First, there was Dallas. Then, Knots Landing. And finally, Dynasty. The trio of prime time soap operas I was addicted to back in the day. While there was the occasional check-in at Falcon Crest and Flamingo Road, devotion was awarded only to the top three.
And that was good for a long while. There was “Who Shot J. R.?” mania, and the “Oh my God, that’s my mother!” hat worn by Joan Collins when she first appeared as Alexis. Donna Mills as Abby, the original mean girl on Knots Landing, never failed to fascinate while wearing at least three different shades of eye shadow—if not four. Or more.
But extended drama is hard to maintain. Just as in real life, repetition leads to tedium, so the storylines got more outrageous as the years went by. The “Moldavian Massacre” was the fifth season cliffhanger for Dynasty, leaving all the major characters seemingly dead following a terrorist attack at a family/royal wedding. Even before the sixth season opener revealed that it was more pink wedding than red as only two minor characters died, I was out.
After spending the entire sixth season of Knots Landing following the struggle of the long-suffering Valene to get her kidnapped twins back (don’t even ask), she finally finds them only to have one of them snatched up and run off with by the man who had illegally adopted them. (I said don’t ask.) It was over for me.
It was inevitable that things would go too far on Dallas, too. Bobby Ewing showed up in the shower, and we found out that much of season eight and all of season nine had been Pam’s dream. Really? I’m done—over and out.
More than thirty years later, television drama and how we consume it has changed. No longer patient enough to watch a weekly episode, we require a full season to be dropped at one time. Binge-watch is a 21st century verb. Even with this convenience, I still find it hard to maintain interest until the very end of a series. I’m looking at you Orange Is the New Black.
But the soapiest soap in television history isn’t on Netflix, Hulu, or HBO. Nor does it provide the entertaining escapism of big houses, big hair, and big shoulder pads. It’s a character driven show, so to speak, that’s been building up for years.
Back in the ‘80’s, Donald Trump built a national profile that was less Warren Buffett and more J. R. Ewing, minus the charm. Bankruptcies in the ‘90’s diminished the persona, but Trump’s inheritance from his father and the debut of The Apprentice must have helped fill the coffers needed to pay for the famous gold plated lifestyle.
It started in 2003 as a hit, ranking at #7 in its first season and attracting 20.7 million viewers. And The Apprentice stayed in the top 20 for the next couple of years. But the fourth season ranked at #38, and it was all downhill from there. Trump’s final season ended in February 2015 at #67, a slight improvement over the prior two years, but with finale viewers totaling only 6.1 million.
Four months later, Trump announced his candidacy for the presidency.
For these last five years, we—the viewing audience—have been provided constant and frequently breathless commentary on everything Trump. Not from a single network, but practically every one oF them not devoted to DIY projects and the history of World War II. During the run-up to the 2016 general election, we were treated to the spectacle of campaign rallies unlike any we’d ever seen before (and not in a good way), the attack on John McCain and Gold Star families, and even talk about the size of Trump’s hands and other things.
By his winning the Electoral College, The Trump Show was sure to be a guaranteed ratings bonanza. Love him or hate him, he’s good for viewership. And so we’ve watched plotlines about Muslim bans, children in cages, and the wall. We’ve gone through the Mueller investigation and its resulting report and everything else to do with Russia. We got an impeachment and a trial in the Senate. Many in the supporting cast have found their way to indictments, prison, or presidentially commuted sentences. Cap that off with a potentially lethal bout with a deadly virus—well, who could ask for anything more?
But that’s just it. Lots of us, not named Oliver, don’t want some more. At all. We’re ready to change the channel, but the battery in the remote is dead, and the television didn’t come with a knob.
One of this week’s episodes highlighted the junior partners going into next month’s election day. The fly stole the show. Social media is clamoring for Jeff Goldblum to appear on Saturday Night Live, but I’m strictly old-school. Al Hedison from the original 1958 movie will always be my favorite fly, unless Bradley Cooper does another remake.
Because the fly stuck on Pence’s head during the debate was speaking for many of us. It was faint, but it was there. “Help! Help me! Please help me!”