The gradual disappearance of soap operas has significantly reduced opportunities for actors in that genre. So what better way to exploit the situation than “Queens of Drama,” a Pop series that assembles a group of actresses for the ostensible purpose of trying to produce their own show, but really functions as an excuse to create a reality-style serial on the cheap. There’s no harm done, unless A) you once wrote soaps, and are thus rendered obsolete; or B) you have a functioning cerebral cortex, which will struggle to buy this as anything other than unconvincingly manufactured melodrama.
Granted, there’s something so deliciously meta about the concept — following the soapy sextet as they try to craft and sell a show, when in fact what you’re watching is the show — that some fans will accept the series strictly on its own bogus terms. Moreover, Pop is cleverly launching the half-hour format with back-to-back episodes behind its telecast of the Daytime Emmy Awards, which certainly provides the most hospitable platform imaginable to get the goods sampled.
Familiarity with the actresses and their daytime-drama roles isn’t even a requirement, since the project pretty quickly shoehorns them into types, deriving most of the tension from the catty relationship between Lindsay Hartley and Crystal Hunt. The latter even has the audacity to crack wise about her co-star’s age now that she’s auditioning for mom roles. Meow.
Leading the pack, sort of, is Vanessa Marcil, who enlists Donna Mills (sorry, “guest star” Donna Mills) to help advance the project. But Mills brings in Hunter Tylo without asking, which irks the others, and then takes a network meeting (at the CW, synergistically, given CBS’ ownership role with both that network and Pop) without informing her new partners.
The gang is so irritated by this, or at least professes to be, they seek to enlist another diva as a possible replacement for Mills. And when Joan Collins comes sauntering in, the music swells as if it’s 1985 all over again.
Chrystee Pharris rounds out the cast, largely presented as the voice of reason and sort-of referee between Hunt and Hartley. And “cast” is the operative word, since everyone is playing some variation of themselves, just with less sex than they used to have in soaps.
Of course, there are two ways of looking at this. Charitably, it’s possible to admire the ingenuity at work in finding an avenue to employ these actresses, albeit in a slightly different capacity; by contrast, it’s just as easy to lament that they only get to ply their trade in this context by pretending that they’re not really acting, in an “If life gives you lemons” kind of way.
Then again, the divas brought together here join a pretty sizable list of performers who have done just that by going the reality-TV route. And as Kim Basinger’s Veronica Lake look-alike put it in “L.A. Confidential,” “We still get to act a little.”