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Dynasty does prime-time again (but will The CW's target audience even know it used to be a thing?)


Marrying a Carrington is never wise, but Cristal’s got her gown on. CW photo

Premiering: Wednesday, Oct. 11th at 8 p.m. (central) on The CW
Starring: Elizabeth Gillies, Nathalie Kelley, Grant Show, James Mackay, Alan Dale, Robert Christopher Riley, Sam Adegoke, Rafael de la Fuente
Produced by: Josh Schwartz, Stephanie Savage, Sallie Patrick, Brad Silberling, Esther Shapiro, Richard Shapiro

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The lily whiteness has been washed out but the dirty dealing remains both rampant and ramped up.

Arriving a few years after onetime arch-rival Dallas had a three-season run on TNT, The CW’s “modern re-imagining” of Dynasty seems like an odd fit for a network with a core target audience of 18-to-34-year-olds. None of them were even born yet when ABC launched the original Dynasty back in January of 1981.

For that matter, neither were most of the remake’s principal cast members, save for graybeard Grant Show. The 55-year-old veteran of Melrose Place succeeds the late John Forsythe as billionaire Blake Carrington. Cripes, he’s even old enough to vaguely remember The Big Valley. Ick.

Blake presides over a rather dramatically changed Dynasty landscape. His frisky, power-seeking daughter, Fallon (Elizabeth Gillies), is secretly sleeping with Blake’s chauffeur, Culhane (Robert Christopher Riley), while also plotting some potential bedroom moves with her dad’s top business rival, Jeff Colby (Sam Adegoke). Culhane and Colby are both played by African-American actors. In the original Dynasty, a major character of color didn’t show up until Season 4, when Diahann Carroll’s conniving Dominique Deveraux made the scene.

There’s this, too. Willful sex kitten Sammy Jo, previously played by Heather Locklear, is now a duplicitous gay man in the person of Rafael de la Fuente. After sleeping with Blake’s gay prodigal son, Steven (James Mackay), he shows up unexpectedly at Blake’s super-posh wedding to Cristal Flores (Nathalie Kelley), who was Krystle Jennings in the ABC version. Sammy is now Cristal’s nephew instead of her niece. Re-imagine that.

We pause briefly to note that ABC’s Dynasty was a really big deal in its day, even edging out Dallas as prime-time’s most popular series in the 1984-’85 TV season. Although they were already known to many, the show’s three main attractions, played by Forsythe, Linda Evans and Joan Collins, became far bigger stars than they’d ever been. Even Gerald and Betty Ford, and Henry Kissinger eagerly played themselves in cameo appearances while the likes of Rock Hudson, Ali MacGraw, Billy Dee Williams and George Hamilton all traipsed through in supporting or recurring roles.

The CW’s new version isn’t likely to have nearly that clout or pulling power, although maybe a guest shot by Paris Hilton could be arranged. Otherwise, the biggest stars -- the Trumps, the Kardashians and the Murdochs -- are briefly shown in file footage during Fallon’s lengthy opening narration. “Like it or not, we live in an age of dynasties,” she says. There’s also some fake Carrington home movie footage, during which little Steven can be glimpsed playing the evocative Dynasty theme song for the handful of CW viewers that actually recognize it.

Fallon fully expects to be named the new COO of her father’s sprawling, oil-driven energy company, now based in Atlanta instead of Denver. But her would-be triumphant return home turns sour when Fallon and Steven inadvertently pop in on their father and lover cavorting on his office desk top “This is Cristal. My fiancee,” he announces. Bare the claws.

ABC’s Dynasty eventually upped -- or lowered -- its game to a series of Krystle-Alexis (Collins) cat fights, the most famous one in a lily pond. Fallon and Cristal get into it a bit of a physical tangle on her wedding day after she deliciously bites the head off of the bride atop the Carrington wedding cake. It’s easily the new version’s deftest touch.

Blake’s snooty British butler, named Anders (Alan Dale), likewise doesn’t care much for Cristal or her influence on his boss. Sammy Jo isn’t likely to be a favorite either, particularly after he asks Anders, “So what kind of butler are you -- more of a Bates or a Belvedere?” That’s gonna soar over a lot of heads.

Some fun possibly can be had here amid all the back-stabbing, sneering, secrecy and infidelity. And there’s certainly no point in twitting Dynasty for over-doing it -- when that’s all it’s ever done.

Through it all, Show does his best to bring a modicum of presence to his pivotal role, even if he sometimes might feel a bit like Wayne Newton at a Justin Bieber-themed birthday party. Or to put it another way, Wayne who?


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