'Dallas': In with the Old, Out with the New

Howdy folks! Who among us watched the big premiere of the new, updated Dallas on TNT last night? We certainly did, and boy is that a soapy, self-serious affair. Which doesn't mean it's bad, exactly.

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Howdy folks! Who among us watched the big premiere of the new, updated Dallas on TNT last night? We certainly did, and boy is that a soapy, self-serious affair. Which doesn't mean it's bad, exactly.

This isn't some newfangled reboot, mind you. This is just More Dallas. Original cast members Patrick Duffy, Linda Gray, and Larry Hagman all loom large on the show, a respectable choice in the usually old people-wary world of television (RIP Samantha Jones). But of course there is also The Next Generation, a quartet of brown-haired people who are basically all the same person. Strip mall hunks Jesse Metcalfe and Josh Henderson (who looks like he was made from DNA they scraped off the old Baywatch sets) play dueling cousins Christopher and John Ross, Metcalfe the do-gooder son of Duffy's Bobby, Henderson the scheming scion of Hagman's devious J.R. They both have main squeezes; there's a perky lawyer played by Julie Gonzalo for Christopher, and a brilliant oil finder (who has a romantic past with Christopher) played by Jordana Brewster for John Ross. These youngsters are supposed to be sexy and alluring, and they sort of are in a theoretical way, but mostly they're grim reminders of the older cast's mortality and the bland formula needs of television.

The intrigue of the series — well, there are several intrigues, but the main one — concerns John Ross and Brewster's Elena finding oil on the Ewings' South Fork ranch, much to Bobby's anger. This land was supposed to be protected from drilling, and John Ross went behind the family's back. Bobby is dying of some sort of stomach cancer and wants to sell the land to a conservancy as one final act of good, but obviously his nephew would prefer to get rich off of all the black gold under their feet. (Elena explains that the type of oil under South Fork is the best kind of oil. And she would know. She has a laptop!) Meanwhile Christopher is trying to hawk alternative fuel sources to investors, mainly a frozen methane found in far reaches of the globe. The only catch with this wonder substance is that the drilling operation seems to be causing earthquakes. Like, secret earthquakes that he's trying to keep under wraps. Is that a thing that can happen? Secret earthquakes? I don't think that's an actual thing. But whatever, the point is that the show is trying to be sleek and modern with computer espionage and environmental issues and the like, but the show's inherent silliness renders these contemporary, issue-y elements all the sillier.

Overall, Dallas 2.0 is going for a more muscular, more serious tone. The show is filmed with a dark polish that does not immediately conjure up memories of the old version, and musical montages come freighted with mournful Adele tunes. This ain't your daddy's Dallas! Except when, y'know, it is. Because J.R. and Bobby are there, somewhat reconciled but still duking it out internally. It's sad to see Hagman forced to say lines like "Old fogies like me don't email," but I guess that's just what these modern times require. I joked last night that I wanted to hear what these old characters, out here in the contemporary world, think about gay marriage and 9/11, but sadly I don't think it's that unlikely that we'll eventually get that information. Nü Dallas makes respectably serious glances back to the past, but mostly it is very concerned with being a with-it, nowadays show, something  textured and smart and expansive. "A look into the oil business" or "A study of land ownership" or something. Obviously the show knows where its soapy roots lie, and it doesn't eschew them entirely, but it's also got bigger, more prestige-y ambitions, at times heavily swinging for the fences. This thing wants to be taken seriously. Not The Wire seriously, but maybe Big Love seriously. Why else would a major plot point of the series premiere be about finding a land conservancy worthy of South Fork? Land conservancy?? What is this, Frontline?? It's hard to tell whether we should respect the show's attempts at something bigger or scoff them off as embarrassing hubris. Last night I basically did both in equal measure.

It will be interesting to see how Dallas resonates with viewers. Will it be a hit? I suspect the first few episodes will, out of sheer curiosity, but I don't know if there's enough to keep people interested once the nostalgia wears off. Metcalfe and Henderson are anything but engaging actors — their catalog model good looks are their chief selling points as actors, they have been since their mutual Desperate Housewives days, so watching them sputter and emote and smolder like Real Actors they've seen is akin to watching a mediocre scene study in some Hollywood Boulevard acting class. Gonzalo and Brewster are no master thespians themselves, and are given thin material to work with. Gonzalo especially, who hopefully will break out of the boring supportive girlfriend/wife ghetto at some point. The old-timers are all as they always have been. Hagman's got his grampa growl, Duffy has that hushed and whispery earnestness that serves him well, and Linda Gray, whose Sue Ellen may be running for governor, is clearly tickled to be strutting around like Ann Richards. (Or Kay Bailey Hutchison? Her politics are unclear.) The seniors are so much more relaxed and defined than their eager, desperate young screen partners that you hope the show keeps them in the game. Hopefully they won't get the same treatment the elders got on 90210, which exploitatively trotted out some original cast members for press reasons, only to cruelly jettison them a few months later. Hagman, Duffy, and Gray are the leathery heart of this show, and TNT and company would be wise to remember it.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.