February 24, 2014

THE SKED Season Premiere Review: “Dallas”


DALLAS:  Monday 9PM on TNT

The ratings didn’t collapse for the reincarnated DALLAS when it had to weather the loss of Larry Hagman and his iconic character J.R. Ewing last season, so the show is back.  Without Hagman, the plot machinations keep churning along, but based on tonight’s Season 3 premiere, it all feels more mechanical and soulless than it did when he was around.

The hour, written by reboot creator Cynthia Cidre and Executive Producer Robert Rovner, and directed by Steve Robin, picks up 12 hours after the events of last year’s finale, and it finds the characters scheming against each other without so much as a coffee break.  In theory, the main antagonists are the representatives of the new generation, JR’s son John Ross (Josh Henderson) and Christopher (Jesse Metcalfe), son of Bobby Ewing (still Patrick Duffy after all these years), although as the season begins they’re co-owners of Ewing Global and attempting to partner on an Arctic initiative.  By the first commercial break, John Ross has proposed to Pamela (Julie Gonzalo), who used to be married to Christopher, and who’s actually the daughter of old Ewing foe Cliff Barnes (Ken Kercheval), who the family, at JR’s behest, framed last season for JR’s murder, and who’s now serving a supposed life sentence in a Mexican prison.  John Ross needs control of Pamela’s stock, hence the marriage, but meanwhile he’s also sleeping with his vicious sort-of cousin Emma (Emma Bell), daughter of Bobby’s wife Ann (Brenda Strong) by her first husband Harris Ryland (Mitch Pileggi)–who coincidentally enough is also in prison, thanks to Emma’s and the Ewings’ plot against him.

… and so on.  Just as last season turned the seemingly sweet Emma into a ruthless conspirator, this season’s new ingredient is to take the formerly nice Emma Ramos (Jordana Brewster), who’s bounced between John Ross and Christopher, and set her to scheming against the Ewings herself, because Cliff informed her that back in the day, the Ewings stole her grandfather’s original oil-rich land.  Since Dallas doesn’t worry very much about credibility, struggling maid’s daughter Elena has been given a brand-new foster billionaire brother (and series regular), Nicholas Trevino (Juan Pablo Di Pace), to help make trouble.  And that pretty, spunky ranch worker who caught Christopher’s eye in the episode?  She’s played by AnnaLynne McCord, late of the 90210 reboot, so she’ll certainly turn out to be more devious than she looks.

The problem with this Dallas, and with this kind of old-fashioned soap in general (it’s also true of Revenge) is that after a season or so, it all becomes inbred:  even though every season a new long-lost relative or love interest is introduced to keep the wheels spinning, every storyline is the same as any other, with the parties conning and spying on each other, vowing final victory that can’t ever really happen.  Hagman provided a bit of self-mocking humor and genuine emotion that leavened all this, but in his absence, watching Dallas is like spending an hour watching ants uselessly try to beat each other up.

It doesn’t help that the cast isn’t loaded with heavy hitters.  With all due respect to Duffy and to Linda Grey as Sue Ellen, who’ve been playing these roles for more than 30 years now, their presentational style of acting feels like it comes from an earlier era of television.  (Kercheval adds some grit when he’s around, but he’s just a guest star.)  Henderson and Metcalfe are bland–Henderson is like the lead in a soap opera parody–and the younger women are whipsawed around so much by the plotlines that they never really establish themselves.  (McCord was the strongest presence on 90210, so it’ll be interesting to see if she can make an impression here, although it’s also sad that she wasn’t able to find a better project for herself post-CW.)

The plotting is so rudimentary that Dallas is really meant for viewers who enjoy being three steps ahead of the characters (as soon as Elena mentioned her long-lost Joaquin and then the mysterious Nicholas Trevino appeared, the connection was so obvious that it was amazing Cidre treated it as a reveal), and no one on screen really seems to be enjoying their wickedness the way Hagman did.  It all becomes something of an empty exercise.

Nevertheless, the ratings suggest that there’s an audience for Nighttime Soap 101 (even after JR’s funeral, numbers were in the 0.8-0.9 area, not bad for a TNT series), and now that the storylines are in the hands of its younger stars, Dallas should be able to keep going for a while, as title to the Southfork Range hangs in the balance for a fourth decade.  It’s become a part of the American mythos, a celebration of American rapaciousness that’s been around for as long as Star Wars and is as difficult, it seems, to live without.

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."