"Carousel": Or, how to turn DYNASTY into a different kind of show

Discussion in 'Dynasty' started by Michael Torrance, May 24, 2018.

  1. Michael Torrance

    Michael Torrance Soap Chat Well-Known Member

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    So, nowadays it is ordinary for shows to pick up viewers in later seasons thanks to DVD and online platform watching—Game of Thrones was successful in season 1, but its ratings in season 7 were 4 times what they were in its freshman season. But back in the middle ages of the early 80s, a show could only achieve that through word of mouth and summer reruns. What a treat, then, it must have been to binge watch one of the first three seasons of DYNASTY in preparation for season 4. Despite some misfires in every season, the show had the genre nailed down right from the get-go, unlike its earlier Texan predecessor which took a while to let go of the stand-alone episode format, and there was a grand narrative which offered audiences the illusion that they were watching a planned story, one that would take some time to develop, but that there was someone (or many) crafting the overall design.

    How long did it take people (including my teenage self at the time) to figure out the DYNASTY train had horribly derailed? Quite a few seasons, it turns out. “Carousel,” episode 11 in season 4, is emblematic of what DYNASTY appeared to non-DYNASTY fans: a big, glitzy, spectacular, big-name-appearing, empty vessel of an episode in terms of story. Ironically, it is also the only episode partially filmed in Denver. But let me explain why I think the episode is emblematic of how non-fans perceive DYNASTY and also of the way the show lost its way in season 4—and did not really find it until season 6B.

    While the first three seasons were a novelistic family saga of the nighttime soap genre, this season DYNASTY becomes a daytime soap opera with a bigger budget and bigger actors than its daytime counterparts. The difference is huge: in a daytime soap characters come and go (“Tracy,” “Peter de Vilbis,” who even get their own episodes named after them together with “Dex” who at least had staying power), create their complications with their mini-arcs, entangle the main characters, and then they exit and new characters come by but nothing changes much. This was not the case with DYNASTY up until then, or DALLAS for many of its seasons past the first.

    So the episode begins in Calgary, with Alexis/Joan Collins—gone are the days when Blake would start and end the show, but I am fine with that, though I am sure Forsythe isn’t now that there is such an obvious acknowledgement Joan Collins is the star of the show. Dex comes in to offer her a better deal and improve his chances of getting her into bed. Now, I loved Dex/Michael Nader, but I wonder what Adrianna would have told Alexis in the tarot cards for season 4: you will meet a tall, dark stranger? For that is essentially her story. Joan Collins was a true blessing bringing her charisma and radiance to an original role and a strong story, but now that the writers gave up trying to make the story captivating (if anyone has info on the season Bible I would appreciate it) Collins is still radiant and charismatic, yet now she is becoming a curse: the audience will tune in to watch her as Alexis, even if Alexis does not do much that another actress would be noticed performing. After the merger storyline ends early in the season, the show puts Blake and Krystle on one sphere and Alexis on another, one that involves Dex almost 24/7. As I said I liked Dex right away, both the actor and the character, but he needed to be more than Alexis’ sex on a stick (many forum members have given good ideas). So, from now on, and until season 6B, DYNASTY as established in the first three seasons is over. Sure, there is the south china sea oil leases complication, but it looks like Alexis having fun with Blake, and the hatred and vendetta is gone. The primal character with her vengeance and her rage for all the years of exile is now becoming a high society name, a sexy diva, and occasionally a meddling mother.

    Speaking of mothers, the next scene involves Fallon in bed with Peter de Vilbis. While Esther Shapiro had famously admitted that they run out of story for the older characters, it looks like they don’t have much for the younger ones either, save for Adam and his sidekick Kirby. Fallon, especially, is in such a threadbare storyline that I can’t believe Martin was able to stay the whole year. After season three where Fallon wanted to prove herself as a businesswoman, overcome her daddy issues and reconcile with Krystle, and finally ended her loveless marriage to Jeff, she resorts to the spoiled brat again who wants the toy she discarded back and beds Jeff. And instead of intense therapy sessions, she goes for a washed-out Eurotrash playboy whose deal with the devil must be over for the portrait must now be ageing along with him. Laughingly, the show wants to use another daytime trope, that of the necessary secret, to create tension in the Jeff-Kirby marriage in earlier episodes: Fallon and Jeff must be in cahoots because they investigate Adam and can’t tell Kirby (did he have her hair bun wiretapped?) Except—that is not what created tension. It is the tiny detail that Jeff cheated on his wife with his ex who only wants him while he has somebody else’s ring on his finger. Yet Jeff is such a bastard, after Kirby tells him Adam raped her, he doubts that for a bit, because he is of such high moral fiber. So back to Peter, who is discussing his horse Allegre on the phone. A friend of his won’t buy half the interest in the horse (the horse’s ass?) but he will put it on the market and by tonight it will be consummated (ad verbatim). The way the show uses Peter’s Europeanness as a pretext for a pun is funny (he really plans to screw over the Carringtons more than just carnally) and Fallon takes the bait and suggests Peter wait for daddy. I thought she looked too tall for a pony.

    Meanwhile Krystle wakes up to the dazzle of her engagement ring, which makes Blake’s former cruelty, rape, refusal to discuss his family with her, and constant paranoid distrust a thing of the past. Fairy dust topaz for sure. How did we get here? while the season started strong with the trial about Danny’s custody, clouds were obvious on the horizon: first, Steven is once again straight, so straight that his storyline is about the burden and conflict of the successful business man whose boss (and also mom) places demands on his time and he neglects his new bride. It is such a joke on Steven as created by Al Corley how this storyline plays out by Jack Coleman’s Steven, that somehow I kept hoping that this would turn out another one of Claudia’s hallucinations—how she imagined being a housewife to Steven as she imagined the doll being Lindsay on the roof. Krystle standing up to Blake during the trial was the last we saw of her spine. After the Claudia magical resolution, Marc, who was getting progressively more decent for many episodes, tries to force himself on her. And then Blake concocts a magical PR position for her that will never be touched by Alexis as CEO of the merged company, supposedly. Dufus that she has become, Krystle buys all of it, proposal and all. And then they announce it to the family at the time: Kirby, Jeff, and the father of their baby, Adam.

    And here Kirby proves to be a black hole. Played by a lackluster actress, this poorly defined character is catapulted to the epicenter of the show, and the show crumbles under her weak support. The story is simply not enough to carry the show, although since Adam has the only continuing core story left, she has that role, but you can imagine another actress being spellbinding enough to forgive it like you forgive Alexis’ lack of story, but Kathleen Beller is not it. And while Adam is the only one who has a story, while in season 3 his story is one of many (the merger/Steven’s disappearance/Mark’s return) affecting core characters, it is now the only core one. Not only that, but while Adam is larger than life before—butting heads with Blake right away, flirting with his sister and brushing it off, poisoning Jeff as an antagonist to Colbyco power and Kirby but also subconsciously to Fallon and Alexis, and conflicted between wanting to have a brother in Steven and being Alexis’ lackey against him—here he is merely a father and a man in love. The docile transformation made me think that Jeff was no longer inhaling fumes, but Adam and the writers sure were smoking something potent.

    So the announcement of the engagement has another official role plot-wise: after the show buried the business tension between Alexis and Blake with the end of the merger, it now ends the emotional tension also: Krystle won, pure and simple—there is even a scene later in the episode (during the Ball) where Krystle shows off her engagement ring with Fallon by her side and Alexis eating her heart out. Alexis is out of the picture. As I was watching it, I felt like maybe the show was coming to its conclusion with perhaps a happy ending for all, including Alexis who has a young stud who wants her and her alone (though she dismisses him as a one-night-stand on the plane ride back). More amazing scene to follow: Blake, who in season two told Krystle after her riding accident “no horses for you ever,” now buys his fiancée an interest in a horse. Surprise—the writers of this season were not among those binging on summer reruns of DYNASTY.

    Then halfway through the episode, the women dress in couture, all the characters walk on the red carpet, Alexis puts Claudia down for her off the rack dress while giving her a backhanded compliment at the same time, and it is the real housewives of Denver, the kind of bitching and focus on style that people associate with 80s excess and DYNASTY. Even former congressman McVane has a bitchy line to utter, and I think the only mistake of the episode is nobody throwing champagne at someone else’s face. The Carousel Ball as a setting full of former presidents and secretaries of state (and Fox presidents before Murdoch made that a four letter word) is meant to show how DYNASTY is 80s glamour, as in fact it was in the cultural lexicon of the decade. But narratively, it undercuts the show’s myth. For much of the show, especially season one and even seasons two and three, the Carrington mansion, portrayed by the majestic FiLoLi, and the Carringtons themselves were supposed to be the ones whose world audiences wanted to escape to, their daily lives experienced against luxury and excess to be juxtaposed with the misery of their personal lives. Now lives are generally happy (it is so obvious Peter is wrong for Fallon and Jeff and Kirby won’t stay together audiences know how these will go) but the real opulence of the Carousel Ball makes the now encased studio Carrington wealth look off the rack.

    In other news of the ball, Steven decides that it is ok of his father either kills his boyfriends or tries to get custody of his son for his disgusting gay days are over now, and the two magically reconcile. Again, when you ditch the show’s and individual character history, everything is possible. Meanwhile comes the one strong moment of the episode emotionally, between Adam and Alexis. Now earlier in the season when the show unceremoniously ended the merger, Alexis chose motherhood over revenge and maybe the show wanted her to redeem herself for some earlier horrible things and rifling accidents (or I am giving them too much credit for thinking such items). But whatever internal agony Alexis went through, internal because sadly she has nobody to use as a springboard, it just didn’t get much coverage on screen. Even if it did, while a nice character growth story, it wasn’t a compelling one, one to keep us on the edge of our seats like earlier seasons, but maybe I think so simply because the show doesn’t even try. So anyway, Alexis has a good scene with Adam. She tells him that Blake accepted him when he was down and alone, but now things are changing. Then she cautions him that Blake might not like his youthful drug taking (clearly a huge misreading—Blake forgives everything as long as his sons promise they won’t do it again—look at Steven) but she explains that she knows, forgives him, and gave up on the merger for him. But while her outrageously purple-shaded eyes show compassion, and Joan Collins shows honest and not overdone emotion for once, everything we witnessed in season 3, including taking Adam off her will until he was nicer to Steven in her own warped perspective, just calls for too much of the DYNASTY recipe of forgetting the past. After Tracy (yet another new character to exit by season’s end) tries twice to seduce Adam in the episode, once at the office and once at the ball, he apologizes to Steven for not taking his side in the custody battle. Now, as he tells him and for Kirby’s benefit, he appreciates the feelings of a father for his son. The scene rings true, but it is part of the new domesticated Adam I find problematic—and even worse, its emotional weight actually makes what comes before and after even more ludicrous.

    Finally, after Jeff sees Peter be rude to a waiter (nasty as we know all Europeans to be), Jeff the following day witnesses Peter performing a risky plane maneuver with Fallon along for the ride. Given Helmut Berger’s Concorde title card, there are all sorts of messages about Jeff feeling inadequate as a small penis unimaginative American against a decadent priapic and creative European and his phallic planes, and the episode ends with having given birth to a whole new series of gay parodies to be sure.

    By the way, you can also read news coverage and critique of the episode (and especially of the famous guest stars and how the episode came to have them) from the Washington Post here

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/arch...a3b-b485-e1b7b1d56084/?utm_term=.d147b7d77e1f
     
    Last edited: May 24, 2018
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  2. Willie Oleson

    Willie Oleson drilling for soap

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    That was a good read, thanks Michael!
     
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  3. Willie Oleson

    Willie Oleson drilling for soap

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    If that change was meant to be because her original story arc had run its course (and it wouldn't have been very uncharacteristic if a restless character like Alexis simply got bored with it) then I wouldn't necessarily object to that if it would help the story to move on to the next stage.
    The problem is that the show didn't acknowledge her as "just a high society name" or "just a sexy diva". So, there was a difference between what was told and what actually happened on-screen.
    It's been suggested several times on this forum that Alexis could have been written out for an appropriate amount of episodes or even seasons with the intent to have her return in a most wicked and spectacular way.
    Personally I think that's a little too drastic, but maybe it wouldn't have been such a bad idea to put her in the background for a while, and as the story progresses to give her unexpected ammunition that would give her the (unexpected) opportunity to crush Blake once and for all, with confiscating the mansion as the story's crescendo.
    That did happen, but not without endless bickering and lacklustre business storylines that were supposed to be "big".
    Yeah, Dynasty's "Love Boat" characters. Although I don't mind the one-off guest star appearance just for the fun of it, as long as it's clear that's all it is.
    Yes, in that regard Dynasty was the most eighties-fied show as it undermined the show's identity.
    Friends of Trump & Nancy - Dynasty promoting itself rather than being Dynasty. Iconic for the sake of being iconic.
    I have mixed feelings about this.
    Dynasty with its wonderful, rich background allows the show to expand its grandeur into other territories (literally and figuratively), even if that contradicts the original premise of the mighty Blake Carrington as the "Martin Peyton of Denver Place", with the Carrington estate - as you pointed out - being the only territory that mattered, similar to Fallon's perspective that being a Carrington was the only thing that mattered.
    I think it would have been possible to show an escapade amoureuse with a Peter De Vilbis character in Monaco or Milan (shot on location), and still keep the Harold Robbins vibe of the first season intact. After all, it was stated in the first season that Fallon frequented these kind of locations.
    But we got a silly jungle and a fake country instead, they travelled from China to Natumbe, and even that could have been compensated with breathtaking sceneries.
    It's a funny trajectory: there was the sense of place and a beautiful scenery, then we went "into the house" (by popular demand, according to ES) and then we left the house for the most lacklustre locations, and not even the real thing.

    Like I've said before, it's hard to rate a long-running soap series in the grand scheme of things, after all it's still a soap, and watching the individual episodes often gives me a different impression because there's so much more going on than just describing the basic storylines.
    However, Dynasty's impeccable first season did create the idea of a novel, or a chapter, or a "first book in a series of".
    As you said in another thread: Dallas and Knots Landing were more suitable for the soap format than Dynasty, so maybe Dynasty would have worked better as 12-13 eps mini-series rather than 30 eps seasons - inside or outside the mansion, with or without Alexis.
    But that was never the plan, they wanted a soap that could rival the immense popular Dallas. I would almost say that season 1 was a beautiful mistake which makes us long for something that was probably never meant to be in the first place.
    But I agree with everything you said about the first 3 seasons vs. season 4 and beyond. Just because it's "just a soap" doesn't mean we can't tell the difference.
     
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  4. Michael Torrance

    Michael Torrance Soap Chat Well-Known Member

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    Season 9 showed how effectively the show could use Collins'/Alexis' absence and make her re-appearance twice as effective. It's like that Shakespearean edict in Henry IV that one's might is diluted if he is around as often as the sun. Alexis was that kind of a character that needed to be spaced out.
    But I can see why it is drastic (and would Collins ever go for it? Unlikely). If the show wanted to have her follow a different arc for some seasons, then they needed to have actually planned this arc. There were some crumbs here and there (most pathetic by season 6 and the "Alexis as undercover agent/nun") but even with Dominique and Tom the show just didn't bother to dig into its own history and unearth potential gold.


    Yes, DYNASTY could have thrown some money and have us follow characters in these spectacular locations, and had it been done enough (including the Colorado mountains when they went to Aspen, for heaven's sake) it would have made the show look as cosmopolitan as it claimed to be. Alas...
     
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  5. Willie Oleson

    Willie Oleson drilling for soap

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    And let's not forget that she was supposed to be Dynasty's answer to JR Ewing, the mover & shaker. So I can see why the writers thought she had to be there right, left and centre.
    But that's selling a product, not telling a story.
     
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  6. bmasters9

    bmasters9 Soap Chat TV Fanatic

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    How did Rupert Murdoch make Fox presidents a four-letter word? Was it through Fox News, among other things?
     
  7. Michael Torrance

    Michael Torrance Soap Chat Well-Known Member

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    Among, many, many other things on many continents.
     
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  8. bmasters9

    bmasters9 Soap Chat TV Fanatic

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    Another thing-- why would TPTB on O-R ABC Dynasty turn Joan Collins into the de facto star of the show, even though Johnny F. is the one who had the actual "starring" credit every week?
     
  9. Michael Torrance

    Michael Torrance Soap Chat Well-Known Member

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    Per what other forum members have posted, the initial contracts (and the show's initial conception) were built around Blake as the star character--a darker Blake that Forsythe started wanting to change as soon, ironically, as Alexis/Collins came on board and became the villain. I remember various writers, Esther Shapiro included, saying how Forsythe would claim to have remarks on the scripts while really all he wanted to make sure was that the show started and ended with him. It took a few years for the show to cater to what the audience already knew, that Alexis/Collins was the star of the show. How sad that they did the very year they made her character have less impact than all the previous years.
     
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