Dopey, stupid and uninteresting in that tolerable television way, "Dynasty," ABC's unashamed clone of the CBS hit "Dallas, " premieres as a plush and bulbous three-hour movie at 8 tonight on Channel 7. The movie is unpredictable only in the sense that it's hard to foresee in precisely which order the cliches will plop out, and whether there will be any that don't show up in one form or another.
Being blatantly derivative has never been much of a handicap in television; it may be an asset, since viewers appear to like new programs that seem cozily familiar. Though obviously patterned after "Dallas" -- it has the same serial form and preoccupation with the filthy rich -- "Dynasty," which concerns itself with a Denver oil family, is really yet another flash back to the silky, sudsy women's pictures" that Universal cranked out in the '50s.
It is retro kitsch -- yesterday's much toned down and streamlined for the soft focus of '80s TV.
John Forsythe, still drab to beat the bland, actually played a similar role, the of a superrich gazillionaire who weds a woman from the other side of the tracks, in "madame X," one of about a dozen old movies from which "Dynasty" borrows characters and situations. It would look and sound exactly like those films if not for its sprinkling of selected topical tidbits about oil, energy and flare-ups in the Mideast.
Whether or not Dallas-in-Denver catches on depends largely on whether the public takes to its gallery of characters, including Forsythe as nabob Blake Carrington, rich as Rockefeller and slightly to the right of Alexander Haig; Matthew Blaisdel (Bo Hopkins), a middle-class schmo in love with the secretary who becomes Mrs. Carrington; callow Fallon (Pamela Sue Martin), Carrinton's rebellious nymphomaniacal daughter; and surely Steven (Al Corley), his rebellious homosexual son.
In addition, there are such smaller-than-life, much-smaller-than-literature stereotypes as the stud chauffeur (Wayne Northrop); the nervous-breakdown housewife (Pamela Bellwood); rough-and-ready wildcatter Walter Lankershim (named after an avenue in Burbank and played by Dale Robertson, on whom a large paunch and tossed salad of gray hair look very good).The part of the criminally air-headed Krystle Jennings, Carrington's middle-class heartthrob, is played by Linda Evans, who resembles Bo Derek in more ways than two.
The characters are efficiently introduced in the premiere, in which Carrington marries Jennings only after she momentarily huffs off and he woos her back with a trip to San Francisco in his private jet. It seems the man has a 48-room house -- the biggest in Colorado -- $200 million "and," says one character, "his own football team," most of whose players have apparently scored first downs with his daughter.
Writers Richard and Esther Shapiro are careful not to jar anyone with originalities. Forsythe says things like "Now, what's the bottom line?" and Hopkins offers such advice as "Don't ever look back." There is scarcely an utterance that doesn't reverberate with deja vu; this is less a drama than a trivia quiz for shmaltz buffs who like to torture themselves with questions like "in what movie was that line first used?"
Virtually the only performers who appear capable of human emotions are Robertson, whose blustery entrance is a healthy gust of hammy bombast, and Bellwood, who as the emotionally disturbed wife of Hopkins gets the film's best line. When a door-to-door evangelist asks her "How do you know you won't be going to hell?" she replies, "Because I've already been there."
The writers Shapiro and director Ralph Senensky don't do much dawdling, really, but they have a little trouble with time frames. When Blaisdel suffers a broken leg on a defective oil rig, Lankershim, thinking it's a case of Carrington sabotage, grabs a gun, gets in his jeep and heads for the Carrington mansion.
Before he gets there, Blaisdel has been admitted to and released from the hospital without so much as a limp and gone home for long chats about love and marriage with his wife. Senensky intercuts shots of Robertson driving with scenes of the wedding; either it's 10,000 miles from the oil rig to the Carrington place, or this is the longest movie wedding since "The Deer Hunter."
When Lankershim finally does arrive at the house, the guests and Carrington's new wife and family stand by motionless while Dobermans knock him to the ground and chew on him. Later he is taken into the livery and soundly walloped. Carrington's new wife appears completely unfazed by the display of barbarism, and the son and daughter just gape. They're rebellious, but not so rebellious as to get in the way of a good old dog attack.
Like J.R. Ewing, Carrington is a ruthless and calculating robber baron, but we're not supposed to despise him, just admire the fact that he gets what he wants. It's a peculiar strain of anti-heroism and whether it represents a new, resigned wrinkle in popular attitudes toward Powers-That-Be or just an extension of materialist deference, it's not the kind of thing one likes to see spreading like Dutch Elm Disease.
The nature of the son's desenchantment with Dad is kept very vague until about midway through the film; there seem to be deep, dark, East-of-Eden psychological hatreds at play, but then when father and son finally have a scene together (they keep missing each other in the big house), the son barks, "At least I didn't rob from the people of this country by artificially pushing up the price of gasoline!"
To which Daddums paternally replies, "Now that is an allegation that has never been proven by anybody!"
The smatterings of sex are about what would be expected of an Aaron Spelling Production -- which this all too obviously is -- but despite the fact that almost every character in the story is smoldering about something, the temperature never really gets into the torrid zone. Bellwood sums up the show succinctly when complaining to her husband about their uneventful conjugality: "It's got all the flash and fire of two snails mating."