Tonight TNT does the absolute unthinkable: It is restarting legendary prime time soap opera Dallas 21 years after it went off the air. No, this is not a reboot or a reimagining, it’s just picking up the action 21 years after we left the Ewing clan on Southfork Ranch and starting all over again as if nothing happened in the last two decades worth mentioning.
But that means it’s expecting modern viewers to know just the heck who these characters are that started in 1978 (which happens to be the year I was born). Sure, I watched some Dallas back in the day with my mom, but I barely remember anything but the awesome theme song and that there was this character named April that I loved because she was a former hooker and had this seriously swank apartment.
Now I’m here to fill in the blanks for all of you, so that you can enjoy the show tonight. Let’s meet the Ewings, shall we?
J.R. Ewing: The villain and main character of the show, played by Larry Hagman, is a devil in a ten gallon hat. He’s a schemer and philanderer who runs Ewing Oil with his brother Bobby. These children of privileged inherited the business from their father Jock (no relation to the strap), a hard-scrabble oil man, and South Fork Ranch from their mother Miss Ellie, a patron saint of southern maternity. J.R. made and lost his fortune a million times and was famously shot in the third season’s final episode. The nation waited months to find out who shot him (it was his scheming sister in law Kristin who he also had an affair with) and if he survived. His son, John Ross (which is J.R.’s real name), features prominently in the new series.
Sue Ellen Ewing: J.R.’s wife’s defining characteristic was always that she was a drunk. She’d be on the wagon, off the wagon, loving J.R., hating J.R., having an affair, being faithful, wearing shoulder pads, not wearing…OK, she always wore shoulder pads. Linda Grey was always aces in the role, and I secretly hope she’s back on the sauce this time around, because that’s when she was at her most viciously awesome.
Bobby Ewing: J.R.’s angelic younger brother was always loved more by his parents, and that is seemingly the reason for his brother’s evil streak and continued jealousy. He still lived with the family at Southfork and eventually helps J.R. run the family business. Patrick Duffy infamously left the series in 1985 and his character was killed. When he came back after being absent for a season, the show explained that the previous season was all a dream in his wife Pam’s head. He has a son Lucas with his first love Jenna (played by Priscilla Pressley) and his adopted son Christopher is a main character in the TNT show.
Pamela Barnes Ewing: Bobby’s wife and the daughter of the hated Barnes clan, the Ewing’s rivals. Pam’s main storylines had to do with her tension within the clan and the fact that she was barren. She and Bobby eventually adopted, but she never did fully fit in with the family. When Victoria Principal wanted to leave the show, Pam drove her car into a oil tanker and was badly burned. She left Bobby because of her disfigurement and later showed up (played by a different actress) to explains he was happy and marrying her plastic surgeon. Supposedly she had a terminal disease, but she’s never been declared dead. Look for her character to come back (please, please, please) and for Principal to have nothing to do with her.
Cliff Barnes: Pam’s brother and the Wile E. Coyote to J.R.’s Roadrunner, who could never quite beat his nemesis in a scheme though he never stopped trying. That includes sleeping with Sue Ellen for years behind J.R.’s back. Ken Kercheval will be back for the new show, probably still a loser.
Lucy Ewing: Bobby and J.R.’s niece who was raised by her grandparents because her father Gary (the hero of the soap Knot’s Landing) was an alcoholic and her mother was a teenager. Lucy was a trouble child who always cut school, had a drug problem, a gay boyfriend, an abortion, and every other thing you might possibly squeeze into an after-school special. When we see Charlene Tilton again, I can only hope that she’s a boozy old broad who tells stories of her glamorous modeling days with an Eve Slim 120 Menthol hanging out of her lips.
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