DALLAS, June 14, 2012—”Blood is thicker than water, but oil is a hell of a lot thicker than both.”
J.R. Ewing is back, and not a moment too soon.
The good news is that twenty-one years later, “Dallas” is back on television.
The better news is that the initial episodes are fantastic.
No television show captured the 1980s like Dallas. In 2012, it is great to have the Ewing family back.
When Dallas first left television after 14 years on the air, the 1990s had just begun. Wealthy oil barons were being replaced by narcissistic yuppies. Unsurprisingly, the narcissistic yuppies became tiresome very quickly. A few years later “reality television” became the rage.
A brief blast of energy came with “Desperate Housewives,” but with that show ending there was nothing like it on television. An attempt to pay homage to Dallas came in the form of “GCB.” It was one of the worst shows ever made, and mercifully canceled after a few episodes.
Trying to redo Dallas is impossible unless one has Larry Hagman. He is the greatest bad guy in the history of television, and there is no close second. William Devane of “Knots Landing” and David Selby of “Falcon Crest” all came about because of Dallas.
The pilot seemed to pick up seamlessly from where the show ended. Times change, but the drama surrounding Southfork Ranch is still powerful.
Back then it was brothers J.R. and Bobby Ewing fighting for control of Ewing Oil and Southfork. Now their respective sons John Ross and Christopher carry on the feud.
While Bobby was the “good” brother, J.R. was not exactly a villain. He was more of an anti-hero. For that reason, many Americans rooted for J.R. to win. They knew his behavior was wrong. They just liked seeing him get his comeuppance and then bounce back. Some of the best episodes saw the show end with a freeze-frame of Larry Hagman with a grit-eating grin on his face.
Christopher seems to be as good as his father. As for John Ross, he does not come across as likable enough to be an anti-hero. He is hard to root for, and is more of a villain.
As standout as the performances of Larry Hagman, Patrick Duffy as Bobby, and Linda Gray as Sue Ellen still are after all these years, these actors have been blessed with some pretty good writers.
Since people will always look for flaws, let’s get them out of the way up front.
What made J.R. human was that he was devoted to his mother, his father, and his son. His parents were a check on his ambition. Jock and Miss Ellie Ewing were sometimes able to reason with him. With both of them gone, J.R. is unconstrained. J.R. is even willing to double-cross his own son. John Ross seems to have loyalty to nobody, and will try and out-duel J.R.
Another flaw is that the show is trying to delve into politics without being political. Good son Christopher wants to explore alternative energy while bad son John Ross is all about oil. While the initial episodes saw the alternative energy experiment as a colossal failure, time will tell if political correctness wins out. In the real world, alternative energy has been only a failure. To make it succeed on this television show would be disappointing unless that happens in the real world. Also, oil executives are drowning in regulations making business impossible. That storyline most likely will not enter the show. It will be business as usual.
Yet the biggest flaw is one storyline that is just ludicrous. Before the pilot episode, we learn that Christopher fell in love with Elena, and John Ross secretly loved her. On the day before she was to marry Christopher, she received an email from “him” dumping her. She fled to Mexico while Christopher was stood up at the altar. Each one thought the other one ended things. What woman would take an email at face value? She could have called him.
One can forgive this completely implausible scenario only because Dallas is the show where Bobby stepped out of the shower and the entire ninth season of the show was a dream. Some fans never got over that storyline.
Yet what Dallas 2012 gets wrong is far surpassed by what it gets right.
J.R. does love Bobby and Sue Ellen. He just loves Ewing Oil and power more.
Sue Ellen is a strong independent woman, but she still melts when J.R. compliments her.
Bobby really does hate the family feud, but does not want unilateral disarmament. He would make peace with J.R. the minute J.R. stopped waging war.
Christopher is a good reflection of Bobby, a young man who is conflicted but tries to do what is right.
John Ross is his father, hell-bent on taking what he feels is rightfully his regardless of who else gets hurt.
Brenda Strong played the deceased Mary Alice Young on Desperate Housewives. She fits in very well as Ann Ewing, Bobby’s current wife.
The theme song is the same, and the opening credits with the big picture of Texas Stadium are a flash from the past. Yet Tex Schramm and Tom Landry are long gone, and Jerry Jones has a new billion dollar metropolis that is more gaudy than most deals J.R. conducted back in the 1980s. The numbers are so much larger now.
Back then Dallas was escapism.
It still is.
The younger characters are well-crafted, while the mainstays from the original show are just plain epic.
The movie “J.R. Returns” ends with J.R. telling young Ross that with Bobby back in the oil business, John Ross would learn from his dad, the greatest oilman in the history of Texas. When John Ross wonders aloud whether his father planned everything all along, the response was vintage J.R.
“You see John Ross, you’re learning already.”
That scene alone deserved the audience to see how things end up.
Now we will watch and wait. J.R. summed things up best with what he said to a colleague at the very beginning of J.R. Returns back in 1996.
“There’s no place on God’s green Earth like Texas. Let’s not waste any time. I’ve got a town to take back.”
The next episode cannot come soon enough.
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