Somewhat unbelievably, Dynasty fans find ourselves contemplating no fights in the Carrington mansion lily pond.
No “take your blonde tramp” dumping of fur coats from the top of the Carrington mansion stairs.
No shoulder-pads. No Dex Dexter in a bubble bath. No running ColbyCo from behind a desk with tusks for legs.
The prospect of Dynasty without the magnificent Alexis Morell Carrington Colby Dexter Rowan is like toast without butter: dry, worthy, and pointless. The prospect of Alexis not being played by Joan Collins might seem like sacrilege. Who else—as the excellent “Shit Alexis Says” illustrates—could deliver lines like, “At six o’ clock, I like to slip off my shoes and slip into something more comfortable. Like a drink.”
And yet, at this early stage that is what the Dynasty reboot, being cooked up by the CW, is promising.
The new show must have the caustic whiplash of Alexis, a proud corporate pirate and female double for Donald Trump.
There is no mention yet, however, of Dynasty’s chief villain—indeed one of TV’s all-time great characters—in what is known about the reboot of the classic 1980s primetime soap scheduled for transmission in the autumn.
At this early show and tell with the media, the executive producers—which promisingly does include Richard and Esther Shapiro, creators of the original show—are majoring on the new show’s multicultural credentials.
The show appears to be playing out its early years—set now, presumably—rather than introducing a new Dynasty generation for 2017.
Linda Evans’ much-persecuted and saintly Krystle will become the Latina Cristal (played by Peruvian-Australian actress Nathalie Kelley) and principled hunk Jeff Colby, once played by John James, will be played by Nigerian-born actor Sam Adegoke.
Maybe Alexis—the character and casting—will be an appropriately soapy surprise for nearer show-time; and if it isn’t Joan Collins (who might look odd at her real age next to a much younger cast playing her peers), maybe Alexis, too, could be played by an actress of color.
Diahann Carroll, who played Dominique Deveraux in the 1980s show, called her character “the first black bitch on television”; what if Alexis, television’s most famous bitch, was reimagined as black in the new multicultural Dynasty?
We know that Alan Dale (Jim from Neighbours; Ugly Betty) will play Joseph Anders, the Carrington family butler, who—in the original—suffered his own tragic end, after years of sniffily observing the correct positioning of fish knives.
Elizabeth Gillies will play Fallon, most famous in the original show for getting beamed up by a UFO, but who started out the series as a petulant spoilt little rich kid, the daughter of Blake Carrington.
Here, fans must jettison memories of craggy, white-haired John Forsythe as the Carrington paterfamilias and instead embrace the new Blake, as played by Grant Show, the studly Jake from Melrose Place (both the original Dynasty and MP were Aaron Spelling productions). Rob Riley will play Michael, the shifty chauffeur who in the early years bedded Fallon and did Blake’s dirty work.
The outline of the new show—at least initially—appears to focus on the trajectory of the original season one, which aired in 1981 and will focus on Cristal and Fallon, as the former prepares to marry into the Carrington family, much to the displeasure of the latter.
And if the new Dynasty follows the same path as the old Dynasty, that means no Alexis at all for a while; Joan Collins famously appeared in the first episode of the second season, lifting the veil of her hat at the trial of ex-husband Blake, accused of murdering son Steven’s onetime partner, Ted Dinard, in a fit of anti-gay rage.
The original Dynasty, its fans will remember, really only got going in season two with Alexis’ arrival. Season one, which I rewatched recently, is a fascinating, almost Marxist examination of wealth and its corruption. The early show is less the bitch-fest that it morphed into with Alexis’ arrival, and more a quiet and somewhat plodding exploration of class conflict and familial dysfunction. Steven’s homosexuality—then radical on primetime TV—includes discussions about homophobia and prejudice. (As the show went on, his sexuality changed with the scriptwriters’ whim.)
When Alexis arrived in season two, Joan Collins’ perfect incarnation—a superbitch on permanent mischief patrol—gave the show a deranged turbo engine. To do down Krystle she shot a rifle from behind a tree, causing Krystle’s horse to bolt, and Krystle to miscarry. The first of their fights, in Alexis’ studio, won by Krystle, ended with the latter goading her rival to a rematch. And so they did—most famously in a lily-pond, and then in the series finale at a fashion studio, ending with Krystle spinning Alexis to collapse in a pink feather boa.
The animus and confrontations of the women became the heart of the show—as were Nolan Miller’s clothes which eventually became so popular they were aped in collections sold in department stores. Krystle wore soft whites and blues, but he dressed Alexis in as many dramatic sheaths, hats, and leopard print as he could. Lying in a hospital bed, having narrowly escaped death, Alexis was resplendent in minxy nightgown and turban. The new Dynasty must love fashion.
Krystle and Alexis’ endless enmity set the template for other feuding women on film and TV—reductive in many ways for sure, but extremely fun to watch. Dynasty never felt anti-feminist: the women were the heart of the show, and whatever else Alexis was, watching her rule over her company week in week out was as powerful an example of female power as Margaret Thatcher running the U.K. Neither woman was a declared feminist, but they set powerful symbolic examples.
The biggest challenge for the new Dynasty is how it will hold close or subvert the wealth and tropes around wealth the original show never questioned. Today we are in different times, and any unalloyed celebration of 1980s greed and consumption would just look plain weird.
The other question is: will the new Dynasty be as crazy as the old one?
The introduction of Alexis unmoored the show’s sane and sensible origins in favor of bitch-fights, putdowns, endless scheming to break up marriages, and the buying and selling and raiding of companies. There were returns from the dead, plastic surgery-changed faces, dramatic reversals in fortune, sudden recoveries from paralysis, cabins being set on fire, hidden Nazi loot, brain-washing, the use of poison paint by evil Adam, to drive poor Jeff mad, and of course Krystle’s double Rita, who took over her life—and whose vanquishing required Linda Evans to fight herself.
And there was the Moldavian wedding massacre cliffhanger of 1985, when the whole cast was mowed down by radical revolutionaries who wanted to supplant that imagined country’s monarch.
The following season premiere revealed that the casualty count wasn’t as excessive as the hail of bullets and bloodstained faces suggested. Ali MacGraw’s Lady Ashley didn’t make it, but she shouldn’t have been in the show anyway. And Steven’s next gay lover died. (Good news: his final partner, in 1989, was allowed to live.)
That level of narrative excess and madness took years to get right, but hopefully the new show’s producers and writers will play it—as the original Dynasty did—for real, rather than laughs. The original Dynasty was absurd, but it didn’t dwell in its absurdity. It took it for granted and expected you too as well.
Every party ended with a fight. Every scene with Blake and Krystle was a snooze. Every Alexis putdown was magical. Every episode ended with a cliffhanger, a musical crescendo, with multiple cliffhangers ending a season—and then months of tantalizing waiting till the new season to answer it all.
Dynasty announced every episode of this mayhem with Bill Conti’s glorious theme, and opening credits featuring the actors encased in tuxes, furs and glittery gowns.
My final plea to the new show’s producers is: do not, as every reboot has done so far, screw up the theme and opening credits. Make them faster and cooler for 2017, and you will defile them. And please sort your Alexis problem out. None of us wants to endure the indignity of “burnt champagne.”