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I'd Rather Marry Dylan McKay

"Why fall in love if you can't do it on TV?"

Is there anything I enjoy more than a made-for-TV movie featuring a "90210" cast member? Well, yes, there are a lot of things—kittens, grappa, my new Kenneth Cole boots, for instance—but I really do enjoy catching up with Tori, Jennie, and the rest of the West Beverly gang. Thus, last night found me on the sofa, watching a not-quite-crappy movie starring not one but two "90210" alums—Jason Priestley and Emma Caulfield—in an ABC Family joint, "I Want to Marry Ryan Banks".

I Want to Marry Ryan BanksJason Priestley plays a hot actor on the verge of becoming B-list. In an effort to rescue his reputation from various tabloid debacles and save his imperiled career, his agent and some network execs come up with a reality show in which various young ladies compete for the hand of Ryan Banks. Emma Caulfield's character, Charlie, becomes a somewhat reluctant contestant when her sister surreptitiously tapes her and sends the video to the show's producers. In true romantic comedy fashion, there's a monkey wrench: Charlie totally hits it off with Todd, Ryan's manager and one of the show's producers, even though Todd tells her that, eventually, she'll fall for Ryan, because "everyone does." Yeah, right. Hasn't this guy ever seen a made-for-TV movie? The ending is a masterpiece of exposition, and nevertheless unbelievably unbelievable—unless you've ever seen a made-for-TV movie.

The plot is Mischa Barton-thin, and the writers—to their credit—do nothing to disguise the obvious. Like a love TelePrompTer (or Cyrano de Bergerac with a three-button suit and a headset), Todd feeds the emotionally retarded Ryan all his most endearing lines. Poor Todd. He's such a sweetie, and so very much cuter than the ostensible star. Seriously: Jason Priestley looks like hell. I guess all that drunk driving is catching up with him.

Priestley plays a tool quite convincingly. You've got to admire an actor who can run the gamut from California University student body president to celebrity asshole. You've also got to appreciate the pathos of Priestley playing an actor who is much more popular than he has ever been or is likely ever to be.

As for Charlie, she's a smart, attractive gal with a casually elegant style. She also has a boy's name, which means that she's spunky and down-to-earth. Finally, she's Anya. What's not to love?

Aside from the comfortably predictable story, "I Want to Marry Ryan Banks" offers some amusing commentary on entertainment in the age of synergy and corporate sponsorships. As someone who works in marketing, I get a little thrill every time I hear the word "signage" outside the office. It's nice to know that others speak my language.

The movie also has a surprisingly sharp take on reality TV. Other shows pitched to the network include "School Bully", "No Longer Homeless", and "Vegetable"—"Eight families, each of them with someone on life support…." Within minutes of their meeting, Charlie's roommate is talking about "alliances", succinctly illustrating everything that's gone wrong with reality shows pretty much since the second season of "Survivor": reality show participants now know what a "reality show" is. Thus, the reality show—which was from its inception only tenuously connected to reality as you and I know it—is now about as natural as Olestra, or a sonnet. It has its own proscribed narrative arc, its own rules and roles. In another gorgeously savvy moment, Charlie's roommate tries to explain that she understands her by announcing, "I'm an actress: I've played your character before."

The show's most poignantly honest moment comes not from the love story, but from Charlie's attempt to hide herself from the cameras while fixing a midnight snack. The idea that a girl can't eat a damn sandwich without fear of alienating the American viewing public was all too real.

Let's see, what else? I have a new favorite verb: black-bar. Getting ready to film a segment in a swimming pool, the show's producers ask Ryan if he has a pair of trunks, and he replies, "Nah. I'll just black-bar it." Nice. There's a third "90210"-er in a supporting role, the guy who played Joe, Donna's quarterback/virgin boyfriend (God, that kid was such a drip). And there's a montage of Charlie and Todd getting to know each other. Every movie should have a montage. And, oh my yes: the lady network exec leaves hand-in-hand with one of the rejected contestants. Is this the beginning of hot girl-on-girl action on ABC Family? We can only hope.

A quick search of Yahoo! TV reveals that "I Want to Marry Ryan Banks" will be showing again at 8pm tonight, which, of course, conflicts with "My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiancé" on Fox at 9. It will, however, be on again at 8pm and 10pm this Saturday. It's totally worth watching if you a.) still kind of miss "90210" or b.) have absolutely nothing else to do.

January 19, 2004 | Permalink

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