Does The CW’s Dynasty Make Sense in 2017?


The CW’s Dynasty trades in its network’s signatures: webs of romance and intrigue, women-driven action, a pinch of racial diversity, and meme-ready savagery. Earlier this month, The CW gave a full season order to Dynasty, while taking the wait and see on Valor. This may seem curious, as one could argue Valor follows the same template, adding garnish to an otherwise standard romance drama by placing its three lovebirds in the military. There may be a nuance of difference between the two shows I’m not registering, and that difference was evidently enough, but I still wonder about the future of Dynasty, given the nature of The CW.

The network’s management of its slate caught wider attention early this year when it renewed a host of shows, including Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, leading some to speculate that the landscape was changing in favor of the artist. If you’re good enough, your show ought to have a place on TV.

CW President Mark Pedowitz is quoted in such an article by Todd VanDerWerff:

“[Crazy Ex-Girlfriend] stands by itself. … It’s a critically acclaimed, well-executed, innovative, different show that explores the town of West Covina and all of its inclusiveness, depression, sexuality. It takes these very dark topics and puts them in a brighter light. To me, it’s something that should be on the air.”

VanDerWerff argues in part that Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and Jane the Virgin help define the network, and that critical acclaim can now be considered an asset, via Netflix. So while Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is the only show I’m committed to this season, or any season in three years, it’s heartening to see series like Dynasty continue to stake their claim. The CW hasn’t forgotten its roots, even as they play recklessly experimental, as was the case with their sleeper Riverdale.

However, there’s a moment in an upcoming episode of Dynasty where one major character swears off another, and it’s very dramatic. And yet, it’s already a repeat of a moment referenced in the characters’ backstories. As the stakes of the show rise to murder and betrayal as a soap opera might, there’s a question of how the endless format of its original translates to something both daring and defying in 2017. The drama is undermined by an old fashioned premise from an era in TV that reveled in repetition, but more troubling is its politics.

As the executive producers noted, updating an ‘80s soap for the modern day requires some adjustments in sensibilities. Given the default approach to dilemmas like this, their race-bending is truly commendable, but it’s still a show about American corporate royalty. We can actually draw a solid line between this and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, as both shows shed light on inhabitants from the real world.

Rebecca Bunch is at once a mislabeled stereotype and a woman with mental illness, and so when storytelling is applied to her, narratives fundamentally demanding engagement and thus trend toward exercises in sympathy, it results in the necessary kind of show Pedowitz describes above. On Dynasty, sympathetic shades of character similarly peek through, but for the kinds of wealthy industrialists who turned an entire generation of Americans against capitalism.

These same characters may look nice against overtly racist foils, and tend to discuss charitable foundations as more ethical modes of great money-having, but their heightened fantasy world of cat-fights and secret lovers may prove insufficient escapism from the familiarity of their sundry nation-wrecking businesses.

Will a soap opera make sense on Netflix? Does camp mix with real world antiheroes, especially in the year 2018, brief though it’ll be under the shadows of cultural deterioration and nuclear war? Can a storyteller even proceed so lightly, without meaningful political commentary, in such a politically charged setting?

In the end, no matter how irked I might feel by the resigned social justice conscious of Dynasty or the circuitous Valor, they’re far from TV’s worst. Look no farther than parent company CBS, whose relentless offer of Blue Bloods is FOX News in narrative form, delivered as if by Aaron Sorkin on the opposite end of the political spectrum, more so for effective defeats of strawmen than staccato dialogue. Pure agony.

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