In a measure of full disclosure, I should mention that I have never seen an episode of the original Dallas which ran from 1978 to 1991. Even though it ran for thirteen seasons, I was still too young to watch by the time it went off the air. I was so young at the time, when I saw the cast of the new version I thought to myself, “Why did they cast the dad from Step by Step in such a serious role?” (Which begs the question way can Staci Keanan not find more work? Can we fast track a My Two Dads reboot please. Get on that ABC Family. But anyway.) Since I was alive during the era I of course am familiar with who shot J.R. (well the plotline, I am not entirely sure who did the shooting) and that one of the seasons turned out to be the longest dream sequence ever. Could you imagine if that happened today, and you thought the internet exploded over the season finale of The Killing. The internet would burn down if an entire season was revealed a dream today.
With that out of the way, there is no learning curve for anyone who want to jump into the Dallas reboot without have seen it in the original run because you were too young at the time (which is basically anyone under forty) or not even born yet (people born the same year Dallas went off the air will be old enough to drink this year). For those that that did watch the original run, the last twenty-one years has not been good to the Ewing boys. In the second scene, Bobby is diagnosed with cancer and J.R. spends the first episode mostly motion-and-speechless in a nursing home suffering from depression. But do not worry; the best character on the show will not be confined to an old folk’s home for that long as J.R. regains his fastball by the second episode. Or as close to a fastball that an eighty year old can throw it.
With the older downtrodden, the new Dallas slowly shift to the new generation and the cousin at the heart of the new show are chips off the old blocks. Jon Ross (Josh Henderson, Desperate Housewives), much like his father J.R. is a ruthless oilman who is not above drilling on the family land behind his family’s back to get every last drop there is even if that involves the buzz word of the moment, fracking. The altruistic Christopher (Jesse Metcalfe, Desperate Housewives) is the good son just like his adopted father Bobby who is moving past the dirty oil game looking for cleaner alternative fuels like methane hydrate.
And where would the Ewing men be without their women? Both cousins had a go around with the family cook’s daughter Jordana Brewster (Fast Five), first with Christopher before ending up with Jon Ross (sadly no on calls him J.R. Jr.). Christopher eventually moved onto Julie Gonzalo (Veronica Mars) who he is engaged to and the Pilot episode has them coming back to Southfork to get married which it set to go on at the end of the first episode. Bobby even got himself a new wife (Brenda Strong, Desperate Housewives' disembodied narrator and was actually on the orginal Dallas as “Cliff’s One Night Stand” during the seventh season) while J.R.’s ex Sue Ellen is still around and had gotten herself into politics while the show has been off the air.
With Dallas essentially inventing the modern day nighttime soap and its mysteries like who shot J.R., what looks to be the initial conflict of the controlling interest of the family land at Southfork by the four Ewing boys really lacks intensity you come to expect from night time soaps. This is very glaring when you compare it to the gold standard of today: Revenge with the protagonist going after everyone involved with her father’s imprisonment (and death). Even the first season of Desperate Housewives (which shared a lot of DNA with Dallas, even Larry Hagman showed up at one point) that rebooted the nighttime soap craze of today built a more interesting mystery and conflict than Dallas came back with. Arguing over land rights and drilling rights just does not pack the same punch these days. Plus, why can Jon Ross not just buy the land next door, stick in a straw in the land and drink Bobby’s milkshake up that way? There is even an awkward storyline with a mysterious e-mail (which thankfully get resolved by the third episode). Also it gets annoying really quick how everyone in the Ewing family over-emphasized their relationship to the person they are talking to angrily.
What the new Dallas does have going for it is what could be a record breaking amount of double crosses. And not only are there a few triple crosses, the show even managed the elusive quadruple cross (which I have a feeling may turn into a quintuple-cross by the time I watch the next episode). If you are a fan a drinking game, go ahead and take a shot everytime there is a double-cross, a double for a triple-cross and so long. But be warned, you may end up drunker then if you played my Deadwood drinking game.
I also always enjoy watching Jordana Brewster try to act and she takes it to another level on Dallas because her Texas accent goes in and out from scene to scene (and sometimes in the same scene). But if there is a breakout star, it will be Gonzalo, a highly likeable actress with some bad luck. She was resigned to the background on Veronica Mars after her rape storyline was wrapped up. Eli Stone never got a fair shake. And her Day One show is one of the rare shows that got picked up by a network but never actually made it to air. Hopefully she can finally shine on Dallas (even though she plays the doting fiancé tonight, we get to better know her character next week).
Fans of the original run should not expect a cavalcade of cameos from the first run. Even though he is getting married much of the Ewing family that is not in the main cast fails to show up except for Charlene Tilton as niece Lucy (she gives some excuse why her father could not make it). Christopher’s own adopted mother does not even show up to the festivities and is not even mentioned until next week when her bother Cliff Barnes (who also skipped his nephew’s wedding) shows up. Another J.R. nemesis Ray Krebbs also shows up later in the season.
Even though he remains the best part of the new show and gets the best lines (“Bobby may not be stupid, but I’m a hellava lot smarter”) J.R. is showing is age as Hagman turned eighty last year and has already retired twice, coming out for the second time for the Dallas reboot. During its original run, the famous” Who Shot J.R.” happened at the end of the third season. I have a feeling will not have to wait that long for a “Who Killed J.R.” cliffhanger even if J.R. hilariously tells another character who points a gun at him, “Bullets don’t have much effect on me.”
Dallas airs Wednesdays at 9:00 and premieres tonight with back to back episodes. You can also download Dallas on iTunes.