If you were a fan of the original “Dallas,” once you hear that iconic theme song start in the new TNT iteration — complete with split-screen images — resistance may be futile.
Like Pavlov’s dog, the sweeping tune will have you salivating at the idea of more epic Ewing family conflict on Southfork Ranch, as the new show picks up the saga 21 years later.
Little has changed. Greed is still a driving force for the devilish J.R. Ewing (Larry Hagman) and his similarly money-minded son John Ross (Josh Henderson). J.R.’s brother Bobby (Patrick Duffy) remains the soul of Southfork and his son Christopher (Jesse Metcalfe) has likewise not fallen far from his tree. As J.R. and Bobby once battled, John Ross and Christopher are now at odds. John Ross wants to drill for oil on the grounds of Southfork against the wishes expressed by his dead grandmother Miss Ellie, while Christopher is investigating methods of alternative energy. Though Christopher is set to marry Rebecca (Julie Gonzalo), he has lingering feelings for Elena (Jordana Brewster), who is now romantically entangled with John Ross.
The series will likely be a pass for everyone except those with a high tolerance for nighttime soap conventions — characters not asking obvious questions, double and triple crosses — that are as old as melodrama itself but were buffed to a high gloss in the ’80s by the original “Dallas” and its brethren.
That crowd should feel no need to resist. No matter how stiff some of the younger actors portraying the new generation of Ewings may be, or how silly some of the plot twists, the heart of this new iteration is in the right escapist place.
The main reason for anyone to watch is Hagman, a marvel at 80. Though the effects of his battle with cancer are evident in his smaller frame, there is nothing minuscule about his gleeful performance.
J.R. begins the new series depressed, counting the tiles in an assisted living facility. But when news comes that Bobby wants to sell Southfork to conservationists even though there’s oil on the land, greed shocks J.R. back into the game and Hagman slides under his Stetson as if no time has passed. He remains up to the challenge of playing the mischievous, love-to-hate-him character, whose ruthlessness is so pure that he’ll hornswoggle his own family simply because his cleverness at outwitting them amuses him.
Duffy and Linda Gray are in good form as upstanding Bobby and duplicitous Sue Ellen. Other familiar faces pop up in the pilot including Lucy Ewing (Charlene Tilton) and foreman Ray Krebbs (Steve Kanaly).
The passage of time may have just given us charitable memories of the original series, but the writing here, at least in the pilot, feels like the weakest link. The J.R. one-liners tend to satisfy, but everything else is boilerplate, which hampers the younger cast. Hopefully, now that exposition is out of the way, as the series progresses the writers will drill a little deeper.