|Jon Ross (Josh Henderson) faces his father J. R. (Larry Hagman)|
After Dallas wrapped up its fourteen year run, it turned out that there was still life left in those enduring characters. First there were two telefilms, J. R. Returns (1996) and War of the Ewings (1998), both of which had continuity problems and both of which were forgettable, below the level of the best episodes of the series. There was also a prequel telefilm I have not yet seen and a reunion special which brought together several of the cast members to reminisce, with host Larry Hagman amusingly referring to the show's thirteen years when the series actually lasted fourteen seasons. Then came the reboot in 2012, which was a whole different story. The show wisely focused -- at least at first -- on the younger generation, which included J. R.'s son Jon Ross (Josh Henderson) and Bobby's adopted son, Christopher (Jesse Metcalf of Beyond a Reasonable Doubt), who were each billed first in the credits on alternating episodes. The show was also smart enough to retain Bobby Ewing (Patrick Duffy), Sue Ellen (Linda Gray), and especially J. R. (Larry Hagman). We first see J,. R. despondent in a nursing home, but he gets out of his funk, shows up at the Oil Baron's Ball on a walker, then throws that walker away and gets back into the action, which includes a whole love-hate thing with Jon Ross.
It's terrific that the show has several vital cast members who are now seniors, but annoying that Duffy, Gray and Hagman -- despite their very large parts -- are not listed as bonafide stars of the show but only listed under "with." Hagman wheeled and dealed for the first two seasons, but then passed away, as did his character. Frankly I had always thought that Gray and Duffy, while competent, were lightweights, but in their senior years these two actors really stepped up their game. Gray has a superb scene when she is hungover at J. R.'s grave site, and Duffy, out of J. R.'s long shadow, not only delivers an impassioned knock-out performance, but becomes the true star of the show and its most important and pivotal character. That's saying a lot when there are so many younger, good-looking and talented co-stars, especially Josh Henderson as Jon Ross, a devilishly charismatic "bad boy" who has a lot more sex appeal than his father ever did (if they ever remake Hud, Henderson would make you forget Paul Newman). Brenda Strong (who was mostly unseen in Desperate Housewives, although her deceased character was the narrator), Mitch Pileggi [Shocker], who was also in the final seasons of the original show, and especially the wonderful Judith Light [Save Me] as a mother from Hell also make a strong impression. Watch her getting turned on as she insists a drug dealer do a body search on her for hidden wires!
Ken Kercheval, who managed to appear in every season of the original show, as well as the two telefilms, is back as Cliff Barnes. Cliff always seemed vaguely demented, and in this reboot, he is clearly demented, his actions those of a lunatic, such as allowing his own daughter to be nearly blown up and killing his unborn grandchildren because he still wants to strike back at those damn Ewings. Kercheval seems to be having fun playing a man who has been turned, a bit improbably, into a hateful villain.
Dallas only lasted three abbreviated seasons (ten episodes for the first season, and fifteen apiece for the last two) and ended on a cliffhanger that will never be resolved. I think there was way too much of those Mexican drug dealers in the final season, and they were simply not that interesting. The writers, who managed to make the characters more dimensional than in many soap operas, certainly had enough material to work with without dragging in an ever-present drug cartel, and that may have hastened the series' abrupt cancellation. Still, Dallas was a fun ride while it lasted.
Verdict: Some fine acting, interesting developments, and good scripting help put this over. ***.