‘Dallas’ is back as hunky new Ewings join a classic cast for suds, sleaze, sex

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor


3 out of 5 stars
Premieres June 13 at  8 p.m. on TNT.


My confession — to be honest, a minor point of pride — is that I never watched Dallas. Not growing up, not in reruns, not on DVD … just the occasional episode while visiting someone who did watch. That’s probably a good thing: If I’d thought people in Dallas were really like they are on this show (with everyone double- and triple- and counter-crossing everybody else), I probably would never have moved here.

Even so, in the 1970s and ‘80s, you couldn’t live in America and not know something about Dallas: The Ewings, Southfork, Bobby’s death was a dream (for two seasons!), etc. Heck, to appreciate its influence, just consider two of the city’s premiere gay bars: JR.’s and Sue Ellen’s. Lack of interest is not the same as ignorance.

LIKE FATHERS, LIKE SONS | J.R. (Larry Hagman, above left) is up to his scheming, only this time son John Ross (Josh Henderson, above right and below left) helps him tear the family apart; Bobby’s goody-goody adopted son Christopher (Jesse Metcalfe, below right) tries to stop him.

So seeing these things come back to life after 21 years for TNT’s reboot of Dallas is both exciting and nostalgic. Exciting as the chords of the opening credits now are overlaid with some different names and new landmarks (the Omni Hotel, the Calatrava bridge); nostalgic because there’s enough familiarity (Patrick Duffy, Larry Hagman and Linda Gray return, with cameos by other original cast members) to make it twinge the cerebral cortex.

Time has passed for the Ewings as it has for the rest of us — everyone’s a little grayer and fatter. But in other ways, nothing has moved from that closing moment from the series finale way back in 1991: Leopards don’t change their spots.

This new Dallas suffers from the same problems all soaps do: People react dramatically instead of humanely. So, when Bobby’s (Duffy) son Christopher (Jesse Metcalfe) finds out his dad has cancer, he doesn’t express sympathy but anger that he wasn’t told sooner; when Bobby punches out a man who sent a provocative, hurtful package to his new wife Anne (Brenda Strong), Anne doesn’t feel grateful but upset he resorted to violence. (Victoria Principal’s Pam disappeared without much explanation.) And things happen both with lightning speed and at a syrupy slog (J.R. goes from catatonic state in and old folks’ home to social butterfly in two scenes).

But there is a vicarious thrill in watching J.R. (Hagman) — the original “man you love to hate” — explore his evil machinations, this time bolstered by his equally devilish son John Ross (Josh Henderson).

The plot — or rather, plots — revolve around 2 billion barrels of oil under Southfork that will require fracking (timely! And unlikely … just Southfork?!?! Are there no neighbors with leases?), Christopher’s love life and even the return of Cliff Barnes (Ken Kercheval), which probably means something to longtime fans but kinda washes over newcomers.

The end of the two-hour premiere has a juicy cliffhanger; by episode 7, the surreptitious glances, paternity allegations and political chicanery have reached outrageous levels. None of the actors hold back, though it never devolves into campy emoting — there’s a weird sincerity to everything.

With lots of local color and popcorn-chewing intrigues, the show will probably get you tuning in for the remainder of the season — there are worse ways to spend a hot summer in Dallas than experience the heat of family discord in a big oil city with awful Texans doing sexy, evil things … No, wait .…

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 8, 2012.