Dallas is as venerable a franchise as was ever created, lasting fourteen seasons (1978-1991) and spinning off another long-running night-time soap, Knots Landing. The premiere of TNT’s "continuation" of the original series garnered some good reviews (mine included) and a lot of lookie-loos, ranking it among the most-watched shows of last week. But was that just nostalgia, or will this new iteration build its own fan base? I have a vision of grandmothers, mothers, and daughters all tuning in for their own reasons, but sharing the fun of watching an old mare find its footing and begin to gallop again.
I will admit, I sank happily into the couch and got comfortable when I heard the words, “...previously on Dallas.” Being a big soap means having lots of things for viewers to remember from week to week. Already we've got Bobby’s cancer; Christopher trying to find clean energy; and the questions of who sent the marriage-breaking email, will J.R. confront John Ross about the real Marta, will Rebecca really go through with her scam on Christopher... and many more. This is the sign of a good soap. Don’t let us get bored. Don’t give us a reason to ever try and make sense of it all. Just put up a few more plates and spin, spin, spin.
When I watched the two-hour, two-episode premiere, I was a bit put off by the lack of “camp” in the show. It was straight-up drama, but in Episode 3, "The Price You Pay," the show began to find its finds its footing in family psycho-drama territory. I love me a good melodrama, and Dallas is serving it up hot. J.R. (Larry Hagman) and son John Ross (Josh Henderson) are still the most fun to watch on screen. J.R. is as devious as ever, and once you throw in a dash of senior-center curmudgeon, you have a TV character who's aged to perfection. The episode opened with J.R. literally holding a razor to his son’s neck and threatening, “Fear your daddy.” YES!!! The writers seem to be saving their best lines for the old buck, including, “My friends are in the statehouse. My enemies... are gonna be harder to find.” And now that he's played the feeble age card with Bobby and Ann, getting a fake doctor to convince them that he should move back into South Fork, ostensibly putting the weasel in the hen house, the stage is set for all kinds of delightful back-stabbing. "The Price You Pay" culminated with J.R. and John Ross acting out some face-slapping arch-villain tomfoolery in front of Bobby. Good fun. Spin that plate.
And what is a good family pyscho-drama without some meddling outside forces? The Hatfields are interesting enough, yes, but you need the McCoys to really make them sing. Enter Cliff Barnes, the Ewings' age-old nemesis, and as J.R. puts it, he brings with him the “smell of brimstone and crazy.” Cliff is the head of the Barnes family, which has always wanted South Fork; he has carried the torch that his family was swindled out of the land, and he just happens to be Christopher Ewing’s uncle. You see, Bobby Ewing married Pam Barnes back in the day, bringing the warring families ever closer, then they adopted little Christopher (Jesse Metcalfe), who is all grown up now. So Christopher is a little bit Ewing and little bit Barnes, but also neither, since he is adopted, at least in his cousin John Ross’s eyes. When Cliff returned, attempting to sway his nephew with a briefcase full of cash, the show really started to stride. Now Cliff is old with a capital O-L-D, so the show had better introduce his younger counterpart before the dude breaks a hip.
Dallas is the perfect summer show. Hot and crazy, ridiculous and fun, and a little forgettable, like a trashy book you would read on the beach. So pour some vodka in that lemonade, sit back, relax and watch this summer soap do its thing.
And here are a few things to kick around at the watering tank:
1. Is J.R. going to double cross John Ross in the South Fork deal?
2. Do you think Rebecca's brother is really her brother?
3. Is it just me or are they lighting Patrick Duffy all wrong? He looks crazy.
4. What character from the original series would you most like to see return?