Tuesday, July 10, 2012

DYNASTY: Season Six (Spelling 1986-87) CBS Paramount Home Video

The Carringtons and the the Colbys; ah me…how times and television have changed – arguably, neither for the better. For nine seasons we thrilled to their lavish escapades, and marvelled at Nolan Miller’s often absurd, though never anything less than dramatic fashions. In its prime, Aaron Spelling’s Dynasty was not simply ‘must see TV but a way of life in the go-go 1980s.  Its style permeated our pop culture like nothing before, inspiring perfumes, tuxedoes and an entire generation of shoulder padded, synched waist designs in ladies apparel, not to mention the Chrysler Corporation naming one of their vehicles after it. And since it officially left the air in 1989 Dynasty has never been without its loyal fans, thanks to cable syndication around the world.
The lynchpin of the series is, was and will always be Joan Collin’s uber bitch, Alexis Morrell-Carrington-Colby-Dexter; the woman we all loved to hate. But fans also tuned in for the turbulent marital roller coaster of Blake Carrington (John Forsythe), his ever devoted Krystle (Linda Evans) and the complicated lives of their mostly dysfunctional children. The series thrived on sin, sex and seduction, albeit in a more or less recklessly playful way than we’re used to seeing on TV these days. In hindsight, Dynasty had everything going for it. So it’s easy to see why the show was such a colossal smash on both sides of the Atlantic.
But also in hindsight, the show’s oversights and misfires seem all the more obvious and glaring. Season One’s rocky start without Joan Collins left Dynasty foundering at #28 in the Nielsen ratings. The writers and producers’ inabilities to successfully commit to the character of Steven Carrington (first played by Al Corley, then Jack Coleman), as an ‘occasionally’ homosexual single man raising a small child equally made for some inconsistent viewing. The series was also utterly notorious for introducing, building up and then dropping storylines and characters without sufficient resolution. Some, like Deborah Adair’s venomous social climber, Tracy Kendall (from Season Four) were arguably disposable from the beginning. But others like Kate O’Mara’s slinky Caress Morrell and James Farentino’s conflicted, Nick Toscanni are unforgiveable.
Season Six of the ever popular Dynasty has a mountain of hurdles to overcome – some visible, others rocking the series from behind the camera. After topping out as the #1 show in America (even beating Dallas in the ratings) during Season Five, Dynasty Season Six arguably had nowhere to go but down…and it does. Season Six is awash in the sort of muddled storylines and misguided attempts at keeping the high energy level ever rising, that would ultimately force the series into cancellation three short years later. Worse, the decision to split the cast and storylines into two prime time soap operas (Dynasty II: The Colbys premiered during Season Six) means that some of Dynasty’s narratives make absolutely no sense at all when viewed apart from its spinoff.
We begin on a truly sour note; the laughable aftermath of the ‘Moldavian massacre’. The finale of Season Five had left the entire cast unconscious and bloody after a palace coup by rebel forces sprayed Prince Michael (Michael Praed) and Amanda’s (Catherine Oxenburg) lavish wedding ceremony in a hailstorm of bullets. But in Season Six we quickly learn that everyone except minor characters Luke Fuller (Steven’s gay lover played by Billy Campbell) and Lady Ashley Mitchell (a jetsetter played by Ali McGraw) has escaped the siege virtually unharmed. Palace coup, indeed!
King Galen (Joel Fabiani) is wounded and taken prisoner by Minister Warnick (Theodore Bikel). Michael is told that his father is dead, and after some very minor legal haranguing Michael, his bride and the rest of the Carringtons and Colbys are put on a plane to America.  From Denver, Alexis (Joan Collins) plots to restore the Moldavian monarchy – partly for Amanda’s happiness, but moreover because Galen has promised her absolute control of Moldavia’s leading financial institution. Alexis encourages her husband, Dex (Michael Nader) to risk his life and hers in a return to Moldavia. Posing as a nun and her peasant driver, Dex is taken captive and tortured by Warnick’s men while Alexis hides in a nearby convent. Eventually, Dex tricks one of his guards and escapes, slinging Galen over his shoulder and storming out of Moldavia with both the King and Alexis in tow.
Meanwhile, back at the Carrington homestead Krystle begins to suspect that she is being stalked by has been movie director Joel Abrigore (George Hamilton). Her suspicions are confirmed too late when, upon arriving at the Delta Rho Stables to confront her niece Sammy Jo (Heather Locklear), Krystle is knocked unconscious by Abrigore and locked away inside the stable attic. It seems Sammy Jo has concocted the whole affair to gain access to her late father’s estate. To further this deception she and Abrigore have taught a drop dead look alike, Rita Miller (also played by Linda Evans) to impersonate Kyrstle until they can have the real Kyrstle’s power of attorney over Sammy Jo’s money overturned. One problem – no one in this scheme is playing with a full deck. Not Sammy Jo – who waffles between good girl/bad girl, nor Rita – who begins her masquerade utterly terrified of the consequences but ends up as a savvy would be murderess, nor Abrigore, who becomes a raving control freak and psychotic virtually overnight.
The first half of Season Six focuses almost exclusively on Kyrstle’s kidnapping, reducing the real (and usually feisty) Krystle to a puddle of tears inside the attic while her look alike Rita slowly poisons Blake so that she and Abrigore can inherit the Carrington estate. Apparently, this convoluted and depressing storyline was predicated on the fact that behind the scenes Joan Collins was bartering with producers for a bigger salary and refusing to come to work until she got it.  The series shot around her, and what they shot was pure pulp with more than a tinge of ennui.
Worse, at approximately the same time Dynasty retired two of its most popular ongoing characters, Jeff Colby (John James) and Fallon Carrington-Colby (Emma Samms) to Dynasty II: The Colbys leaving a void that proved impossible to fill. To simplify: at the end of Dynasty’s Season Four, Fallon (then played by Pamela Sue Martin) began experiencing crippling headaches and drove her car over the edge of a cliff on the eve she was to have married Jeff for the second time. Jeff valiantly spent the bulk of Season Five searching for his beloved but with no success. It was then hinted that Fallon had died in a plane crash with drug smuggler, Peter DeVilbis (Helmut Berger). But Jeff never gave up hope. At the end of Season Five Fallon (now played by Emma Samms) inexplicably re-emerged in California, suffering from amnesia and having rechristened herself Randall Adams where she promptly fell in love with wealthy playboy, Miles Colby (Maxwell Caufield) – Jeff’s cousin.    
We barely glimpse the love affair blossoming between Miles and Randall before they are whisked away to Dynasty II: The Colbys. Too bad, because Jeff’s sudden decision to leave Denver Carrington after being offered stock in Colby Enterprises by his estranged aunt, Constance (Barbara Stanwyck) really doesn’t make much sense, and neither does the brief mid-season re-entrance of Fallon alone (with her memory suddenly restored) to comfort Blake as Alexis plots to take over his empire. Apparently, she and Jeff have reconciled and remarried in California.
Meanwhile, things are not at all well at La Mirage – the ultra-fashionable watering hole of the elite. Previously managed by the indescribably fragile Claudia Blaisdel (Pamela Bellwood), its hotel and country club are inexplicably taken away from her by Blake and given to Michael after it looks as though his future as a Prince is doomed. Adam (Gordon Thompson) pursues Claudia – whom he began dating in Season Five – and marries her to spite Steven (Jack Coleman) (Steven and Claudia were briefly married in Season Three). In one of the hotel suites, Blake’s half-sister Dominique Devereaux (Diahann Carroll) is struggling with a deep secret; that her daughter, Jackie (Troy Byer Bailey) is actually the love child of Garrett Boydston (Ken Howard); an attorney for Jason Colby (Charlton Heston).
A deal between Jason, Blake and the LexDex Corporation has just been signed to build a pipeline to the coast under the strenuous objections of Senator Fallmont’s enterprising son, Bart (Kevin Conroy). Adam learns that Bart is gay and ruins his chances for a run at the senate by planting the story in a tabloid magazine. Meanwhile Galen is ensconced in Alexis’ apartment until the coup to regain his throne can proceed, gradually driving a wedge between her and Dex. Michael has been sworn to secrecy by his father and is working in the underground with former lover Elena, the Duchess of Branagh (Kerry Armstrong) to regain his throne. This puts a strain on Michael’s marriage to Amanda. The two become estranged and, in the heat of the moment Amanda and Dex wind up in bed together. Alexis walks in and vows to destroy Dex. She also disowns Amanda in a heartbeat. One of the weakest of all premises in Dynasty’s history follows. Alexis learns that Galen has been siphoning money from her accounts and kicks him out of her apartment. She next makes an impassioned move to seduce Blake that goes nowhere fast and then makes an even more impromptu decision to destroy Blake by using his estranged brother, Ben (Christopher Cazenove) against him.
All of this seems utterly plausible except that Alexis’ sister, Cassandra ‘Caress’ Morrell (Kate O’Mara) has recently arrived in town after spending five years in a Venezuelan prison – presumably at Alexis’ hand, and determined to expose Alexis’ foibles in a tell all biography. Even though the two despise one another, Alexis permits Caress to live in her penthouse, sip her champagne and indulge in wearing her clothes. However, when Ben learns that Caress has the power and the proof to expose them both in their scheming against Blake he kidnaps and chloroforms Caress in a back alley, promptly shipping her back to prison after paying the Venezuelan authorities to keep her there indefinitely.
At a trial to gain control over one quarter of Denver Carrington’s vast empire, Ben lies on the stand that Blake had killed their invalid mother many years ago by refusing to stay with her. Having been accused of the murder of Steven’s gay lover Ted Dinnard in Season One, the judge finds ample evidence to support this erroneous charge and forces Blake to pay Ben $125 million in damages. Ben is elated, but Alexis is dissatisfied. She plots to buy up Denver Carrington stock to gain a controlling interest in the company. Blake counteracts by launching a takeover bid for ColbyCo. Unfortunately, to seal the deal he has to borrow a billion dollars from the banks. After virtually all of his time honoured business associates refuse to loan him the money, Blake agrees to an unholy alliance with Arab financier, Faruk Amed (Kabir Bedi) whose brother Rashid (John Saxon) double crossed Blake in Season Two.
Unbeknownst to Blake, Faruk is working for Alexis. After Blake signs away his company Faruk calls in his marker forcing Denver Carrington into receivership. Following a bit of harmless teen angst relating to the mystery of Jackie’s father, Dominique and her daughter reconcile and Dominique and Garrett decide to marry. Dominique throws a lavish engagement party at La Mirage where Alexis informs her that Garrett has never been married before. This is crucial because Garrett has always insisted to Dominique that the only reason he never married her so many years ago during their passionate love affair was because he was already married to a fictional wife he called Jessica. Presumably, Dominique is about to call off the wedding.
Ah, but Claudia has everyone else beat. Having returned to her suite at La Mirage after moving out of Adam’s bedroom at the Carrington estate, the emotionally unstable waif has decided to hold a silent candlelit vigil for the death of her dreams. Unfortunately for everyone, one of the candles falls from its silver stick, igniting the curtains and everything else. As the guests dance on in the grand ballroom a whiff of smoke begins to seep from the air ducts above them, foreshadowing a catastrophe about to unfold.
Blake and Krystle have escaped this deluge however, after Blake receives a message that someone is waiting for him back home. Assuming that his last ditch effort to raise funds and save his empire from Alexis have called in the cavalry, Blake and Krystle hurry home to discover their luggage already packed and waiting for them by the front door. Alexis appears on the balcony, declaring that she now owns the company and the house. She orders Blake and Krystle out. In a rage, Blake storms the stairs and begins to strangle Alexis as Krystle, subdued by Ben, helplessly looks on.   
If all these machinations sound confusing and way over the top – no kidding – they are! But such was the implausible fantasy world of the night time soap opera and nobody – except maybe Dallas – dished the dirt more readily or with such unadulterated aplomb than Aaron Spelling’s Dynasty.  Once Joan Collins gets cooking it’s every man and woman for his/herself and that, I am afraid, is both the strength and the weakness of the show.  Season Six suffers partly from her initial absence early on. But there’s also the claptrap of storylines that come tumbling forth midseason without ever being brought to absolute fruition.  
The most regrettable of these in Season Six is the introduction, and then unceremonious dispatch of Kate O’Mara’s Caress Morrell. Clearly, the actress had more to say than her character, because whenever O’Mara is on the screen it is impossible to take our eyes off her. If only the writers had been more proactive in crafting a storyline worthy of her talents we might have had some real fireworks to appreciate. Instead, Caress enters Alexis’ life with all the promise of a thunderous catfight that never is to be.  She valiantly sets up ambitious roadblocks for Alexis and Ben before being booted off the series in a most predictable way. After all, why would a woman as devious and as enterprising as Caress agree to meet Ben Carrington in an out of the way alley? Ridiculous.
Season Six also does not do right by Diahann Carroll’s Dominique Devereaux – relegating her to predictable third string hysterics after Jackie’s brief runaway attempt. As mentioned before, the absence of the corresponding Dynasty II: The Colbys episodes leave a good many narrative threads seemingly unresolved. After Season Five’s speculation about Jeff and Fallon getting back together, we don’t ever learn that they have in fact found one another.  Blake makes some vague reference midway through the season to a wedding in California, and, a few episodes later informs Sammy Jo that Jeff and Fallon’s nuptials were spectacular. But these we never get to see, so we’re not quite sure if, when or how they happened. At the very least, Paramount ought to have included the corresponding episodes from The Colbys on a separate disc so that all of us could catch up to speed.
Still, I wouldn’t be quite so quick to trash Dynasty as a series just yet. For that I am waiting for the disastrous Season Eight to make its DVD debut. For now, I’ll stick to Season Six. What’s here may be unevenly paced and even appear rushed and convoluted at times, but overall it’s great to have the claws out again for another deliciously devious outing between the Carringtons and the Colbys. Lives of the rich and infamous – what fun!
I can’t rightly say as much about CBS/Paramount’s DVD incarnation. Once again, Dynasty has been split into two half season releases that can be jointly purchased in one double pack. Oh well, better this than to wait nearly a year for half seasons to emerge, as was the case when Paramount began splitting the series after Season Two. There’s been a lot of talk that Season Six hasn’t been remastered for DVD and I have to concur that the image quality is a definite step down from previous seasons. But I don’t think the oversight can entirely be blamed on shoddy remastering efforts. Season Six was the first to be photographed on digital tape rather than film. This was fine and dandy when we were all viewing shows like Dynasty on 720i tube monitors that didn’t get any bigger than thirty-six inches. Regrettably, our present hi def large screen monitors quickly expose the visual shortcomings of digital tape. Bad idea.
Could Paramount have done more to ‘clean up’ these transfers before slapping them to disc? Arguably yes, but even then I am afraid their quality would pale compared to previous film based archival elements. Having stated the obvious, I’ll add herein that the results on Season Six are hardly awful. In fact, on the whole they’re quite good. Stock footage and long shots tend to suffer from a lot of aliasing and shimmering of fine details and occasionally even colour bleeding. Not exactly sure why that is.
And images under title credits do appear more softly focused and much grainier than they ought. But these shortcomings aside, we get a fairly solid home video presentation that will surely not disappoint most. Colours are bright, bold and richly saturated. The Masquerade episode as example is a visual ice cream sundae of brilliant, eye-popping hues.
The biggest problem I had is that a few of the episodes have had their contrasts artificially boosted, creating a washed out image with occasionally severe blooming whites. Again, not sure why this is. Grain looks gritty rather than grainy. And edge enhancement is a big no-no that keeps cropping up – sporadically, thank heaven – but pretty much in every episode for a few seconds here and there, just long enough to make its presence obvious. Otherwise, I wasn’t all that put off by my viewing experience and neither should you be. Some message boards I’ve reviewed have made erroneous claims like the image quality doesn’t fare much better than old VHS tapes. In my opinion this is untrue. Enough said.
The audio is mono but represented at an adequate level and with a remarkable amount of clarity. As with other Seasons we get NO extras. For shame! There have been a number of good to great ‘reunion’ shows featuring surviving cast and crew. Why these fascinating back stories have not been made available on DVD is a mystery and a disappointment for fans of Dynasty. Perhaps Paramount will surprise us all on the final season. At this rate, given Paramount’s commitment to the series, we probably won’t see Season Nine until 2015. Bottom line: recommended!
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)

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