TV NotesClassic prime-time soap 'Dallas' returns on TNT for another round of Texas maneuvering
By David Hinckley, New York Daily News
- Jun. 10, 2012
As we return to Southfork Ranch this Wednesday night, some 20 years after the original epic prime-time soap “Dallas” rode into the Texas sunset, things look downright serene.
J.R. Ewing (Larry Hagman), the ultimate capitalist who steered the Ewing family to wealth and influence with little regard for the moral consequences, sits in a chair looking out at the land.
He seems oblivious to everything around him, including the arrival of brother Bobby (Patrick Duffy). For years, J.R. and Bobby had a kind of “Godzilla vs. Megalon”-scale battle, but now that J.R. seems to be out of the game, Bobby graciously tells him he’s still kin and that matters.
Bobby, meanwhile, is arranging to carry out the wishes of their mother, the late Miss Ellie, and sell Southfork to a conservation organization so its rolling fields can be forever preserved as nature, not an ugly patchwork of money-making oil rigs.
And if you believe for one second this is how the second “Dallas” go-round will remain, you have learned nothing from history.
“The thing about everything in ‘Dallas,’ ” says Josh Henderson, who plays J.R.’s son John Ross in this new TNT production, “is that at any moment, it can all blow up in everyone’s face.
“That’s one of the things I like about it.”
TNT is banking on viewers feeling the same way — and that’s certainly how they felt during the first incarnation of “Dallas,” which was one of the TV phenomena of the ’70s and ’80s.
The “Who shot J.R.?” cliffhanger in 1980 kept enough viewers buzzing all summer that the episode in the fall that answered the question drew TV’s highest-ever audience (until “M*A*S*H” edged ahead a few years later).
Hagman himself, however, suggested this year that the success didn’t make his head too big for his Stetson hat.
“You’ve got to realize that when ‘Dallas’ was really hot,” he said, “we were in a major recession, and people couldn’t go out and get a baby-sitter and have dinner and go to a movie. They couldn’t afford it. So they had to stay in on Friday nights and watch something.”
He’s being modest, which isn’t always J.R.’s style.
Nor has the character lost any of his attitude over the past 20 years. Or any of his TV stature.
Henderson, referring to a scene where J.R. slaps him, calls it “an honor.”
Cynthia Cidre, the executive producer who wrote the pilot episode for the new version, said her vow was that it would not “devolve into camp or cheap melodrama.”
Duffy, for one, says he’s buying in.
He says he, Hagman and Linda Gray, who also returns as John Ross’ mother, Sue Ellen, had dinner in early 2011 with Cidre and director Michael Robin.
“They laid out their respect for the original show,” says Duffy, “and their determination to maintain that quality. They have been absolutely flawless in keeping that promise.”
Bringing back the three original “Dallas” principals does create a few challenges, and Cidre says she hopes to integrate the new cast members with the veterans.
That means the show won’t be serving up two separate story lines. As a practical plan, it gives the new show a better shot at attracting a new audience, not just people who watched the first edition.
Of the new characters, the two most prominent are Henderson’s John Ross and Christopher, Bobby’s adopted son, played by Jesse Metcalfe.
It’s not a big spoiler to say that each of these boys has a lot of his father in him, so the J.R.-Bobby rivalry that always fueled the show in some ways now becomes a tag-team match.
Equally intriguing, though, because “Dallas” has always featured strong female characters, are the two younger men’s love interests.
Julie Gonzalo plays Rebecca, Christopher’s fiancée. Jordana Brewster plays Elena, John Ross’ girlfriend and, oh yes, Christopher’s former fiancée.
One would expect no less in a Ewing family drama.
But Elena, says Brewster, isn’t quite like any Ewing women past or present.
“I think she’s a good and moral character,” says Brewster. “She still cares about Christopher, and she’s very loyal to Bobby. But at the same time, she’s in love with John Ross, who is not always a moral character.
“So you have no idea where the character is going.”
Brewster says she understands that concept of uncertainty.
She’s been a regular in the “Fast and Furious” movies, and she says doing movies puts TV in a whole different perspective.
“In a movie, when you start you know where you’re going,” she says. “In TV, you have no idea.”
Henderson adds that viewers shouldn’t assume their first impressions of the new characters will prove accurate.
“John Ross isn’t a bad guy,” says Henderson. “He just feels that his mission is bringing the Ewing name back to the top.
“By all means necessary."
One footnote to this “Dallas” is that three new cast members, including Metcalfe and Brenda Strong as Bobby’s wife, Ann, are from “Desperate Housewives” — a prime-time soap that might not have existed if “Dallas” hadn’t paved the path.
Strong played Mary Alice Young, who shot herself at the beginning of that series and was later heard only in voice-over — which she says helps her enormously now.
“I feel extremely blessed that I’m not associated by face, because I think it’s given me the opportunity to step into this really cleanly,” says Strong.
“I am aware that I’m filling some big shoes in being Bobby’s wife. People love Bobby Ewing, and they want this man to have some joy in his life. So I’m very excited to be a part of this, and I think people will forgive my past history on that other show.”
Metcalfe’s reflection on his “Housewives” connection is more succinct.
“I’ll outrun it eventually,” he says. “Not to say I’m not thankful.”
Since the original “Dallas” ran 357 episodes over 14 seasons, even a fraction of that could rebrand a guy nicely.
Or, of course, it could blow up in everyone’s face.http://www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/television/classic-soap-dallas-returns-tnt-texas-maneuvering-article-1.1089537