As we learn more about how plutocrats have profited from the covid pandemic, how endemic their tax evasion is, and how they can't even manage to do the bare minimum of redistributing their ill-gotten lucre in the form of tips, the popularity of billionaires seems to be at an all-time low. (Just ask anyone who works at SNL.) So what if I told you there was a network show that exists to abuse, rob, sicken, humiliate, and occasionally murder the members of a family of unimaginably rich monsters — and has been doing so for three seasons, with a fourth about to premiere? Friends, it's time for you to stop sleeping on the new Dynasty.
Like the original series, which aired on ABC from 1981-1989, Dynasty tells the story of the Carringtons, a family that made its unfathomable wealth in the oil business. CEO Blake Carrington (Grant Show) is determined to marry his employee, Cristal Flores (Nathalie Kelley in the first season, but ... well, we'll get to it), despite the vocal disapproval of his ambitious daughter Fallon (Elizabeth Gillies). Though it is a true love match, Cristal has been keeping secrets from Blake, like her affair with company geologist Matthew Blaisdel (Nick Wechsler) and trouble she left behind in in her native Venezuela. Filling out the pilot cast are Fallon's brother Steven (James Mackay), local business titan Jeff Colby (Sam Adegoke), Carrington chauffeur and Fallon love interest Michael Culhane (Robert Christopher Riley), and Anders (Alan Dale), majordomo at Carrington Manor since Blake was a child. The new series relocates the action from Denver to Atlanta, and notably increases the diversity of its cast: Cristal and her family are now Venezuelan; Culhane and the Colbys are Black; the character of Sammy Jo, played by Heather Locklear in the original series, has been recast as a gay man (Rafael de la Fuente) who becomes a love interest for Steven. Whereas the '80s Dynasty was a breakout hit for co-creators Richard and Esther Shapiro, the 21st-century take is from Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage, whose track record as producers stretches back to The O.C. and forward from here to The CW's Nancy Drew, with many stops in between.
This iteration has been exceptionally messy behind the scenes. For those new to theseries, I won't get into the reasons we're currently on our third Cristal AND Alexis — the latter is Blake's first wife, and Fallon and Steven's mother — but that is the case. Speaking of Steven: he's also been jettisoned from the show, first downgraded from a series regular to recurring, and now just gone. We can't, of course, know about the behind-the-scenes machinations that resulted in these moves; what we do know is that Dynasty's producers do an exceptional job integrating these meta-narratives into the show's overall camp factor. I'm not saying these casting shake-ups happen on purpose to pay off this way, but they do function like a soapy force multiplier.
When we rejoin the Carringtons et al in Season 4, we're deep in the thick of preparations for Fallon's (latest) wedding; the season's first two episodes were provided to critics, and from watching them it's very clear that they would have very dramatically closed out Season 3 if the pandemic hadn't shut down production prematurely. The fashion on this show is always next-level — Schwartz and Savage know they have very glam shoes to fill given the styles the original was known for, but they also produced Gossip Girl, so they're more than capable — and seeing all these numbskulls fight in some of their most formal looks ever is a true joy.
The season premiere also opens with a veiled Fallon, sitting alone, at a funeral. Whose? We don't know, because a chyron soon lets us know that is happening six months after the wedding, before sending us back to the timeline we left in Season 3. News that someone in the cast could be leaving us soon is exciting for me personally, since I have a couple of candidates I'd propose. (Warning: spoilers for Season 2 and 3 plot points follow.) First, there's Adam Carrington (Sam Underwood). The Carringtons' son was kidnapped as an infant and presumed dead, but finds his way back to the family as an adult — and a very bitter one. Adam is constantly running revenge schemes on his family of origin, but he's also so emotionally fragile that his allegiances are very changeable based on who was nice to him last. At least producers seem to have backed off his extremely creepy crush on Fallon, his full biological sister. Another problem is Adam Huber's Liam Ridley, Fallon's off-again, on-again love interest. It shocks me to look at IMDb and learn he's been in almost two-thirds of the series run when he's seemed from his very first appearance like he didn't know where he was. I realize that Liam is meant to be a stabilizing influence for Fallon, but Huber's extremely understated, bland, bro-y performance is pitched completely wrong for this arch, goofy, over-the-top production. Say what you will about Adam — and I've yelled it, a lot, alone in my living room — but Sam Underwood gets that he's in a primetime soap opera.
And that's true of literally every other performer on screen, so if it helps, you can always pretend Adam Huber won a walk-on contest and just never left. The cast is stacked with pros who leave every interaction flossing scenery out of their teeth. Grant Show, of course, put in the better part of a decade on the best primetime soap of the 1990s, Melrose Place; Dynasty finds him at the opposite end of the economic spectrum from underdog Jake Hanson, and he understands the assignment. Gillies, as Fallon, delivers on both the drama and comedy her role requires; the spirit of Blair Waldorf lives on in her dismissive one-liners.
Michael Michele is a late addition as Dominique Deveraux, Jeff Colby's mother; I was never impressed by her performance during her run on ER, but maybe that's because she wasn't meant to play a no-nonsense doctor, because she definitely IS the right fit to interpret a role originated by Diahann Carroll. And Alan Dale — whose association with Schwartz and Savage goes back to The O.C. — is having the time of his life as Anders, the closest thing the Carringtons have to Bruce Wayne's Pennyworth and just as capable and ruthless.
The arcana of the show's business deals usually goes over my head; when characters start quoting percentages and using finance or energy-extraction jargon, that's my cue to get on my phone and try to find a knockoff version of Fallon's earrings on Etsy. But you never need to know the steps that lead to someone getting a drink thrown in their face, or punched, or bankrupted: the melodramatic outcome is the point, and that's where Dynasty consistently delivers. It's dumb, it's fun, it goes down easy on a Friday night, and it delivers consequences to fictional billionaires for their evil schemes that the real ones will probably never see.
Dynasty kicks off its fourth season on The CW Friday May 7th at 9:00 PM ET.
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Writer, editor, and snack enthusiast Tara Ariano is the co-founder of Television Without Pity and Fametracker (RIP). She co-hosts the podcasts Extra Hot Great and Again With This (a compulsively detailed episode-by-episode breakdown of Beverly Hills, 90210), and has contributed to New York, the New York Times magazine, Vulture, Decider, Salon, and Slate, among many others. She lives in Austin.