20th Century Fox presents
Dynasty: The Complete First Season (1981)
"I married Blake because I love him, and because I want to make him happy. And I hope he feels the same about me. I'm not somebody's prize, I'm not a handful of oil leases, I'm not somebody's mineral rights. And I did not—as half the people of Colorado seem to believe—marry Blake Carrington because of his money!"- Krystle Jennings Carrington (Linda Evans)
Stars: John Forsythe, Linda Evans, Pamela Sue Martin, Pamela Bellwood, Al Corley, John James, Bo Hopkins
Other Stars: Wayne Northrop, Lloyd Bochner, Brian Dennehy, Lee Bergere, Dale Robertson, Katy Kurtzman, Peter Mark Richman, Mark Withers
Manufacturer: Deluxe Digital Studios
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (typical soap opera antics)
Run Time: 11h:59m:00s
Release Date: 2005-04-19
DVD ReviewAnyone who remembers the 1980s remembers Dynasty. Like big hair, leg warmers, and Jane Fonda workouts, the saga of the Carringtons defined the decade and became synonymous with such national trends as corporate greed and personal excess. Primetime soaps ruled the network airwaves, and for a few years Dynasty led the pack, anchoring viewers in front of their TVs every Wednesday night to watch Blake and his brood bicker, spar, double-cross, bed-hop, marry, divorce, and—in the case of a couple of impeccably gowned and coiffed leading ladies—claw each other's eyes out. Guilty pleasures didn't get much guiltier, and camp rarely scaled such monumental heights. Looking back, it all seems rather silly (remember the Moldavian massacre, the fire at La Mirage?), but in the heat of the series' success, Dynasty was serious business, and most of us hungrily lapped it up.
Well, soap fans, the Carringtons have finally arrived on DVD, and though the inaugural 13 episodes lack the outrageous style and razor sharp talons of subsequent seasons, co-creators Richard and Esther Shapiro lay the groundwork for eight more years of rollercoaster fun. It all begins with the impending nuptials of oil tycoon Blake Carrington (John Forsythe) and his much younger secretary, Krystle Jennings (Linda Evans). As wedding preparations intensify, anti-American rebels seize Blake's Arabian oil rigs, forcing geologist Matthew Blaisdel (Bo Hopkins), Krystle's former lover, to return to Carrington headquarters in Denver. His arrival sparks jealousy in Blake and second thoughts in Krystle, but the wedding proceeds as planned, much to the chagrin of Blake's prodigal daughter Fallon (Pamela Sue Martin), who often engages in sultry trysts with the Carrington chauffeur (Wayne Northrop) even as she's being romanced by Jeff Colby (John James), heir to the fortune of Blake's bitterest rival, Cecil Colby (Lloyd Bochner). To solve Blake's spiraling financial difficulties, Fallon makes a secret deal with Cecil, promising to marry Jeff in return for a Colby bailout of Denver-Carrington.
Meanwhile, Blake's estranged son Steven (Al Corley) returns from New York, where he's been "finding himself"—a polite euphemism for homosexual experimentation. Steven desperately seeks his father's approval, but his "deviant" behavior disgusts Blake, who orders Steven to go to work and "straighten" himself out. Eventually, Steven gains a sympathetic ear from the equally fragile Claudia Blaisdel (beautifully played by Pamela Bellwood), a recovering mental patient and Matthew's wife. When Blake sabotages the oil rig of Matthew's friend, Walter Lankershim (Dale Robertson), Matthew leaves Denver-Carrington and he and Walter form a partnership. Steven further angers his father by taking a job with Matthew, whose previous relationship with Krystle and new status as a competitor make him Blake's newest takeover target.
A flurry of plot developments ramps up dramatic tension, climaxing with the accidental murder of Ted Dinard (Mark Withers), Steven's New York lover. Blake is accused, arrested, and put on trial, prompting the public airing of a load of dirty laundry, and paving the way for a glamorous surprise witness who will rock the lives of the Carringtons for years to come. (Can you say Alexis?)
Of course, we all recall the signature catfights, shoulder pads, gaudy jewelry, and cataclysmic cliffhangers of subsequent seasons, but many of us might forget that in its formative first year Dynasty was ground-breaking TV, boldly tackling the taboo issue of homosexuality. The first dramatic series ever to feature an openly gay regular character, Dynasty—at least in its freshman season—addresses Steven Carrington's orientation with honesty and sensitivity, and never sugarcoats the prejudicial reactions of others. Corley brings dimension and a refreshing directness to the role, which allows us to accept Steven at face value. Unfortunately, jittery network executives worried over middle America's reaction to such a revolutionary character forced the writers to blur the lines of Steven's sexuality, eventually making him so romantically confused, he became a joke instead of a role model.
Steven, however, wasn't the only series regular to undergo a transformation after the first season. Blake, too, lost some of his edge, but in these initial episodes, the Carrington patriarch is tough, dark, and a bit of a maverick, ruthlessly pursuing his romantic and commercial desires regardless of their effect on others (Krystle included). Forsythe bravely foregoes likeability to create a full-bodied man obsessed with power and wealth, and angered by anything he can't control. Krystle, too, possesses more fire, depth, and vulnerability than the breathy, Stepford-like automaton she would become over the course of Dynasty's final few years. It may be a surprise to some, but Evans is quite a good actress in Season One, as she helps Krystle make the awkward transition from working class secretary to lady of the manor, yet her breathtaking beauty sometimes overshadows her considerable talent.
Like many serials, Dynasty takes a while to accelerate and reach a comfortable cruising speed, and Season One occasionally sputters and stalls as it tries to find its voice. Never again would the series stray into suburbia; the languorous focus on the Blaisdel family and wildcatter Lankershim abruptly halts narrative momentum and would be summarily axed with the dawn of the second season. In fact, the pacing of all the episodes—when judged against those in later years—seems rather slow, but the deliberate style allows us to ease into the Carrington lifestyle and get acquainted with the major players. The writers wisely put a premium on character development, and produce literate, often incisive scripts (at least within the confines of the soap genre) that lend Season One an impressively sober, dramatic feel sorely lacking during the series' over-the-top, tongue-in-cheek heyday. Only wild-child Fallon (played with devilish abandon by Martin) provides a glimmer of acid wit and reckless misbehavior, and she adds welcome spice to the show. Although a shrouded Joan Collins is pictured on the box, the actress wasn't even cast when the finale was shot (former model Maggie Wickman, wife of the series' film editor, played the mystery woman who would become Alexis), and as a result, Season One is the only Dynasty season to rely on testosterone rather than estrogen to fuel its storylines.
Over the next 200-plus episodes, Dynasty would ebb and flow, thrill and exasperate, dazzle and disgust. But the seeds of success were carefully planted in Season One, which grows the necessary roots for a long, prosperous, and—some might say—legendary series run. Most of what we love about the show is already here, and though the first 13 installments provide a bit of a bumpy ride, it's a kick to hop aboard this runaway train just as it's leaving the station.
So welcome back, Blake, Krystle, Fallon, Steven, Claudia, Jeff, and the rest of the screwed up Carrington clan. We've missed you.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-
|Aspect Ratio||1.33:1 - Full Frame|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: Like all of the beautifully dressed, attractive characters on the show, Dynasty looks fabulous on DVD. Superb clarity and rich, well-saturated colors distinguish all 13 installments, making Dynasty often seem more like a feature film than a TV show. Natural fleshtones and excellent shadow detail garner the transfer additional points, and only an occasional hint of grain and a few errant nicks dot the episodes. Although the packaging does not mention remastering, Dynasty must have undergone a substantial image overhaul during its journey to DVD, and the folks at Fox deserve kudos for their meticulous efforts. Picture quality is so sharp, fans of the series will think they've died and gone to heaven.
Image Transfer Grade: A
|Mono||English, French, Spanish||yes|
Audio Transfer Review: A stereo track would have given Dynasty more of an opulent feel, but the mono audio works well, nicely replicating what all of us heard when the series first aired. Dialogue comes through loud and clear, and Bill Conti's instantly recognizable, imminently hummable, and utterly majestic score enjoys fine presence and depth.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 180 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
5 Feature/Episode commentaries by series co-creator Esther Shapiro and actor Al Corley
Packaging: Box Set
Extras Review: For a series that prided itself on depicting excess, the special features on this first Dynasty collection are surprisingly skimpy. A couple of featurettes and selected episode commentaries are all that's included, and while all the extras are interesting, such a long-running series deserves more comprehensive supplements. Hopefully, as more Dynasty seasons are released on DVD, we'll get more in-depth documentaries, featurettes, outtakes, bloopers, screen tests, and other goodies.
Co-creator and executive producer Esther Shapiro handles the commentary chores on the three-hour pilot, and provides a wealth of information about the series' first season. She begins by calling Dynasty "one of the great experiences" of her life, a show that worked because "it took very rich people and gave them real problems, family problems." She recalls how ABC wanted to counteract the success of Dallas, and her idea was to create a drama geared toward women that would have—gasp!—middle-aged women at its center. (Shapiro says she likes older characters because they carry more emotional baggage, and their life experience makes them more dimensional.) She discusses how she hoped the audience would identify with Krystle, who would act as their "bridge into the world of the rich and famous," and how the public's fascination with life inside the Carrington estate effectively quashed the working class storyline concerning Matthew Blaisdel. We learn George Peppard was originally cast as Blake, but creative differences prompted his exit, and that the Carringtons were not patterned after the Reagans, despite the two families' many similarities. According to Shapiro, actor John James persuaded the producers to make Jeff—who was only slated to appear in the pilot—a series regular, and ABC sponsored a contest to name the show after the original title, Oil, failed to generate interest. Shapiro at times goes a bit overboard with her lavish, self-congratulatory praise, especially when she terms a pivotal scene between Blake and Steven "as emotional as A Streetcar Named Desire." Dynasty is loads of fun, Esther, but Tennessee Williams it ain't!
Actor Al Corley joins Shapiro for two additional episode commentaries, and though the pair enjoys a nice rapport, they don't convey much enlightening information. Shapiro often repeats points she made in the first commentary, and both spend too much time analyzing the plot and character motivations. Yes, Dynasty does possess depth (more, in fact, in its initial season than one might expect), but not as much as Shapiro and Corley would like us to believe. One also gets the impression Corley might have contributed more objective, less gushy comments were he not sitting alongside the series' birth mother. Although Corley briefly talks about his friendship with Pamela Sue Martin and regard for Evans and Forsythe, he and Shapiro keep maddeningly mum about what went on behind the scenes and on the set. Back when Dynasty was the hottest thing on TV, tracking the abundant backstage gossip was almost as much fun as watching the show, and more anecdotes and day-to-day production details from Corley and Shapiro would have punched up their rather dry track.
Family, Furs and Fun: Creating Dynasty is a slickly produced, mildly interesting mini-documentary that focuses on the series' genesis, appeal, and freshman season. Co-creators Richard and Esther Shapiro discuss how they initially envisioned Dynasty as an inside-the-mansion look at the wealthy and powerful, or, in other words, "a fantasy that was accessible." Esther recalls striving to create strong female characters who expressed themselves like men, and how the show's central conflict concerned a successful businessman's inability to relate to his family or manage his personal life. (She also divulges that ABC executives thought Linda Evans—at age 38—was too old to play Krystle.) Richard cites the character of Steven Carrington as his proudest achievement, although actor Al Corley didn't like the character's sexual ambiguity and wishes the Dynasty producers possessed the courage to make Steven unequivocally gay instead of bisexual. Actress Pamela Sue Martin (who still looks fabulous) talks about the dysfunctional nature of the Carringtons, and relates the series to movies of the 1930s. Lots of film clips are sprinkled throughout the 23-minute featurette, which seems like the opening chapter in a longer documentary that will cover subsequent Dynasty seasons. Let's hope so.
Two five-minute character portraits, examining the first season exploits of Fallon Carrington Colby and Steven Carrington, follow. Martin frankly discusses her decision to leave the series a few years into the run, and analyzes Fallon's personality and the "devil-may-care" slant she brought to the character. Corley explains how he got the role, his interest in portraying a homosexual, and his artistic frustrations. He also notes how the series' eventual preoccupation with story over character influenced his decision to leave Dynasty after its second season.
Extras Grade: B-
Final CommentsUncork the champagne, take the furs out of mothballs, and sharpen those claws! The glitziest primetime soap ever to grace the small screen at last comes to DVD, and it looks mah-velous. Despite the passage of almost a quarter century, the Carringtons haven't lost their luster, and their romances, manipulations, and dirty dealings remain just as absorbing as ever. Top-notch image quality makes this handsomely packaged four-disc box set a must-own for Dynasty fans, despite the mediocre extras, and a terrific entrée for those unfamiliar with this iconic serial.
Now that Fox has hooked us all over again, let's hope Season Two isn't far behind.
David Krauss 2005-04-20