Dallas: Collateral Damage

Posted on July 19, 2012

Well, so much for our ability to pick the standout characters. There we were, watching the latest episode of Dallas and happily tweeting whatever smartass comments pop into our heads, MST3K-style, when Marta-Veronica appeared once again on our screens. “We think Marta is our favorite new character,” we twatted. “How can we not love a crazy bitch in 6-inch heels?” Two minutes later, Martaronica was dead. Dammit. They couldn’t throw Elena out a window? Although we have to say, we did love that they took the classic soap opera route of depicting insanity: messy hair and smeared eye makeup. If the real world was anything like the world of the soap opera, every single gal making the Walk of Shame would be temporarily insane.

So Martaronica becomes the first new cast member to get the classic Dallas showy death treatment. In retrospect, it couldn’t have happened any other way. Of course the crazy one was going to take a fall. We were just hoping for some more crazy on the way out.

One of the more interesting developments of the new series – and an idea that took center stage in the story last night – is that John Ross, for all his smirking, his pedigree, and his mustache-twirling, is no mastermind. In fact, he’s a bit of a mess and a fuckup. Several critics have noted – and we agree – that it would have been a bit less expected and more interesting if Bobby’s son was the devious asshole and J.R.’s son was the sappy sentimentalist. But the show may be doing something slightly more subversive than that. Bobby’s son is the sentimental one with lofty goals, just like his father, but he’s also a bit of an asshole himself; stubborn, imperious, childish and defensive. Bobby may have had his flaws back in the day but for the most part, he was a halo-wearing good guy.

John Ross, on the other hand, is trying his best to be his Daddy’s boy, but at every turn, he appears to be in over his head. And while we question the reasons he pursued her in the first place, it seems he really does love Elena and cares quite deeply about her. J.R., as the new show has deliciously reminded us, was always to-the-bone evil; capable of shocking acts of cruelty and treachery even against members of his own family. Charming as hell; sure, but there was never any question which side of the divide he fell on. In other words, J.R. was never really an anti-hero or the villain you want to root for. He’s always been just a flat-out evil son of a bitch blessed with a quick wit and a flair for living well. John Ross is a guy with a fucked-up childhood who’s trying his best to make a name for himself in a family that demands its members all make names for themselves. He’s not a saint, but you can understand a little why he is the way he is.

It’s to the show’s credit that it’s making the attempt – and largely succeeding – in giving these characters shades of gray. Before it gave into the excesses of ’80s prime time soap operas, Dallas was presented more as a family drama. The new show is doing a pretty damn good job of taking the concept back to its late ’70s roots while tipping its hat to the ’80s excesses it was know for. As we’ve noted several times, it’s done a good job of continuing the generational themes of the earlier version. What’s slowly becoming clear, however, is that it’s also dealing with the idea of family dysfunction, but in a subtle, non-preachy sort of way. Christopher is defensive about his adoption and about Pam abandoning him. John Ross is clearly deeply damaged by both his parents; something all three of them openly agree on. What’s nice about all this is that it makes so damn much sense. There’s nothing forced about it. It’s a logical progression of all of the characters from their ’80s versions. You get the sense – and sometimes it’s stated outright – just how damaged all these people are after decades of Ewing bullshit. It’s never overplayed, but it adds some earned pathos to the proceedings, even as crazy ladies are being thrown out of high rise windows.

And somehow, this is all working with Not-Pam and her slimy ex-husband, too. They just feel like they belong in the cast. Better: they feel like they would have fit in quite well 30 years ago too. Did we call it on the dead baby, or what? Then again, maybe there will be some twist and the baby is ALIVE! And pregnant with Christopher’s twins! And one of those twins is EVIL.

Okay, maybe we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

It’s funny, though. It seems like our so-called “recaps” of this show never actually get around to recapping it. For us, it’s just a fun show to chat about the next day. What’s so appealing about the new Dallas is that it’s a show that knows what it is, knows where its strengths lie, and just goes about the business of giving it to the audience. We’re surprised at how much we’re enjoying it.

Next week: Evil people with accents cause trouble for the Ewings! John Ross does something else stupid. Christopher flares his nostrils and gives caveman face. Elena says or does something, but most of the audience dozes off momentarily. Not-Pam shows her ugly cry-face again. Bobby snaps and bitchslaps everyone. Marta’s even crazier twin sister shows up for VENGEANCE.

We can dream, can’t we?

Also: LUCY EWING IN THE HOUSE, BITCHES. She’s spent the last 30 years smokin’ and drinkin’ and she’s got the voice and the attitude to prove it. The lady ain’t taking no shit from nobody.

 

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