It’s widely known that when Larry Hagman donned the ten-gallon hat once again for the first table-read of Cynthia Cidre’s pilot script for the 2012 TNT reboot of Dallas, he introduced himself thusly: “Larry Hagman. Icon.”
It’s hard to quibble with that. The relaunched Dallas sure hasn’t. Its hour-long farewell to J.R. Ewing Monday night was poignant, funny, and, above all, reverent for the character in its irreverence. For the actors involved, including Patrick Duffy, who considered Hagman his best friend, it must have been doubly painful because they, in essence, had to bury the man twice: once, after Hagman died of complications from cancer in November 2012, and again when they had to give his infamous alter ego J.R. an equally worthy send-off. Rather than the usual Dallas fanfare of a credits sequence, the theme music was stripped down to a few mournful, “Taps”-like horns before the montage settled on one last lingering close-up of J.R. as Hagman most recently portrayed him on the show—stern, wily, and sporting the wildest pair of eyebrows on TV since Andy Rooney.
In his old age on the new Dallas, J.R. once said “bullets don’t seem to have an effect on me.” Of course he was referencing the most buzzed-out cliffhanger in TV history: when he was shot by an unknown assailant at the end of the spring 1981 season. He survived that assassination attempt. But not this one. Indeed, it was a bullet that ultimately claimed J.R.’s life, when he was gunned down inside a Mexican hotel room after possibly having dealt with a cartel representative and definitely having had relations with a señorita of shady repute. Once again we have to ask the immortal question: “Who shot J.R.?”
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Always a step ahead, it seems J.R. knew in advance who was gunning for him and even left a note for his brothers Bobby and Gary, to that effect. Oh, that’s right. Ted Shackleford’s Gary Ewing, the black sheep of the family who sought refuge in Knot’s Landing, returned! If ever there were an occasion to reenter the Dallas-verse, J.R.’s death was it. On hand were also Charlene Tilton as Lucy Ewing, Bobby and J.R.’s niece; Cathy Podewell as J.R.’s second wife Cally; Deborah Shelton as one of his more memorable mistresses, Mandy; Steve Kanaly as Ewing bastard, and Bobby and J.R.’s half-brother, Ray; and most important of all, a sweet bottle of bourbon in Sue Ellen’s supposedly sober hands.
Ah yes. The moment we’ve longed for/feared is at hand. Sue Ellen (Linda Gray) has resumed her drunken ways. Bourbon and branch water are tempting enough on their own. Bourbon and branch water in a bottle marked “J.R. Ewing” is more tempting still. Bourbon and branch water in a bottle marked “J.R. Ewing” to be imbibed after J.R.’s death and following the reading of a weepy note from him? Totally irresistible. She’ll be back to Betty Ford before the season is out. Her one possible saving grace? She’s at least honest about the fact she’s off the wagon. “I think I have never wanted a drink more than I want one now,” she said at the funeral reception.
Mind you, there was another undesirable return at that reception: Ken Kercheval’s supervillain, Cliff Barnes. He burst in with the fighting words, “I came to pay my disrespects, and good riddance!” then proceeded to call J.R. a “junkyard dog.” He was subdued quickly enough and kicked out, and with no fisticuffs. I suppose Christopher (Jesse Metcalfe) and John Ross (Josh Henderson) don’t have the stomach to fight an old man, even if he’s an old man hellbent on destroying their family. They didn’t feel the same way about a fellow (much younger) reception guest, however, who decided to call J.R. a “selfish prick.” That led to one of the best exchanges we’ve ever seen between Christopher and John Ross: the former backing off J.R.’s son with a gentle brush of his hand, saying “I got this, cousin,” then taking a slug at the foul-mouthed offender. What would a Ewing family gathering be without a few dislodged teeth? (Oh yeah, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and Mavericks owner Mark Cuban were also there, but somehow we think they avoided the melee.)
The burial itself, set to the old spiritual “Down to the River to Pray,” was a more moving affair. J.R. was a military man in his day, so he lay in a flag-draped coffin. Everyone had an opportunity to say a few words, and Lucy teared up when it was her turn. She said everything he did seemed so horrible when he did it, but with hindsight it had become apparent that he was the most honest person of all—because he knew what had to be done and did it. Christopher, J.R.’s nephew, said that, since he was adopted, J.R. only let him into the Ewing inner circle once: after his mom, Pam (Victoria Principal, notably absent) walked out. “I don’t know why she left,” J.R. told the grieving boy. “But you’re a Ewing now, so stop crying and behave like one.”
Sue Ellen, soused as can be, said J.R. was “the most infuriating, charming scoundrel [she’d] ever known. He was enough to turn a woman to drink.” Then, admitting that she was drunk even then, read his final letter to her, in which J.R. said his greatest hope in life was the possibility of earning a second chance with her. To start, he asked her out to dinner, if she’d be available upon his return from Mexico.
Bobby was a tad more reflective. “It’s always been easy for me to do good, because I could always count on J.R. to do bad,” he said. “But those bad things were necessary.” Does this mean that one of the most goody-goody characters in all of TV will suddenly take a little walk on the Dark Side, to fill J.R.’s shoes?
After the funeral, Ray and Gary met with Bobby, John Ross, and Christopher to go through J.R.’s effects. It turns out J.R. had recently gone to Abu Dhabi to put together an oil deal that he felt would lure Pam out of hiding. Victoria Principal has repeatedly said she will never return to Dallas, so why the show would decide to throw this particular red herring out there was surprising. As part of his will, he left a handgun for John Ross to protect himself from Cliff Barnes, who surely will be gunning for him. And finally, he left a note for Bobby that presumably named his killer. Bobby, maybe already embracing that Dark Side, decided that they would further the idea that J.R. had been killed randomly by a mugger, while they settled the score against his real killer, in the family way. “I knew you’d have one more up your sleeve, J.R….And it is a good one.” Maybe it was so good, that’s why this episode was called “J.R.’s Masterpiece.”
This was the perfect note for the departure of one of TV’s all-time greatest antiheroes: a note of intrigue. J.R.—and probably Hagman—wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Follow Christian Blauvelt on Twitter @Ctblauvelt
[Photo Credit: Skip Bolen/TNT]
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Producer Cynthia Cidre's reboot of Dallas didn't turn out to be one of the great guilty pleasures of 2012. It turned out to be one of the great pleasures, period, of 2012. Tonight it returns for Season 2, with a spectre of grief — and remembrance — hanging over it. That's because, following Larry Hagman's death on Nov. 23, after a long battle with cancer, it's obvious his iconic Dallas creation J.R. Ewing has only a limited number of episodes left to air. Seven episodes to be precise, with a funeral for J.R. set for March that may feature cameos from veterans of the original Dallas television series.
When we last saw the gang at the Southfork Ranch, we received a Texas-sized revelation. Rebecca (Julie Gonzalo), who we already knew had tricked Bobby's son Christopher (Jesse Metcalfe) into marrying her and having a baby, was far more treacherous than anyone had yet realized. She is, in fact, the secret daughter of Ewing family nemesis Cliff Barnes (Ken Kercheval), and she's helping realize her father's ultimate endgame to destroy the Ewings and take Southfork for himself!
We also got what we had been waiting for during all 10 episodes of the rebooted Dallas' run: Christopher and Elena (Jordana Brewster) finally hooked up! They had previously been a hot-and-heavy couple, but that scheming Rebecca sent a cryptic email, posing as Christopher, to break off his relationship with Elena. Sort of a reverse Catfish scenario. Now Elena, Christopher, and Bobby were set to square off against J.R. and his son John Ross (Josh Henderson) for control of the ranch and the company that Christopher and John Ross had recently founded, Ewing Energies. All the while, Cliff Barnes waits in the wings.
In the summer of 2012, Dallas debuted to an audience ripe for new nighttime soaps and scored blockbuster ratings for TNT. The same people who flocked to Revenge and Scandal love Dallas. What's old is new again. The rebooted Dallas works so well, because it's actually not a reboot. The first 10 episodes basically played as Season 15 of the original Dallas, picking up 21 years later from where the show left off when it ended its original run on CBS in 1991. Cynthia Cidre's take on the show was not to make it Dallas: The Next Generation. Instead the addition of the young, hot actors playing the heirs to Larry Hagman and Patrick Duffy were integrated into the original power dynamics of the old show. Rather than generational conflict fueling the drama, J.R. and his son John Ross face off against Bobby and adopted son Christopher, pretty much exactly like we could have imagined it in 1991. Its the exact same battle lines. Better still, the new characters actually aren't new. John Ross and Christopher were introduced as children during the show's CBS tenure.
Will you be watching when Season 2 premieres tonight? And, like me, are you hoping Dallas' success means a relaunch of spin-off Knots Landing is in the works?
Follow Christian Blauvelt on Twitter @Ctblauvelt
[Photo Credit: Skip Bolen/TNT]
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The first and most important thing you should know about Paramount Pictures’ Thor is that it’s not a laughably corny comic book adaptation. Though you might find it hokey to hear a bunch of muscled heroes talk like British royalty while walking around the American Southwest in LARP garb director Kenneth Branagh has condensed vast Marvel mythology to make an accessible straightforward fantasy epic. Like most films of its ilk I’ve got some issues with its internal logic aesthetic and dialogue but the flaws didn’t keep me from having fun with this extra dimensional adventure.
Taking notes from fellow Avenger Iron Man the story begins with an enthralling event that takes place in a remote desert but quickly jumps back in time to tell the prologue which introduces the audience to the shining kingdom of Asgard and its various champions. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) son of Odin is heir to the throne but is an arrogant overeager and ill-tempered rogue whose aggressive antics threaten a shaky truce between his people and the frost giants of Jotunheim one of the universe’s many realms. Odin (played with aristocratic boldness by Anthony Hopkins) enraged by his son’s blatant disregard of his orders to forgo an assault on their enemies after they attempt to reclaim a powerful artifact banishes the boy to a life among the mortals of Earth leaving Asgard defenseless against the treachery of Loki his mischievous “other son” who’s always felt inferior to Thor. Powerless and confused the disgraced Prince finds unlikely allies in a trio of scientists (Natalie Portman Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) who help him reclaim his former glory and defend our world from total destruction.
Individually the make-up visual effects CGI production design and art direction are all wondrous to behold but when fused together to create larger-than-life set pieces and action sequences the collaborative result is often unharmonious. I’m not knocking the 3D presentation; unlike 2010’s genre counterpart Clash of the Titans the filmmakers had plenty of time to perfect the third dimension and there are only a few moments that make the decision to convert look like it was a bad one. It’s the unavoidable overload of visual trickery that’s to blame for the frost giants’ icy weaponized constructs and other hybrids of the production looking noticeably artificial. Though there’s some imagery to nitpick the same can’t be said of Thor’s thunderous sound design which is amped with enough wattage to power The Avengers’ headquarters for a century.
Chock full of nods to the comics the screenplay is both a strength and weakness for the film. The story is well sequenced giving the audience enough time between action scenes to grasp the characters motivations and the plot but there are tangential narrative threads that disrupt the focus of the film. Chief amongst them is the frost giants’ fore mentioned relic which is given lots of attention in the first act but has little effect on the outcome. In addition I felt that S.H.I.E.L.D. was nearly irrelevant this time around; other than introducing Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye the secret security faction just gets in the way of the movie’s momentum.
While most of the comedy crashes and burns there are a few laughs to be found in the film. Most come from star Hemsworth’s charismatic portrayal of the God of Thunder. He plays up the stranger-in-a-strange-land aspect of the story with his cavalier but charming attitude and by breaking all rules of diner etiquette in a particularly funny scene with the scientists whose respective roles as love interest (Portman) friendly father figure (Skarsgaard) and POV character (Dennings) are ripped right out of a screenwriters handbook.
Though he handles the humorous moments without a problem Hemsworth struggles with some of the more dramatic scenes in the movie; the result of over-acting and too much time spent on the Australian soap opera Home and Away. Luckily he’s surrounded by a stellar supporting cast that fills the void. Most impressive is Tom Hiddleston who gives a truly humanistic performance as the jealous Loki. His arc steeped in Shakespearean tragedy (like Thor’s) drums up genuine sympathy that one rarely has for a comic book movie villain.
My grievances with the technical aspects of the production aside Branagh has succeeded in further exploring the Marvel Universe with a film that works both as a standalone superhero flick and as the next chapter in the story of The Avengers. Thor is very much a comic book film and doesn’t hide from the reputation that its predecessors have given the sub-genre or the tropes that define it. Balanced pretty evenly between “serious” and “silly ” its scope is large enough to please fans well versed in the source material but its tone is light enough to make it a mainstream hit.