As much a surprise to you as it was to me, I recently found myself ridiculously excited about the return of Dallas to our screens - perhaps not to the same extent as John Barrowman, but excited nonetheless. I know that as a ‘serious’ film and television journalist I should be focusing my attention on more highbrow upcoming fare. But while I’m eagerly awaiting the likes of Rian Johnson’s Looper, PTA’s The Master and Terrence Malick’s To The Wonder (even though, apparently I’ve been cut out of the latter), god damn I found myself energised by the prospect of returning to Southfork.
“What’s a Southfork?” I hear you say, like Logan asking Professor X what a Magneto is. Well, it’s the sprawling ranch on which Dallas was set, and Dallas was the series ruled the airwaves as the biggest prime-time soap in the world during the '80s. It revolved around the Ewings, a wealthy and dysfunctional Texan family in the oil business who were constantly feuding over money, position and power. At the heart of said feuding was Patrick Duffy’s Bobby Ewing, the golden child and all-round nice guy, and Larry Hagman’s J.R. Ewing, Bobby’s scheming, show-stealing older brother.
Now, to be clear, I’m not quite old enough to really remember Dallas. That said, I definitely recall it being a permanent fixture on my parent’s telly growing up, to the extent that the retro title sequence and its theme tune takes me right back to a time where I was playing with action figures in the living room. Running from 1978 to 1991, there were 357 episodes aired over 13 years, which brought us backstabbing, Stetson hats and more ciffhangers than Sly Stallone’s best Renny Harlin movie.
Of course, the most famous of these was the season three climax, which saw JR shot by an unknown assailant. “Who shot JR?” was the biggest mystery in the world at the time, with everyone and their dog debating who pulled the trigger. After that, Dallas is perhaps best remembered for its infamous it-was-all-a-dream shocker, where the entire ninth season was written off as dream in order to bring back Bobby who’d been killed off. Yeah, Lost, put that in your sideways afterlife and smoke it.
But enough reminiscing already, what’s the new show like? At first I was worried, but the minute that iconic title sequence kicked in – all split-screens, aerial cattle shots and big, shiny buildings – you had the sense we were in fairly safe hands. Original cast members Patrick Duffy, Linda Gray (JR’s boozy wife Sue Ellen) and the simply irreplaceable Larry Hagman slip back into their old roles like they’ve never been away, and there are a few salty lines which smack of classic Dallas (“Blood may be thicker than water, but oil is thicker than both”). Sure, Hagman isn’t the spring oil magnate he once was, but as TV’s ultimate love-to-hate-him villain, he’s still completely magnetic to watch.
OK, I’d be lying if I said I loved the new cast additions, who give the show a Desperate Housewives feel (which is unsurprising, since a few are Housewives alumni). Still, the decision to focus on a new sibling rivalry between John Ross III (Josh Henderson) and Christopher Ewing (Jesse Metcalfe) is undoubtedly the right direction for the 2012 version. Elsewhere, we’ve also got Brenda Strong (yes, the deceased narrator of, you guessed it, Desperate Housewives) as the new Ewing Matriarch, and Jordana ‘Fast and Furious’ Brewster as one third of a love triangle. Sure, they’re all young, hot and attractive enough to pull in younger audiences, but personally the most interesting moments were those which saw Hagman’s wonderfully-arcing eyebrows spring back into life.
But while the old timers produce a few poignant moments (Patrick Duffy, as ever the heart of the show), the opening episode clunked slightly in places (see Christopher receiving bad news about his alternative energy project via webcam chat). Having now seen a handful of instalments, what follows is ultimately an assortment of soap clichés, sudsy melodrama and musical chair back-stabbing – but isn’t that what we want from Dallas? TV already has numerous highbrow series to get your intellectual teeth into, so there might be an opening for an addictive guilty pleasure. Cue the split-screens, aerial cattle shots and big shiny buildings…
But what do you think Empire readers? Can the formerly dormant Dallas return after 21 years? Do you even care? And if so, who’s going to shoot J.R. this time?