How Dynasty Is Upgrading A Problematic Classic

Photo: Courtesy of the CW.
Women in the upper echelons of the business world. The excess of the 1% of the 1%. Pristine white pantsuit-hat combos. Complex gay relationships. Complex gay relationships when your father is a conservative billionaire energy magnate. Fracking. Possible murder. Floral arrangements. All of this, and more, is packed into “I Hardly Recognized You,” the series premiere of the CW’s hotly-awaited Dynasty reboot, airing Wednesday, October 11.
While the obscene wealth and general intrigue of the updated Carrington family drama already sounds like something straight out of the original 1981 version of Dynasty, a lot of this doesn’t. The original oil baron Blake Carrington (John Forsythe) would never have even heard the words “environmental crisis” or “South America,” let alone dealt with them in a meaningful way. Yet, that’s exactly what we’ll see when the reimagined primetime soaps airs, now starring Latina UnReal alum Nathalie Kelley as lead character Cristal Flores-Carrington. Previously the role, formerly known as the very Midwest-friendly Krystle Carrington, was played by “all-American dream” blonde Linda Evans, as Kelley described her inspiration during an interview with journalists on Dynasty's Atlanta, Georgia set. While the major character shake-up is the most obvious liberty the CW’s Dynasty has taken with its source material, it’s not the only way the series has modernized an often-problematic classic.
When we enter the new world of Dynasty, the WASP-y 1980s enclave of Denver, Colorado, is gone in favor of the up-and-coming melting pot city where the series actually films. Cristal is a Venezuelan-born businesswoman who’s fallen for her powerful CEO, Blake Carrington (now played by former Melrose Place dreamboat Grant Show), whose greatest rival is the new-money Black billionaire Jeff Colby (Sam Adegoke). Blake’s daughter Fallon Carrington (Elizabeth Gillies) has just returned from a whirlwind business trip with the promise of big news from her dad. She thinks the Carrington patriarch is finally naming her COO of the family business. Instead, as the trailer teases, he’s marrying Cristal, the woman Fallon and her brother Steven (James Mackay) find their dad putting the moves on his study.
Amid all of this family drama, the openly-gay Steven also manages to hookup with the sexy, George Michael-esque Sammy Joe Flores (native Venezuelan Rafael de la Fuente), who just so happens to be Cristal’s surprise nephew. Back in the day, Krystle was an Ohio-born secretary, Sammy Jo had to be a woman played by Heather Locklear because Steven wasn’t allowed to get a handle on his own sexuality, and there were barely any people of color to be found over nine seasons of television. Oh, and Fallon’s ambition level was at “a five,” Gillies explained from the glittering Atlanta skyscraper where her show films. Now? The Dynasty team has kicked it up “to probably a 10.”
“We had to modernize it and update it. I don’t know if you’ve seen the original Dynasty, but there’s so much that couldn’t be said and done now. It wouldn’t apply,” the new and “stronger” Fallon Carrington said between takes of the show's fifth episode. “[These women] are not comfortable just being housewives anymore, they want to run companies. I think in today’s day and age and climate it’s a really good message to girls everywhere.” And that is the rub when it comes to Fallon and Cristal's rivalry: They’re not fighting over Blake’s attention — they’re fighting over power.
“That was something from the very get-go, from development,” triple threat co-creator, executive producer, and showrunner Sallie Patrick exclusively tells Refinery29 of her show’s feminism. “I definitely wanted, as a working woman, to write a show about working women. And that was there in the original show to some extent with Alexis Carrington (international treasure Joan Collins); she was a business woman and that was addressed kind of in the background. But we wanted to put it in the foreground.”
While Sallie and co-creators Stephanie Savage and Josh Schwartz, of Gossip Girl mastermind fame, could have called it a day on their boundary-breaking with some simple feminism, they still had bigger aims with Dynasty. “But I also wanted to have a show that was a little more dynamic,” Patrick, who has “impressionistic” memories of growing up watching the original series with her family, explained. “[One] that addressed intersectionality and multiculturalism in 2017, so when people are showing up to watch the show it wasn’t just ‘The 1%,’ which is for many unrelatable.”
This is how we get Black billionaires like the new Jeff Colby, the “incorporation” of Venezuela’s real-life oil crisis, and a true-to-life gay love story at the very beginning of the series. That latter storyline is a response to the original Dynasty’s botched decision to “cure” the gay-as-allowed Steven Carrington 1.0 (Al Corley, followed by Jack Coleman) by having him suffer vague blunt-force trauma after falling into a pool, momentarily eradicating any lingering feelings of homosexuality. “Stuff like that is just wrong,” former Empire star de la Fuente succinctly said on set.
Obviously, these upgrades affect not only the new-and-improved Sammy Joe, but also his “black sheep” aunt Cristal. “She’s not an angel, she’s not a saint, but she’s also not a villain. She’s a complex woman. She’s got secrets. We all do. We all have skeletons in our closet — hers just happen to be really intense because she fled a country in chaos,” Kelley said of her “nuanced” character. “So a lot of her secrets stem from poverty and fleeing a country that is breaking down, and some of the things she’s covering up she had to do to survive.”
But, of course, the new Dynasty isn’t a seminar on geopolitics in 2017. There are the classic “campy” catfights of the original series — “Are our cat fights feminist? I like to argue if we want to rule boardrooms like men, shouldn’t we be able to wrestle and tussle and still be feminine?” — and the memorable fashion, without the shoulder pads. Yet, there is an extra dose of subtext. On Cristal’s first big day as COO, she wears a lovely, wildly feminine, two-piece Stella McCartney blush pink suit. “For a woman to be that empowered and that emboldened to start her first day as COO in head-to-toe pink, that says a lot to how comfortable [women] are in these spheres of power now,” Kelley said. “Again, it’s pushing boundaries of how women can be powerful."
A mantra Elle Woods could be proud of.
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