Monday, January 4, 2016

Classic: Dallas vs. Dynasty!

Since both shows were constantly compared to each other, I've been doing a weird habit of watching "Dynasty" and "Dallas" back and fourth to see which is the better show. I always knew "Dallas" was the superior show, but it never really dawned on me how campy and damn near "Airplane-esque" Dynasty" was.

Save for Forsythe and Collins, the show was rife with rotten actors, Linda Evans was whiny, Heather locklear, ugh....Pamela Sue Martin was awful. It's easy to see how the show made it, but its hard to see how it lasted for 9 years. My thesis was proven however, that Dallas is the better show in every regard; the emotions were real, sometimes even the acting sailed beyond the television confines, often times by Lars Hagman and Ray Kanaly during the Murder Mickey trial.

Dynasty knew it was a joke and played up the fantasy of it all, Dallas tried to make it seem real, especially with the Ewings, JR and his Daddy, Bobby and Pam...Dynasty always felt like it was what gay men wanted Dallas to be, hence its shallowness, cat fights and campy tone.    
OHHHHHH ok, Dallas was yes much better written and acted for the most part. But Pamela Sue Martin was fantastic on Dynasty. Linda Evens could often be annoying as could John James. But every show had annoying characters. I personally detest Cliff Barnes on Dallas he makes me sick. But I still love the show and how he drove the plot.

Comparing Dallas with Dynasty is unfair. They are as different as night and day. Although Dallas was considered the best written of the two and best acted Dynasty is still my favourite show. For even when it was terrible which it was a
lot, I still loved the magic of Dynasty. The fantasy.
The only difference is in tone and Dynasty felt like an expensive daytime soaper, replete with over-the-top emotions, huge plots twists and broadly painted characters. Nothing wrong with that, but Dallas was/is far more grounded. Even after reviving Bobby it never felt as absurd as Dynasty.
I defer to no-one in my admiration for Dallas as a landmark drama. However, despite the fact that comparisons have been routinely made between the two shows (they were night time soaps, they were concerned with the tribulations of very wealthy oil magnates) they were very different indeed. 'Dallas' was a 'man's' show in a way that 'Dynasty' resolutely was not.
In terms of plotting, backstory, executive control and the influence of particular actors on the show, this is manifestly the case. Female characters were reactive and there was a lot more attention paid to the intricacies of business deals in a way that was not the case with 'Dynasty.'
The business background to the Carrington/Colby fortunes was always very enigmatic and ususally an excuse for characters to jet off to exotic locations to become entangled with even more exotically named characters such as Ahmed and Minister Hahn.

For the first eight seasons at least, 'Dallas' also retained a convincing arc in terms of character development. For the most part, the principals on the show evolved in ways that were consistent with how they had behaved in the past and responded to dramatic conflicts in ways that felt plausible to the viewing audience. Apart from 2 seasons on 'Dynasty' (which I'll come to presently) the principals were a bunch of caricatures who behaved in ways that were utterly mystifying in terms of competent characterization. Plots were directionless, alliances were made and broken at a whim and without consequence and any pay-off dramatically, and whatever back stories could be mustered about the characters were routinely ignored.
The camp exaggeration of the show grew in direct proportion to the diminution in how plausible the characters were: the shoulder pads, the gushing syrupy symphonic scores, the cliche laden stridency of the 'dialogue.' 'Dynasty' morphed into melodrama pretty early in its run and that is what is enjoyed by many of its devotees.

But not by all. Look at the first season and season 9. What we see there is a show that had a tight focus on characterization and back story that made for gripping television. Season 9 is currently coming to its close on CBS drama. The dialogue is crisp and there is real humour - the action is driven by the characters and the plot rather than by a series of absurd deus ex machina that was the case for most of the show's run. Even the baroque musical scores have been scaled back. There is also a darkly gothic element to the show that is also identifiable in season 1. Alas, this belated return to form was too late to save the show, despite the best efforts of 'Dallas' luminary, David Paulsen.

So: the shows don't stand comparison merely because they were 'supersoaps'; they were, in fact, very different and for a number of different reasons. At the level of writing, acting, characterization and execution 'Dallas' was, in my view, by far the better show in every respect. I have to demur from your assessment of Pamela Sue Martin, however - her contribution to the success of Dynasty's first season was considerable.
  Season 9 of Dynasty just gets better and better, on the whole it was a great deal superior to anything Dallas dished out since the season Bobby was shot.

The scene with Sable and the gun was just riveting this week, great acting and real thought went into it. But it's a HUGE shame, a travesty that Dynasty didnt go down this road for the duration of its life. But I do wonder if the campness of Dynasty and OTT storylines is what actually kept it going? But Dynasty's popularity as an OTT drama ruined the genre and made it into a joke to which it is still recovering from.

If Dynasty had not had its popularity with outragous plots I do wonder if we would have seen Miss Ellie recast, Jack posing a Marinos, Angelica Nero and Bobby returning from the dead.

Dynasty seemed to set a benchmark for what the public would accept and Dallas producers appeared to think if the public will buy poison paint and Moldavian weddings then they will buy a season being wiped out as a dream.

As Dynasty redeemed itself as it took its final breath, Dallas had a slow lingering death.
To be honest I'm sure even many Dynasty fans would admit that in terms of writing, acting and overall quality Dallas was the superior show. But I do think at its best (admittedly this was not often) Dynasty did equal the best of Dallas.

John Forsythe, Joan Collins, Pamela Sue Martin and Gordon Thomson were the standout performers but Linda Evans was actually quite good in season one (honest!) as were Al Corley, Bo Hopkins and Pamela Bellwood. Stephanie Beacham was excellent in season nine.

Dallas was indeed a better acted show overall, but to be fair to (some of) the Dynasty cast they were often hampered by unnatural and stiff direction, stilted and wooden dialogue, nonsensical or nonexistent character motivation, weak and characterization in the scripts, the writers total disregard for logic and coherence and the producers belief that "The Look" of the show was more important than good acting/scripting. Yes, various members of the cast were just bad actors, but there was some talent there. Dallas had one or two bad actors itself, Charlene Tilton being the most obvious example.

Dynasty's worst moment? That's difficult because there are so many to choose from but I'd go with the triple punch of the Moldavia massacre resolution/Rita story/Emma Samms' introduction as Faux Fallon into the show. All 3 happened at pretty much the same time and helped kill Dynasty's reputation and positive buzz
(in truth Dynasty had been progressively awful for years, but the media had remained on their side. Not anymore) Maybe these "stories" weren't quite the final 3 nails in the coffin, but at the very least were the three knockout punches that left them bruised, damaged and staggering about trying but failing to get back on their feet.
The break out this season was Crazy Katherine. I love Aunty Kathy, her eyes I want to swim in all day. I think they shot their wad too early with Katherine as she was the one and only really true vixen on the show. She was meaner than JR in a lot of ways, I think she was given a short end of the stick by only making her go crazy for Bobby. Once she shoots him, she's gone.
She hated Cliff, why didn't she go after him like JR did with Bobby and Ewing Oil. Katherine felt he was an outsider and that should have been exploited. Someone said it and they are correct, this show was very sexist. What's great is that she sees Bobby and Jenna getting closer, Pam tells her this and yet she does her scheming, conniving and scratching.
Morgan Brittany was excellent, full on crazy mad and she does a nice slow burn as we only see hints of her psychosis. Actors always say the bad guys/gals are always the most fun to play and it shows as she makes no apologies for her incredible bitch performance, both character and actor.
The show needed a total nasty unhinged bitch to counter all the sugar sweet crap doled out by Miss Ellie, Lucy, Donna and Pam. It was only later that Sue Ellen became some what interesting when the boozy stuff ended. As for a full on female villain, Dallas didn't have one, expect with Katherine! I guess to have another evil prick along side JR was too much, but still what fun it would have been to have someone as mean or worse than JR. Even Abby wasn't that bad.

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