When the original “Dallas” premiered on CBS in 1978, the economy was in a bad way. Unemployment was rising, as was inflation, a trend which continued on into the early 1980s, when the U.S. plunged into a deep recession. And yet the nighttime soap about a rich oil family was a fairly quick hit, the 99 percenters tuning in to watch an expensively made show about the expensively living Ewing family.
The timing could be right for “Dallas” to hit again. Rather than a mere redo attempting to resurrect a franchise largely by name only (see “Melrose Place," "Charlie's Angels,” et al), Warner Bros. (having acquired the rights when it bought Lorimar Productions) is presenting the show as a sequel. This means that the original characters aren't sidelined (see Brenda and Kelly in the "90210" redux); rather JR and Bobby Ewing are as in the action as their respective progeny, John Ross Jr. and Christopher. The central tropes of the original -- sibling rivalry, greed versus good, the importance of history -- remain, and spill smoothly into the next generation.
Luckily, the camp's there, too. We get JR, cackling sinisterly beneath crazy eyebrows and wearing a giant belt buckle emblazoned with his initials; lines like “light, sweet crude”; ever-full bourbon glasses; a glittery Cattle Barons Ball; women getting called “baby” and “darlin'" … heck, they even kept the wonderfully dated split-screen title sequence. Nighttime soaps have fallen on hard times in recent years, with the networks eschewing the big-budget serials for comparatively cheaper reality shows and sitcoms; for every “Smash” there are many more misses, our current (kurrent?) options tending toward the Kardashian. But “Dallas” looks expensive, as it should, and the momentum begun with the initial two episodes indicates a solid series, if only it's given a chance.
Of course the big get is Larry Hagman reprising his JR and Patrick Duffy returning as Bobby Ewing, those two jointly filling the patriarchal role occupied by their sometimes-good-sometimes-bad father Jock (the late Jim Davis). Josh Henderson is well cast as John Ross; he plays the son of the devil with straight-ahead zeal. Less successful is Jesse Metcalfe as Bobby's adopted son Christopher. Yes, his shoulders are broad (the shirt came off quickly, natch), but his acting is comparatively flat, as quiet as the electric Tesla his environmentally minded character drives.
The ghost of Miss Ellie (the sparkly Barbara Bel Geddes) looms large, her name evoked as the fight for Southfork Ranch's purity continues. As for the rest of the women in the cast, only a delicate framework has been laid. Linda Gray fans (present) will be happy with Sue Ellen Ewing's prospects -- "when you gonna run for governor?” a grammatically challenged Texan shouts to her as she speaks at the ball -- which include going into the oil business with Jordana Brewster's Elena. The women were always sassy -- if a bit sauced -- on the original, so we expect more of the same.
In the end, “Dallas” doesn't hit oil with every strike, and the overly dramatic score, non-character of Ann Ewing (Bobby's third wife, played by Brenda Strong) and limp plotline of Bobby's cancer aren't exactly inspired. One wonders, too, if the lifestyles of rich Texans will resonate. (Too bad for TNT Rick Perry is but a blip on the national radar.) It certainly has potential for cultural commentary, though, with sweeping shots of the lush ranch serving as a backdrop to the poignant juxtaposition of the blue Bobby with the red JR.
As Bobby (who supports Christopher's pursuit of Ewing Alternative Energy) shuts down the oil drilling on Southfork, he assuages the workers, “I know times are tough out there … I'm sorry about your jobs.” Meanwhile, JR, awakening from a clinical depression that had him more or less catatonic, muses, “Bobby always was a fool.” Sounds like a decent starting place for “Dallas” 2012, no?