Saturday, February 26, 2011

DYNASTY: Season 1 (Spelling 1981) Fox Home Video

If TV's Dallas (1978-91) was responsible for putting Texas on the television radar, then Dynasty (1981-1989) most certainly gave Denver, Colorado its glam-bam pizzazz. Originally named 'Oil' by creators Richard and Esther Shapiro, Dynasty was dubbed the Dallas 'wannabe' by critics; even following Dallas’ tried and true formula of premiering first as a three part mini-series. However, producer Aaron Spelling's golden touch and heavy revisionist undertaking to rid the series of its middle-class subplot, made the eventually rechristened 'Dynasty' a megawatt television smash that set fashion and hairstyle trends on fire the world over.
Part of the enduring success of Dynasty goes to fashion designer Nolan Miller - whose weekly clothing allowance for the series was enough to produce an entire episode of Dallas. In Miller's mélange of haute couture the characters sport a cavalcade of stunning - occasionally bizarre - outfits that nevertheless became iconic in the 1980s. Who today can forget the endless parade of turbans that Alexis (Joan Collins) wore or Krystal's (Linda Evans) power-brokering shoulder pads that grew exponentially as her character became less demure and more assertive. Dynasty became popular because it struck a chord in the go-go eighties; daring to be ultra-glamorous and, in retrospect, typify the bawdy/gaudy excesses of a generation.
Viewing Dynasty Season One today, one is dumbstruck by how stilted the whole enterprise seems, both in its storytelling and character development. The series opens with a union; the newly married Krystal Jennings to Blake Carrington (John Forsythe in a role originally slated for George Peppard) and Krystal's awkward assimilation from working-class secretary to elegant matron of one of Denver's most affluent and influential families. It seems that everyone from the Carrington's Major Domo, Joseph Andres (Lee Bergere) to Blake's daughter, Fallon (Pamela Sue Martin) treat Krystal as though she were a poor relation rather than the new mistress of the house. Of course, it does not help matters that - at least in the early episodes - Krystal is a placid doormat who allows everyone to dump on her. The one accepting heart belongs to Blake's son, Steven (Al Corley); a closeted homosexual reunited with his former New York lover, Ted Dinard (Mark Withers) much to Blake's chagrin.
Ironically, it's Steven's sexuality that will dominate much of the plot development in Season One. Clearly concerned with introducing a gay character into prime time television circa 1981, the Shapiro's temper and diffuse Ted and Steven's relationship throughout most of the season. As for Blake, he refuses to accept Steven's lifestyle, creating constant friction that eventually forces Steven to move out on his own. Meanwhile, across town, Blake's overseer, Matthew Blaisdel (Bo Hopkins) has returned home with his wife, Claudia (Pamela Bellwood) after her lengthy stay at a retreat to recover from a nervous breakdown. Although there is little doubt that Matthew loves his wife, he deliberately leaves out the fact that during Claudia's absence he was having an affair with Krystal before she married Blake. The final lover's triangle that rounds out Season One belongs to Blake's daughter, Fallon, her new husband Jeff (John James) and his uncle, Cecil Colby (Lloyd Bochner). After dalliances with the family's chauffeur, Michael (Wayne Northrop), the rebellious Fallon makes a failed play for Cecil before agreeing to marry his nephew.
In all these relationships Fallon is the malignant fraud (in retrospect, the Shapiro's first failed attempt at crafting the viper - a role eventually assumed to perfection by Joan Collin's uber-bitch Alexis), yet, there is nothing to match Fallon's genuine love for her father. Blake repeatedly placates his daughter's interests in assuming a stake in the family business. As Season One draws to a close, Fallon makes it clear to Jeff that she does not love him - driving a wedge in their marriage that Jeff never quite recovers from. Matthew attempts to seduce Krystal while Fallon quietly falls in love with him. Having renounced Ted, Steven has a brief sexual affair with Claudia, whose mental condition begins to deteriorate.
Discovering Ted Dinard in Steven's room, Blake assumes the two are lovers once again. Blake flies into a rage and pushes Ted who falls, striking his head on the fireplace grate. In the resulting murder trial, Claudia confesses to her affair with Steven, leaving Matthew jilted at the courthouse. Meanwhile, Claudia's failed attempt to steal Lindsay - their daughter - away from Matthew turns tragic when the two are involved in a near-fatal car wreck. Back in court, a star witness with damning testimony for the prosecution emerges to round out the first of many season cliff hangers - Blake's first wife; Alexis Colby. In a fascinating footnote, the woman seen confidently strolling into the courtroom moments before the freeze frame finale in a chic black and white ensemble, hat seductively cocked so as not to reveal her face, is not Joan Collins. The role had not been cast yet and Collins was hardly the first choice of executives. Credit must therefore go to Aaron Spelling for casting Collins in Season Two, and also to the unnamed bit player who managed to convince us all in Season One that she was Alexis a la Collins.
Dynasty Season One is, at least in retrospect, a somewhat lackluster and shockingly dull melodrama with no hint of the narrative excitement to follow. Season One's pitfalls are glaringly obvious. The Shapiro's valiant - though inept - struggle to balance the worlds of Carrington wealth and prestige alongside the Blaisdel's middle class and (even further down the food chain) with a honky-tonk back story involving Matthew and his wildcatter friend, Walter Lankershim (Dale Robertson): all fail to gel into one cohesive narrative. As such, those who recall Dynasty from its heady days of glitz and glam may wish to skip Season One. In many ways it plays like an entirely different series than the one most fondly remembered by fans.
Fox Home Video's DVD release of Season One leaves something to be desired. The image exhibits dated colors and a barrage of age related artifacts. Colors are muted at best with the palette primarily adopting a greenish, bluish tint. Flesh tones are a pasty pink. Contrast levels appear a tad weaker than expected. Edge enhancement and shimmering of fine details plague many episodes. The audio is mono as originally aired and adequate for this primarily dialogue driven series. Extras include two brief reflections by co-stars Pamela Sue Martin and Al Corley on the dramatic course of their characters as well as audio commentaries on select episodes.
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)

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