Complete First Season
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Reviewed by Ross Ruediger
mongst the ‘80s power soaps “Dallas,” “Dynasty,” and “Knot’s Landing” was the seemingly far less famous “Falcon Crest,” although the show had a lengthy run that spanned the entire decade. Instead of oil – the business of the two big D’s – “Falcon Crest” used the wine industry as its centerpiece. Set in the wine country of northern California, about an hour away from San Francisco, the series unveils the saga of the Gioberti family, who’ve been in the business of growing and harvesting the grape, as well as making and selling the wine for probably a century.
At the head of the family is Angela Channing (Jane Wyman), the cold, manipulative businesswoman determined, at any cost, to hold on to her empire. She has two daughters – Julia (Abby Dalton) and Emma (Margaret Ladd) – as well as a grandson, Lance (Lorenzo Lamas), who does Angela’s unscrupulous bidding. There’s also Jason Gioberti (Harry Townes), Angela’s brother, but we’ll come back to him shortly.
On the other side of the family is Jason’s son, Chase Gioberti (Robert Foxworth), an airline pilot and Vietnam vet who lives in New York City with his journalist wife Maggie (Susan Sullivan) and their kids, college-age Cole (Billy R. Moses) and high school senior Vickie (Jamie Rose). Chase has little interest in the wine business, and hasn’t even spoken to his father in years. All that changes when a tragedy occurs at the Falcon Crest vineyards.
The series opens with Emma prancing around the estate late one night with one of the hired hands, Turner Bates. The two are having an affair and plan to marry. A drunken Jason comes across them in the winery, and a fight ensues between the men. They climb the catwalks and the fight escalates. Emma tries to break it up, only for Jason to topple over the edge and land dead on the concrete floor below. Bates runs, leaving Emma to deal with the consequences, which amounts to Angela showing up, and deciding to take Jason’s body, place it his truck, and send it over a cliff in a ball of flame, thus making his death look like a drunk driving accident. The death of Jason – whom Emma was incredibly close to – sends her over the edge and into a state of mental nuttiness. Upon hearing the news in New York, Chase and his family fly to California for the funeral and the reading of Jason’s will, which leaves Chase with 50 acres of Falcon Crest, much to Angela’s distaste. Tired of the city life, and wanting to rediscover his roots, Chase moves his family to Falcon Crest to start a new life. But there’s a legal clause that states that if the deaths of either Jason or Angela can be ruled as suspicious, the estate must be divided in another way entirely, which leads to the ongoing struggle of the first season.
Like many soaps in their first year, “Falcon Crest” is trying here to find its footing and establish its universe. The first two-thirds of the 18 episode season largely offers standalone stories which are devoted to fleshing out the many characters in the show. Then, in the final half dozen episodes or so, it becomes a true soap with all the cliffhangers one expects from such fare. Once the show gets going, it’s pretty good, but it’s a bit of a dry haul to get there. As with most soaps of this era, the character interactions make or break the show, and “Falcon Crest” takes a while to get to a point where you start to care about these people.
As the chief villain, Wyman is such a stone-cold, humorless bitch, it’s hard to have fun with her in the same way one does with a J.R. Ewing or an Alexis Carrington. So that leaves you rooting for the good guys, Chase and his family, who are just so damn squeaky clean (not to mention frequently dense and oblivious to Angela’s scheming) that it’s tough to invest in their troubles. The other villain is Lance, who fares considerably better, as he’s got youth on his side, but he’s such a doormat for his grandmother that it’s tough to take him seriously. The real standout is Margaret Ladd’s Emma, who’s such a delightfully batty figure, the show can’t help but perk up anytime she’s onscreen.
Don’t get me wrong – the acting is fine here, and these people inhabit their roles pretty well, but the show is taking such baby steps at this point that the characters seem prone to a fair amount of repetition, and the ongoing subplot of Chase getting to the bottom of his father’s death simmers throughout the season and doesn’t get a proper resolution until the finale. While this is a good, but not great start for a long-running series, I suspect “Falcon Crest” truly takes off in its second season. Of course, with Warner Brothers’ track record as of late with soaps on DVD (i.e. “Knot’s Landing”), you’d better pick this up if you ever want to see a Season Two DVD release.
Special Features: No extras here. I’m sure releasing this was a gamble for WB, and they probably didn’t want to spend any more on it than they had to. Still, it would’ve been cool if they’d at least included the unaired pilot for the series, which featured numerous cast differences, including Clu Gulager as Chase and Samantha Eggar as Maggie (assuming IMDB’s info is correct).