Welcome to Retro Television Reviews, a feature where we review some of our favorite and least favorite shows of the past! On Sundays, I will be reviewing the made-for-television movies that used to be a primetime mainstay. Today’s film is 1983’s Making of a Male Model! It can be viewed on YouTube!
While visiting the set of an outdoor shoot in Nevada, high-powered modeling agent Kay Dillon (Joan Collins) spots a ranch hand named Tyler Burnett (Jon-Erik Hexum). Tyler is tall, athletic, handsome, and polite. When Kay asks Tyler if he’s ever modeled, Tyler scoffs at the idea. Him? A model? He’d rather stay in Nevada and work on the ranch. However, when the girl he likes turns him down because he doesn’t have any money, Tyler reconsiders Kay’s offer.
Before you can say Midnight Cowboy, Tyler is walking around Times Square while dressed like a cowboy. At first, Tyler is resistant to Kay’s suggestions on how to improve his look. He doesn’t want anyone messing with her ear or trimming his eyebrows. But, after a humiliating meeting with a photographer who tells him that he just doesn’t have the right look, Tyler agrees to let Kay turn him into a male model. Not only does she fix his look but she also takes him to bed.
Soon, Tyler is one of the country’s most well-known faces. He branches out into commercials, using his sex appeal to sell products to the men who want be him. And yet, Tyler still feels lost. He’s not sure if Kay actually loves him or if she’s just using him. Meanwhile, his roommate, Chuck Lanyard (Jeff Conaway), is a former model who is now hooked on drugs and who constantly warns Tyler that all models are washed up by the time they hit 35. Tyler becomes disillusioned with his life as a model but is he capable of giving up the fame and the money and returning to Nevada? Or is he destined to follow in Chuck’s footsteps and head down a path of drugs and self-destruction?
Welcome to the world of decadence, 80s style! Making of a Male Model is one of those films where the synthesizer-heavy soundtrack plays through every scene and the only thing more dramatic than the line readings is the hair and the shoulder pads. It’s all a bit silly, none more so that when Tyler and Kay go to a costume party. Kay dressed up like Cleopatra. Tyler wears a cowboy hat. One random extra wears an oversized headpiece with two gigantic eyes painted at either end. It’s not so much Studio 54 as much as it’s Studio 54 as imagined by someone who has heard of the place but never visited. It’s decadent but it’s never quite authentic. The film captures the joy of not only looking good but also knowing that you look good but it never captures the tedium that can go into being on a shoot. It’s a film about the reality of modeling that never bothers to get that real but so what? You don’t watch a film called Making of a Male Model because you’re looking for reality.
Joan Collins appears to be having fun in the role of Kay. John-Erik Hexum, who was a real-life model, gives a rather stiff performance in the role of Tyler. He looks good but he struggles whenever he has to show any emotion beyond being slightly annoyed. If anyone really stands out in the cast, it’s Jeff Conaway. Conaway brings a bit of genuine sadness to his role but you’ll guess what’s going to happen to Chuck long before it actually does. Finally, Kevin McCarthy (the actor, not the Congressman) plays one of Kay’s business rivals. He doesn’t get to do much but it’s always nice to see Kevin McCarthy playing yet another sophisticated but ruthless businessman.
In the end, the film doesn’t have anything surprising to say about the world of modeling and Tyler is never that interesting of a protagonist. However, there’s just enough 80s melodrama and 80s fashion to keep things watchable.
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