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The Sydney Morning Herald

Plenty of soap but where's the dirt?

Author: Michael Idato. Ruth Ritchie will return next week.
Date: 18/08/2001
Words: 725
          Publication: Sydney Morning Herald
Section: News And Features
Page: 44
From Dynasty and Prisoner to Neighbours oh, it's all become so ... suburban.

CAST your mind back to Shakespeare's often-overlooked classic Hamlexis: Queen of Denver, the Bard's forgotten masterwork about a ruthlessly shoulder-padded arch-bitch who rules a global oil empire.

We pick up in Act 1, Scene 4, where H.R. ``Horatio" Ewing declares, somewhat non-revealingly, ``Have after. To what issue will this come?" Marcellus, Hamlexis's son by her sixth husband, Flex Dexter, replies, ``Something is rotten in the state of soap opera."

And indeed, dear boy, there is.

Where has all the glamour gone? Where did the excitement go? Where are the hold-your-breath-and-clutch-the-couch cliffhangers? Who declared big hair wasn't fashionable any more?

The soap opera bubble, we declare, has burst.

Channel-surfing a sea of suds, it was with great expectation that we waited for Shauna's promised ``shock revelation" on Home and Away (Seven, Monday) only to find out it was that she had feelings for a long-haired fellow called Flynn.

Now, this could have been good, had they chosen the eve of her wedding to Jude (Ben Steel) to shuck their clothes off and get down and dirty, precisely the way they would have had this been Number 96.

Instead, this sizzling menage a trois concludes with Shauna and Flynn's decision that their attraction was nothing more than pre-wedding jitters, and they should immediately don boiler suits and never speak of it again.

Not what you'd call sexy, by any stretch, and a far cry from the way soaps of yesteryear such as Dynasty (Arena, Tuesday) handled their weddings.

This late great '80s classic, currently in repeats on cable, opened with the nuptials between Amanda Carrington, played by the hilariously over-coiffed Catherine Oxenberg, and her way-too-wet Prince Michael of Moldavia (Michael Praed).

No sooner were rings exchanged and AK-47s loaded than rebel soldiers stormed the palace and opened fire on the congregation. Luckily, Krystle's hair was so heavily lacquered it deflected most of the bullets at least those aimed at actors with contracts for the next season though Bill Campbell, who played Steven Carrington's boyfriend, Luke, got two close-ups, one blood-dripping long shot and a touching deathbed scene.

In the midst of the mayhem the goons chucked Krystle (Linda Evans) into a cell, while a creepy minister put the hard word on Dominique (Diahann Carroll) in a skin-crawling exchange Adam (Gordon Thomson) and Claudia (Pamela Bellwood) still found the time for a little lerve, declaring their intentions and exchanging pensive glances (as one did in those days) to cement the union.

Back in the present day, one can only assume Neighbours (Ten, Wednesday) was trying to mimic that theme of romance-against-the-odds, with Sheena's mum Rhonda (Brenda Addie) making a move on Toadie (Ryan Moloney).

We picked up the story in the garden, with Toadie snipping a few hedges (there's a double meaning in there somewhere) while his girlfriend's mother leered in the background. After giving him a quick rub, she points out how sweaty he is and invites him in for a massage.

Now, I'm sorry, but you don't need a PhD in soap opera story-lining to know that as romantic plotlines go, that's about as romantic as a candlelit dinner with Saddam Hussein.

But the sad state of (soap) affairs is not limited to romance; younger soaps lack scope and vision. We have exchanged the world-changing settings of '80s soap opera for the suburban backyards of the nation. Instead of toppling small European kingdoms, we argue over the back fence.

Even behind the bars in Prisoner (UKTV, Thursday) the inmates of Wentworth Detention Centre's H Block managed to topple governments. (With time left over for smuggling ciggies, sabotaging the steam press and exchanging threats with bosoms held high.)

Bea Smith (Val Lehman) has just handed over a photograph of senior corrective services ministry official Ted Douglas (Ian Smith) on the take to the cops. Cue the downfall of Douglas, leaving denim-clad toughie Bea holding the smoking gun.

Ah, Bea puff cigarette, blow smoke they just don't make them like they used to.

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