Dynasty Review: Solid Premiere with Breakout Star Elizabeth Gillies

Dynasty -- "Pilot" -- Image Number: DYN101_0487.jpg -- Pictured (L-R): Elizabeth Gillies as Fallon and Nathalie Kelley as Cristal -- Photo: Mark Hill/The CW -- © 2017 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

The CW’s Dynasty is not your grandmother’s Dynasty. The young skewing network’s re-imagining of the Aaron Spelling produced 80s pop culture classic is everything you expect a CW soap to be — and that’s a good and bad thing.

Produced by The O.C. and Gossip Girl creators Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage, and Revenge alum Sallie Patrick, the new Dynasty is sleek, sexy, full of pretty people doing some bad things. Like the original 1981 series, the 2017 Dynasty doesn’t reinvent the wheel or deliver high-brow entertainment – it is a trashy soap after all – but it is fun, and it is a worth the watch. My main criticism is the lack of a central hook that pulls your immediate attention and by extension, the long-term, but the premiere was solid enough that hopefully you’ll tune in again.

Disclaimer: The series premiere of The CW’s Dynasty was provided via a digital screener. This is a semi-spoiler free review based on what we saw.

Dynasty follows two of America’s wealthiest families, the Carringtons and the Colbys, as they feud for control over their fortunes and their children. The series will be told primarily through the perspectives of two women at odds: Fallon Carrington (played by the amazing Elizabeth Gillies) — daughter of billionaire Blake Carrington (Melrose Place alum Grant Show) — and her soon-to-be stepmother, Cristal (Nathalie Kelley). In a change from the original, diversity is evident throughout, with Cristal being Hispanic, and the Carringtons’ chief rival Jeff (played by Sam Adegoke) is African-American.

Grant Show (Melrose Place) toplines the drama as Carrington patriarch Blake, a seemingly well-meaning father who wants the best for his children, even if he occasionally puts them at odds. Of course, all is not as it seems, as Blake’s true colors shines through in a major explosive moment by the end of the premiere. Show’s veteran presence is much appreciated given his primetime soap past.

As for the plot, Fallon, the apple of her father’s eye, returns home expecting to be named Carrington Atlantic’s new COO. She and brother Steven (James MacKay) meet with their father and learn he has plans to marry Cristal, a young publicity executive at the company. Furious with her father’s poor judgement, Fallon begins plotting to bring down her stepmother-to-be. She enlists the help of the Culhane (Robert Christopher Riley), the family’s chauffeur (and her occasional lover) to get the goods on Cristal. Unfortunately for Fallon, all of her charisma, charm and cunning doesn’t take into account her father’s wrath when he learns what she’s up to. When her plan backfires, and Blake names Cristal to the position instead, Fallon’s fury motivates her more, and turns to Jeff in more ways than one to get plan her next step. Meanwhile, Cristal thinks she’s in the clear but the arrival of her nephew (a gender swap from the original series) Sammy Jo (Empire’s Rafael de la Fuente) arrives with a figurative suitcase of secrets that could expose her crafted image.

There’s a lot of potential story and appeal. But for a series with an iconic pop-culture connection, potential isn’t exactly what was needed. What Dynasty’s premiere needed was to be “must see” and I can’t say truthfully say it was. There were some great moments, but it didn’t quite match my expectations. Admittedly, it’s a little unfair expect this series to match the tone and excitement of its predecessor, when that took time to find its stride. While you can’t blow all you have in the premiere, the brief catfight between Fallon and Cristal wasn’t quite enough to do it for me. If anything, the series came across as more of a 2017 Gossip Girl than the glitz and glamour of what The CW portends Dynasty to be. If Dynasty was at a 3, it needed to be at a 6 on a scale of 1-5. That’s what was missing.

The sub-storylines – Steven’s gay relationship with Sammy Jo, and his estrangement with Blake (spoiler alert: It’s not because of his sexuality), are great setups for what’s to come, but again, are lacking the immediate hook that makes you feel the urge to want to come back. And to allude to this deep rivalry between Jeff and Blake, without giving a meaty confrontation, was an unfair tease.

Then there’s Nathalie Kelley’s Cristal – I’m not sold. Kelley’s portrayal leaves a lot to be desired. I wasn’t impressed when I watched the pilot during the network upfront and my stance was solidified while viewing the final version of the premiere. In a series filled with dynamic personalities, her Cristal falls flat and is relatively uninteresting. A positive is her Cristal isn’t the innocent one from the original series, and I’m hoping she can tap into her inner bad girl (which briefly makes an appearance in one of the few moments where I was intrigued) going forward. Another positive is she has the potential to find great chemistry with Grant Show. I’m a believer that chemistry can be cultivated and evolve over time. Blake and Cristal will need that for their relationship to hold any credibility.

The series’ saving grace is Elizabeth Gillies’s Fallon. Elizabeth Gillies is the breakout star and undeniably the best thing about Dynasty.  Whether she’s scheming, or seducing or having a rare moment of vulnerability – you’re captivated by her every move. Gillies commands your attention, and through no fault of her own, often eclipses her co-stars. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, maybe they’ll rise to her level. Elizabeth Gillies is to Dynasty what Leighton Meester was to Gossip Girl, or for a more throwback reference – what Heather Locklear was to Fox’s Melrose Place in the 90s – a star to build your show around. Melrose Place was a dismal failure prior to Locklear’s casting as Amanda Woodward. Her arrival rejuvenated Aaron Spelling’s fledging series. The attitude Locklear brought to Melrose Place is the same Gillies carries in every moment of screen time, from the first scene.

Final Verdict: If you’re a fan of serialized dramas and sexy primetime soaps, then Dynasty might do it for you. The pilot is about the setup for the long-term game, and if you’re willing to invest, then definitely tune in. If you’re expecting a buzzy, trending-topic type drama, you’re not going to find it here, at least not yet.

DYNASTY stars Grant Show (Melrose Place), Elizabeth Gillies (Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll), Nathalie Kelley (UnReal, The Vampire Diaries), James Mackay (The Leftovers), Alan Dale (The O.C.), Sam Adegoke (Murder in the First), Robert Christopher Riley (Hit the Floor), and Rafael de la Fuente (Empire).

From CBS Television Studios in association with Fake Empire, with executive producers Josh Schwartz (Gossip Girl), Stephanie Savage (Gossip Girl), Sallie Patrick (Revenge), Esther and Richard Shapiro (the creators of the original Dynasty) and Brad Silberling (Jane The Virgin).

Ryan White-Nobles
Ryan White-Nobles is Editor-in-Chief of TV Source Magazine. He's began covering entertainment and soap operas in 2005. In 2009 he co-launched Soap Opera Source, and led the TV Source rebrand in 2012. He's a natural #Heel who loves a spirited debate and probably watches too much TV. Follow him on Twitter at @SourceRyan to discuss all things TV, soaps, sports, wrestling and pop culture.

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