News that Dallas would return to the tube with Larry Hagman, Patrick Duffy and Linda Gray reprising their original roles sprung like oil suddenly burbling out of a dry Texas plain, and caused nearly as frenzied a reaction. Questions flew: Would all those old stars of the granddaddy of all prime-time soaps simply be bait to lure in viewers? Would they stick around for the real action? Would the Ewing clan seem passé two decades after the long-running original series came to an end?
And most important: How could Dallas, that Reagan-era relic that finished four seasons as the top-rated show on television in the 1980s and never ranked lower than 10th in the Nielsen ratings that decade, possibly recapture the magic?
Well, pardners, I can tell you, simply and unequivocally: They nailed it.
As it happened, my mother, who is 81, and daughter, who is 20, decided to join me to watch the new pilot. Soon all three of us were hooked — in fact, we powered through all seven available hours together during a single weekend. The new show is shameless, soapy and super-fun. In other words, it's Dallas.
We first rediscover J.R. Ewing in an assisted-living home, silent, staring ahead, purportedly deeply depressed. Is it giving too much away to say that looks can be deceiving? This is Dallas, after all, and one of the joys of the new series is watching the relish with which Hagman brings back his iconic, nasty, scheming, Texas-maxim-spouting oil man.
J.R.'s grown-up son is John Ross Ewing III, played by Josh Henderson, the charismatic 30-year-old of Desperate Housewives fame. Henderson is capable of shooting rage or fear right through you with his eyes, an essential trait for the spawn of J.R. — and the knife-edge-thin outlaw goatee is a nice touch.
See, here's the deal: John Ross is hellbent to extract the oil he knows still lies beneath Southfork. He has a team secretly drilling, guided by his beautiful and brainy geologist girlfriend, Elena (Jordana Brewster). Why is it secret? Because drilling on the ranch is explicitly forbidden in his grandmother, Miss Ellie's, will. And it's certainly against the wishes of his Uncle Bobby — Patrick Duffy back in great form, bringing depth and dimension to his beloved white knight of the Ewing clan. Bobby's adopted son Christopher (hunky 33-year-old Jesse Metcalfe, another Desperate Housewives alum) is an environmentalist opposed to drilling and aiming to put the Ewing name in the forefront of eco-friendly alternative fuel production.
John Ross and Christopher are at odds in more personal ways, too. They're both in love with Elena — Christopher's former fiancée, which must irk his wife, Rebecca (Julie Gonzalo). Nothing is ever simple for this family, is it? And it just gets worse — deliciously worse, I promise.
And what of Linda Gray's Sue Ellen, J.R.'s long-suffering ex-wife? Mama is all about helping her boy, and tells John Ross straightaway that her political connections might come in handy. Indeed. She's about to run for governor, y'all. And she's the sole underwriter of Elena's oil exploration project. Oh, what a tangled web.
Bobby's wife of seven years is Ann (Brenda Strong, also of Desperate Housewives), a new character for this show. She's smart and sensible, a tower of strength for Bobby. But she has a secret. Of course she has a secret.
Dallas devotees can also look forward to appearances by familiar faces from the first run, such as Ken Kercheval as Cliff Barnes, Charlene Tilton as Lucy Ewing, and Steve Kanaly as Ray Krebbs. Of course, fans have been asking about Bobby's first wife, Pam (Victoria Principal). At the end of the original series, Pam survived a fiery crash with a tanker truck — only to be told by doctors that she had only a year to live. In the real world, she presumably would have met her mortal end well before the new century.
But this is Dallas, a universe in which Pam once famously dreamed away an entire season just to erase the writers' bad-idea death of dear Bobby. Rumors of a Victoria Principal appearance have been all over the Internet. Sure, it would be nice to see Pam again, but trust me — once you're engrossed in all these boot-stompin' new storylines, you won't be missing her.
Just hold on tight.
You may also like: Bill Newcott's Entertainment Blog: Spinning Soaps on the Web.