Saturday 27 February 2016

Dynasty (1981-89)

One of the reasons I enjoy doing this blog is that it inspires me to watch lots and lots of old TV shows. And one of the reasons I enjoy watching so many old TV shows is that I missed  so many of them in the past. I am afraid that when I was younger I took life rather too seriously. In was a bit of a pop culture snob. There were certain types of television shows that I would never have considered watching. Shows like Dynasty and Dallas for example.

Fortunately I have overcome most of my prejudices and as a result I’ve been watching both Dynasty and Dallas recently, and enjoying them both a lot more than I expected to.

Of course the two series have a great deal in common. Both are soap operas, albeit big-budget prime-time soap operas. Both deal with oil billionaires. Both focus on the lifestyles of the very wealthy. Both focus not only on the personal and family dramas that are the staple of soap operas but also on the wheeling and dealing behind the scenes in the world of big business. Both feature outrageous over-the-top characters and both feature delightfully outlandish plot lines. Both include unscrupulous conniving characters (J. R. Ewing in Dallas and Alexis Carrington in Dynasty) that the audience loves to hate. Both series wear their trashiness as a badge of pride, which is something I admire tremendously.

There are however some subtle differences. Having now watched quite a bit of both these shows it seems to me that Dallas is a bit more grounded in reality. The characters are more or less believable - even J. R. might be larger than life and over-the-top but he is still just about believable. The other characters are mostly reasonably realistic. The story lines are convoluted and rely to a considerable extent on coincidence and they can get pretty outrageous (all of which is simply to say that it conforms to the conventions of the soap opera genre) but they still maintain at least a modicum of plausibility.

Dynasty on the other hand abandons any pretense at realism. This is pure fantasy stuff. The characters are straight-out melodrama figures, and the villainous characters are pure melodrama villains (or villainesses). The stories make no attempt to remain within the bounds of probability or plausibility. In other words Dynasty conforms to the conventions of melodrama - not the Hollywood style of melodrama but the classic stage melodramas of the 19th century.

None of this is intended as a criticism of Dynasty. The approach the producers decided to run with was a deliberate choice and it’s a perfectly valid choice. And that choice having been made the writers, directors and cast have done a splendid job and the results are ridiculously entertaining (even if at times they’re also entertainingly ridiculous).

On the whole I think I slightly prefer Dallas but I’m certainly not immune to the charms of Dynasty. And it’s Dynasty I’m supposed to be talking about at the moment.

Dynasty tells the story of oil billionaire Blake Carrington (John Forsythe) and the immensely complicated inter-relationships of his ill-assorted and frequently feuding family members. Forsythe wasn’t a bad actor but he knows this is soap opera and he is never tempted to try for subtlety. He knows what is expected of him in this sort of television and he delivers the goods.

Of course Dynasty’s biggest drawcard and its greatest asset is Joan Collins. She is magnificent. She knows it’s her job to be the uber-bitch and she knows just how to go about it. Alexis is appalling and yet she’s so mesmerising and so magnetic and she plays the bitch with so much style that you almost find yourself on her side.

Joan Collins is the sort of actress who is likely to overshadow everyone else but this doesn’t really happen. Everybody else is overacting as hard as they can and for the most part they succeed in not being overshadowed too badly. Pamela Sue Martin as Alexis’s daughter Fallon Carrington is certainly in no danger of that - she holds her own very convincingly. She might not be an uber-bitch but she’s capable of some pretty impressive scheming of her own and she can be frightening formidable when she’s set her mind on something. Young actresses don’t always have the confidence to give outrageously over-the-top performances but Pamela Sue Martin is most definitely not afraid to do so. Blake’s wife Krystle (Linda Evans) is one of the more sympathetic characters but even she has her moments, and to her credit Evans is not intimidated even by Joan Collins in full flight.

When you happen to come across an episode like The Downstairs Bride which features Joan Collins, Pamela Sue Martin and Heather Locklear all competing to see who can be the most deliciously bitchy then you have true trash TV heaven.

And the scenery-chewing and the gloriously excessive viciousness and backbiting are not monopolised by the male characters, with Adam Carrington (Gordon Thomson) being perhaps even more breathtakingly appalling than Alexis.

The acting in this series could not in all honesty be described as good acting in the conventional sense. It’s soap opera acting and (with a few exceptions) it strikes the right notes. You just can’t be too excessive in this kind of television.

Dynasty began its run in 1981 and at the moment I’m getting close to the end of the third season which takes us up to 1983. As you’d expect there’s a lot of early 80s style to the show but while there’s some amusing and rather delightful expensive bad taste on display by 80s standards the overall look of the series is by no means as ghastly as you might expect (although some of Linda Evans’ costumes are rather frightening). Joan Collins of course could look stylish in anything and always manages to look magnificent.

Dynasty is trashy, no question about it, but it doesn’t care. It’s not afraid to go all the way, and then go even further. You really can’t push high camp much further than this. Its sheer extravagant and shameless outrageousness is intoxicating. It’s a lot of fun. Plus you get Joan Collins at the absolute peak of her form. Recommended.

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