The Queens Who Got Me Through the Pandemic

Early on during the pandemic, I decided to limit my TV binging. I was solo in an apartment in New York City for what was supposed to be two weeks. It turned out to be nearly 52. Since I am already prone to curling up in the fetal position on the couch when the world sucks the life out of me, I thought it best not to spend my time at home too glued to the tube. Home from the office, I read books. I tidied the house Marie Kondo-style. I banged my pots and pans at 7pm, as ambulance sirens blared through a quiet New York and countless businesses all around the city shuttered.

But, at some point, I needed my screen stories — as my grandmother would say, “my programs.” I needed to see the world as it used to be, maskless and joyful, gathered and socially…proximate. And that’s when a cadre of queens came to my rescue. Some were tight-lipped and broad-hipped, while others were silly and frilly. Here are the five who helped me most keep calm and watch on:

Elizabeth II on The Crown. I was late to the prince-and-princess party, but Netflix’s history of the Brit royals was well worth the watch. While I wasn’t personally a fan of the mid-series switch that replaced the incredible Claire Foy with Olivia Colman (though Colman remains my favorite screen queen to date in her Oscar-winning role as Queen Anne in The Favourite) Foy and Colman expertly paint Elizabeth as the steadfast anchor of a family and nation in constant turmoil. My COVID takeaway from Elizabeth: this too shall pass. You could be trapped in The Great Smog of 1952 or, worse, be married to Camilla and Charles in the 80s. You can wear a fucking mask.

Beth Harmon in The Queen’s Gambit. Though not technically a queen, Anya Taylor-Joy’s Beth is the one and only queen gliding around this very sexy chessboard, effortlessly both the lead lady of the series and of the male-dominated chess world that it methodically depicts. The series more than takes its time to wind through Beth’s matches — romantic and board-based — but it is captivating the whole way. You root for the pill-popping orphan as she wipes the floor with the other bishops and pawns. My COVID takeaway from Beth: slow down, think through it, play your pieces one at a time. This could all be over much faster, but maybe it wouldn’t be as life-changing.

Queen Charlotte on Bridgerton. Yes, I got sucked into a Netflix rabbit hole, but it was a fun one. Much lighter in tone than Gambit or the Windsors, Bridgerton is a soapy romp through Mayfair, London, in 1813, as the young Daphne Bridgerton navigates a hopeless matchmaking season. It’s as if Downton, Gossip Girl, Madea, Hamilton, and Alice in Wonderland all had a baby. And somehow that works. Queen Charlotte is not the star of the show, but her sly “let them eat cake” attitude is sweet icing on top. (The real star is Nicola Coughlan, who plays Penelope Featherington. She popped out in Derry Girls, and I’m in love.) My COVID takeaway: it is jarring to see Black royals. And that was the whole point, white boy. Think about that while you’re trapped at home.

RuPaul on RuPaul’s Drag Race. At some point during the year, I actually got COVID (what a nightmare) and spent three weeks in bed. I finally did a long-awaited deep dive into Drag Race, and it was heaven. I used to watch at a gay bar in Los Angeles, but I was too distracted by the crowd to focus on the show. Not this time. I started at the beginning and watched 13 seasons, plus the UK and Canadian versions (It was a long January). RuPaul is The Queen of TV, and the show gets better and better season-after-season. Yes, the runway lewks are gorge, but there is a heart beating at the center of the reality competition that makes every episode deeply meaningful. My COVID takeaway: these queens are superheroes. Period.

Rhys Nicholson. I continued my Netflix queen quest in the stand-up aisle and discovered two gems: Katherine Ryan and Rhys Nicholson. Ryan’s standup is truly funny, but her series The Duchess is, well, not. Nicholson, on the other hand, is the real comedy queen hit. Funny, biting, gay, neurotic, and smart AF, Nicholson’s bits range from wild nights to wedding jitters to a laugh-out-loud reading of a piece of fan mail from the aggrieved mom of a “nice gay.” (I’ve watched it 15 times already.) Jesus, I hope the Aussie hits it big here in the U.S. The guy is brilliant. My COVID takeaway: ahhh, it will be bliss to sit in a theatre again and watch a real live performance.

All in all, these queens got me through the pandemic. I suppose it is fitting that it was them. It has been a year (now more) when we all need to be reminded of the power of grace. And really gorgeous clothes.

Julio Vincent Gambuto is a writer/director, based in New York City. He wrote that Medium essay about the pandemic that went around the world to 21M readers. Follow on Twitter for small thoughts, or here for Medium ones, or his website for large ones.

“Giulio” (It’s Italian.) Writer/Director based in NYC. Outspoken so I can help you make sense of this modern world.

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