This is not your mother’s Dynasty, with its power suits, Bill Conti trumpet riff and bracing whiff of Giorgio perfume.
Created by Richard and Esther Shapiro in 1981 to compete with Dallas, Dynasty became the crown jewel of Aaron Spelling’s television empire of prime-time soap operas, symbolising a decade of American excess. But the 2017 version is set not against the snow-capped mountains and glassy downtown spires of Denver, but in the steamy, leafy city that begat Gone With the Wind and Spanx — Atlanta.
The cast isn’t snow-white anymore either. Krystle Carrington — now spelled Cristal, like the expensive champagne — is Latina, as is her niece Sammy Jo, who’s become her gay nephew. The rival Colby family is African-American. Who will play Alexis — the character that made Joan Collins a star and gave the original series, which got lackluster reviews and ratings in its first season, an instant amphetamine shot — is thus far a mystery being guarded like the Pyramids.
And Blake Carrington, the stern but benevolent paterfamilias originated by John Forsythe in his silver-fox years, has been taken over by perhaps the only recognisable cast member to those of a certain age: Grant Show of Melrose Place.
The new version arrives in the UAE on October 12. It has been not so much created as concocted by Stephanie Savage and Josh Schwartz — who sold soap to an Axe body wash generation with Gossip Girl and The O.C. — as a layer cake of nostalgia and novelty to tempt both extremes of the 18-49 demographic coveted by advertisers.
“We’re changing up the point of entry,” Schwartz said. “If you were a fan of the original, it honors the spirit of that. And then those new to the show should be ready for a fun, twisted serial.”
Downton Abbey and Billions have shown that viewers still enjoy the foibles of the rich. But reboots have become iffy propositions, with originals readily available on Amazon Prime and in DVD box sets. The revival of Dallas, on TNT, was cancelled after three seasons in 2014, even with the draw of original cast members. Dynasty has none so far (one, Gordon Thomson, called the new show “an abomination” in an interview with The Daily Beast). Some fans, however, have hopefully proposed Heather Locklear, the original Sammy Jo and another Melrose veteran, to play Alexis, Cristal’s archrival.
But she was nowhere in evidence here this summer on a cavernous soundstage, which was home to an update of the Carrington mansion, where this reporter spent many happy preteen escapist hours, learning nothing less than how to be a woman.
“Lip-plumping treatments,” Show, compactly handsome at 55, was muttering between takes, rolling the phrase around in his mouth like one of the top-shelf brandies Forsythe’s Blake Carrington favoured. “Lip-plumping treatments.”
Blake had just delivered to his headstrong daughter, Fallon (Elizabeth Gillies), the bad news that their family name had been trademarked by her mother, his ex-wife Alexis, for a cosmetics line.
The Dynasty name was also tarnished by the time Show met Spelling, whose Holmby Hills, California, mansion seemed a version of Blake Carrington’s, on Melrose. He remembered the older man as strict and stingy, using so-called honey wagons to remove sewage rather than install proper plumbing, but also possessing a certain thespian gravitas.
“Aaron used to say, putting his hands up and framing your face in a very square, ‘just your face’ way, ‘My shows are all about character,’” Show said during a break in taping, sitting at a dining table surrounded by expensive art. “He filmed straight-on, close to camera. You could tell an Aaron show in less than a second.”
The new Dynasty, in contrast, has Savage and Schwartz’s own distinct aesthetic. Scenes are shorter: three or four minutes as opposed to six or seven. Skirts are also shorter. Music is louder. Lighting is dimmer. Slo-mo is occasionally deployed. And knowing references are rife, including to Trumps, Kardashians and Murdochs.
That the White House currently contains a real-estate tycoon — familiar from the ‘80s, yet — and his scions makes Dynasty seem particularly resonant, though of course tangled bloodlines are a dramatic device as old as the ancient Greeks. “From the Clintons to the Kennedys, this isn’t a new thing, our fascination with these really powerful families,” said Nathalie Kelley, who plays Cristal. “But one thing we’ve talked about which is interesting is patriarchy — how much it has shifted, and how much it’s stayed the same.”
The former Krystle (Linda Evans) had been Blake’s secretary, positioned in perpetual saintly opposition to the devious Alexis and meekly tiptoeing around the Carrington mansion like the nameless heroine of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca.
“In the original, Blake is shutting the door in her face because she has to have a meeting and she’s trying to get a word in about the china or something,” Kelley said. “She’s not really given much to do besides be beautiful and look after the house.”
This Cristal begins in public relations and goes on to contest fiercely with Fallon to become chief operating officer of the Carrington energy company.
As the cast awaits its Alexis, conflict has been heightened between Cristal and Fallon: a role played first by Pamela Sue Martin, then known for Nancy Drew and The Poseidon Adventure, and subsequently by British actress Emma Samms, in one of those switcheroos that soap viewers are supposed to accept unblinkingly but now discuss for years afterward in searchable online forums. (A casting change for Steven was attributed to plastic surgery following an explosive accident on an oil rig, but producers decided simply to ignore Fallon’s change in appearance.)
As embodied by Gillies, Fallon has been upgraded from a somewhat lost soul, climbing in and out of beds and winsomely up trees - and later, on a spinoff called The Colbys, being abducted by aliens — to an ambitious businesswoman, still sleeping with the chauffeur but now also leaning in with a steely glare.
Neither iteration of Dynasty can be separated from its devotion to materialism and the 1 per cent. “I just have memories of how white the rooms were, the carpet — that’s what the rich have,” said Patrick, the showrunner, who grew up in Atlanta.
But the very rich are not only different from you and me, but from how they used to be. The 2017 Colbys made their money in tech, the Carrington children are concerned about the environment, and everyone accepts differences in race and sexual orientation unblinkingly. The once dithering Steven is now “gay and proud,” Patrick said. “That’s not his issue with his father; it’s that he’s a liberal.”
Show said he thought “this Blake has a lot more pathology” than his predecessor. Crew members were hammering behind him at the opulent set, with its staircase built for flouncing down O’Hara-style, and twinkling chandeliers.
“He tells untruths when he doesn’t need to and I don’t know why yet. I’m developing the character,” Show said. “I’m taking that as seriously as I possibly can, and then it cuts to a catfight.”
Don’t miss it!
Dynasty begins streaming on Netflix from October 12.