Back in the 1980s, Dallas ruled television the way American Idol does today. At the time, though, I was more concerned with how Bo and Luke Duke were going to outwit Boss Hogg than with the scandalous shenanigans of the Ewings.
But even if I wasn’t watching, I was still very much aware of Dallas, a show that was just too ubiquitous to ignore. I can still remember the summer when pop culture went off its meds as “Who Shot J.R.?” became the question on everyone’s lips — to say nothing of T-shirts and bumper stickers. When September rolled around, I was one of the millions who tuned in to find out whodunit (Bing Crosby’s daughter, as it turned out).
When I learned plans were afoot for a Dallas remake, the first words to spring to mind were: Seriously? Why?
Remakes are risky business, and TV’s track record has not been great lately. Knight Rider? The Bionic Woman? Charlie’s Angels? Blech. And Dallas had such a unique tone, a show that flirted with campiness but always played it completely straight over plots that were over-the-top nuts. Let’s not forget this is a show that actually pretended an entire season never happened, and everything viewers saw took place in one character’s dream. Even Lost didn’t have the cojones to try that one.
Fans will be relieved to know that show-runner Cynthia Cidre (who brought us the Cuban-American Dallas clone Cane) hits the target in this new version, which shares the same deliriously loopy tone as the original. In fact, this isn’t so much a remake as it is a continuation — think Dallas: The Next Generation. Familiar faces from the past are integrated with new characters in a manner that, while not exactly seamless, at least happens quickly enough so the show can get down to business right away.
These oldsters don’t just pop in to offer the odd bit of advice to the kids, but are actually essential to the plot. As Cidre noted during the January session of the TV Critics Assocation press tour, “it was never the intent to use the ‘big three,’ as we call Larry, Linda, and Patrick, as bait for the new show. It was really to integrate them fully with the new cast, and when you watch the show…you’ll see that they’re all integrated.”
The “big three,” of course, are J.R. (Larry Hagman), Bobby (Parick Duffy) and Sue Ellen (Linda Gray), who are joined by their spawn: John Ross (Josh Henderson), son of J.R. and Sue Ellen, and Christopher (Desperate Housewives’ randy gardener Jesse Metcalfe), adopted son of Bobby and Pam (Victoria Principal, who is rumoured to pop up in a future episode, but I wouldn’t count on it). Both men have significant others with complicated pasts, so expect much romantic turmoil along the way. Also new to the family is Ann Ewing, Bobby’s latest wife (Desperate Housewives’ Brenda Strong).
The plot kicks off with John Ross discovering oil beneath Southfork — which can’t be removed due to a clause in the late Miss Ellie’s will that forbids drilling on her beloved ranch. Getting around his grandmother’s wishes will require serious scheming, the kind of scheming that used to come as naturally as breathing to J.R. Unfortunately, the once-powerful tycoon now appears to be a frail shell of his former self, both mentally and physically (note I said “appears”).
Although his presence in the first episode is limited, Hagman still casts a large shadow. Make no mistake, he was the star of Dallas then and he remains the star now, and both J.R. and the 80-year-old actor who plays him still have a card or two up their shared sleeve. Without giving too much away, there’s a scene in which the still-conniving mastermind places that iconic hat on his head that will give fans goose-bumps, and Hagman chomps into his signature role with a relish that belies his years.
In the end, Dallas is what it is: trash. Sure, it’s well done, highly entertaining and hugely addictive, but trash nonetheless, a show that owes more to All My Children than Masterpiece Theatre. Are there ludicrous plot twists? Of course. Cheesy dialogue? You bet. Implausible leaps of logic? Naturally — but isn’t that what we loved about Dallas in the first place?
Like its predecessor, Dallas is TV junk food; it may not be good for you, but it tastes great and will leave you with a craving for more.
DALLAS premiers Wednesday, June 13 on Bravo