A lot can happen between the creation of a TV pilot in the spring and the production of episodes for the regular season: a writing/producing team is hired, audience focus groups weigh in, networks and studios (which may have had their own turnover) give plenty of notes, helpful and otherwise, and critics begin to rear their ugly heads. The results can include changes to tone, pace, casting, and even story. Here at THE SKED, we’re going to look past the pilots and present reviews of the first regular season episodes as well.’
Previously… on DALLAS: J.R. Ewing (Larry Hagman) may be suffering from clinical depression, and his brother Bobby (Patrick Duffy) may have stomach cancer, but both leap at the opportunity to be at each others’ throats once again. Now they’re waging war through a new generation, and both have sons who are chips off the old block: JR’s son John Ross (Josh Henderson) is dependably evil, and Bobby’s adopted boy Christopher (Jesse Metcalfe) wants to do the right thing. At the moment, John Ross wants to get control of the family’s Southfork Ranch so he can drill for oil on the land, and he’s engineered a deal where Bobby will think he’s protecting the ranch by selling to a conservancy, but actually it’s going to allies of his and JR’s. Christopher, who believes in environmentally safe energy, wants to block the deal. Meanwhile, Elena (Jordana Brewster), John Ross’s girlfriend, is Christopher’s ex, and now that she knows Christopher didn’t dump her by email as she’d believed, she’s fallen for him again. But oops, Christopher’s just gotten married to Rebecca (Julie Gonzalo)–except double oops, Rebecca is actually a con woman whose brother Tommy (Collard Harris) is after the Ewing money.
Episode 2: In case the new Dallas didn’t have enough fossils, Ken Kercheval tottered in as Cliff Barnes, trying to convince Bobby and Christopher to sell Southfork to him, which doesn’t currently seem likely. Most of the episode, written by Co-Executive Producer Bruce Rasmussen and directed by Michael M. Robin, dealt with Bobby’s decision, now that he’s had a miracle procedure and is cancer-free (but it may recur, as ratings require), not to sell the Southfork after all. JR, who’d instantly forgiven John Ross for attempting to cut him out of the last version of the deal, came up with a new one: John Ross would threaten to reveal the dark secrets of the Ewings in court by challenging Miss Ellie’s (Barbara Bel Geddes, back in the old show) will. This immediately caused Bobby to cave in, which seemed either badly ill-motivated or the first step in yet another scheme. In any case, this one may be blocked by a family lawyer, who’s demanding a $5M bribe to put through the sale papers. Meanwhile, Elena was getting close to Christopher again (although he, being virtuous, was mostly resisting), and Rebecca was suffering a crisis of conscience about being a con woman, but it may be too late–at the end of the episode, John Ross found out that it was Rebecca who’d actually sent Elena the fake e-mail as Christopher dumping her.
Dallas feels terribly old-fashioned. Partly that’s because half the main characters are at least in their 60s, but it’s also due to the pace and flat simplicity of the dramaturgy. Even the attempted double- and triple-crosses are plain and uninteresting, revealed almost at once and not terribly surprising. There’s no suspense or ambiguity, because JR and John Ross will always be plotting whatever can bring them money and/or the Southfork, and neither can ever be vanquished or the show is over. Look, in comparison, at a new-generation Dallas-influenced soap like Revenge, where the antagonist characters of Emily and Victoria are drawn with some nuance, so that we’re never quite certain how evil they’ll be at a given moment or where they’ll draw the line, and we go back and forth on whether we can sympathize with them–that’s what gives the show its dramatic bite. The only thing that keeps the rebooted Dallas going is Hagman, who brings a wry pleasure to his own villainy. The rest of the cast is too straightforward for its own good, making them hard to care about, like or root for.
Dallas got off to a solid, if old-skewing, start for TNT last week, but that came after months of marketing and hype. We’ll find out very soon how many viewers really want to devote an hour of their weeks to the travails of the Southfork.
ORIGINAL VERDICT: If Nothing Else Is On…
PILOT + 1: Like Time Spent In the Soap Opera Old Folks’ Home