While fans of the original series Dallas may not be favored with an opening shot of Bobby Ewing (Patrick Duffy) turning toward us mid-shower, as TNT rolls out the much-publicized sequel to the 1978-1991 prime-time soap opera with back-to-back episodes tonight, they are certain to emerge with that old, familiar feeling.
The lawsuits! The fist fights! Sex, sex, and more sex for young and old! Threats to Southfork Ranch, from both beyond the fence line and within! Duffy, who left the show briefly in 1985 for other, not-so-green pastures, soon ambled home to the ranch in a 1986 season eight opener featuring an unperturbed Bobby in his morning shower, wet green eyes and benevolence, indicating that the last season had been a dream sequence of his wife Pamela (Victoria Principal), and by extension, of viewers as well. Fans were left either laughing or furious, depending on how seriously one took the weekly visit with the battling Ewing clan. Principal chose not to return for this newest incarnation of the show that made her a tabloid, er, household name.
In fact, there is more continuity in this return to Southfork than one has any right to expect. Some elements are no brainers, like the split-screen title sequence under a galloping theme song by the venerable Jerrold Immel. But others are more subtle, triggering memories of 22-year-old foreshadowing. As rival cousins Christopher Ewing (Jesse Metcalfe) and John Ross Ewing (a wild-eyed Josh Henderson) resurrect the trusty theme of good vs. evil as the sons of fraternal antagonists J.R. Ewing (Larry Hagman) and Bobby Ewing (Patrick Duffy), they face off over both modern themes like unsound environmental practices ("fracking") and the coming obsolescence of oil, as well as the never-tired propositions of illicit sex and money. All of which is familiar territory, especially as viewers are suddenly reminded of a growing distance between the cousins as boys in 1991. While the faces of original cast members have aged, the lack of plastic surgery in those quarters has paid off for viewers who will see J.R.'s wife, a beleaguered former Miss Texas and recovering addict, Sue Ellen Ewing (Linda Gray, still in fast cars and cashmere), twist and contort her considerable jaw in ways she never could have in the 1980s. (The exception to the relative merits of natural aging is Patrick Duffy, whose ever-desperate droop evokes that of a bloodhound.)
Saving the best for last, viewers are finally reunited with a catatonic J.R., who's been hospitalized indefinitely for clinical depression. Innovations in trickery remain up his sleeve however, as he listens to Bobby's frequent confessions in profile: His pale, hawk eyes are just as they were, sheltered still by now enormous awnings of white eyebrows, waiting with the patience of a cobra to strike. The only disappointment for us was the much-anticipated performance by a somehow homogenized Jordana Brewster (As the World Turns; The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning), as Elena Ramos, John Ross' betrothed who, naturally, has a history with Christopher, and is the daughter of a ranch cook. Julie Gonzalo as Christopher's intended ingenue, Rebecca Sutter, exudes the same infuriating innocence that Victoria Principal brought to the role of Pamela. Bobby's current wife, Ann Ryland Ewing, as played with appropriate altruism by Brenda Strong, rounds out the newest of the Ewing characters.
Fans hoping for the tone and visual details of days gone by coupled with new twists in the right places won't be disappointed. The show genuinely feels and sounds like the previous Dallas, except with a jazzier production, such as the sweeping helicopter panoramas of tiny horses running on expanses of pasture that were a mainstay POV of the original series, and which are gorgeously photographed. Gone are the frumpy interiors at Southfork, replaced by a fantasy of hardwoods and crown mouldings. The Texas accents are better this time around, and references to Texas life ring truer. As a swarthy roughneck responds to a wad of hush money from John Ross, "Betting against J.R.'s son woulda been like betting against the Dallas Cowboys, downright unpatriotic!" TNT's Dallas reboot premieres tonight at 8pm.
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