughter Joey in HBO’s We’re Here. Season 2, Episode 3 in Del Rio, TX. Photograph by Jessica Perez/HBO.

Of the first five episodes made available for review, the standout takes place in Selma, Alabama, which Shangela describes as “frozen in time”, adding “Selma needs drag, honey!” The focus on this majority Black city in 2021, particularly given its place in the history of the civil rights movement, feels especially meaningful coming at a time when the mainstream media has largely taken its attention away from the Black Lives Matter movement and the increased inclusion of Black stories which began to happen last year. Here, as ever, the thought and detail that go into every aspect of We’re Here is evident, from the queens’ Sixties-inspired drag looks—a tribute to the Foot Soldiers—to the stirring incidental music (that’s never incidental on this series) of Beyoncé’s Freedom, and the sound design that incorporates speeches by Martin Luther King Jr., and audio of the horrific police brutality that took place on the Edmund Pettus Bridge on March 7th 1965. As the queens explore Selma, Bob points out that it isn’t just the bridge, but also a prominent monument, that still stands in the city, retaining a name that honors a Confederate brigadier general and Alabama leader of the Ku Klux Klan.

Bob the Drag Queen and drag daughter Esael in HBO’s We’re Here Season 2, Episode 3 in Del Rio, TX. Photograph by Jessica Perez/HBO.

For Bob, who has spent time living in Alabama, the episode provides a chance for him to stress that the struggle for Black freedom and queer freedom “are not mutually exclusive”, and that “the Black struggle is the queer struggle”. Being in Selma has a profound impact on Bob and at one point there’s a deeply poignant meeting between the queens and four Bloody Sunday Foot Soldiers, one of whom emphasizes the link between the way that she was viciously and mercilessly beaten that day with the recent police killings of Black Americans. As with other episodes in the season, the flexibility within the show’s format allows for the breathing space for such unhurried and rich sequences, as Bob talks about the enormity of the ancestral grief he carries with him that’s difficult to articulate.

Having previously taken part in a pride event in Selma, Bob observes that people’s “queerness is diminished” in the town and that “it must be tough to be queer in Selma”. For his drag daughter, dance instructor Akleelah, she shares that “Selma is a dangerous place for trans women” such as herself, where the violence troubles her, or as she powerfully encapsulates the situation as she sees it, “we accept guns over gays”. A lone progress pride flag does flutter on one downtown street though, outside the office of The Knights & Orchids Society (TKO)—run by Akeelah’s close friend, a Black trans man, Que—an organization offering sexual health and other services to support and empower the Black Trans and LGBTQ+ folks in rural Alabama.

Shangela and drag daughter Bruno in HBO’s We’re Here Season 2, Episode 3 in Del Rio, TX. Photograph by Jessica Perez/HBO.

Throughout the season, showrunner and director Peter LoGreco draws on his documentary background to create an unobtrusive fly-on-the-wall approach to capturing emotional moments between drag mother and daughter, crucially managing to do so without it feeling forced or manipulative. This season there’s more interaction between the drag daughters themselves as the series connects local LGBTQ+ people and helps to foster a sense of community in places that might not have a dedicated queer space. In one such meeting in Del Rio Texas, Bruno, the city’s gay mayor, meets with a young man who is just coming out, Esael, giving him a sense of the possibilities his future might hold, regardless of of his sexuality. While in Temecula, California, there’s a touching connection made between Michelle, who has fully embraced her adult gay son Jake, and Andrei, a young cheerleader who feels unaccepted by his own parents.

Bob the Drag Queen and drag daughter James in HBO’s We’re Here Season 2, Episode 2 in Temecula, CA. Photograph by Johnnie Ingram/HBO.

When it comes to the drag shows themselves, which each episode builds towards, LoGreco, who also has a background as a cinematographer, shoots in an absorbing on-the-fly style that feels spontaneous and conveys a sense of being in the audience, as well as right on stage with the performers, and takes us backstage for those last-minute nerves and that post-performance euphoria.

Despite their status as certified drag icons, Bob, Shangela, and Eureka don’t dominate the show but continually put the spotlight on their drag daughters’ journeys and final performances. However, we do get to see their openness and vulnerability as they share their own experiences when connecting with their drag daughters, and see them turn out some impressive show openers themselves—performances we’re shown in full this season—often showcasing the full potential of the art of drag to bring joy while ruffling some feathers. Among the highlights, we get a whipcracking, death-droppingly energetic opening number by Shangela in Del Rio, Texas that’ll have you hollering halleloo, while Eureka takes to the stage in a breathtaking silver dragon creation to perform a signature, powerfully emotional lip sync to Miley Cyrus’ Wrecking Ball that brings real resonance to the lyrics, and Bob the Drag Queen enlists his adorable niece for a hair-raising, showstoppingly delightful comic routine in Selma, Alabama.

Wisely HBO will release one episode weekly, as this is a series better suited to savoring than bingeing, with each satisfying episode feeling like a stand-alone doc; part LGBTQ travelogue, part history show, part state of the nation, and of course, a celebratory chronicle of transformative human stories.

Just when we need it most, We’re Here delivers hope, rooted in the real world. A healing, deeply moving watch, that’s often as thought-provoking as it is feel-good.

By James Kleinmann

We’re Here returns for its eight-episode, second season on Monday October 11th at 9pm ET/PT. Episodes will debut weekly on HBO and will be available to stream on HBO Max. Season 1 is streaming now on HBO Max.

We’re Here: Season 2 Official Teaser | HBO
We’re Here: Season 2 Official Poster | HBO

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