Monday, May 16, 2005

Dynasty Season One - DVD Review

Sometimes it’s nice to go back to a different time.

Reagan’s go-go 80s, unbridled capitalism, a time when it was still cool to exploit the world’s natural resources for all it was worth. Interwoven affairs between husbands and wives and homosexual men who aren’t sure if they’re homosexual or bisexual or oil tycoons in the making or what.

And, at least in the beginning: great writing, fun and quirky dialogue, a super cast, and an involving plotline.

Watching the first season of Dynasty on DVD was far more fun than I ever could have expected. After viewing each episode I wanted to call up a friend and say, “Can you believe how Fallon is playing that poor limo driver guy with her rich-bitch wiles?” Or, “Is Steven Carrington really gay, and what’s up with him sleeping with his boss’s wife?”

Or, “Girl, why Krystal gotta get played like that by Blake? You think she in it for the money or what?”

Okay, maybe I only wanted to ask that last one after polishing off the brandy that was held in my exquisite crystal decanter… just like the 512 decanters I saw polished off over the course of the season.

Of course only then did I realize that I was watching a television show originally broadcast in 1981. So on I forged into the Denver Carrington oil empire’s night.

There was the great John Forsythe as Blake Carrington, the head of the aforementioned oil empire, who played the role as a mixture of old school blue blood patriarch and troubled, alcohol-addled egomaniac. There’s a great balance at work with Forsythe’s performance: vulnerable and ruffled one moment, domineering and nearly sinister the next. Word has it that Forsythe worked hard to place some degree of likeability into his character, and I’m glad he did. The result is a complex man, something so rare on television during any era that it makes cause for celebration.

All of these character traits come to a broiling head during the episode in which Blake, for all intents and purposes, rapes his own wife (Krystal Carrington), played with grace and melancholy by Linda Evans. It took me a while to reconcile how Krystal could ever forgive Blake (who was driven to the act after learning that Krystal was secretly taking birth control pills): was this the temperament of the time, to stand by your man if he asks for forgiveness with a degree of sincerity? Or does it always help to be a billionaire?

Dynasty opens on the eve of a happy event: the marriage of Blake and Krystal, who had been a secretary to the oil magnate.

At least it should have been a happy event. Happy doesn’t play well on a nighttime soap, so the intrigue and conflict are served up and dished out in short order. Throughout the first season, the lightning rod proved to be Fallon Carrington (Pamela Sue Martin, who left the show after the 1984 season, to be replaced by Emma Samms). As Blake’s only daughter, she’s protective of her father and ever hungry for his approval. She’s also determined to break the glass ceiling that held women from the highest reaches of power in those days, and goes to some very extreme lengths to do it. Ultimately, Fallon is a fun character because she’s utterly comfortable being rich and has fun trapping others in their own insecurities. As the season progresses, Martin lets an attractive vulnerability shine through, particularly with regard to her brother Stephen, who is played by Al Corley (who, as bizarre as this is to write, was replaced with actor Jack Coleman following the debut season. This is explained away by an oil refinery explosion and extensive “plastic surgery”).

Ah, Stephen, the homosexual-bisexual-heterosexual(?) son of Blake and theoretically the natural successor to the House of Carrington.

Exceptin’ the fact that Blake doesn’t want any kind of a gay son working for him.

And this is where things get interesting, and complicated.

We then have Michael Blaisdel (Bo Hopkins), an up-and-coming oil man, largely cast into the role of Good Guy, who makes interesting bug eyes when frustrated or astounded. Blaisdel, it seems, dated Krystle before Krystle dated Blake. Blaisdel, however, is married to Claudia (Pamela Bellwood)… but that’s okay, because she was off at a mental hospital for a while.

That’s the back-story. Bring it up to date and you get:

- Stephen has a boyfriend in New York… but he ends up sleeping with Claudia, the wife of his good friend and boss (Michael Blaisdel).

- Michael, married man that he is, pines for and occasionally kisses on Krystle.

- Krystle pines for Michael when she’s not getting date raped or forgiving Blake.

- Then there’s a storyline where Fallon gets married to Jeff Colby (John James) to keep daddy’s company afloat and to position herself in line for the throne.

The upshot throughout the season is that everyone’s married or in a relationship and just miserable about it. That element is as important as anything, including the flashy homes and clothes and Big Money look (in early 80s terms anyway. There are hilariously old school items on display: bland beige telephones that look like they should belong on a school nurse’s desk and not on that of a billionaire’s).

There’s plenty of other elements to keep you watching, however: Krystle learning to live in an Upstairs Downstairs world, shady limo drivers lurking on the scene, “wild cat” oil rigging, bar fights, brothels, lavish parties, and the famous mansion that’s the backdrop for much of the action.

All in all, Dynasty is pure escapism with a unique angle on soap and the ritzy and the drama (Come Watch the Rich Hate On One Another). It still has a fresh feel to it, which is testament to the quality of the writing and the overall storytelling.

The character of Alexis (Joan Collins) makes a half-second appearance at the tail end of the final episode (Blake on trial for “accidentally” killing Stephen’s ex-boyfriend), heralding a completely new era for the show. Much has been written about the rise and fall of Dynasty, but the first season is certainly something that shouldn’t be lost in the mix.

There are a few extras that come with the DVD set, but nothing to really write home about. I enjoyed a few of the featurettes, which talk about the development of characters such as Stephen and Fallon. The one audio commentary I checked out was deadly boring (it fell into the trap of No Talk While Characters Talking).

But Dynasty in its early days was certainly anything but boring.


midnitcafe said...

I've never dreamed of watching even a single episode, and now you've gone and made me desire purchasing the whole first season!

Eric Berlin said...

I can't vouche for what happens down the road, in the years where Dynasty really hit the top of the ratings and kind of helped define the nighttime soap, but I really dug Season One.

That said, one thing I didn't mention in my review is that there are a few serious moments of Cheese Melodrama (many involving the Blaisdel's annoying daughter), but they were easy enough to overlook.