Monday 16 December 2019

Dynasty: a soap for the Trump era

The 80s favourite is back with a Netflix reboot. But can the new series possibly compare to the majestically bonkers original, wonders Ed Power

Changing of the guard: Elizabeth Gillies, Grant Show, and Nathalie Kelley in the reboot
Changing of the guard: Elizabeth Gillies, Grant Show, and Nathalie Kelley in the reboot

Catfights, double-crossings, ridiculous hair. No it isn't the latest Donald Trump tell-all. Eighties soap-on-steroid Dynasty has been rebooted for the 21st century and is coming to Netflix this week. Hold on to your shoulder pads - it's sure to be a wild ride.

The new Dynasty, from US network The CW, aspires to be every bit as ridiculous as the Joan Collins original, in which the décolletage was weaponised, the bouffants bonkers and the acting broader than opening night at your local panto.

Linda Evans, John Forsythe and Joan Collins
Linda Evans, John Forsythe and Joan Collins

But there are changes too. Acknowledging America isn't as white as once it was, the feuding Carrington and Colby families have been recast as Latin-American and African-American respectively. And it is more or less stated outright that these ridiculous clans make even more sense in the era of social media and fame-for-fame's sake than they did 40 years ago. "Like it or not, we live in an age of dynasties," says spicy scion Fallon Carrington (Elizabeth Gillies) in the introductory voiceover as images of the Kardashians, Trumps and Murdochs flash across the screen. It's a fair point: in an era in which an Apprentice host sits in the White House, Dynasty 2.0 needs to work hard to achieve the bonker-dom of yore.

The original was the first choice of the true 80s soap opera connoisseur. Its great rival Dallas was by far the safer option: crazy in its own way, but never quite as eye-balls-on-stalks untethered as Joan Collins and company.

Because when it wanted to be mad, Dynasty went for it with bells on. Nazi treasure hidden on the family estate; characters kidnapped by their own doppelgängers; flying saucer-related abduction (actually that was spin-off The Colbys, which somehow managed to be more unhinged than Dynasty).

"Take your blonde tramp and get outta my house," declared Alexis Carrington, zillionaire Blake's ex-wife - played by Collins, obviously - at the start of her notorious pond fight with Blake's new bride Krystle (Linda Evans).

"The gold standard of scratching and clawing," said Entertainment Weekly approvingly after the pair, in flowing dresses and nose-bleed stilettos, slugged it out amid the lilies.

Then there was the notorious - if obviously fantastic - "Moldavian massacre". Long before Game Of Thrones and The Red Wedding, the Dynasty cast was dragged to darkest central Europe, where Amanda Carrington (Catherine Oxenberg) and Prince Michael of Moldavia (Michael Praed of Robin Of Sherwood and luxuriant hair fame) were to tie the knot.

Barely were the nuptials underway than euro-terrorists crashed the party gunning down the congregation. "It was a fairytale terrorist attack - beautifully shot, like a Goya painting," said co-creator Esther Shapiro.

As was obvious from the final product, Dynasty was conceived from the outset as over the top. The original concept came from husband and wife Richard and Esther Shapiro, who had been inspired by I, Claudius, Robert Graves' lurid account of back-stabbing and bed-hopping in ancient Rome.

"We wanted to do something that would be fun, an American fantasy," said Esther. "We thought people had seen enough stories where families fell apart. We wanted a strong, 19th-century sort of family where people were in conflict, but loved each other in spite of everything."

Initially the show was titled Oil! (every soap should come with an exclamation mark - you can bet RTE's most iconic drama would still be around if they'd called it Glenroe!). Season one was a moderate hit, the drama told from the perspective of Krystle, beautiful and wide-eyed new wife of oil tycoon Blake (John Forsythe).

However, full throttle was only truly achieved in year two when a mysterious British woman entered the drama. One of the most iconic moments in 80s television occurred in the episode 'Enter Alexis', in which an enigmatic newcomer removed their mirror-shades to reveal… Joan Collins, in all her purring glory.

"I remember saying to my family in London, 'well, I'm going off to do this gig called Dynasty and I'll probably be gone maybe five or six months because I think that's all it's going to last'," the actress would recall. "People love to see rich people suffering. I think there was huge interest in the clothes because until Dynasty… the women were quite simply dressed.

"If you look at those early, late 70s, early 80s clothes, they were nice silk shirts, they were plaid pants. But we decided… that the style that had just come in, in Paris, was designer. And it was very flattering. Women loved it."

Four decades later, a new approach is called for. The outfits are still dazzling - but Dynasty the reboot is more interested in tapping the importance of… well dynasties in show business and politics. It's a major shift in emphasis, but with ratings positive and Netflix stumping up for the rights to carry the series in 188 countries, one that has chimed with audiences.

"We are definitely living in an age of dynasties," said The CW's Josh Schwartz. "Whether it's the Trumps or the Clintons or the Kardashians or the Murdochs, our news is filled with the worlds of family dynasties and that was exciting for us."

Irish Independent

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