At Buzzfeed recently, Ira Madison turned a four-minute clip of the soap opera Dynasty into an 18-step guide to the art of “throwing shade.” First coined in '80s gay subculture and recently mainstreamed by RuPaul’s Drag Race, "shade" refers to a certain kind of passive-aggressive trash talking, and the Dynasty clip is its platonic ideal: a tennis match of implied insults between two powerful women. This particular bout is won when Dominique Deveraux says “It’s burned,” after taking a sip of Alexis Carrington's champagne, dismissing both Carrington's taste and status with a simple observation.
Shade is fun to watch—there’s the colosseum-goer’s pleasure of seeing people fight, combined with the puzzle-solver's joy in decoding each insult. Reality TV has helped make the term popular, but shade’s actually not what the Real Housewives serve when they flip tables and call one another whores. As opposed to macho trash-talking and threats, shade takes finesse; as the drag queen Dorian Corey put it in her famous explanation of the term, “Shade is, ‘I don’t tell you you’re ugly, but I don’t have to tell you because you know you’re ugly.’”
I kept thinking about shade and that Dynasty scene while watching the first three episodes of The Royals, E!’s new drama about the modern British monarchy. Elizabeth Hurley stars as a glamorous and icy Queen of England who, in theory, should also be able to contend for the title of TV’s queen of shade. The real-life royal family persists as a symbol of old-world respectability and manners; making it into a soap opera, even one that sits alongside Keeping Up With the Kardashians, would seemingly require staging conflicts that are fought with a degree of cleverness. Besides, The Royals explicitly wants to be compared to Dynasty—actress Joan Collins will appear in an upcoming episode—and who wouldn't enjoy seeing the Downton Abbey themes of repression and doublespeak updated for the age of the selfie?