The opening scene of TNT’s resurrected version of ’80s primetime soap Dallas features a crew of people hovering around an oil rig feeling the ground rumble as they strike oil and the black gold, the Texas tea, bursts up into the air raining down on all of them. First of all, why is everyone celebrating? This is gross. Can you imagine what it takes to get oil out of your hair? Secondly, this is an appropriate metaphor for this show, drilling in the fertile ground of South Fork Ranch and striking it rich once again.
Yes, this new version, which picks up 21 years after the last one as if the intervening hiatus was nothing but an inconvenience, has everything the original had: Scheming family members, love triangles, betrayals, affairs, a sincerity that is just on the right side of camp, and, of course J.R. Ewing.
The oil driller is John Ross Ewing, J.R.’s son who is a chip off the old block. Of course he’s stopped by Bobby Ewing, who wants to preserve his land and promote his son Christopher’s alternative energy business. Christopher is wrestling with a sassy fiance Rebecca and is busy causing earthquakes with his crazy frozen methane fuel nonsense. And J.R.? Oh, well he’s in a deep depression and hasn’t left a chair or spoken to anyone in years. This is not directly connected to his newfound addiction to ascots, but I believe there might be a correlation.
The major conflict is about the selling of South Fork, the family ranch. John Ross wants to drill for oil and Bobby wants to sell it into conservation and use the money to fund Christopher’s business. John Ross is also trying to swindle J.R. as he tries to swindle bobby out of the plot of land. Oh, and Sue Ellen is sober and running for governor. She has moved from Dallas to Yawn City, Texas.
Bobby’s cancer storyline is also a little tired and means he either needs a miracle cure or to die, either of which would really suck. (Apparently Patrick Duffy made the same deal with the devil that Dick Clark did where he never even ages a day). It’s also a little boring that John Ross and Christopher are carrying on the good son/bad son dynamic that their fathers had. Wouldn’t it be even more dramatic if John Ross was the good one and Christopher the jerk? And why is their rivalry so intense? They’re not brothers, they’re just cousins, which makes their closeness ring a little false. Sure fighting over Elena, the maid’s daughter, is a good step in the right direction, but we need some more motivation.
Jesse Metcalfe acquits himself nicely as Christopher a role, much like Bobby, that requires more time in the gym than in classes at The Actors’ Studio. The problem is Josh Henderson‘s John Ross, who is no J.R. Ewing, and it’s even harder when you have Larry Hagman capturing the old magic like a day never passed. The great thing about J.R. was that he was like a true devil, smiling to your face as he stabs you in the back. When he blackmails a lawyer he threatens his life and career and then says, “No hard feelings” and shakes his hand. Or at the end of the episode, when he realizes that John Ross has been playing him all along, he never shows the others in the room what is going on, but there is a the brilliant flash on his face as he goes from amused That is J.R. He’s not angry, he’s just determined. John Ross, on the other hand, has something to prove and does his double dealing with a snarl. He isn’t the villain, he’s just a jerk.
Honestly, I was mostly concerned with how the younger and older generations would share the screen on this show. Would J.R., Bobby, and Co. just be set dressing for nostalgia buffs like the original cast members were on the rebooted Melrose Place or would they refuse to let go of the spotlight and shortchange the kids? Or would there be an old-people show and a young-people show running simultaneous and not interacting? It seems like it’s found a good balance, where the kids and adults both have their own lives but interact in true and believable ways (my favorite example of this is Sue Ellen loaning Elena money to start a business, something that is going to end as well as Sue Ellen entering a beer pong tournament).
But I like where this thing is going. I’m especially fond of Christopher’s fiance Rebecca and her brother who are apparently secret grifters. I always love a secret grift. Sure, there were some quibbles with the start of Dallas (not enough fat Lucy or drunk Sue Ellen) and it doesn’t feel as fresh and hip as current king of nighttime suds Revenge, with its internet millionaires and spy ware, but I just gave this thing a season pass, if only to watch J.R. completely humiliate his son.
Looks like the rest of the audience was into the show too. According to TVLine, the show averaged nearly 7 million viewers during the two-hour premiere. It’s not Hatfields & McCoys, but still excellent for cable.
Follow Brian Moylan on Twitter @BrianJMoylan