TV Recaps

Dallas Review: A Welcome Return To Southfork

Cast of Dallas

Wow, Jock and Miss Ellie must be doing somersaults in their graves. What has happened to the Ewing family since their deaths? I don’t know, but last night’s 2-part series premiere sure proved one thing…Dallas has not lost its spark at all.

From the opening scene, a tone was struck that would resonate through the rest of the evening. I know it must have been, having filmed this in 2011, to wait until last night to gauge the reaction from the audience. The amount of build-up and hype was immense, with TNT hoping to appeal to not only a new audience, but bring back the longtime Dallas fans. It was definitely worth the wait because the show lived up to the hype.

It was great to see the original cast members again in the roles they made classic. Patrick Duffy looks damn good for a 63-year-old man, and seemed like he was truly having fun last night. Seeing Bobby take the reins of Southfork and truly become his father was a welcome sight. Bobby told his hot shot arrogant nephew John Ross that he promised Miss Ellie that no one would drill for oil on that land, a shade of the past when Miss Ellie thought she would have to allow Jock to drill on Southfork, after JR had mortgaged everything to the hilt. Bobby came off as THE iron fist of Southfork, but still retained that heart of gold. It was the little things in Duffy’s performance, from the little wink in the segment right up to stopping John Ross from drilling on Section 16. Every the oil riggers said “We don’t want to tangle with Bobby Ewing.” Duffy always played Bobby as the moral high ground for the family in the original, but really had nothing to do in 13 seasons on Dallas. Now he does. He is acted like a man his age should act, and with the news that he is withholding about his appending death from cancer to the family, he’s still as stubborn as a damn mule. But a mule I still dig. 

The two young men playing the Ewing sons, Jesse Metcalf and Joss Henderson, did an admiral job of bringing John Ross and Christopher into the 21st century. I felt Henderson’s was the stronger of the two. There’s something about the underlying hatred he has for his father JR (Larry Hagman). There’s a nuance to his performance, especially the way he conveys John Ross’ respect, but also his ruthless streak – willing to get down and dirty in the mud and laying waste to anyone who gets in his way – family or not. John Ross is a pretty screwed up young man thanks to JR and Sue Ellen making him the centerpiece of their war for so many years. Now an adult, he cares only for himself. But there seems to be a pain underneath all of that bravado and arrogance and Henderson conveys that well. I would like to see some improvement over the season, and hopefully his performance will get better as time goes on. 

Jesse Metcalfe on the other hand was serviceable as Christopher. He tries to capture his father’s moral compass and toughness, but it came across as a bit forced. His first scene really was really underwhelming, and I felt he didn’t show a spark of intensity until the fight with John Ross. Telling Christopher he’s not a real Ewing will be that spark to run head long into trouble, but I will give Metcalfe the benefit of the doubt…for now. From previews of the season he seems to have captured that essence quite nicely. The battle between the two cousins will be the “pebble in the pond” that all the other stories will revolve around, and my hope is that writers and producers realize that. 

The new ladies in the Ewing family have what it takes to do the job right. I know Jordana Brewster is glad to have a steady gig she can sink her teeth into that does not involve driving cars a 150 mph. She came off as the new Sue Ellen, only with a lot more backbone. Linda Gray didn’t and wasn’t allowed to develop Sue Ellen until later in the series, but Brewster’s Elena has all the makings of that same character, which was proven when Sue Ellen gave Elena the money needed to back a business venture.

Of course Gray effortlessly stepped back into some old and very comfortable shoes of Sue Ellen, coming back home to Texas to run as the state’s next governor. How she will run with her past is beyond me, but it looks like, judging from the premiere, that storytelling should not be a problem. The strength she gained from her two battles and many wars with JR is what is showing now. You can see the power in her, and damn the person who crosses her or her son. Unlike JR Sue Ellen has told John Ross how sorry she is for using John Ross as a weapon against JR She comes across with sincerity in those scenes, and I really look forward to see what she will do next. 

Brenda Strong’s Ann Ewing laid claim as the new Mistress of Southfork. That was proven when, in a scene reminiscent of when Miss Ellie threatened a reporter to get off his land before she blew his tail off (Bobby and JR were missing, and Miss Ellie tried to keep the news from Jock, who was recovering from open heart surgery), Ann used that same type of strength when she caught a burglar in her home. The burglar got away, but not after she told him that “I am a crack shot, and never miss…from any range.” Barbara Bel Geddes would be somewhat proud. I’ve seen Strong in other roles, but she plays Ann with the same sweetness that BBG played as Miss Ellie. But don’t cross her. When she found out that Bobby was dying, she kept it to herself until the right time (which was a beautiful scene that saw her comforting Bobby). Ann stands by Bobby’s side no matter what and doesn’t try to change him the way his first wife did.  As long as she runs Southfork well I’ll be a happy fan.

Julie Gonzalo’s Rebecca is a somewhat different story. I liked her performance last night, but if she is going to stay and become a proper Ewing wife, she needs to start getting down and dirty to keep him. Elena still loves Christopher, even after both realize they should have never broke up (someone sent them both an email telling the other one that their romance was over). Some of that was shown last night when both ladies were getting fitted for Rebecca and Chris’ wedding. She just seemed too bland to me, that is until we found out she is conning Chris with a man who may or may not be her brother. There are sparks there, but the writing must be much stringer for her to be viable, and she needs to step up her game and stop looking like she’s a stranger in the family. 

This brings me to “that human oil slick”, the man the world still loves to hate. Larry Hagman still has that devilish smile and that twinkle in his eye. He showed that he still play JR even at 80 years young, and showed that he is still a tremendous actor, especially during a scene where Bobby visits him in a nursing home (JR is suffering from clinical depression, not because of Miss Ellie’s death and the guilt he may feel) and Bobby told JR that he didn’t want their sons battling over Ewing Oil and Southfork the way they had. Hagman didn’t say a word, but conveyed so many feelings just by sitting in his chair looking out the window. It was the best scene of the premiere, and it reminds me of what producers forgot in the last four season of the original show. They need these two actors to play off one another. JR was also up to his old tricks, trying to steal Southfork from Bobby AND John Ross. He didn’t realize that he was being played for a fool, first by his son (who is sleeping with the executive JR is working with) and second when JR finds out that woman is not the person they all thought she was.

Hagman nailed the cliffhanger scene, showing that anger when JR has been double crossed…and the revenge he will take on those who stabbed him in the back. JR proved that even though he loves his family, he still will run over anyone to get what he wants. “Blood is thicker than water, but oil is thicker than both,” said JR while schooling his son John Ross. Hagman plays JR like he’s been waiting for this since the television series ended in 1991. Hagman once said that he felt “the bloom was off the rose” and that he was done with JR forever. But he showed last night – you can’t keep a slick bastard down for too long. Watch out Dallas…JR is back and ready to make heads role!

Overall, the premiere provided audiences with two very good episodes of the new series. The essence and spirit of the original Dallas was captured last night. Executive producers Cynthia Cidre and Michael Rabin did their homework and drew on their experiences as fans to create a new show that was fresh and modern, while paying homage to the original that came before it.

The usual elements were there – backstabbing, sex, triangles and the like. But it is very had to capture that when a show has been off the air for so long. Dallas fans, always the opinionated and passionate bunch (especially those at Ultimate Dallas) are very hard on any project involving Dallas.

Having watched every episode (I’ve been a fan since seeing “Digger’s Daughter” for the first time), I had extremely high standards that I wasn’t sure the series could meet. After hearing the new take on the theme song and watching the introductions of the characters, I felt like I was 9 years old again, watching Dallas on a Friday night.

Some will feel it wasn’t necessary to “reboot” or “continue” another old show. Considering the failures of such attempts with Bionic Woman, Knight Rider, Melrose Place, and Charlie’s Angels, why would a network take such a risk? For every failure, there’s a Hawaii Five-O, a modern continuation of the original series that’s found success on CBS. There’s a reason why fans clamor for the return of shows they held so dear to their hearts. This fan enjoyed opening salvo of the Ewing family, and to paraphrase a legendary actress…”Hang on everyone. It’s gonna be a hellava ride!”

{jathumbnail off}