Alex Hewison reviews Dynasty: The Complete First Season, the once hugely popular TV Drama that focused upon the extremely complicated life of the wealthy Carrington family. The DVD set is good enough but the extras are less than stellar.
Dynasty personifies what could loosely be termed as ‘yuppie pornography’. Created back in 1981 with the intention of sating the public’s latent desire to peep through the keyhole into the lives of the disgustingly wealthy, Dynasty is an unmistakable product of its money fixated era. It’s a melodramatic super-soap replete with silly plot-lines and sillier fashions, all wrapped up in a nicely capitalistic package that one way or the other always extolled the same sentiment: greed really is good, even if your kids are straying from the proscribed path, your ex-wife is conniving to screw you over for the umpteenth time and a conclave of shady Arabs are attempting to steal your oil. The name Ronald Regan sound familiar?
Two things that should be noted about the first season of Dynasty before proceeding:
1) Joan ‘five husbands’ Collins, for whom the show is best remembered, doesn’t actually appear until the following season – hence there’s an unfortunate lack of catfights between herself and Linda Evans this time around.
2) Though the series is famed for its inescapable decline into risible high-camp (see aforesaid catfights and a certain Moldavian massacre that the entire cast miraculously survived) this season is markedly more sombre in tone, with screeching histrionics being kept to a bare minimum.
The plot concerns oil tycoon Blake Carrington, newly married to his secretary Krystle and desperately trying to overcome the problems that the script writers now place before him. He’s losing money because those shady Arabs (they’re never viewed as much else by the characters) are trying to get their hands on his oil reserves and his children are proving similarly challenging. Steven, to Blake’s disgust, is unashamedly homosexual (reportedly the first character ever to be so in a mainstream TV program) and Fallon, the apple of his eye, revels in her licentious lifestyle and is more than ready to conduct a few underhand business deals of her own. These difficulties are compounded by the omnipresent spectre of Krsytle’s old flame, Matthew Blaisdale – a man whose family is only marginally less dysfunctional than that of the Carrington’s.
Though Dynasty was notorious for its flamboyant plot twists and the incoherence that often resulted from them, by today’s standards it’s fairly tame stuff. Compared to something like Footballers’ Wives – a show that owes its very livelihood to Dynasty – it seems almost quaint, not to mention old fashioned (the most outrageous transgression on display being a bit of pot-smoking). Dynasty’s ultimate failing, however, is its tedious attention to the Blaisdale family, who aren’t especially interesting and soon fall into an obvious pattern of plot points: whereby Matthew and Claudia bicker then reunite before bickering again, sending their impressionable daughter into a frenzied spate of solipsistic agony, pondering whether she’s actually *reel in shock* illegitimate. The tears begin to flow and the audience begins to yawn. Not that the lives of the wealthy are necessarily more interesting; poor Krystle seems to spend half the series attempting to get those haughty servants to give her the respect she most surely deserves as mistress of the Carrington’s grotesquely oversized mansion.
There’s still fun to be had; the scriptwriting (on occasion) approaches wittiness and Fallon’s acidic presence is able to recompense for the frequent slides into sentimentality. Judging the quality of the acting is somewhat difficult; the characters aren’t the most rounded of creatures and are mostly clichés or archetypes. Nonetheless, John Forsyth is smoothly Machiavellian as the entrepreneurial family patriarch; Linda Evans is convincingly sweet as the one of the few characters who maintains any semblance of decency; Pamela Sue Martin is pleasingly rude as Fallon and Al Corely does a believable job of tortured introspection as the conflicted Steven.
With the exception of the opening credits and a few fade-ins and outs, all the footage appears to have been remastered and looks very good too. The episodes are presented in their original TV broadcast ratio of 1.33:1 and considering they were produced over twenty years ago they’re in impressively strong shape. I noticed infrequent speckles of print damage but otherwise there’s not a great deal to complain about: colours are warm and well-defined, sharpness is good and there’s mostly an absence of digital artefacting.
The available audio tracks (English along with French and Spanish dubs) are presented in mono. It should come as little surprise that these tracks are less than remarkable but they get the job done and provide a serviceable presentation of the film’s audio.
Regrettably, the extras are of little value to all but the most devout Dynasty aficionado, since what’s on offer is irrecoverably asinine and self-congratulatory. Esther Shapiro provides a solo commentary on ‘Oil Parts 1-3’ and though she makes the occasional point of interest she has the irritating tendency of really hammering the point home through frequent reiteration. There are also lots of extensive silences. The two commentaries provided by Shapiro and Al Corley are equally mediocre with frequent lapses into silence in a conversation that rarely provides either insight or entertainment and is generally consigned to inane observations about what’s going on in the episode
The featurettes aren’t much of an improvement. Almost half of the twenty minute ‘Family, Furs and Fun: Creating Dynasty’ is comprised of clips from the series and the interviewees only occasionally alert one’s interest. Some of the slightly less facile things discussed include audiences’ disinterest in the middle-class Blaisdale family and the difficulties of portraying Steven’s homosexuality. The two character profiles on Fallon and Steven Carrington last about five minutes apiece and include interviews with Pamela Sue Martin and Al Corley. They’re probably the most interesting, not to mention concise, extras to be found on this box-set though they still fall short of offering real detail.
Dynasty is probably indefensible; it’s hopelessly naff and despite its occasional bursts of morality and ‘grittiness’ it remains an essentially luxurious, almost decadent, look at the life of one obscenely rich family. It’s fun while it lasts but never does it really make anything more than the slightest of impressions. This DVD set will come as a blessing for the show’s devotees but though the picture and sound are pretty good, the extras are just as vapid as the characters themselves.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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