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Texas soap beats the UK version hands-down

My wife, during a business trip to Arizona, once sat in an aircraft next to the guy who now owns Southfork ranch, the place that achieved legendary status in the hit TV soap Dallas. Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch have this rather whimsical piece on how the show, despite portraying most people in business as either predatory villains (JR Ewing), or often losers (ie, anyone up against JR), was effective in inadvertently demonstrating the sheer, material wealth of US capitalism. I remember, as a teen, wanting to have a red Mercedes like Bobby Ewing.

Well, I don’t know how much you can really read into shows like this. I must say that Dallas was so full of outrageous storylines and crazy characters that it was compulsive viewing. My mum, bless her, was addicted to it. Watching it today is a bit scary – it reminds me of how far ago the early 1980s now seems.

What is true, though, is that the sort of aspirational message embedded in shows about rich people stands a universe apart from the depressing, tragic vision embodied in UK soaps like EastEnders. I once watched about half an episode of the latter show the other day. It is about 20 minutes of my life I shall never get back.

Meanwhile, here is an old post of mine about Italian daytime TV, which is, er, a phenomenon.

22 comments to Texas soap beats the UK version hands-down

  • Gregory

    Well, I was *born* in the early 80s (1980 or thereabouts) so yeah, just a bit scary.

    I think the shows that were made back then showed off the best, rather than the worst, of what the world had to offer. Shows such as Airwolf, Bionic Woman, 6-Million Dollar man (and oh boy, were’t they real far off on that cost estimate?), even {shudder} Knight Rider gave us an idea of how technology could benefit our daily lives. Macgyver was on how resourcefulness and a never-say-die attitude can get you out of a tight spot (a lesson most dole bludgers would do well to learn). Even Quantum Leap wasn’t so bad – at times it was even pro-military. Actually, I kinda liked QL. Dean Stockwell and Scott Bakula made a great team.

    Contrast with today’s shows, which is pretty much doom and gloom. Ergh. The Shield, for crying out loud.

  • Hey, The Shield is the best ever!

    I used to really enjoy making fun of Dallas, but strangely enough, my co-viewer (roommate) didn’t seem to approve, so I had no choice but to stop watching. I mean, it’s not fun making fun of something with no appreciative audience. Last I remember, Ewing Senior dies in an airplane crush, and then miraculously resurrected by different actor. Another detail I remember well is Sue Ellen’s “I don’t know, I really don’t know…”, as an invariable answer to virtually any question she was asked, beyond the scope of her plans for lunch or her choice of shoes.

    portraying most people in business as either predatory villains (JR Ewing), or often losers (ie, anyone up against JR)

    Yes, but both the villains and the losers are business people, and the “losers” are still rich. It sends the positive message that business is good for you, even though losing sometimes comes with the territory, and that being rich is good and nothing to be ashamed of.

  • Cervello

    Yes, I love Italian TV and films; it is like living in the 60’s and 70’s with comedies in the spirit of “Carry On”, except with beautiful Italian woman ;).

    Personally I can’t stand English soaps they are so dull and mean; I would rather listen to brown talk and detest the the wee little …..

  • Steve

    You have just ruined your credibility. Dallas? Compulsive viewing? I remember watching some to be polite. But I found it difficult to imagine being so devoid of initiative and curiosity that I couldn’t think of at least a dozen better ways to use my time. If I live to be a million, I still don’t think I would get that desperate.

  • Oh Steve, no offense, but get off it:-)

  • Communist Romania was a pretty dreary place to live and TV is an excellent opiate for the masses so Nicolae Ceausescu bought in Dallas. He hoped (a side line) it would show the morally vacous corruption of capitalism or some such.

    And his serfs loved it. They wanted big cars and to do oil-deals and have swimming pools and shag Victoria Principal.

    A few years later they shot their Dear Leader.

    Dead due to the law of unintended consequences.

    You think I’m making this up?


  • RAB

    The only thing scary about it Gregory, is that you cant recall your birthdate a little more exactly than that! 🙂

    I was born in 1952, so I was the first generation of “TV children”.
    First one channel, then two, then three with colour Wow!
    The BBC tried several soaps throughout the years, one called Compact, about a magazine, if I recall.
    But none took off till Eastenders.
    That’s were the rot set in. It was full of tabloid headlined storylines, AIDS, gangsterism, murder etc, that just dont happen simultaniously in the average street.And nobody ever cracked a joke once. Pure miserableism.
    Up until then Coronation Street, had realistic plot lines, appropriate to ordinary people with ordinary lives, and they had character and told jokes and had a laugh.

    Well I’m told (I havent watched it since Minnie Colewell died) that in order to compete with Eastenders, they have spiced it up and ruined it.

    Things move inexorably on.
    Look at the popular shows right now.
    Ideal, about a small time drug dealer and Shameless about a sink estate family that hasn’t had a job in three generations.Both very funny but hardly beacons of hope.

    Yes at least Dallas and Dynasty were asperational, but they fitted the mood of the 80s.
    Greed is good and the Maggie revoloution.
    I bet we will get a remake of the Good Life soon, for the re-cycling green generation, but without the jokes.

  • moonbat nibbler

    Anyone notice a libertarian bent with Pushing Daisies? The show is uplifting, whimsical and set in a surreal pseudo-utopia where the state is almost entirely absent.

    Three of the four top movies at the US box office this weekend were comedies while every serious Iraq film since Fahrenheit has been a disaster commercially. People want fantastical not drudgery – especially now times are getting a little harder economically.

    I have to disagree with Gregory on “The Shield”, its quite possibly the best TV series ever. The end of season 5 was pure shock & awe – the kind I’ve never experienced before from TV or Film (possibly with the exception of Bullet in The Head which I saw before Dear Hunter). Everyone should check out The Shield’s first, pilot, episode. You can make a decision on whether to watch the six current seasons just on that 45 minutes – it will be love or hate.

  • Yes, and in Australian soaps people named Trevor and Kylie have complicated multi-episode feuds about who was responsible for the leaves falling into the pool.

    (Except of course that they are not named Kylie any more, because one particular such Kylie became too famous, I suspect).

  • manuel II palaeologus

    Regarding US standards of wealth, the thing that always makes me laugh is that The Simpsons live in a house (detached, sizeable garden, garage, driveway, at least 4 bedrooms, nice big attic) that in many parts of England would cost a million pounds.

  • JezB

    ‘Non e la Rai’ was one of the greatest shows ever put out over the airwaves. Ever. I spent 6 months in Milan and tried never to miss a show.

    A hundred young girls in the studio, aged between 16 and 24, dancing, singing (well, miming) and playing stupid games, all dressed in swimsuits, short skirts and not much else.

    Fanbloodytastic – santo cielo che programma d’oro, ancora me lo ricordo…

  • Johnathan Pearce

    You have just ruined your credibility. Dallas? Compulsive viewing? I remember watching some to be polite. But I found it difficult to imagine being so devoid of initiative and curiosity that I couldn’t think of at least a dozen better ways to use my time. If I live to be a million, I still don’t think I would get that desperate.

    I am glad to hear it, Steve.

  • Kevin B

    Nick M:

    One of my favorite tracks by the great supergroup Schadenfreude is The Balcony Scene from the rock opera The Ceausescus.

    That little tidbit about Dallas greatly increases my enjoyment of it.

    Joy indeed.

    Incidentally, my all time favorite is Saddam in the Spiderhole with it’s great line:
    “Open your mouth Mr Hussein,
    I need to check your oral hygiene”

  • Gregory

    Alisa, moonbat nibbler, I’m glad we can agree to disagree. Because The Shield depresses me.

    OK, the acting is more or less solid. The storylines, well, they’re ok. It’s the premise I don’t like.

    In the Motherland (mine, I mean), the police are corrupt. The anti-corruption guys are corrupt. The higher-ups are corrupt. I do not need to see this being played out on TV; no, not even if he suddenly reforms and rats everyone else out, and everything ends on a sappy, happy note.

  • no, not even if he suddenly reforms and rats everyone else out, and everything ends on a sappy, happy note.

    No, god forbid, it would ruin the show!

    The acting is more than solid, the story lines are imaginative. Those two factors result in multidimensional characters, and they are the ones that make the show so compelling. But I can see why one could be depressed by the premise.

  • Getting back to Eastenders, am I the only one that feels it is almost a deliberate ploy by self-loathing “Liberals” to undermine the psyche of people in the UK by making everyone argumentative, irrational, shouty, thieving, gossiping, lying feckless scum, and if you are not that, you are taught that your fate is to be ripped off and/or humiliated?

    Oh, of course we now have arch moaner Mike Leigh create a film about optimism just as the wheels come off Socialism. Disingenuous scumbag he is.

  • John

    Footballers Wives is a British soap.

  • ak

    Now you’re all making me embarrassed that I liked The Eastenders. It was (and possibly still is) a big hit on public TV here in the US. It’s how they used to threaten us during pledge weeks. “Send in money or we’ll take The Eastenders off the air.”

    I guess I just was, as Salinger put it, quite fond of squalor. I enjoyed watching people getting shouty in the Queen Vic. Besides, it gave me the distinct advantage of being one of the few people I know who got who Barry was on Extras.

  • Hey, The Shield is the best ever!

    I’ll second that!

  • Actually, I’ll make a correction: The Shield is the best ever after Firefly, which as has been discussed on here many times, had a genuine libertarian theme running through it.

    Now I’m going to go off an be miserable over them cancelling the show…

  • Gregory

    Now, on the matter of Firefly, I will gladly admit and agree that this is quite possibly the best new-millennial non-derivative SF* series ever. Ever. “The Man They Called Jayne” was a classic, which had me splitting my sides.

    *Because I have a soft spot for Enterprise (Scott Bakula and Jolene Blalock and other associated actresses, otherwise it was a washout), Stargate:Atlantis (Tori Higginson and other reasons), and assorted anime series.

  • To the unfortunate subjects of the Soviet empire and its satellites, just about any US television series looked like lavish splendor.