Despite the still cresting waves of ’80s nostalgia and reboots, the CW’s reimagined Dynasty feels like it’s coming at a bit of an inopportune time. Do contemporary viewers, including those who tuned in weekly to the lifestyles of the rich and debauched on Gossip Girl, really have the stomach for the excess that made Richard and Esther Shapiro’s original one of the most memorable nighttime soaps? In this era of leaning in, will women want to see the scion of an energy magnate (one change among several) resort to blackmail while tearing down her Latinx rival? And even if they meet this criteria, will they be able to watch without thinking of the Carringtons’ real-life counterparts who wield undue influence on American politics, especially when the original reveled in its backdoor deals? In short, is there a place for the outrageousness and shoulder pads of that bygone era brought to you by Aaron Spelling?
Perhaps, but only if Stephanie Savage and Josh Schwartz were fully committed to throwing reality out with last year’s Pucci. Instead, the two showrunners, working under the auspices of the Shapiros, try to keep one well-shod foot in that sequined past and one in our increasingly conscientious present. Their attempts at balance throw the whole thing off kilter, as this new Dynasty struggles to blend the hedonism and baroque plotting of its predecessor with sleeker storylines and visual aesthetics. The most troublesome excess shown in the pilot is one of goals—the series aims to be as much a drama as a soap opera, which puts an end to the fun before it can really begin.
The pilot, directed by Jane The Virgin’s Brad Silberling, introduces the core cast; though, in what might be a nod to the original, Alexis Colby is, sadly, nowhere to be found. In a montage of scenes that showcase the usual trappings of privilege—private jets, luxury goods, quitting your job at a moment’s notice to head home for some mysterious announcement—we meet all the Carringtons. There’s Blake (Grant Show), the head of Carrington Atlantic, which is now based in Atlanta. He’s handsome and astute, though only the former is really on display in the first hour (he’s almost erratic in a board meeting). His daughter, Fallon (Elizabeth Gillies), is shrewd and ambitious (and yes, sexy; this is Dynasty, after all); she’s the same age her father was when he took over the company, so she expects his big announcement to involve handing over the COO title.
Blake and Fallon’s relationship is bound to draw comparisons to Donald and Ivanka Trump’s, though thankfully it’s not anywhere near as uncomfortably close. But Savage and Schwartz are really just drawing from the original; they have to build a reasonably happy relationship for Cristal Flores (Nathalie Kelley) to disrupt. The pilot is rather efficient in establishing all of this background so that even a Dynasty novice quickly grasps that Fallon believes Cristal’s taken something that’s hers—whether that’s her dad or her job remains to be seen—and she’ll do anything to get it back. But Cristal, who’s been upgraded from the original Krystle in ways beyond the spelling of their names, is just as determined as her stepdaughter. Neither woman will back down, especially not in formal wear.
The reboot recreates that contentious dynamic, right down to its unevenness. Kelley is as subdued as Linda Evans in her depiction of Cristal/Krystle; even when she’s got a fistful of someone else’s hair, she looks only mildly perturbed. Gillies has a better grasp of the material, occasionally offering the kind of sweeping exits and arch delivery that made the original such melodramatic fun (that is, before the show consisted of only twists). In fact, despite Show’s Melrose Place bona fides, Gillies is the one who looks most at home in this setting, though even she occasionally appears self-conscious. That could be chalked up to the new characterization, which wants to tap into the “nasty woman” zeitgeist by having Fallon demonstrate she’s earned that promotion. At the same time, in order to truly represent the one percent and be Cristal’s opposite, she also has to be incredibly entitled. There’s obviously a way the character can be both, but in the pilot, you can practically hear the grinding as Gillies switches gears.
Characterization can be worked out over time, but the same kind of identity crisis extends to the overall series, which tries to recreate the decadence of yore while wringing its hands over it. As Steven Carrington, James Mackay is supposed to be the family’s conscience—a bleeding-heart liberal, he funded protests against his father’s company’s fracking project on a Native American burial ground. But he’s also someone who doesn’t notice when $1,000 goes missing from his money clip, which undermines his position as the counterpoint to all the self-indulgence. Cristal shares some of those concerns as a smart, bootstrapping Latina—she pushes for outreach programs and job training—but Kelley’s presence is hardly felt in the premiere, and neither is these characters’ social awareness.
There are other interesting characters in the periphery, including self-made billionaire Jeff Colby (Sam Adegoke), whose stepmother, Alexis, will hopefully amplify the melodrama when she arrives later this season. And Alan Dale does a fine job stooping to conquer as valet/butler/confidante Anders. But these flashes of fun and intrigue are too few and far between, which just leaves us with some half-hearted commentary on the rich and famous. The pilot is competent, but the Dynasty reboot is more junior executive than CEO material right now.