June 18, 2012

TV: Dallas (TNT, Wed 9)

Did we need a revival of Dallas? Probably not, but if we were going to get one, this isn't bad. And "revival" is the word for it. This is not a post-modern ironic update or a reboot; this is a straightforward continuation, picking up with the characters as if they'd simply been on a 20-year-long summer hiatus.

Three of the original cast are back as regulars -- Larry Hagman and Patrick Duffy as brothers JR and Bobby, and Linda Gray as JR's ex-wife Sue Ellen -- and others will pop up occasionally throughout the season. Joining that older generation as Bobby's new wife Ann is Brenda Strong. (Victoria Principal, who used to play Bobby's wife Pamela, has retired from acting; the show's references to Pamela are carefully written to imply that she is dead, but there's just enough wiggle room for her to pop up should Principal ever be so inclined.)

We also get a new generation of younger Ewings; Josh Henderson is JR's son John Ross and Jesse Metcalfe is Bobby's adopted son (and much is made of the whole adopted thing, with lots of "You're no Ewing" dialogue) Christopher.

The storylines are pure soap opera, as they always were. Bobby's been diagnosed with cancer; Sue Ellen wants to run for governor; and JR's in a nursing home, apparently suffering from such severe depression that he doesn't even respond or make conversation.

Christopher, who works in alternative energy, is about to marry Rebecca (Julie Gonzalo); John Ross is dating Elena (Jordana Brewster), daughter of the cook at Southfork and formely Christopher's girlfriend. John Ross has discovered a vast oil reserve beneath Southfork, but the family ranch is controlled by the dictates of the late Miss Ellie, whose will strictly forbids drilling.

That sets up the obligatory intrafamily squabbling and scheming, in which everyone's got a hidden agenda and there are more double and triple crosses than you can keep track of.

If you liked the original Dallas, there's no reason you won't like this. Even though he's no longer the lead, Hagman still dominates the show, falling back into the role with ease, just as gleefully manipulative and devious as ever. (And his eyebrows have grown into spectacular presences all by themselves; they're practically able to deliver dialogue.)

The younger generation of actors don't quite keep up with their elders -- the two young men come off worse than their female costars -- but that may simply be a matter of them needing time to get used to the show's style, which is resolutely old-fashioned compared to today's soaps. By the end of the season, I'd expect them to be better meshed into the mix as the acting generations adapt to one another and the writers learn how to better mix their styles.

Not a show I'm going to follow, but a surprisingly credible revival.

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