J.R. gives it another shot on 'Dallas'

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THE SHOW "Dallas"

WHEN | WHERE Wednesday night at 9 on TNT

WHAT IT'S ABOUT "Dallas," CBS' classic soap that launched in 1978, aired its very last cliffhanger on May 3, 1991. After the old scoundrel J.R. Ewing (Larry Hagman) had lost everything and everyone, he slowly turned a pistol on himself. A shot rang out just as his youngest brother, Bobby (Patrick Duffy), entered the room. Bobby: "Oh my God!" and . . . cue to credits.

What happened to J.R.? Twenty-one years later, we have our answer, and it's not giving away much of anything to reveal that he has survived. Yes, he's much older and clinically depressed, and Bobby is pretty much the only one who still visits him. His own son, John Ross (Josh Henderson) -- as the acorn that didn't fall too far from the tree -- barely ever does.

Bobby has cancer, which he's kept secret even from his beloved wife, Ann (Brenda Strong). A major life decision is at hand: Whether to sell the family ranch, Southfork, to a land conservancy to fund the methane gas extraction technique of son Christopher (Jesse Metcalfe). John Ross, who just discovered oil on the property, is not happy, and you can bet J.R. himself has some thoughts about this plan.

MY SAY Oil was always thicker than blood on the original "Dallas," and blood was thicker than water -- though only barely. Endless feuds over money, power, lineage and (above all) sex were all braided and rebraided into primetime's pre-eminent soap over 13 seasons. Hagman's J.R. was to become -- and very much remains -- one of the greatest characters in TV history, as the medium's very own Iago with rheumy eyes, a black shriveled heart, accessorized with a white Stetson.

There's a rich legacy here, so relaunches -- even with Hagman, Linda Gray (reprising her role as J.R.'s ex-wife, Sue Ellen) and Duffy aboard -- should proceed at their own risk. Has TNT screwed this one up? Not at all. Showrunner Cynthia Cidre's reimagining is slick, sharply drawn and full of the usual treachery. Everyone still has a secret -- even Bobby -- and J.R. is still one step ahead. The new series belongs to the young cast members, but the old-timers give it heart and, yes, love. Hagman, Gray and Duffy even look like they're enjoying themselves.

BOTTOM LINE More of a continuation than a "remake," this one looks to be a winner.

GRADE B+

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