Fire up your Porsche, gitcher Stetson, and head on over to the Oil Baron’s Ball, bitches. The Ewing clan, in all their glorious dysfunction, is back in our lives. And y’know? The show is a hell of a lot better than a Dallas remake has any right to be.
It’s good. It’s not Mad Men-level good; but it’s a pretty decent summertime cable soap opera helped along by an infusion of the DNA of a much better (for a time, anyway) network soap opera from the Golden Age of nighttime soaps. In other words, there’s a decent cast and a pretty decent setup for story, but let’s face it, the screen comes alive when Bobby, Sue-Ellen, and J.R. show up.
Bobby is still the sappy good guy he’s always been, completely unaware of any of his brother’s scheming, even though he’s spent most of his life opposing him. Bobby is in charge of Southfork now, and runs it with his wife, Not-Pam, who sips coffee a lot and occasionally pulls out a shotgun. We hate Not-Pam and her drapey sweaters and semi-weepy ways. She’s okay when she’s armed, but otherwise, she acts like she’s waiting for the Lifetime Television for Women Bus to come and pick her up so she can be dropped off in a movie of the week. Bobby is dying of cancer and, because this is a soap opera, tells no one. Not-Pam figures it out through superior detective skills, like accidentally tripping over a bottle of Bobby’s pills. Her eyes fill with tears. That happens a lot. Also: horses.
Sue-Ellen has a face of SCIENCE. She’s also considering a run for governor and is preparing for it by wearing really tight dresses that show off her cleavage. We suppose that will be helpful when her years of public alcoholism and arrest for shooting her husband come up during the campaign. Sue-Ellen has moved on from J.R. and shows her superior getting-on-with-it skills by agreeing to fund the heretofore-unseen oil drilling plans of the daughter of the cook at Southfork. Really. Never even looks at a proposal; it’s all just “I’ll have my lawyer send you a bag of money” and the deal is done.
J.R. is very old and living in a nursing home. No matter what else the show did with its premiere, that one image was enough to justify the story. It was a brilliant way to kick things off and while his depression was almost as disconcerting as his EYEBROWS OF DELICIOUS EVIL, it was great fun to see him practically leap out of his seat and into a waiting Stetson upon hearing the news that his idiot brother plans on selling Southfork. We question the idea of hanging a new show on the shoulders of an actor as aged as Larry Hagman, but goddamn if his performance wasn’t a pleasure to watch. Hagman, you can tell, really enjoys the hell out of J.R. and consequently, his J.R. enjoys the hell out of life – when it’s going his way. But let’s face it; it’s always going his way.
Yes, there are schemes within schemes and double, triple, and possibly even quadruple-crosses going on. At one point, a hidden camera was revealed as two characters had sex. “Why is there…?” asked Lorenzo. “It’s Dallas,” replied Tom. “Every hotel room has hidden cameras in them; just like every office has a safe.” Once you accept the world these characters live in (and why shouldn’t you?), it’s fun to watch the show indulge in pretty much every night time soap opera trope, from land deals to oil deals to dramatic weddings to tragic romantic triangles, it’s all set up quite efficiently in the first hour.
But the show isn’t quite about the Old Guard. They’re all serving important functions and driving the action in a lot of ways, but that’s because they hold all the money. The real drama is playing out among the Ewing second generation; in this case, J.R. and Sue-Ellen’s son John Ross and Pam and Bobby’s son Christopher. John Ross is, no surprise at all, a schemer like his father, and Christopher is a wide-eyed naif with big plans and impressive tits. In other words, he’s the 2012 version of 1981 Bobby. John Ross wants to drill on Southfork and the ghost of Miss Ellie intoning “There will be no drilling on my land!” hung over the proceedings. Or at least her will, which states “There will be no drilling on my land!” did. Christopher wants to extract methane from the sea floor as an alterna–zzzzzzzz. Whatever. You know his plan’s going to fail. You also know his marriage is. But this is Dallas, after all. You watch because you want to see wealthy, attractive people have their plans fail and their personal lives implode.
We didn’t go into this with sky-high expectations, but it turned out to be pretty much as enjoyable as any episode of Revenge, its distant grandchild. And the best part is, if you’re someone (like us) who really doesn’t remember many of the details of the original show, or even if you’re someone who never saw it at all, it won’t affect your enjoyment in the slightest. It may be the same old story of Ewing vs. Ewing for all the oil, but it’s freshened up with new faces and virtually no references to old stories. You could come into this cold and get a handle on everything within the first hour. That may be the most impressive part of the script; that it kept it all so fresh.
It’s summer and this looks like fun, so we’ll be blogging it, if you want to catch up.
And Larry Hagman’s eyebrows deserve their own credit and possible Emmy nomination.
[Photo Credit: Zade Rosenthal/TNT]