Thursday, January 18, 2018

Question for the Hive Mind, Dynasty Edition


A few weeks back, the husband and I started watching the original Dynasty1 on Amazon. I don't remember wanting to watch it when it originally ran, but it wouldn't have mattered if I had, because I was a child and it was forbidden. I was nevertheless very aware of the show, because it was a big deal (Dynasty was the top-rated show across all networks in the 1984-85 season, and in the top ten for three other seasons). Without ever watching it, I would have been able to tell you that there were characters named Alexis and Krystle, and they fought with one another a lot, and that the show was sort of generally glamorous and soapy. It seemed like people took it sort of seriously -- I remember reading stuff about it being trashy and shallow, and yet also collected a lot of nominations and awards, so clearly people thought it was "good" TV for the time.

So watching it now has been really eye-opening in ways it couldn't have been if I'd watched it then, because it is terrible. Like, astoundingly so. I won't deny that it's entertaining (the outfits alone, my god), but the writing is frequently nonsensical. Like, characters who start at come on, unlock the door, we can't settle our problems if you won't even talk to me will, 15 seconds later, find themselves at fine, I hope you rot in your locked room, with no attempt on the part of the actor or writer to show any kind of thought process bridging the two. Just boom, 180-degree turn. Dynasty seems to be a TV show written by people whose only knowledge of humans is from watching other TV shows. It's amazing.

Also, a lot of the technical stuff is remarkably amateurish. Like, I don't remember which episode it was in, but twice now, I've caught the microphone boom dipping into the top of the frame and they used the shot anyway. There are occasionally shots of jewelry to which crude animated sparkles have obviously been added, and periodically the film quality gets abruptly worse for a single scene, presumably because a shot had to be redone with a different camera(?). "Romantic" scenes are designated as such by the addition of a filter that makes every point of light into an "x," as in this example:


State of the art at the time, I'm sure. But it hasn't aged well.

However! There are some moments that make it all worthwhile, which are highly recommended to any readers who want to watch on Amazon.

For the first big Alexis-Krystle catfight, check out season 2, episode 16, at 41:25.2

Joan Collins "singing"3 and dancing in leather pants: season 4, episode 15, beginning at about 28:30.

Have you ever wanted to see Linda Evans and Joan Collins fighting in a lily pond?4 Season 3, episode 23, beginning at 27:05.



To see the most hilariously awful sex scene I've ever seen (and be warned: it is really, really bad; I'm not exaggerating "most awful"), go to season 2, episode 22, at 43:36. There's a shorter version on YouTube, but watch the long version if you can, because part of what makes it so wonderful / terrible is that it goes until you're like okay, I get it, sexy sexy, let's move on and then it keeps going, and going, and going.

My younger siblings, when shown the sex scene, compared it to watching a box turtle eating a strawberry,


which is so precisely correct that it delights me each time I think about it, and cannot be unseen once seen.

And finally, how about a dull cameo from former president Gerald Ford and his wife Betty for no reason at all? (Season 4, episode 11, 25:51. Stick around until 29:55 and you'll get a bonus Henry Kissinger.5)


Anyway. So I wouldn't exactly say I'm enjoying Dynasty, but I'm not not enjoying it either. Nothing will convince you that the past is truly another country like watching their television programs will. Dynasty's treatment of Steven Carrington (only like the second gay main-cast character in U.S. television ever, I think I read somewhere) isn't up to modern standards, but it's pretty progressive for the early 80s. (On the other hand, he's only gay part of the time, and it was apparently acceptable to use a certain anti-gay slur in prime-time TV in 1981,6 which shocked me a bit.)

Another thing that would never fly today is the amount of fur being worn by the characters (mostly Alexis). I wasn't even looking very hard, and still managed to find these examples within like ten minutes:


More than anything else, though, I notice that the treatment of women is astoundingly bad by modern standards. Not just rape -- though Dynasty is in fact super-rapey7 -- but if you took a drink every time a male character grabbed a female character roughly by the arm, to stop her from going somewhere, force her to go somewhere, or demonstrate his manly man-ness, you would literally die of alcohol poisoning somewhere in the early to middle first season. It's alarming. I don't think Krystle changes rooms without male assistance once in the entire first season. Depending on how much of an optimist you are, this can be depressing or heartening; I choose to think of it as heartening. Sure, things aren't so great for women now, but they used to be so much worse that you could show characters doing this kind of shit on the most-watched TV program at the time and not have to worry about the audience losing sympathy for the grabbers and rapists. Change does happen sometimes.

ANYWAY.

The reason we are actually here, though, is plant-related. I am occasionally surprised by the plant choices the set decorators make,8 but I can at least usually determine what they are. And yet there are two I can't identify.

The first is obviously enough a bromeliad of some kind, but I can't even narrow down a genus for it. Closest thing I can think of would be a Guzmania, but it's awfully big for a Guzmania. Maybe they were bigger in the 80s?




UPDATE: Anonymous in the comments suggests Guzmania wittmackii. I'm not 100% certain on the species, but a Guzmania of some kind seems likely. See comments for links to photos.

The second plant has been driving me crazy for weeks, because the set decorator really likes them, and sticks them all over the place, but I can't figure out what it is; it reminds me variously of Schefflera actinophylla (compound leaves with large leaflets), Polyscias balfouriana and P. scutellaria (large leaves, produced from cane cuttings), and Ficus spp. (leaf venation, bark color) but doesn't seem to be any of them for sure. The bark is wrong for Schefflera; compound leaves are wrong for Ficus, it doesn't look like any Polyscias I've ever seen.

It's possible that the reason I'm finding it so difficult is that they're not all the same species of plant. The overall "tuft of large compound leaves at the top of a long, bare stem" appearance is consistent from specimen to specimen, but there are differences in leaflet angles and coloration that makes me unsure. In particular, I'm not sure if the two plants in this shot are of the same species:

Adam Carrington (played by Gordon Thomson), left, with Tracy Kendall (Deborah Adair). They're both more or less evil.

The guy here is Mark Jennings (played by Geoffrey Scott); he's the most pointless character and I hate every scene he appears in.

80s fashion!

Joan Collins, enjoying a morning half-grapefruit, as all Dynasty characters were apparently legally required to; it's rare when a breakfast scene shows them eating anything else.

I don't hate her outfit, though. I would totally wear something like that for all my personal grapefruit-eating scenes, if I ever ate grapefruit.

UPDATE: Pattock points out in the comments that it's actually a papaya, not a grapefruit. I don't like papayas, so I would not be willing to eat papaya while wearing Joan Collins' outfit. PATSP regrets the error.

More Adam and Tracy.

So what do we think? Any guesses on either plant ID? Thoughts on Dynasty? Anything?

UPDATE: David Gray, in comments, proposed Bombax, which after a lot of looking around in search engines got me to Pseudobombax ellipticum, a few photos of which look enough like the plants in question that I'm prepared to consider the plant definitely ID'ed. See comments for links to photos.

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1 There is also a . . . severely unnecessary-sounding reboot on the CW, which I have not seen, and cannot imagine ever wanting to see. 1981 Dynasty or nothing. Accept no substitutes.
2 This is especially delicious because while I'm not 100% certain, I think that for some of the fighting, Joan Collins' stunt double is a man on whom the producers have put a wig, a dress, nail polish, and maybe a little makeup. It doesn't show up well in screencaps, unfortunately, but:
If true, the likely real reason is that they were having difficulty finding a stuntwoman of Joan Collins' proportions, but I prefer the magical realist interpretation, that Alexis is so enraged that she physically transforms, à la the Incredible Hulk.
3 More "talking in a lilting way," really, though apparently Collins actually can sing: she just wasn't doing it for this particular performance.
4 (heck yeah, you have)
5 (Of course Alexis Carrington would know Henry Kissinger socially.)
6 Yep, it's the one you're thinking of. The really bad one.
7 Blake, Jeff, Mark, and Adam all either commit or attempt rape at some point, and all four of them are intended to be sympathetic characters at least some of the time. I'm probably forgetting some, too. Dex, maybe? Nick Toscanni?
8 Here's what was hot, plant-wise, in the 1980s, as best as I can determine from watching all of two shows (I'm also including data from our hernia-surgery-driven re-watch of Star Trek: The Next Generation), in order of increasing surprise (to me) when it showed up on screen:
Epipremnum aureum (pothos)
Syngonium podophyllum (arrowhead vine), though I think some of them were artificial so maybe it doesn't count?
• The presence of palms wasn't a surprise, but the number of them were. I'm not good at palm IDs, so the only one I'm sure about is Caryota mitis (fishtail palm). I feel like I've noticed Caryota being more popular on recent TV as well, which is interesting if it's true: I've never had great experiences with them personally.
Strelitzia nicolai (white bird of paradise)
Dracaena marginata, Dracaena deremensis 'Janet Craig,' Dracaena fragrans 'Massangeana'
Hedera helix (English ivy)
Schefflera actinophylla (umbrella tree)
Spathiphyllum cvv. (peace lily), though mostly only the big cultivars, and not nearly as often as I expected
Codiaeum variegatum (croton)
Ficus benjamina (weeping fig)
Dieffenbachia cvv. (dumb cane)
Yucca guatemalensis (spineless yucca)
Monstera deliciosa (split-leaf philodendron)
Aechmea fasciata (silver vase plant) and bromeliads in general
• There was actually a plot line involving African violets, starting in the middle of season 4, though the way the show dealt with them, I suspect the writers didn't know that African violets (Saintpaulia cvv.) and violets (Viola spp.) are different, so I'm not sure this one should count either.
Maranta leuconeura erythroneura (prayer plant)
Pachira aquatica (money tree)
Araucaria heterophylla (Norfolk Island pine)
Fittonia albivenis (nerve plant)
• orchids in general, but mostly genera that aren't Phalaenopsis (in particular lots of Cymbidium)
Philodendron erubescens 'Red Emerald' and the occasional self-heading Philodendron
Cissus rhombifolia (grape ivy)
• large columnar cacti (e.g. Cereus peruvianus) and Euphorbias (e.g. E. ingens, E. trigona); presumably this is part of the 1980s southwestern obsession even though neither of these are native to the U.S. southwest
Pachypodium spp. (Madagascar palm), in both Dynasty and ST:TNG
Gynura aurantiaca (purple passion plant)
Dynasty had a few Chamaedorea metallica, which surprised hell out of me, because I would definitely have remembered it if I'd seen any in stores or books at the time, and yet I'm positive I didn't encounter the species until the late 2000s.

Plants I expected to see a lot, based on my memories of the 1980s, and either didn't see at all or saw only very occasionally:
Ficus lyrata (fiddle-leaf fig) and Ficus elastica (rubber plant)
Crassula ovata (jade plant)
Anthurium andreanum hybrids (there are some, but almost always as cut flowers, rather than entire plants)
Strelitzia reginae (orange bird of paradise) (again, always as cut flowers)
Chlorophytum comosum (spider plant, airplane plant, mala madre)
Aglaonema cvv. (Chinese evergreen) (though there were a few)
Tradescantia zebrina (wandering Jew)
Asparagus cvv. (asparagus fern) (though Dynasty has a few in exterior shots, and there is an A. plumosus in an interior shot early in season 5)
Sansevieria trifasciata (snake plant) (there are a couple in Dynasty, just not many; Star Trek: TNG has several)
Philodendron bipinnatifidum (split-leaf philodendron) (though Dynasty has some in outdoor landscaping shots because they filmed in California, where P. bipinnatifidum can grow outdoors, instead of Denver, where they cannot, even though the story is supposedly set in Denver)
Cordyline fruticosa (ti plant)
• cane Begonia cvv.


5 comments:

Anonymous said...

First might be Guzmania wittmackii, no idea about the other one.

David Gray said...

The big compound leaf thing looks like a Bombax.

Pattock said...

I would say the first is a distressed Billbergia nutans.

The second looks like a Coccoloba uvifera. I think those are very short branches rather than compound leaves. Also distressed, as most 80s houseplants were, poor things.

If you look closely you will see that Joan Collins is actually eating a pawpaw (or papaya) not a grapefruit.

I remember the 80s as an adult though I try hard to forget. I watched some of Dallas but I drew the line at Dynasty.

mr_subjunctive said...

Pattock is correct about the papaya.

Do people ever grow Bombax in containers?

Guzmania wittmackii sure seems like a plausible candidate. Comfortable with calling it that unless/until I find a better match. Image search results for G. wittmackii are sort of all over the place, but this and this are really close. If not wittmackii, then some other Guzmania.

The angle at which some of the scenes are shot makes some of the individual plants sort of ambiguous; the plant in the papaya photo, for example, may or may not have compound leaves. The camera's not moving around at all, so we only ever see it from that single angle. The plants directly behind Adam in both Adam-and-Tracy photos may or may not be the same species, but you see them from enough angles that the leaves are definitely compound, not single leaves shot at a weird angle.

I was deeply skeptical about Bombax, as a lot of the image search results for the genus show either close-ups of the flowers (unhelpful), or gigantic trees planted outdoors. Was also not finding a lot of photos to suggest that they're ever grown in containers or indoors, and the plants from the show appear to have very short, or no, rachides (rachis: the petiole-like structure on compound leaves which separate the leaflets from the end of the petiole; pl. rachides), while the photos of Bombax I was finding mostly had long rachides.

But then I found this photo of B. ellipticum, which shows a plant resprouting from a stump, which appears to be indoors. The leaves in that photo don't appear to be compound, but then I got to this photo of B. ellipticum which shows a container-grown plant, growing from a stump or something stump-like, with compound leaves and similar venation to the Dynasty example. And there's this one too, which doesn't have the stump thing happening but does have very few leaves at the top of a long, bare stem. And TopTropicals.com confirms that it's grown as an indoor plant and bonsai, though they say it's Pseudobombax ellipticum, rather than Bombax ellipticum.

So. Searching for Pseudobombax ellipticum turns up this and this and this and this and this and this, which collectively convinced me we're probably dealing with a Pseudobombax, and the only Pseudobombax that appears to be cultivated is P. ellipticum. Q.E.D.

Thanks, everybody.

Hoover Boo said...

Never saw the show either, but you make it sound very entertaining! Joan Collins cat fighting in a lilly pond...was she wearing one of those mink hats? Hilarious post, thanks. I often pay more attention to plants in movies than the rest of the movie. Scenes done at the LA Arboretum or Huntington Library (West Wing was there a lot) are easily recognizable, too.