Three seasons into HBO's We're Here, the unscripted series that follows drag queens Bob the Drag Queen, Eureka O'Hara, and Shangela as they travel to small American towns to put on drag shows with locals they adopt as their drag kids, and the series is only growing in importance.
On the one hand, the show has the opportunity to be an educational tool. The small towns visited in each episode more often than not have a majority conservative population, which makes the members of the LGBTQIA+ community who live there feel isolated at best and often also unsafe. It can be eye-opening to see the concerns and threats people are facing, simply for wanting to live their lives authentically. As the parents of transgender children in Texas make the news for being under investigation of child abuse due to state legislation, for example, the third season of We're Here kicks off by an episode in Granbury, Texas where a teenager named Lou is fighting for equality (and fighting against queer book banning) and even the Democratic Chair loses support from members of her own party when she wants their float in the Fourth of July parade to include a rainbow flag.
"What is happening in the real world right now is reflected in our show. What is happening to the LGBTQ+ community is reflected in our show, and a lot of times where the hardest hit areas are, that's where we know we're needed and that's where they send us," Shangela tells Metacritic.
On the other hand, the show is also the epitome of entertainment, as it runs the gamut of emotions for its audience, allowing the drag kids and their friends and family to share their stories in addition to rehearsing for and eventually putting on a show-stopping performance on the drag stage.
"In order to authentically connect with our drag kids, we've got to keep it real. Every day is not sunshine day, but for me, that's something I look forward to. I'm generally an upbeat person, so that's how I walk into any space. And I think when you're hard hit with challenges in an environment that may not be safe or supportive, for me, looking toward the positive — 'What can we do to work toward a better goal? How can I help to showcase the talents of my child, or just the hope for them?' I'm a hopeful person, and I feel in my heart there can be a better day if we all work to get there, so that's how I try to walk me and my child through this experience," Shangela continues.
The third season continues the tradition of balancing moments where the queens are getting to know their drag kids with ones where they are getting to know the town and its challenges. From Granbury, to St. George, Utah and beyond (including towns in Mississippi and Florida), they encounter men on street corners will bullhorns telling them they are sinners, Mormon church leaders who want them to sit down and watch their movies (though Bob believes that was just a moment of trolling), canceled book readings, parents who are struggling to adjust to their children's identity, and even a parent who isn't ready to share the full truth of her own identity with her larger community. But the focus is always on lifting up their drag kids, both in helping them shine on stage and showing them that they do have support.
"I was really touched by Micah, my drag kid in St. George, Utah, because they're a real beacon of hope and pure queer excellence in this town where a lot of people feel like they're unaccepted. But a lot of people see Micah and think to themselves, 'Micah's a parent; Micah's a partner; Micah's a community leader; Micah's fun, vibrant, exciting, and I want to be that.' So being able to uplift their voice was just a true gift," Bob says.
For both Shangela and Eureka, having Jaime Jara and her daughter Dempsey be apart of Season 3 was particularly special.
Both Jaras have been in the news before, discussing Dempsey's journey as a young trans girl who wanted to run cross-country like her older brothers but lives in Florida, where Governor Ron DeSantis signed an anti-trans sports bill.
"Connecting with them and hearing their story, hearing her fight as a teacher who was going to be unable to share things about her own daughter in class because of the 'Don't say gay' bill and then the fact that her daughter was going to have to go out of state to receive trans healthcare because of the legislation that was blocking them from receiving the health that they deserve, you just get fired up in a way because you're like, 'How can this segment of our community be so mistreated and it be so accepted?'" Shangela explains.
Adds Eureka: "Seeing those family photos of this little girl being celebrated as the pretty little girl that she was and her willingness to be the face of transness, even though she just wants to be a child and she just wants to play [stood out to me]. She spoke so eloquently and full of knowledge to fight for herself and her own rights because she was put in a position where she always has to defend herself."
But "I was also really affected by working with a woman named Mandy in Florida, who really affected me personally by hearing their story and learning about their experience and relating it to my own experiences or fears of my own future," Eureka continues. "I think that our passion and our drive is also driven by the fact that not only are we fighting for the rights of our peers, but we're fighting for our rights as well or for the rights of people that we love. But also, it seems like as soon as we get to a point of progression, there's someone trying to push us backward."
To that point, many of the We're Here episodes come with the subtextual question of just how big the crowd will be at the drag show they are putting on, and whether it will be a crowd full of friends and supporters or if protestors will also make themselves known.
"I am still shocked sometimes when we have a huge turn out," Shangela says. It can be "a toss-up of who's going to come to the show."
But regardless of how big or loud the in-person crowd is, there are millions more watching at home. (The show picked up two Emmys for its second season and was also nominated in the Outstanding Unstructured Reality Program category for its first season, in 2020.) And that gives the queens hope that the platform the show has given them and their drag kids will only continue to increase the compassion and support for those who need it.
We're Here Season 3 airs at 10 p.m. Fridays beginning Nov. 25 on HBO.