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The new Dynasty has been Trumped by real life

The new Dynasty has been Trumped by real life

The resurrection of the trashy soap opera couldn’t be timelier. But even the most sensational drama isn’t a patch on the news

The resurrection of the trashy soap opera couldn’t be timelier. But even the most sensational drama isn’t a patch on the news

Tim Martin | October 16th 2017

“Like it or not, we live in an age of dynasties,” says a voiceover on the opening credits of “Dynasty”, a ghastly but spirited attempt by the writers of “Gossip Girl” to exhume this trashiest of television soap operas and dish it up again for the Age of the Oligarch. A helpful montage features a few like-em-or-not dynasties – Donald and the Trumplets beaming and cutting a ribbon, Murdoch and his large adult sons backslapping at the handover of some family enterprise, and a quick flash of the Kardashians doing whatever it is that Kardashians do – while the voiceover continues: “Who else can you trust to run the family business except family?”

As viewers of the original series may remember, the answer to this one – in “Dynasty” at least – is “pretty much literally anyone”. By the time Esther and Richard Shapiro’s series limped off screen after nine seasons at the end of the Eighties, its central family of oil barons had been through so many murders, massacres, machinations, hostile takeovers and hair-pulling fisticuffs that they had started to resemble children’s soft toys with the stuffing coming out. “Dynasty” was a high-camp bacchanalia of sedition and backbiting, whose strangely cloven purpose – was it satirising its super-rich cast or admiring them? – was neatly summed up in two pronouncements by Shapiro on what the writers wanted from the series. “We wanted a strong, nineteenth-century sort of family where people were in conflict but loved each other in spite of everything,” she told one interviewer. To another, she mentioned that the soap opera had been inspired by the Claudian “Dynasty” of imperial Rome: the one that included those loving, family-oriented fellows Nero and Caligula.

“Dynasty” redux goes for a similar feat of cake-having and -eating, and, at least as far as the pilot is concerned, it sticks fairly close to the narrative lineaments of the original. Fallon Carrington (Elizabeth Gillies), the family’s driven, intolerant daughter, arrives home to take what she thinks is her rightful place in her father’s oil empire, but instead finds her dad, Blake (Grant Show), in flagrante with junior executive Cristal (Natalie Kelley), who in short order becomes Wife No. 2. Her brother Stephen (James Mackay) is also at odds with the family, not because he’s gay (the point of contention in the original) but because he’s a liberal anti-fracker, spending his inheritance on disrupting his father’s projects. By the end of a packed 40 minutes, Fallon has gone into business against her father, Stephen is shagging his new mother’s nephew, and someone has been killed by an exploding wind turbine. Caligula might think it a bit thin, but as a set-up, it’s not bad.

I suspect, though, that trouble beckons on two fronts. For the first, while new “Dynasty” does its best to walk the walk – it’s set against a sedulously tawdry backdrop of Learjets, tasteless McMansions and gleaming limos – it has very little of the abrasive social novelty that accounted for its predecessor’s success: career women, gay men – imagine! This gleaming one-per-center’s world, for now, feels like what it is: a stage set, full of actors dutifully spouting snark.

The second problem, of course, is that it’s getting tough to think what tricks “Dynasty” could bring to the table that wouldn’t instantly be steamrollered by the live-action soap opera of the American first family. The scriptwriters would be hard-pushed to invent a shoulder-pad-ripping catfight that was more entertaining than last week’s spat between Ivana and Melania Trump over who was the “real” first lady. The spoilt-brattishness of Fallon Carrington, who “spent the median household income on jet fuel” because “freshly baked cookies are worth it”, has nothing on the gumption of the Treasury secretary, Steve Mnuchin, asking if he can borrow a government jet for his honeymoon. And Blake Carrington, a self-admiring stuffed shirt who (to quote his daughter) “made his fortune doing deals with old white guys at private clubs” and “refuses to accept that the world around him is changing” is less compelling, if that is the word, than his real-life counterpart swanking about Mar-a-Lago with his itchy Twitter finger on the nuclear button. 

Dynasty is on Netflix now

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