‘Dallas’ Brings Back the Drama

Reboots of classic television shows are becoming increasingly common these days. In most cases, these programs are doomed from the start. For every Battlestar Galactica, there are plenty of Charlie’s Angels.

Just don’t lump in TNT’s Dallas with the reboot pile.

Dallas is, as everyone involved with the production insists, a continuation of the groundbreaking primetime soap. Original cast members Larry Hagman, Patrick Duffy and Linda Gray are part of the main cast in this new production, where they join new stars Jesse Metcalfe, Josh Henderson, Jordana Brewster, Julie Gonzalo and Brenda Strong.

In this version of Dallas, the drama centers around cousins Christopher (Metcalfe) and John Ross Ewing (Henderson), the respective sons of brothers JR (Hagman) and Bobby (Duffy). Each cousin shares many of their characteristics with their respective fathers. John Ross, like JR, is more concerned with money and power; Christopher, meanwhile, shares his father’s concern about the family’s Southfork Ranch and the family name.

Along with DynastyDallas was one of the original primetime soaps. With a run that includes the original miniseries, thirteen subsequent seasons, and three made-for-TV movies, Dallas left its mark on network television over multiple decades. The landmark “Who Shot JR?” cliffhanger alone is largely responsible for so many programs ending seasons on dramatic scenes.

Fast-forwarding twenty years after the show originally left the airwaves, the new series feels in many ways like a modern spin on the original. While the drama that filled the original is still present, the show takes advantage of its place in the 21st century, as well as its place on a cable network. Unlike the original show’s season orders, which went as high as 31 episodes for the show’s ninth season, Dallas in its 2012 form works with a relatively sparse ten episodes. The order works to the show’s advantage, allowing the writers to keep track of storylines more efficiently than a larger order might allow.

Dallas’ new cast members more or less grow into their roles quickly. As the two leads of the show, Metcalfe and Henderson have enough command of the screen to get through their scenes, though it’s difficult to watch the two without comparing them to their screen fathers.

Brewster also acquits herself nicely as Elena, Christopher’s former fiancée who is now dating John Ross. Gonzalo is a bit weaker as Christopher’s current fiancée, Rebecca, though later episodes find her gaining a better sense of her character. Strong, meanwhile, finally gets to act in front of the camera after voicing Mary Alice on Desperate Housewives for eight seasons, and her role as Bobby’s new wife, Ann, is a potentially meaty role for the actress.

The strength of the show, though, lies with its ties to the past. The decision to bring back the three most prominent of the original show’s cast was a wise decision. Duffy’s return as Bobby Ewing is probably the most notable, mainly because his character is as integral to the show as the new leads’. While her appearances are less in quantity, Gray also brings plenty to the table with a version of Sue Ellen Ewing that seems more mature than the original program’s version.

The show really doesn’t take off, though, without the man who grabbed America’s attention during the 80s. Larry Hagman’s JR Ewing is still an electric presence, absolutely dominating every one of his scenes. At 80, Hagman still possesses more charisma and magnetism than actors a third his age. His presence elevates Dallas in its 2012 form as much as it did during its original run.

Whether audiences will respond to Dallas is something that will be hard to judge. Fans of the original will have a reason to turn in with the original cast, and with three of the five new cast members having worked as series regulars on Desperate Housewives (Strong, Metcalfe and Henderson), fans of that program may have an incentive to tune in as well. It’s worth testing, at least.

Dallas premieres with back-to-back episodes Wednesday, June 13 at 9 p.m. on TNT.

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