Television review: A worthy return to 'Dallas' TNT's version, which focuses on JR, Bobby and Sue Ellen Ewing, along with the next generation, is very much the heir of the CBS original, in spirit and execution.
June 12, 2012|By Robert Lloyd, Los Angeles Times Television Critic
Larry Hagman gives Josh Henderson a close shave in TNT's reboot ofâ¦ (Zade Rosenthal, TNT ) "Dallas,"which in its love of the anti-hero and elevation of the cliffhanger set the stage for much of what is now considered Important Television, is back, 21 years after the end of the series proper and 14 years from the last branded TV movie. And the presence of Larry Hagman, Patrick Duffy and Linda Gray as JR, Bobby and Sue Ellen Ewing â arguably the most important characters from the original series â means that you should take it as seriously, on its less than serious terms.
In order not to make the new version, which has devolved from CBS to TNT, entirely geriatric â it was a sea of gray even when the first run ran down â much of the action focuses on the rivalry between cousins John Ross (Josh Henderson), the son of JR and ex-wife Sue Ellen, and Christopher (Jesse Metcalfe), the adopted son of Bobby and the departed Pam, played long ago by Victoria Principal and referred to here as having "just disappeared one day."
Like their parents, and alongside them, they have different visions of the future of the Ewings and the meaning of the old homestead, Southfork Ranch, over whose disposition they argue with a perhaps too frequent use of the word "birthright." (The new series adds a debate between fossil fuel versus alternative energies â I will leave it to you to guess on which side each faction comes down). Additionally, John Ross and Christopher each have their own complicated romantic relationships, with housekeeper's daughter Elena (Jordana Brewster) and out-of-town lawyer Rebecca (Julie Gonzalo), who is engaged to Christopher.
If TNT is no CBS, CBS is not what it was when "Dallas" reigned, and advances in television technology mean that even in this relatively more economy-minded venue, it is a fancier affair â and given looser standards and practices, an edgier, more explicit one â than the original. But as redeveloped by Cynthia Cidre (the 2007 CBS prime-time soap"Cane"), it is very much its heir, in spirit and execution.
Then as now â and acknowledging some good work among the younger set, especially the Texas-born Henderson â it is Hagman's show. To say there is no series here that would be worth watching without him is indeed only to point out another way in which the new "Dallas" is very much like the old.
There is some sloppy writing, as when information regarding Christopher's undersea mining project, which the script treats as somehow secret and valuable, is also displayed as news available on the Internet. And it can look phony: A key opening scene set around a gushing oil well just seems like actors and extras at work; other characters speak technobabble issues like a phonetically rehearsed foreign language.
But "Dallas" never was a series that worried over a little wooden acting, or prized sense over the sensational: The narrative flexibility of the original was such that, in the mid-1980s, in order to rewrite a briefly departed Duffy back into the show, an entire season was declared to have been a dream.
The Ewings and their extended family of foes and frenemies can seem to be absurdly gullible, liable to believe anything anyone tells them (except, often, when it is the truth). They are prone to half-baked deals and secrets fatally kept out of pride, which would have done them no harm if revealed in the first place.