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Fall 2000: "Titans"

I went into Titans with the most positive mindset possible. Sure, it was a prime-time soap opera from Aaron Spelling. But NBC chose to bill it as "this year's guilty pleasure," suggesting that the series will be campy fun for the in-on-the-joke crowd. And besides which, that Yasmine Bleeth is easy on the eyes.

Oh, I was so mistaken. Except about the Yasmine Bleeth part.

There were a few ways the producers of Titans could have gone. First, they could've chosen to do a winking, campy soap opera parody. It probably would've been a flop, but it might have been interesting -- and could've developed into a cult hit. Or they could've chosen to produce it straight, using slick production values and an updated sense of how savvy the television audience has gotten to make a new soap opera for the '00s, one that's smarter and nastier.

But Spelling's crew chose a different tack. Or, to put it more accurately, a very familiar tack. Because Titans, like many of the godawful soaps that have come before it (in prime time and daytime), is a leaden piece of hackwork. There are fan-written Star Trek scripts out there with more depth, realism, and crackling dialogue than the Titans pilot.

Titans' ludicrous dialogue is mixed with a ridiculously convoluted set of character relationships -- which might be funny if it weren't so painful to watch. Not one piece of dialogue, at least in the pilot episode, can refrain from being expository. "Hey, big brother," says one character to another, identifying their familial ties in a way surely not to be noticed as artificial by Titans viewers, "you're the businessman." Or, "So, sis, how's it going?"/"Great. I haven't had a drink in five weeks!"

If you think you've spotted a future plot point, in which the sister falls off the wagon, you're sorely mistaken. Because Titans can't resist setting up plot contrivances on the ol' fencepost and knocking them over one by one. The sister falls off the wagon halfway through the episode.

I never watched prime time soaps, not even as a kid. (I did watch Days of Our Lives for a few years in elementary school and high school, but the less said about that the better.) And yet, for some reason, I have misty watercolored memories of Dallas and Dynasty. Perhaps if I watched them today, I'd realize that they were just as awful as Titans.

And yet, Titans reminded me just how low television can really sink when it puts its mind to it. This is unapologetic junk, clearly targeted at an audience with absolutely no sense of cliché and no ability to detect obvious plot contrivances. It literally lowers your IQ as you watch. After half an hour, I had to take a break, get my bearings, and after a reasonable waiting period -- sort of like a diver pausing halfway to the surface in order to prevent getting the bends -- continue my hour of despair.

At its root, we can lay the blame for Titans at the feet of its writers. But we must not forget its untalented ensemble cast, most of whom manage to take the dialogue that has been written for them and smash it into a million pieces. Casper Van Dien, who has made a career out of looking handsome and saying little (yeah, he was one of the genetically engineered soldiers in "Starship Troopers"), is decked out in a white Navy uniform here -- this one's for you, gals! -- but unfortunately speaks a bit too much. Yasmine Bleeth, while still attractive, seems to be lost without the silliness of a Nash Bridges or Baywatch in the atmosphere.

The show's two older leads are an interesting contrast. Perry King, of Riptide fame, is actually not bad -- only a little stiff -- as rich man Richard Williams, president of Williams Global Enterprises, the generically named corporation whose job it is to feed money into the plots of Titans. Which doesn't say much, because he's getting killed off in a couple of weeks and being replaced by Jack Wagner, a soap opera veteran who will undoubtedly try to chew the scenery as much as possible.

And then there's poor Victoria Principal. Perhaps my implausible rosy-glow feelings about Dallas have rubbed off on her, too. But now the harsh light of reality is shining on Principal, and I know why she hasn't gotten much work since Dallas. The answer? She's really not a very good actress. Quite bad, actually. One might even say awful.

And the same can be said for Titans as a whole. The show's producers evidently don't understand that fun is part of the camp equation, and Titans is not any fun. It's deadly serious -- and I emphasize the term deadly.


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