'Dynasty': TV Review
The CW's remake of the 1980s primetime soap isn't opulent or trashy enough to be fun, but Elizabeth Gillies is very good.
There's an almost insurmountable chasm between television of 1981 and television of 2017, and a comparable chasm between the cultural norms of 1981 and 2017 — which isn't to say that it's impossible to do a contemporary Dynasty on a broadcast network today.
Empire, which was briefly a ratings sensation and remains a solid hit for Fox, shares an overwhelming amount of its DNA with Dynasty, as Empire creator Lee Daniels has often admitted.
While none of the shows in the ShondaLand family are overwhelmingly Dynasty-esque, they definitely have things in common with the classic wealth-and-power-and-sex soaps of the 1980s.
Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage mined similar veins when they explored the sudsy lives of the rich and randy in Orange County and Manhattan in The O.C. and Gossip Girl, respectively. And Sallie Patrick worked on Revenge, which dropped The Count of Monte Cristo on Dynasty with occasionally entertaining results.
The original Dynasty used tawdry opulence to cut through a much-less-cluttered TV landscape back when it premiered, and there's little doubt that it's harder to cut through clutter today — especially on a broadcast budget and with broadcast decency standards when there's likely to be a similar cable or streaming show with more money to spend and more leeway to be risqué. But it's possible.
The CW's new Dynasty has the familiar brand name and hails from the wholly capable Schwartz and Savage and Patrick, but it remains firmly lost amid the clutter. While the pilot has updated some key plot points from the original series, what it can't seem to effectively update is the risqué rush that helped the first Dynasty and shows of its ilk thrive.
Elizabeth Gillies, the new series' near-saving-grace, plays Fallon Carrington, summoned home to the Carrington Estate by father Blake (Grant Show).
The opening voiceover makes sure that we understand that America is in a moment of increasingly dynastic power, whether we're looking at the media empires of the Murdochs and Kardashians or the political empires of the Trumps and Clintons and Bushes. Fallon adds, "I'm a Carrington, and our business literally is power."
Yes, she's literally being literal. Carrington Atlantic is an energy company, and Fallon thinks she's returning home to be named chief operating officer. She thinks this is proof that her father has finally begun to respect her contributions to the company. Also returning home is Fallon's brother Steve (James Mackay), who thinks his father is finally ready to embrace his son's sexuality and more liberal-progressive approach to the energy field.
They're both wrong. Blake's about to reveal his new fiancé Cristal (Nathalie Kelley), a former low-level "publicity maven" who's about to get a major promotion thanks in no small part to sleeping with the boss. The threat of the apparent gold-digger does not make Fallon happy, and she contemplates a professional alliance with Blake's biggest rival, Jeff Colby (Sam Adegoke), in order to hit her father where it hurts.
Everybody's sleeping with somebody else on the sly.
Everybody is in business with somebody else on the sly.
It's Dynasty, baby.
The action has been moved to Atlanta, mostly because Georgia offers great tax benefits, though references to Buckhead and a plot to purchase the Atlanta Braves provide some limited specificity.
Inclusivity has spread throughout. In some cases it's initially superficial, including Krystle from the original series becoming Latina and the Colby family becoming African-American. In some cases it's more thoroughly integrated into the plot, especially the expanded prominence of Steve's homosexuality.
These are mostly surface changes, and the most important thing The CW's Dynasty hasn't come close to cracking is what is still shocking and scandalous about wealth and power in 2017. The backstabbing and secret-revealing in the pilot fall far short of any twists that feel extreme or heightened in any way. The sex is all tepid and muted. The brief catfight feels like fan service, and nobody has stopped to think if this kind of behavior would read differently now from 35 years ago. Even the energy stuff, with token references to fracking and the like, has no currency.
Nothing in the Dynasty pilot reads as anything flashier or more unexpected than the B-story in an episode of Keeping Up With the Kardashians or a lesser installment of the Real Housewives franchise. The sad reality is that a big part of why this remake flops is the movement Schwartz inadvertently set in motion when The OC accidentally spawned a wave of shows that intended to prove that fact was stranger than fiction among denizens of the economic stratosphere. It's hard now to go back to less imaginative scripted drama, delivered with less colorful characters.
Show has a wooden authority that's perfect for Blake, but that doesn't mean he's giving a compelling performance. He just looks like the sort of soap-friendly leading man you could build a Dynasty remake around, which we already knew without watching the pilot. Playing against type as the Carrington butler, The OC's own dynastic patriarch Alan Dale may be the only other actor getting Gillies' level of enjoyment out of this, though I think Mackay is also a step above the forgettable, attractive male supporting performances, which all might just as well be interchangeable.
It's Gillies and really only Gillies who might bring me back for a second episode. Often the watchable part of FX's Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll, she has the devil-may-care attitude that doesn't come through anywhere else in the pilot. A whole show of people having as much fun as Gillies is having would be a show to watch. She's got a dagger tongue and she tries her hardest to bring heat to both Fallon's sexual trysts and family bickering, but often she's got nothing to play off of. Watching Gillies go toe-to-toe with Kelley is, unfortunately, a total mismatch. Cristal is supposed to be a mystery because of her unknown backstory, but instead she's a mystery because Kelley is playing lovely and little else.
Dynasty isn't even aspirational. The CW's in-house favorite pilot director Brad Silberling captures neither largesse, nor any particular glitz and glamour. The original Dynasty helped rewrite the rules of fashion, but I barely noticed how anybody in the remake was dressed or if their jewelry seemed out of proportion or if their interior design was something that might be cool to have.
The Dynasty brand demands that you crave this lifestyle and that your mind boggles at the complications that come with it. Neither happened for me here.
Cast: Elizabeth Gillies, Nathalie Kelley, James Mackay, Sam Adegoke, Robert Christopher Riley and Rafael de la Fuente, with Alan Dale and Grant Show
Creators: Josh Schwartz, Stephanie Savage, Sallie Patrick
Premieres: Wednesday, 9 p.m. ET/PT (The CW)