Valor. The CW. Monday, October 9, 9 p.m.
- Dynasty. The CW. Wednesday, October 11, 9 p.m.
The last real week of the broadcast television's fall rollout (the only remaining new show after this is the November CBS resurrection of SWAT, for which the words "new" and "show" both require the use of quotation marks) is, surprisingly, the best. The CW, which, generally speaking, is the network you'd expect to be tuned in on the TV set in Barbie's dream house, is only debuting two shows. But they're both welcome additions to the prime-time lineup—which, this thoroughly execrable fall, is worth boasting about.
I understand your suspicion that anybody touting a remake of Dynasty—a nearly-four-decades-old soap mainly known for introducing the concept of haute couture catfights to nighttime television—should probably be under lock and key.
But before turning me in to the culture police, consider a couple of things. One is that when Dynasty first appeared on ABC as a winter replacement in 1981, it was an interesting and unusual show, a soap opera where the seamy sexuality blended in with subplots about politics, economics, and sociology.
Rival oilmen Blake Carrington and Matthew Blaisdel were fighting not just over Carrington's wife (and Blaisdel's former lover) Krystle, but philosophy. Blaisdel was an independent, self-reliant wildcatter, Carrington a corporate-state protectionist. Carrington's daughter Fallon, an unrepentant believer in market economics, should have played a major role in running the company, but her sexist father favored her husband Jeff Colby, given to nauseatingly paternalistic soliloquies about social responsibility and noblesse oblige. And Carrington's son Steven was the first gay character in a primetime TV series.
Unfortunately, viewers found the sumptuous gowns and plunging necklines a lot more interesting than oil rigs or Laffer curves, and by the second season, Dynasty ditched everything else for soap-opera super-camp, including characters being randomly murdered by Moldavian separatists or abducted by space aliens.
A second reason to give the Dynasty remake a chance is the producers behind it, Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage, whose teen dramas like The O.C. and Gossip Girl have punched way above their weight. Their series skillfully employ outside-looking-in themes, with kids too geeky or poor trying hopelessly to break into the "in crowd," while embedding sub-rosa send-ups of their own genre and even their own viewer. (Hot rich chick in Gossip Girl complaining that studying geometry is a waste of time: "What do you use it for? 'I'll have eggs and a Pythagorean theorem, please?'") I knew Schwartz and Savage were onto something more than a video version of Tiger Beat in 2003 when freakish circumstance led to me watching The O.C. pilot three times in two weeks and I still liked it.
So: What about the 2017 version of Dynasty? Its opening plot lines—essentially Carringtons vs. Colbys—are pretty similar to 1981. But the characters serve as an interesting index to the way television's version of America has evolved over the past four decades.
Blake Carrington's Nordic blonde trophy wife Krystle has become his Latina fiancée Cristal (Nathalie Kelly, The Vampire Diaries), a possible gold-digger and certainly the chief rival of daughter Fallon (Elizabeth Gillies, Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll) for control of the family energy empire. It takes just 28 minutes for their first hair-pulling, bodice-ripping bitchfight to erupt. (Oops, there goes the office pool.)
Fallon's chief debating partner is now her brother Steven (James Mackay, The Leftovers), who's a good deal more politically conscious than in his previous incarnation. "When the revolution happens, it'll be your head they come for first," he warns his sister, who airily dismisses him: "I'll be sure to get my hair done."
Steven is still gay—more reliably so; in the old show, he had a bisexual streak that waxed and waned with the Nielsen moon. His chief temptress from those days, Krystle's trailer-trash niece Sammy Jo, has gotten Dynasty's most drastic makeover: He's now gay hustler Sammy Joe (Rafael de la Fuente, Empire).
This time around, Steven's estrangement from his father has less to do with his homosexuality than his birdbrained affection for windmills, solar panels, and other energy fads.
As for pop, Blake (Grant Show, Melrose Place) is something less of a bully than in the original show, but far more devious, using his children—without telling them—to launch fake business initiatives to trick his rivals. The nature of his tumultuous relationship with his ex-wife Alexis, the queen bitch of the original series, remains unknown. Schwartz and Savage have been coy about whether the character will even appear in this show. Also up in the air: Will Charles and David Koch make guest appearances? They're name-checked as Carrington family pals early in the pilot.
It's not easy to tell where exactly where Dynasty is heading from the pilot episode, which is all The CW has made available. It certainly leans more toward the later, soapier years of the original than its more hefty first season.
But the camp elements have given away to a gloriously lurid trashiness. And I do not use the word "trashiness" lightly. In one scene, Fallon gets orally pleasured in a garage by the family chauffer as she breathily brags about engineering a corporate raid on a rival firm. When she finishes, double entendre definitely intended, she turns to taunting the chauffer about the driving-Miss-Daisy nature of his job hauling her father around. "He pays me 200K a year and I'm banging his daughter," retorts the chauffer. Discussion closed.
There's nothing campy at all about The CW's other new entry, Valor. Nor clone-y, either, though it's the third series about U.S. special forces to debut this fall, Valor in no way resembles the generic bang-bang of CBS' SEAL Team or NBC's The Brave. It's an intriguing conspiracy thriller with some painful observations on modern warfare that may take much of the The CW's youthful audience by surprise.
Valor stars Christina Ochoa (Animal Kingdom) and Matt Barr (Sleepy Hollow) as pilots Nora Madani and Leland Gallo, serving in an Army Special Forces helicopter unit known as the Shadow Raiders. As the show opens, they're getting medals for an operation in Somalia, even though it ended in disaster.
Sent to extract another Special Forces soldier and his prisoner, their helicopter was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade. Madani and Gallo managed to get the chopper away from the battle before crash-landing—but two crewmen disappeared in the chaos, as well as the prisoner and his captor.
The pilots' commanding officers seem to accept Madani and Gallo's relatively straightforward story of a chopper lost in the fog of war. But an investigator (Melissa Roxburgh, Star Trek Beyond) from OGA—Other Government Agency, military slang for the CIA—seems to have doubts, though of what nature remains unclear.
So does exactly what happened on the mission. Told in the halting, elliptical fashion of the death of the gunner named Snowden on a World War II bombing raid in Catch-22, the story of the mission emerges only in multiple retellings. But long before you reach the shocking end, it's apparent that Madani and Gallo are lying about what is a mystery even to them.
Valor's action combat sequences are staged with deliberate confusion, offering them an unexpected veracity. And they're lent even more power by the observations of the show's young soldiers, reflecting a grim wisdom beyond their years. When one captured man resists an obviously hopeless attempt at escape, another asks bluntly: "You wanna wait here until they cut our heads off?"
And when an uncertain Madani worries that the mission has shaken her certainty that she's fighting on the side of the good guys, Gallo offers cold comfort. "People don't want boots on the ground," he warns her. "So this is what war is now. Covert ops. Blurred lines. That's what you joined." And to escape it you need a lot more than a helicopter.