Thursday, July 25, 2013

DYNASTY SEASON 7: Vol 1 and 2 (Spelling 1986-87) CBS Paramount Home Video

By the mid-1980's the life expectancy of the prime time soap opera had already begun to show signs of inevitable decline. Even CBS’s venerable Dallas (1978-91) which had begun the profitable and prolific cycle of ensemble television melodrama a full three years before any other network followed suit, by 1987 had faint whiffs of formaldehyde to rival its outdoor freshness in tumbleweeds and cow patties; the ‘who’s bedding and/or backstabbing who?’ scenarios creaking with more than a hint of déjà vu that was ringing of ominous cliché. ABC’s Dynasty was in its seventh season in 1987. After a rough start in 1981, Dynasty had risen like a phoenix in the Nielsen ratings, running neck and neck with Dallas for both its third and fourth season, and actually beating the trend-setter in its fifth. By all accounts, the glitz and glam of the Denver Carringtons and Colbys was poised to conquer and stamp out the two-stepping Texas Ewing family.
It was not to be. For the producers of Dynasty – having been primped and primed with the prospect of an even bigger market share chose to split the series (and its cast) down the middle at the end of Season Five, launching Dynasty II: The Colbys in 1985. I recall the debut of The Colbys very well – its bombastic Bill Conti fanfare and all-star cast featuring no less Hollywood royalty than Charlton Heston and Barbara Stanwyck as its headliners; also Stephanie Beacham and Maxwell Caufield both of whom had miserably failed in other ventures but seemed tailor-made for this series, and, with special guest appearances by Ricardo Montalban. In a word – wow! Evidently, fans and critics agreed. The Colbys won an Emmy for Best New Series. The team responsible for Dynasty’s success had put their best foot forward on its offspring. This success, however, was not without fallout.
In retrospect, the exodus of longtime characters Jeff Colby (John James) and Fallon Carrington-Colby (Pamela Sue Martin/Emma Samms), to the new series left Dynasty with a narrative void that producers struggled to fill for nearly two years with infrequent success; the overlapping story lines forcing viewers to simultaneously invest in both shows (and in home video’s case has left perplexing gaps since only Dynasty but not The Colbys has made its way to DVD). Also, in hindsight it took Dynasty a long while to find both its audience and itself – the show’s initial concept of feuding oil tycoons more than faintly reminiscent of that ‘other’ aforementioned prime time soap that had prompted ABC to go headhunting for a like-minded money maker of their own. 
Season One of Dynasty, as example, was awash with forgettable characters and dead end stories. It was only after the introduction of what ABC had encouraged producer Aaron Spelling to cast as ‘the female J.R. Ewing’ – embodied by the sultry Joan Collins – that Dynasty truly found its fan base; female and plied with a mind-boggling fashion parade designed by Nolan Miller, whose weekly clothing allowance alone was enough to produce an entire episode of Dallas.
But Dynasty continued to waffle, adding new characters mid-season, before jettisoning them and others in the next, taking great pains to introduce and build up a certain character or narrative thread only to suddenly – inexplicable - lose interest in either or both without much ceremony or fanfare. Blame sloppy writing for Dynasty’s eventual downfall. The show’s weakest link was always its scenarios – though occasionally even these came together in unexpected and tantalizingly original ways. Yet, as time wore on even main-stapled characters were tossed under the proverbial bus or occasionally revised and/or rewritten – becoming something other than what had first made them popular. 
One recalls, as example, the series’ original Fallon (Pamela Sue Martin) woefully miscast as the resident viper in Season One – true of heart to her father Blake (John Forsythe), but utterly scheming against his new wife, Krystal (Linda Evans) and frankly, heartless towards her own husband, Jeff Colby (John James) while carrying on with his uncle Cecil (Lloyd Bochner) and later, the family’s devious chauffeur Michael Culhane. But with the introduction of Alexis in Season Two Fallon was heavily revamped, the part of the resident shrew migrating over to Joan Collin’s Alexis Morrell Carrington Colby Dexter, etc. etc. for the remainder of the series.
As the series wore on Dynasty’s reoccurring disadvantage became the writers’ inability to reconcile characters introduced in a previous season with plot lines evolving in the current one. In Season Two, as example, we were introduced to Nick Toscanni (James Farentino); a physician with ties to the Carrington household but a more sinister motive afoot: to see Blake pay for a crime against his own family that was later explained away in a brief scene in Season Three as never having been committed in the first place. Farentino’s fascinating blend of self-loathing and menace culminated in Season Two’s shocking cliffhanger; Blake left for dead atop a mountain retreat in the middle of a life-threatening storm. But when the series returned for Season Three, Nick Toscanni was nowhere to be found, and although Blake – who had obviously survived his near death ordeal – vowed to hunt Toscanni down and bring him to justice, this day of retribution never materialized.
In Season Seven the sacrificial lambs in this awkward trade-off are regrettably plentiful; beginning with Blake’s daughter – Amanda Bedford Carrington (played by Catherine Oxenberg in Seasons 4 and 5, but herein recast with the rather tepid and simpering Karen Cellini). Having bedded her mother’s lover, Dex Dexter (Michael Nader) in Season Three, and divorced her own one-time Prince of a husband (Michael Praed, who actually turned out to be quite a frog indeed) in Season Six, Amanda has moved on to a new love – Blake’s ex-chauffeur; the lazy-eyed, crooked mouth, rather goofy-looking bo-hunk, Michael Culhane (Wayne Northop). 
In Season One, Culhane had seduced Fallon in the hopes of extorting money from her inheritance. Instead he was given the old heave-ho by Blake and shortly thereafter expunged from the franchise until Season Seven – now reincarnated as a millionaire, but still masquerading as a chauffeur to get closer to Blake’s fortunes once again through Amanda in a convoluted story line that quite simply makes no sense at all and goes absolutely nowhere fast.
Before delving into Season Seven’s story lines, first toggle back a notch to Season Six’s cliffhanger – the torching of La Mirage; Fallon Carrington’s posh hotel and country club left in the care of the perpetually unstable Claudia Blaisdel (doe-eyed Pamela Bellwood). After cheating on her husband, Matthew (Bo Hopkins) in Season One with Steven Carrington (then played by Alex Corley, but later to be reincarnated as Jack Colman for the remainder of the series, and, whose sexual orientation the writers could never entirely agree upon), Claudia became the proprietress of La Mirage in Season Four, after begrudgingly spurned by Adam Carrington (Gordon Thomson). At the end of Season Six Claudia, on the verge of yet another nervous breakdown, elected to hold a pity party and candle-light vigil for herself in her stateroom at La Mirage, only to have one of the candles suddenly ignite some laughably ultra-flammable curtains and thus – decimate the entire complex in one fell swoop on the eve when everyone has assembled to celebrate the engagement of Dominique Devereaux (Diahann Carroll) to Jason Colby’s (Charton Heston) private solicitor, Garrett Boydston (Ken Howard). Boydston, who sired Dominique’s daughter, Jackie (Troy Byer) lied to her about being a married man to prevent their engagement some twenty years before. Exposed as a fraud, Garrett is dumped by Dominique.
In escaping the blaze, Michael Culhane rescues an unconscious Amanda and soon afterward an affair begins, one vehemently opposed by Blake who can see right through the upstart. Amanda’s vision, however, is blurred by love – or at least so it would seem. The other carry-over from Season Six’s cliffhanger is the demise of one of its most compelling new recruits – Alexis’ scheming sister, Cassandra ‘Caress’ Morrell (played with impudent venom by Kate O’Mara). In the previous season, Caress had attempted to blackmail her sister with a tell-all biography thwarted from imminent publication, first, by Alexis buying up the publishing house and thereupon the manuscript they had acquired, and later by Blake’s vial brother, Ben (Christopher Cazenove), who chloroformed Caress in the backseat of his car before shipping her back to the Venezuelan prison from whence she had been released but now was somehow being made to serve out the rest of her ten year sentence at Ben’s behest.
In Season Seven, Dex is back to his renegade ways, choosing to divide his time between running the multi-million dollar Lex-Dex Corporation, presently involved in a natural gas deal with Blake, and, indulging his private time between bedding Alexis in seedy out-of-the-way places and his own particular brand of third world freedom-fighting, this time with the assistance of Clay Fallmont (Ted McGinley), whose brother, Bart’s (Kevin Conroy) promising political career was destroyed by a scandal in Season Four when Adam revealed to the media that Bart was a closeted homosexual.
Dex and Clay break Caress out of the hole Ben’s left her in without much of a hassle, the trio returning to Denver where it seems Caress has decided to forgo her animosity toward Alexis – after the latter refuses to pay out with some blood money. Instead, Alexis offers Caress a job at her newly acquired newspaper, presently embroiled in a smear campaign to ruin Blake’s reputation. It’s overkill however, as Alexis has already ousted her ex-husband from his company, Denver Carrington, with a bit of underhanded espionage, and also reclaimed the lavish Filoli Mansion where they once happily lived seemingly centuries ago. Alexis has it all, leaving Blake and Krystal to take their few pre-packed belongings to the Carlton Hotel where Blake plots his own sweet revenge.
In the meantime, Clay – a randy playboy who toyed with Amanda’s affections in Season Six – has suddenly decided that Krystal’s niece, Sammy Jo (Heather Locklear) is the gal for him; at least, temporarily. Sammy Jo, you will recall, began her tenure in the series as little more than scheming trailer trash, who rued the day she married the confused Steven Carrington in Season Two and bore him a child, Danny (Matthew Lawrence), then promptly and selfishly left the pair to pursue a career as a failed New York model and actress, only to return at the end of Season Four as the long-lost estranged daughter of Daniel Reece (Rock Hudson) – the millionaire who owned the profitable Delta Rho stud farm and stables but placed the entire estate in Krystal’s trust, not only because he had an affair with Krystal in a previous life, but also because he knew just how misguided his own child is.
In Season Five Sammy Jo went on to concoct a bizarre scheme to have Krystal kidnapped and impersonated so that Delta Rho could be signed over to her, before inexplicably maturing and doing the right thing – freeing Krystal and sending her former friend and imposter, Rita Miller (also played by Linda Evans) on the run with her deranged crony, Joel Abrigore (George Hamilton). But in Season Seven Sammy Jo is just too good to be true. She’s reconciled with Steven, has a relationship with their son and is making inroads into a loving relationship with Clay, after a false positive test reveals that she is pregnant with his child. Only she isn’t and this leads to all sorts of tensions; compounded by the fact that Clay’s father, Buck (Richard Anderson) is a fall-down drunk whose wife, Emily (Pat Crowley) had an affair with Ben Carrington on the eve that Ben’s mother – an invalid he was supposed to be looking after - burned to death in a house fire later blamed on Blake, while Ben was off sweating up the sheets with Emily.
Emily’s indiscretion has been kept from Buck throughout their marriage, but is now destined to come to the surface because Caress is desperate for money and has decided to blackmail Emily for some quick cash. The most compelling aspect of Kate O’Mara’s Caress in Season Six was that she was telescopically focused in her hatred toward her sister who was hinted at being partly responsible for placing her in prison. Better still, as portrayed by O’Mara one could wholly believe in her as a viable combatant against Alexis and Ben – essentially playing their game with like-minded implements of destruction at hand. 
But the build-up to an epic cat fight between Alexis and Caress that never happened in the previous season was further diffused when Ben knocked Caress out cold, mailing her back to that third world hellhole with the very real prospect she might spend the rest of her days there. That the brain trust behind Dynasty never bothered to reinstate or even revisit this scintillating scenario after Season Six’s cliffhanger is an oversight fans have yet to forgive.
In Season Seven Blake gets wind of Caress’ blackmail of Emily. Despite Buck’s hatred of the Carringtons – including Sammy Jo – Blake has always harbored a soft spot for Emily; the arbitrator of common sense and a good heart. Regrettably, Emily becomes increasingly unhinged by Caress’s repeat telephone threats. Blake assures her he will take care of the situation – and does, paying Caress enough money to get out of town and start her life anew elsewhere. This, Caress does with gratitude – ending Kate O’Mara’s brief run on the show on a note of utterly bland and very disappointing confusion. Unconvinced that she is in the clear, Emily confesses her affair to Buck who flies into a drunken rage at the Carlton Hotel. Fleeing the hotel, Emily runs into traffic and is rundown by a taxi. She dies, but not before giving Blake a hand-written confession that she urges him to use in his defense against Alexis and Ben to regain control of his South China Seas oil leases that were wrongfully taken from him.
Blake does not want to make the letter public. Instead, he uses it to blackmail Alexis into giving him back the mansion and his company, much to Ben’s strenuous objections. Alexis, however, has begun her romance anew with Dex, and this leaves the scheming Ben – who began his tenure on the series with maniacal designs to destroy Blake and possess Alexis – with little else but to skulk around Denver, and later discover he has an estranged daughter, Leslie (Terri Garber) living in Australia. Leslie eventually moves to Denver with the express purpose of wreaking havoc on her father’s new life. You know what they say about payback...
In the meantime, Clay – newly estranged from Sammy Jo after having discovered she is not going to have their child – has decided to pursue Leslie. The affair gets hot and heavy until Buck reveals to Clay that he may be Ben’s son - not his - and therefore Leslie’s brother! Yuck! Ben and Buck take a paternity test. But Clay has had enough and elects instead to go off to parts unknown in the wilds of Canada, leaving Leslie – who has segued from bitter to broken-hearted – merely to pout.
The biggest problem with Season Seven is that the writers have inexplicably mucked around with too many of the characters – both their mannerisms and their motives - affording more leeway to evolve into entirely different people than as first presented in the series and thus giving certain characters far more narrative responsibility than perhaps is necessary or even possible for them to sustain within the framework of the show. 
Case in point: after pledging his undying devotion to Blake in the very first episode from Season Seven (and this after three seasons of ice-water in the veins driven and occasionally very warped back-stabbing perpetrated on all of the Carrington clan), Adam has his finger on the chicken switch yet again, shifting his alliances over to Alexis in the very next episode; disillusioning Blake yet again, as well as Blake’s ever-devoted secretary, Dana Warring (Leann Hunley) who has recently become Adam’s lover. Adam cannot abide Ben, so he flies to Australia in search of dirt, and finds plenty when he accidentally locates Ben’s illegitimate daughter, Leslie.
Even greater inconsistencies abound in Season Seven. First to go is Ben’s vitriol towards Blake; his imperiously psychotic hatred inexplicably turned to gumbo when, during an oil rig explosion in the South China Seas he saves Blake’s life by freeing him from a collapsed stairwell moments before another explosion topples the rig into the sea. From here on in, Ben begins to increasingly reassess and grow ashamed of his fraternal motives. Yet without his evil spite, Ben Carrington implodes; becoming an emasculated fop and dewy-eyed paternal figure for Leslie who, at first cannot stand his guts, then weeps at the announcement he has decided to go away.
Other characters also experience their own inconceivable epiphanies. After being told by a school therapist that their son Danny is drawing ‘unhappy’ pictures, Sammy Jo and Steven come to an understanding about rearing the boy as a united front. Their decision is rather ridiculously begun when Steven comes to Sammy Jo’s aid by beating up Clay. This, of course, convinces Clay he wants no part of Sammy Jo. In the meantime, Dominique – a character largely discarded within the series in general, but particularly within Season Seven – has sent her daughter Jackie away for burn therapy following the blaze at La Mirage to an undisclosed city from whence she will never return, necessitating Dominique’s infrequent disappearance from the cast roster – returning to pursue a meandering relationship with thorny rigger, Nick Kimball (Richard Lawson), who eventually proposes marriage.
And then there are Alexis’ motives towards Blake. Since Season Two Joan Collins’s uber bitch had been ensconced as the venomous arch nemesis to Blake’s ever-precariously perched empire – spiteful, destructive and smoldering with fiery sex appeal. By the end of Season Six, Alexis has decimated Blake’s holdings and his professional reputation, causing him to charge up the stairs and begin to choke the life out of her as Krystal helplessly looked on, subdued by a positively contemptible Ben. At the start of Season Seven Alexis runs true to form, continuing her tirade against Blake.
But then she suddenly retreats – almost willingly - into a gushing mid-season pixie – particularly after the oil rig explosion leaves Blake thinking it is 1969 and he is still married to Alexis whom he presumably loved at one time. For Season Seven’s cliffhanger the viper that was Alexis is unfathomably reduced to a wailing self-destructive cry baby after being admonished by Dex for being a heartless fool. She inadvertently drives her car off a bridge, her vision impugned by some tear-stained streaking mascara. What?!?    
Somewhere in the middle of all this mess is a subplot involving Krystal and Blake’s pluperfect moppet, Krystina (Jessica Player) who suddenly develops congestive heart failure, necessitating a transplant. The girl from whom a heart is harvested to save Krystina’s life is related to Dex; her mother – Sarah Curtis (Cassie Yates) – later invited by Blake and Krystal to partake in Krystina’s healing process. Regrettably, this act of kindness causes Sarah to suffer a mental breakdown and kidnap Krystina, whom she is unable to distinguish from her own lost daughter. This narrative thread goes nowhere fast – introduced too late in the season to acquire its necessary legs before being quickly dispatched after Blake and Kyrstal discover a nearly incoherent Sarah cringing inside her squalid little apartment. 
This leaves Season’s Seven cliffhanger without any real or even remotely viable impetus for creating nail-biting tension. What we are given instead is a wedding. Adam – conflicted over his own birthright after new evidence from Montana has surfaced to suggest he might not be a Carrington after all – instead emerges as Blake’s undisputed son; Blake and a remarkably chaste Alexis co-sign Adam’s adoption papers to make everything official moments before Adam weds Dana. Nick proposes to Dominque and she accepts. Ben reveals to Leslie that he cannot remain in Denver any longer – presumably having suffered an attack of conscience. He leaves the wedding without saying goodbye; bound for parts unknown. Dex attempts a détente with Alexis, one that turns bitter and sullen, but leaves Alexis tear-stained and ridiculously careening over the edge of a nearby bridge after driving away in haste from the mansion in a stolen car. In a last ditch effort to raise a few eyebrows, and possibly the series sagging Nielsen ratings, the finale resurrects the character of Matthew Blaisdel (Bo Hopkins); not seen since the end of Season One and long presumed dead after Season Two, but who now miraculously returns to the Carrington household with a small army of mercenaries, slightly mentally disturbed to boot, to reclaim Krystal for his own. And that’s about it.
With such thoroughly misguided scenarios clashing and tearing the series apart at the seams is it any wonder that Dynasty – the highest rated program on television a scant two years earlier – dropped to #24 in the ratings by Season Seven’s end? Shoddily slapped together, the writing is regrettably on the wall for all concerned by Season Seven’s finale. Although an infusion of new and old blood, most of the latter migrating over from The Colbys after that series was cancelled in this same year and only into its own second season – thanks to a complete and utter rip off of Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of a Third Kind (1977) (Fallon gets sucked up by a spaceship at a railway crossing…no, I’m not kidding) Dynasty endured the indignation of being in business for another two seasons.
As a cost-cutting measure producers hired high-priced alumni Linda Evans and Joan Collins for only a few episodes sporadically scattered throughout the rest of the series run, merely to suggest, though never entirely regain, its continuity. Secondary characters continued to come and go while stories were introduced then inexplicably dropped. At the end of Season Nine, rather than wrap up its loose ends, Dynasty chose to place virtually all of its central players in mortal peril; the show’s cancellation leaving a giant question mark in 1989 that was in no way resolved in 1991 with the failed attempt at a mini-series. Dynasty: the Reunion that neither reunited all the principle cast for one last hurrah nor made the attempt to resolve at least half of the many scenarios left open-ended by 1989’s cliffhanger.
CBS Paramount has released Dynasty Season Seven in Two Volumes – a ridiculous marketing ploy that continues to hold some bizarre yet innate fascination for this studio. One can choose to buy these volumes together: preferred since the price point is a few dollars cheaper than buying them separately. Earlier seasons of Dynasty were given at least some care in their remastering – particularly Seasons Two through Five. Season Six showed some lapse in overall commitment on the studio’s part to clean up the original elements for home video. But even these efforts were miraculous compared to what we have for Season Seven. While certain episodes are remarkably clean, with bright colors and solid contrast, a goodly number featured herein suffer from exactly the opposite; weak contrast, darker than expected image quality, colors that are inconsistently rendered and a grain structure that at times seems exceptionally thick and not in keeping with the original elements, all of this exacerbated by the added impediment of edge enhancement infrequently cropping up throughout.
The mono audio sounds remarkable crisp, with clearly delineated dialogue, showing off Bill Conti’s iconic main title to its best effect. As is the case with previous seasons, there are NO extras – and this despite the fact that several well-informed bios and documentaries on the series and its cast have been made over the years. One hopes that Paramount is planning some sort of box set once the series is released in its entirety; perhaps with some new extras surfacing to mark the occasion. But this is mere speculation at this point. In the UK a box set of all the seasons has been available for some time. In North America we’re still waiting.
FILM RATING (out of 5 – 5 being the best)


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