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Dynasty - Season 1
If you were old enough to watch television in the 1980s, you knew about Dallas and Dynasty even if you never watched a single episode. The two warring nighttime soap operas, each featuring a cast of wealthy and highly dysfunctional characters, may have been rather over-the-top at times, but they kept viewers coming back week after week to see how things turned out. Dynasty, though shorter-lived than the series it emulated, nevertheless had its appeal, as the wealthy Carrington family could generate any number of scandalous storylines, whether in the boardroom or the bedroom.
The title of the pilot episode sums up the source of the Carrington fortune: "Oil." It's in this episode that we meet all the major players in Dynasty. There's Blake Carrington (John Forsythe), the patriarch of the family, who can be both extremely charming and completely ruthless, as it suits him. His two children offer countless problems of their own: Steven (Al Corley) has to deal with his confusion about what he wants to do with his life, not to mention the fact that his father doesn't exactly accept the fact that he's gay, and Fallon (Pamela Sue Martin) is a sarcastic "little rich girl" who has a keen mind and ruthlessness to match her father. Into this nest of vipers comes innocent Krystal (Linda Evans), Blake's former secretary, who is abruptly thrust into the world of the super-rich when she marries Blake. As a contrast to the tortured lives of the wealthy, we get the tortured lives of the middle-class (at least in this first season) depicted in geologist Matthew Blaisdel (Bo Hopkins) and his wife Claudia (Pamela Bellwood), struggling to "make it" on their own.
So.. that's the cast. What are the plots like? Dynasty: Season 1 runs as one continuous storyline; individual episodes focus more on one or another plot point, whether it's a crucial dinner party or birthday celebration, or a particular plot twist, as in "The Beating" or "The Testimony," but the story as a whole runs smoothly through the whole season. That has its merits, as it keeps the viewer interested in following the loose ends of one episode right into the next, and the next, and the next.
In terms of pacing, though, the writers don't handle things as well as they could. If there's one common thread tying all these Dynasty episodes together, it's that they're paced with glacial slowness. The events of any two (or three) episodes could easily be edited down into a single, crisply-paced episode, instead of being drawn out (or puffed out, depending on your metaphor). Slow pacing in itself isn't necessarily a bad thing, but in the case of Dynasty, it's due to rather unnecessary causes. Scenes are lingered on far longer than necessary, considering that the acting isn't so superb that it's worth watching for its own sake, for instance. The writers also seem terrified of letting the viewer forget anything that happened earlier, so in each episode there are plenty of references to what was said or done in previous episodes. Nothing seems to ever happen off-stage, and so there's little need for the viewer to pay attention; it'll all be laid out in black and white (and referred back to) no matter what.
When all's said and done, Dynasty may have its faults, but it remains a moderately fun, if undeniably fluffy, series to watch. It's soapy, to be sure; the plots tend to revolve around who slept with whom and who knows the dirt on who slept with whom, and/or threatens to reveal said knowledge. But it's entertaining if soap is what you're looking for. Certainly viewers who were fond of the show when it originally aired will find it fun to revisit Dynasty once more now that it's on DVD.
Dynasty: Season 1 is very nicely packaged. The thirteen episodes (fifteen if you count the pilot as three separate episodes) are spread across four DVDs, in two ultra-slim cases that hold two discs each. It's nice to see the studios wising up to good packaging methods, and reducing the size of season-set packaging to modest (and manageable) proportions. The two cases fit into a glossy paperboard slipcase, which in turn has a slipcover. Appropriately, it's all rather sparkly.
The only quibble I have is that the discs are double-sided but only single-layer. If I'm going to have a flipper, I want it to be for a good reason (fitting twice as much content on a single disc), which isn't the case with a single-layer disc.
Dynasty fans will be very pleased by the evident care that has been given to the DVD transfer of Dynasty: Season 1. The image overall is crisp and sharp, with a level of clarity and detail that I really wasn't expecting for a 1981 television show. Colors are handled very well, always looking natural and rich, and contrast is also nicely done as well. The image isn't perfect, but any wear-and-tear is fairly limited: shots that include fade-outs or that have credits overlaid tend to look a bit grainy and worn, but the majority of the footage looks impressively clean and attractive. All the episodes are presented in their original aspect ratio of 1.33:1.
The Dolby mono soundtrack is clean and free of any background noise or other problems. It does tend to sound a bit flat (no surprise there) to a listener who's used to stereo sound, but it's a clear and presentable track that balances dialogue and music well. Dubbed Spanish and French mono soundtracks are also provided, as are Spanish and French subtitles and English closed captions.
Fans have been treated reasonably well in this release of Dynasty: Season 1. The three-part "Oil" episode has an audio commentary track by co-creator Esther Shapiro; Shapiro also provides a commentary, along with actor Al Corley, for "The Separation." The commentaries aren't bad, offering some interesting insights into the episodes, though there are many silent spots.
Disc 4 has the rest of the special features. "Family, Furs, and Fun: Creating Dynasty" takes a look at the making of the series. It's a moderate-length documentary, and includes interviews with creators Richard and Esther Shapiro and actors Al Corley and Pamela Sue Martin. The piece has a slightly fluffy feel to it, as it's laden with too many long clips from the series, but the interview segments are fairly interesting, and fans will find it worth watching.
The section titled "Character Profiles" actually consists of two fairly substantial interview featurettes. The first is on Pamela Sue Martin (Fallon) and the second on Al Corley (Steven); each is fairly heavily interspersed with clips from the show, but still manages to include a fair amount of interesting material.
If light-weight entertainment with a generous dash of glamor and glitz is what you're looking for, Dynasty has plenty of that to offer. If you've never seen any Dynasty episodes before, it's probably best to rent rather than buy. If you're a fan, though, this is a set you'll want to grab right away: the transfer is excellent, and the special features are solid as well. Recommended.