June 14, 2012



DALLAS – Wednesday 9PM on TNT:  If Nothing Else Is On…


DALLAS is a gusher, all right.  TNT’s disinterment of the 1980s blockbuster soap is loaded with so many emptily portentous glares and melodramatic reaction shots that it might almost be a telenovela.

In 1978, the year the original Dallas went on the air, the Emmy Award for Best Drama went to The Rockford Files.  And no offense to that very enjoyable detective show, but it’s a long way from there to the current TV landscape of Mad Men, Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, Homeland and all the other truly excellent dramas routinely delivered by television these days.  (That’s not to say 1978 was a barren year for drama–Family and Lou Grant were other nominees that year.  But TV was about 3 years away from the debut of Hill Street Blues, which would begin the journey to what we think of as modern-day television drama.)  Even a show squarely in the Dallas genre like Revenge is comparatively sophisticated and mulutilayered.  The Dallas revamp, while technically set in 2012, is much creakier than that.

The pilot, written (in 2-part form) by new series creator Cynthia Cidre and directed by Michael M. Robin, sets things up all too neatly.   Evil JR Ewing (Larry Hagman) has an evil son named John Ross (Josh Henderson).  JR’s brother, good Bobby Ewing (Patrick Duffy) has a good son–adopted, his actual paternity isn’t clear–named Christopher (Jesse Metcalfe).  Like descendants of Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner, the new generation chases each other around exactly as their daddies did (and do).  The specifics involve John Ross wanting to drill for oil on the Ewings’ Southfork Ranch, and Christopher wanting to use the family fortune to develop new, environmentally safe (if they only didn’t cause catastrophic earthquakes!) energy sources, if that matters.

There’s always a woman, who in this case is Elena (Jordana Brewster).  The cook’s daughter at Southfork, she’d been engaged to Christopher, until dumped by an e-mail she believed came from him.  (Probably not.)  She instantly bounced into John Ross’ s arms, although that may not last long.  Christopher, believing he was the one who’d been dumped, found and has married Rebecca (Julie Gonzalo), who may be too sweet to be true.

There isn’t very much more to Dallas in its first 2 hours, and that’s a problem.  Cidre’s script heaps almost all the plot (I think we’re up to a quintuple-cross) on the character of Marta del Sol (Leonor Varela), who is variously manipulating and being manipulated by most of the cast in her attempt to purchase Southfork.  Other than that, the characters just snarl at each other and pose for the camera,while Cidre and Robin try to make up for the lack of real drama by overediting routine dialogue scenes.

In rebooting the show, TNT made the decision to involve the older generation as much as the new characters, and so Hagman, Duffy, and Linda Gray (Sue Ellen, JR’s wife, in case you’ve forgotten) are regulars, and Charlene Tilton and Ken Kerchival turned up in the pilot.  This makes for a riot of plastic surgery–which, to be sure, one can justify by saying that these rich, superficial people (I mean the characters) are exactly the sort to have had tons of work done in the ensuing decades, but it still leaves us with a cast who largely can’t move their faces.  Nevertheless, at 80 years old, Hagman is far spryer than anyone else on screen, still able to give some extra self-amused zing to every menacing quip. (Duffy and Gray are the same as ever too, but that’s less good news.)

No one in the younger generation makes much of an impression.  Both Metcalfe and Henderson are veterans of Desperate Housewives, but that show had a level of parody that Dallas lacks–here, all the dialogue is flatly straightforward, and neither seems capable of giving it any spin.  Brewster acts with her cheekbones, and one can only hope Gonzalo gets more interesting once we know who Rebecca really is.

Even forgetting about comparisons to today’s high-powered quality dramas, Dallas feels clunky next to basic serials like The Client List and Private Practice.  Its old-fashioned pace and feel make it seem literally like your grandparents’ soap opera.  The show is an OK time-waster for midweek summer nights when Royal Pains and Necessary Roughness are the only other scripted series around, but its days of being a nationwide phenomenon (the final episode in 1991, long past the show’s peak, had a 22 rating and 38 share, numbers that would make any contemporary programmer weak at the knees) remain back in the days when it shared the airwaves with Donny & Marie and Little House On the Prairie.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."