'Dallas' Heats Up Summer TV
Published: Wednesday, June 20, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, June 20, 2012 11:06
The hit drama Dallas was the quintessential guilty pleasure of the late 1970’s. The term still applies to TNT’s latest incarnation of the original, which had its two-hour premiere Wednesday night.
This new summer series is not a reboot but a continuation of the previous show. The original had a very lengthy 14-season run from 1978 until 1991 in which it reigned as a ratings juggernaut — it was the most-watched series on television for three years — and a huge cultural phenomenon. It had one of television’s first great cliffhangers in its “Who Shot J.R.?” season finale, which left America guessing all summer long. That series was, in many ways, revolutionary, even down to its basic premise: a soap opera shot with the money of a primetime series. It clearly paved the way for such modern hits as Grey’s Anatomy and Desperate Housewives.
To expect this new Dallas to captivate viewers and capture the zeitgeist of the times as effectively as the original series would be to set oneself up for disappointment. It cannot be as big as the original simply because the nighttime soap opera has become a staple of prime time schedules, making its concept much less novel. Also, the new Dallas airs on cable, which inherently makes for fewer viewers.
Yet, the show actually does well with what it has. I came into it fully believing I would be handed a waste of time — a shallow drama featuring bad acting and a ridiculous plot. Though the pilot did end up having its fair share of bad acting (coming almost entirely from Jordana Brewster), I actually found the episode very enjoyable and incredibly addicting.
The show benefits tremendously from the fact that it has such strong roots. Understanding that the famous main character J.R. Ewing is evil and that his brother, Bobby, is anything but should come quickly to most people, even those who were not alive during the original’s run. These characters and the never-ending feud between them has been parodied in many hit television shows, including The Simpsons (who spent two entire episodes poking fun at the show) and Family Guy. We learn almost immediately in the pilot of the new show that the fight between J.R. and Bobby for control of the ranch Bobby owns — recently found to be brimming with oil underneath its surface — will continue to be the central focus of the show. Now, however, they share screen time with each of their sons, who, as it happens to be, also hate each other.
And that’s it. That is all the show is — a long and arduous fight for land between two sets of father and son. There are some romantic flings and affairs thrown in, of course, but the father-son matchups are the central thrust of the series, making it a good hour of mindless entertainment. This show is no Boardwalk Empire or even Dexter; there are no details that need one’s full attention. Rather, it is so blatantly a contest between good and evil that it becomes quite exciting. The tension is always building, and there are no shades of grey to any character that might make choosing the side you root for confusing. It is a show that relishes in being purposefully simple — a soap opera on wheels — and there’s something admirable about that.
My dad, who remembers watching Dallas during its original run, found this new version just as fun and engaging. Coming from an old-time fan, this is certainly commendable. And now, consider me a fan as well — it is summer TV at its best.