Grab your Stetson and other Texas cliches because the Dallas reboot is on the air (please note that I restrained myself from writing “y’all”…oops).
Let’s bitch it out…Trying to put a finger on what made the original Dallas such a hit is like trying to capture the zeitgeist of a particular moment in time. We’re talking about one of the most important television series in history if only because of its contributions to the genre (nighttime soap), defining a television cliffhanger (“Who Shot JR” still resonates) and monopolizing the available audience (almost 80 million people tuned in to find out the identity of the shooter). When TNT decided to bring the show back, they risked a lot of ill will if they didn’t secure the blessing of its old fans, so the decision to pair the new generation of hot young things with the original hot young things (including Dallas 1.0 veterans Patrick Duffy’s Bobby, Linda Gray’s Sue Ellen and – of course – Larry Hagman’s notorious JR) was a wise move.
Obviously, this is a nighttime soap for a new generation so the show can’t hedge its bets on an octogenarian and the guy from Step By Step. As a result we get a new crop of Ewings to populate the ranch and provide all kinds of sexpot shenaningans (it also allows Jesse Metcalfe another opportunity to try this thing called “acting” which he perfected not doing on Desperate Housewives).
And so we have Dallas 2.0, set in the current day, acknowledging the original series and focused on the familial conflicts of the biggest oil and cattle family in all of fictional television. So how does the new version fare? Well…I’ve got to say that I was pleasantly surprised, although I may be a little predispositioned to like the new version since I was a fan of the old one. What’s strange, however, is that I’m unsure what it is exactly that I like about Dallas 2.0…
There’s a nice easy chemistry between Duffy and the other characters that helps to ease the transition between the elders and the newbies. I will admit, however, that I seriously question the decision to make Bobby fatally ill with gastrointestinal cancer since it reinforces that he’s a stop-gap being used to lure in fans of the original series before the new showrunners kill him off. I appreciate that at some point the audience will need to take an interest in the show because we care about the new new characters as well (Hagman is not getting any younger and Gray – while still MILFy – is looking a little Joan River-ish with her mannequin smooth features).
The problem is that, like many critics, I find the older generation the most interesting! It’s possible that it’s because I’m familiar with these characters, so it’s like slipping back in time with a close friend. Or it could be that all the young actors are saddled with the “drama” storylines and haven’t yet seemed to master the intricacies of their characters. Metcalfe, as the adopted good boy, and Jordana Brewster as Elena, his ex, fare worst. They seem to alternate between confused, poorly timed reaction shots to stunted line readings (as though from cue cards). It’s hardly a compliment to Brewster that the most memorable thing about her performance is how hauntingly thin and emaciated she looks. Catfights in the pool would probably result in a few shattered bones for the Fast & The Furious cast-off.
Of course cat fights would require antagonists and by the end of the hour it’s clear that our new JR is literally the new JR: John Ross (Josh Henderson). Henderson proves to be an able foe and I appreciated the twist at the end of the pilot that he’s even more of his father’s son than we first imagined. I just wish that the show hadn’t saddled him with a truly unfortunate molestache; I appreciate its evil aesthetic, but there might as well be a giant neon arrow over his head blinking “Villain…Villain…”
As for the remaining character (Julie Gonzalo’s Rebecca), at this point she’s simply another body in the room. Given little to do and doing little with it, Gonzalo barely registers in the pilot save the one scene in which she comes (slightly) clean to Elena in the bridal shop. Of course the conflict amounts to what is basically a romantic throwdown because, you know, they’re girls. I half expected Rebecca to thrust a ring studded finger in Elena’s face and sneer “I won, beyotch!” So obvious. If any scene insulted the intelligence of its audience, it was this one. This is never more true than when the elder Ewing women enter: initially Bobby’s wife, Alice (Brenda Strong), and Sue Ellen are engaged in a heated discussion about the future of Southfork but the moment that they see Rebecca in her wedding dress, their mouths drop open in awe. Whether it’s meant to be a comedic roundabout or a critique of women, this whole piece is stereotypical and reduces the women to little more than hens clucking appreciatively over a shiny object. #NotAFan
So after all this, why will I watch Dallas again? Because it’s actually really entertaining! I enjoyed the plot machinations as the cousins try to destroy one another, and the show looks great. I’ll admit I’m surprised that it wasn’t more tawdry (the single sex scene features coitus interruptus as an old biddy calls out Christopher and Rebecca’s foreplay with a knowing wink. You can totally tell that she’s an old, dirty b*tch). I’m sure that the coming weeks the skin factor will rocket up a notch or two in order to compensate…
- The opening bird’s eye aerial over a pasture of cows leading up to the oil rig is a nice visual tip of the hat to fans of the original series: Southfork was equal parts cattle (Miss Ellie) and oil (Jock) and some of the best battles originated as conflict between the two types of industry. In the pilot this relationship remains at the center of the conflict between Bobby and John Ross.
- Our introduction to Elena and John Ross is clearly meant to identify them as a couple and invested in the oil future of the ranch. Unfortunately by having them celebrate being covered in what Elena later sultrily describes as “light, smooth crude” I couldn’t resist identifying them as unhygienic idiots. My inner monologue went something like this: Them – “Yay we’re getting covered in oil!” Me – “Umm…gross”
- Can we put an immediate moratorium on any oil related puns or comments? “Oil is in your blood.” “Blood is thicker than water, but oil is thicker than both.” Is bad writing thicker than oil?
- Everyone take note of the bit about Rebecca’s dead parents and having a brother. Anyone want to bet that this either comes back up or that one or more of these relatives randomly show up?
- I love that Elena and Christopher didn’t get married and broke up because of an email. So someone breaks up with you via email and you go to Mexico and then hook up with his cousin? Or you run away to Asia and hook up with a post-graduate orphan? The Ewings are orca rich: wouldn’t one of these two have tried to track down the other to hug it out in person? No, it’s far more likely that they simply accepted the email or the disappearing act on the day of their wedding without discussing it in person. Come on!
- Speaking of “orca”: what the hell happened to Charlene Tilton (cousin Lucy) and Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs)?! Did these people eat the original actors???
- I appreciate that we’re meant to buy into Elena’s grief when she watches Christopher marry Rebecca in the final scene, but all I could read in her face was a desperate hunger. Like a literal, stomach growling hunger. Seriously, couldn’t someone sneak this girl a sandwich from craft services or something? It was like Skeletor in a purple dress
Best lines of the night:
- Christopher (responding to tepid financial offer for his green energy): “I ain’t a virgin, but I ain’t a whore, either” Ummm…actually Jesse, your stint on Desperate Housewives begs to differ. The fact that Christopher then promptly gets frisky in the locker-room with his fiancé just reinforces how untrue his statement is.
- JR : “Courts are for amateurs and the faint of heart”. Spoken like the villain behind a million dastardly schemes.
Dallas airs Wednesdays at 9pm EST on TNT