The new TNT version of Dallas is a rare example of an artistically successful — well, entertainingly successful, at least — TV-classic update. It’s all the more impressive for the way it combines members of the original cast with attractive younger-demo-actor draws without seeming as cynical as a J.R. Ewing business deal. Which is not to say that the new Dallas isn’t all about cynicism and business deals. The show is not a ”reboot” (oh, wretched word): It is a continuation of the CBS prime-time soap, created by David Jacobs, the auteur behind the even greater soap Knots Landing. This Dallas has been rejiggered by executive producer Cynthia Cidre in a canny manner. Instead of pitting veteran stars Larry Hagman and Patrick Duffy against a younger generation, characters form natural, if devious, alliances. Thus J.R. (Hagman, whose eyebrows look like explosions of icicles) teams up with his son John Ross (Josh Henderson, having stolen John Waters’ mustache) against his brother Bobby (Duffy doesn’t look a bit older than he did in his Step by Step days!) and Bobby’s adopted son Christopher (Jesse Metcalfe, looking grateful he escaped Desperate Housewives with a job).
What do they all want? Why, control of Southfork and its oil, of course! That grand expanse of Texas property is and always has been the reason Dallas exists. It’s the site of generational hubris played out on a tragic yet often enjoyably ridiculous scale. In 2012, owning land, even if all you plan to do with it is strip it of its natural grandeur or sell it off to suckers, still works as an object of desire: We poor folks can understand why these rich people squabble over it.
The series sets up John Ross as a would-be rapacious oil baron, and his cousin Christopher as a believer in what’s referred to as an ”alternative energy project” that will be profitable and ”green” — if only he can get it up and running on Southfork. The young men have pretty women to love ‘em and betray ‘em (Jordana Brewster and Julie Gonzalo, both rather wan so far). But a surprising amount of Dallas dastardliness is carried out by the older players. Hagman and Duffy are periodically joined by Linda Gray as J.R.’s ex, Sue Ellen, and Ken Kercheval looms into view as J.R.’s old nemesis Cliff Barnes. There’s even an occasional squeal from Charlene Tilton as Lucy Ewing.
So far Henderson displays the best chemistry with Hagman; as son and father, they seem to enjoy scamming others (and perhaps each other?). Overall, Dallas is a solidly constructed soap opera, with strong dialogue and oily plot twists. Let the backstabbing (re)commence! B+