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Wednesday, January 26, 2005

The Carringtons In Gosford Park

By Kevin John

The TV movie "Dynasty: The Making of a Guilty Pleasure" promised to be a guilty pleasure itself. But anyone paying more attention than television usually elicits could determine from the opening scene that little guilt would be required. Hundreds of screaming fans are gathered outside the premiere of "The Dynasty Collection" — a merchandise line that will make you "look, dress, smell, and dine like The Carringtons." After the arrival of the Blake/Krystle/Alexis triumvirate, Esther and Bob Shapiro (the nighttime soap's creators) step out of their limo. "Who are you?" one the fans asks Bob Shapiro. "I'm a writer." "Oh. No one important," decides the fan. But over the very next shot, the following credit appears: "Written by Matthew Miller."

Never heard of him either. IMDb says his only previous feature is a 2002 outing with Jenny McCarthy which I've never seen called "The Perfect You" (AKA Crazy Little Thing). But he directed "Dynasty: The Making of a Guilty Pleasure" as well, so the project's singular vision must be credited to him. Here we have two hours of reverie dedicated to the overwhelming queerness of the 1980s. Nicholas Hammond plays producer Aaron Spelling like Paul Lynde, complete with a mincing "colleague" named Les Markowitz (code name for "Dynasty" executive producer Douglas S. Cramer, most likely) who we're introduced to long before Spelling's wife (beard?). (And is that the Spelling character in full Alexis drag at the end? Please advise.) The changes in the show are measured by the denizens glued to the TV at a gay bar. And, of course, Miller dives into the challenges of getting the openly gay Steven Carrington, played by former Studio 54 doorman Al Corley (himself portrayed by hunky Rel Hunt), onto screens across Middle America.

According to Miller's vision, Corley undertook the role as a political crusade: "My dream is that somewhere in Middle America, a working-class guy named Lou comes home after a hard day at work, he watches our program and maybe…just maybe…he'll think differently about two men being together." And indeed, we get a fat, balding, beer-drinking Lou, home after a hard day at work to find his wife ironing while watching Steven coming out to Blake. "Country's falling apart," Lou mutters. But Lou will get hooked, and we measure history (of the show and the nation) by his reactions as well.

A third barometer comes from the most famous star of the decade, Ronald Reagan, courtesy of a constantly chattering bank of TV monitors at ABC studios. We first hear Ronnie ask us if we're better off now financially than we were four years ago. But after eight years of Reaganomics, Lou is out of work, lying at home watching the final season of "Dynasty" while the Mrs. comes home from her job as a night nurse. "I hate those rich bastards," she manages from her exhaustion.

The more economically privileged are no less vulnerable. The Shapiros kill off cast members left and right as cost-saving maneuvers. ABC execs fear for their jobs amidst merger mania. And like a "Gosford Park" writ small, Miller chokes his frame with servants, shoe shiners, caddies, door/elevator men, barbers, and scads of studio laborers as a nagging reminder of Reagan's draconian tax breaks wedging an ever-widening gap between rich and poor.

The fiercely queer and anti-Reagan strains come together in the figure of Rock Hudson, who starred as Krystle's love interest. An executive walks through the halls of ABC (as a woman vacuums them) with a memo announcing that Hudson has AIDS. The ABC monitors show Reagan celebrating his 1984 re-election victory, and the juxtaposition triggers the memory that it would be at least two years before our president responded to the AIDS crisis.

"Dynasty" gets cancelled just as the Bush Dynasty is sworn into office and the radio in Esther Shapiro's car coldly acknowledges that "When President Reagan left office, the country, which, when he inherited it, was the world's largest creditor nation, became the world's largest debtor nation." With a few stops over at the Iran Contra Affair along the way, "Dynasty: The Making of a Guilty Pleasure" is as bitter and dead-on a glimpse into the vagaries of the New Right as we're likely to ever get in a primetime slot, not to mention in a brand new era of widespread self-delusion.


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