Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Champagne Wishes and Caviar Schemes

An entry about this primetime soap seems a bit modern coming from Poseidon, but not when you realize that the series premiered almost thirty years ago! If nothing else, this show will go down in TV history as having been one of the most lavishly produced and glamorously appointed series of all time. Laugh if you must, but, in the day these ladies and gents were the end-all, be-all of glamour and no one could wait to see how they'd look each week.
Dynasty began as an almost benign family drama, albeit on a slightly higher scale than most, with Krystle (Linda Evans) leaving her working class life behind to become the wife of Blake (John Forsythe), a powerful oil magnate, while still retaining feelings for her old boyfriend, oil driller Matthew. The one thing that distinguished it was its tentative, yet still daring-for-its-time story of Blake's homosexual son Steven (Al Corley, later Jack Coleman.) Then Blake's first wife Alexis (Joan Collins) came into town at the start of the second season and there was no looking back! The glitz factor kicked in with a major villainess to help deliver it.

The show now had the loggerhead-like battle between Blake and Alexis, which would continue through all the years, often getting more than a little ridiculous. Audiences, for a while, didn't seem to mind, especially during the many raucous catfights between the ladies. Soap operas are never 100% believable and this one was no exception. In fact, it rarely seemed like it was even attempting to be believable, but rather showing a fantasy existence among the wealthy and powerful Carrington clan. The cars, clothing, furnishings, etc... all exemplified a majestic lifestyle that 80s audiences could not get enough of! The following of the show and its stars was almost unprecedented, with people organizing Dynasty viewing parties and the actors being mobbed at public appearances. I was crazy nuts about the show and had to see every episode.

Reviewing it now, decades later, it comes off as gorgeous and occasionally engrossing or amusing, but also very trite, simple-minded and often repetitive (Samples of oft-repeated dialogue -- Alexis: "I'll get you for this Blake if it's the last thing I do...," Blake: "You won't get away with this!," Krystle: "Blake, why won't you let me help you?") Several things dented the show through the years. One was the defection of Pamela Sue Martin as Fallon, the spirited daughter of Blake and Alexis. Even though her replacement Emma Samms eventually found a place in the cast and got into a groove after a bumpy start, the void left by Martin was never truly filled. Another was the entire character of Amanda (Catherine Oxenberg) and the storyline wrought from it. Introducing her was a mistake in the first place and the path her story took (becoming Princess of Moldavia) was the beginning of the end of the show. The year of her wedding (and the resultant massacre) was the highpoint of the series ratings-wise. However, the next year viewers ran away in droves as their two favorite actresses were saddled with ludicrous, pitiful story lines.

In one, Alexis spent her time trying to rescue King Galen and turned in her power clothes for a nun's habit! In the other, Krystle was kidnapped and replaced by a look-alike with a bad southern twang. These dragged-out, horrible stories, drove a stake into the show's heart. (The end of Alexis's had to be scrapped and redone completely due to hate mail!) Still, the show was wonderful for its splendiferous fashion parade and for the witty repartee of the continuously battling characters. If the show didn't have continuity, at least it had some tangy writing and good-looking people. (One of my favorites was the hunkalicious Ted McGinley, who was on for about two seasons as Heather Locklear’s lover.)

In the ninth season when Evans quit, that was close to the final nail in the coffin, even if by then she had gone from a stunning, beloved heroine to a breathy, whiny, sort of non-presence. Then, as part of a budget crunch, Collins was put on part-time duty so now both favored leading ladies were absent. The series got one last major shot in the arm from the divine, staggeringly glorious Stephanie Beacham as Alexis's cousin Sable. The very best thing about the Dynasty spin off The Colbys, she came onto the mother show and made an enormous impact. Her built-in grace, charm, looks and talent made all the difference in that waning last year, but the writing was on the wall. As the extravagant 80s drew to a close, so did this series in 1989.

A repugnant reunion movie sort of tied up the loose ends of the regular series' cliffhanger finale. Here, much of the previous storyline was ignored as the returning original producers attempted to fit things into their own point of view versus where the show had been prior to cancellation. It was good to see most everyone and have a little closure, but it was pretty ineptly handled and horribly written. It was also a ratings failure. A later reunion, consisting of the actors conversing amid clips was somewhat more fulfilling, if inherently tacky.

In it's day, Dynasty made the world a better place and if it comes off as hopelessly campy today, that's a small price to pay for all the years of fun and glitz it provided to viewers when it first aired.


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