Warner Bros. // 1981 // 900 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Victor Valdivia (Retired) // April 26th, 2010
The only thing more delicious than the wine is the scandal.
Apparently, the wine tastes like sawdust and vinegar, because the scandal in this collection has all the flavor of a cheap bottle of Thunderbird. Falcon Crest: The Complete First Season may be tempting to viewers looking for some classic '80s melodrama, but this batch of episodes is an extremely poor vintage indeed.
Northern California's Falcon Crest Winery has been in the Gioberti family for generations. As the series begins, the winery and its 150 acres of vineyards are divided between siblings Jason Gioberti and Angela Channing (Jane Wyman, The Lost Weekend), until Jason dies suddenly in an accident involving his niece and her suitor. Angela decides to cover up Jason's death in an attempt to get control of his part of the land. When Jason's son Chase (Robert Foxworth, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen) shows up and claims the land, however, her plans are foiled. She and her ambitious grandson Lance (Lorenzo Lamas, Renegade) embark on a ruthless but covert campaign to intimidate Chase and his wife Maggie (Susan Sullivan, Castle) and their children, Cole (Billy Moses, Jane Doe) and Victoria (Jamie Rose, In2ition) into walking away from Falcon Crest for good, but Lance's mother Julia (Abby Dalton, The Plainsman) may prove to be a wrench in Angela's plans. Here are the eighteen episodes collected on four discs:
* "In His Father's House"
* "A Time for Saboteurs"
* "The Tangled Vines"
* "The Harvest"
* "Tony Comes Home"
* "Kindred Spirits"
* "The Extortionist"
* "Lord of the Manor"
* "Dark Journey"
* "For Love or Money"
* "Family Reunion"
* "The Candidate"
* "House of Cards"
* "Heir Apparent"
* "The Good, the Bad, and the Profane"
* "Penultimate Questions"
* "Ultimate Answers"
Falcon Crest was one of the biggest prime-time soaps of the 1980s, alongside Dynasty and Dallas, and it's definitely a product of its time. It's about the lives of scheming rich people in California, at a time when rich people and California were the center of popular culture. After all, former California Governor Ronald Reagan was inaugurated as president the same year Falcon Crest premiered, and his policies definitely favored the rich. Throw in the presence of his ex-wife Wyman, and you've a got a show that epitomizes the '80s better than any show outside of Miami Vice.
So Falcon Crest is a nice nostalgia piece. Does it carry any significance outside of that? Sadly, no. Strip it out of its context and it's a rather tedious and hackneyed melodrama that isn't even deliciously bad. If you're expecting all-out catfights, slapfests, multiple adulteries, and love triangles (or any sort of geometric configurations), you'll be sadly disappointed. That may have developed in later seasons, but in this first one, the overriding emotion is the urge to not fall asleep.
Much of the reason for this is the pacing. Even by early '80s standards (let alone today's), Falcon Crest is punishingly slow. It takes multiple episodes for even the tiniest plot point to develop and each scene drags on and on with dialogue that meanders long after viewers have already gotten the point. The dialogue is neither sharp nor revealing so it's hardly a pleasure to listen to. What's worse is that there's really nothing else to see here, because there's precious little action or movement of any kind. In daytime soaps, that's a reasonable writing strategy, since there are so many episodes per week that it's possible for viewers to miss a few here and there, but for a show that aired once a week in primetime, this sluggish storytelling becomes excruciating.
It also doesn't help that many of the twists and turns seen in this first season are the mildest and blandest ever captured on TV. Falcon Crest's creator and producer, Earl Hamner, was famous for also creating The Waltons, a show that defines "family-friendly" pablum at its treacliest. That's why here the biggest storyline involves Chase and his family struggling to adapt to life in California after living in New York. That's not exactly scintillating TV but the show keeps hammering this story home over and over, with way too many episodes involving Maggie or one of the kids whining about how much they miss New York and how much they hate living at Falcon Crest. Then at the end, the family members agree that their family is more important and they decide to stay a little longer. Exciting, no? For her part, Angela says she wants to force Chase to sell out his half of Falcon Crest, but her plans to do so are pretty weak sauce. Mostly, she just glowers and makes snippy remarks. When Lance actually takes the imitative at one point and blows up Chase's water pump, she actually yells at him. That's pretty much the most exciting moment you'll see this entire season.
Take the episode "Family Reunion" as an example of how drab this set is. It guest-stars Lana Turner (Love Finds Andy Hardy) as Chase's visiting mother Jacqueline, who has a bitter rivalry with Angela. The episode spends a lot of time building up the tension between the two women and setting up a final showdown. Reportedly, the tension between Wyman and Turner was even more severe off-camera, so much so that the two actresses refused to act together, which explains the peculiar staging and angles used during their scenes. So with all of this drama, both on-screen and off-screen, you'd expect some real fireworks. What you actually get are a couple of exchanges of slightly disagreeable remarks and cold silences. That's pretty much it. It's a perfect example of how much this series wastes so many opportunities. Later seasons were apparently much more outrageous, and therefore entertaining, but unless you've seen those, you'll struggle to sit through this one wondering what all the fuss was about.
Technically the set is decent. The full-screen transfer looks decent, although there are several moments where colors are faded and the print shows some wear. The mono mix is also decently loud without any flaws. There are no extras whatsoever.
At least the cast of Falcon Crest is remarkably attractive. With such physical specimens as Sullivan, Rose, and, of course, Lamas, you'll at least have some eye candy to alleviate the sleep-inducing dialogue and storytelling. The visual feast increases about halfway through when Ana Alicia (the original Battlestar Galactica) joins the cast as a sultry wine heiress. You might also stay awake by pondering the well-known rumor that Wyman patterned the duplicitous and haughty Angela after Reagan's second wife, Nancy. Not necessarily true, but still fun to think about.
If you loved watching Falcon Crest in the '80s, you'll want to get this set, but if you didn't, this is probably not a good place to start. This season, not much happens and what does happen happens r-e-a-l-l-y s-l-o-w-l-y. Unless you're interested in '80s nostalgia, Falcon Crest: The Complete First Season will be about as compelling as watching grapes ferment.
Guilty of being too slow and watered-down for a nighttime soap.
Review content copyright © 2010 Victor Valdivia; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 900 Minutes
Release Year: 1981
MPAA Rating: Not Rated