POSTING BY JB MADDAWG
1978 was much different that 2012. Music was better, movies were certainly better and people had a longer attention span, which lead to one of the greatest television devices in programming history: the cliffhanger. One episodic television show pretty much put what many called “nighttime soap operas” on the map with each week, an ending that would have you dying for the preview for next time. It would seem like an eternity between shows, and the season finale would be a lifetime from the fall return. And it was all thanks to Dallas. “Who Shot J.R.” is still one of the biggest moments of television history.
Now, before you start listening to all the crackpots that trumpet on about Dynasty, ABC’s answer to Dallas, remember that show came out in 1981, as was inferior due to relationships being the forefront, and not business. Dallas carved its niche by following the lives of the über rich Ewing family and their legacy in the oil industry. Sure, there were the love triangles, but it was the business deal backstabbing that kept people coming back for more. Fans couldn’t get enough of the master of greed J.R. Ewing (Larry Hagman) finding a new way each week to screw his competitors, family members and friends out of their hopes and dreams. The guy was a cross between Donald Trump and Ebenezer Scrooge, but with more of a mean streak. As pop culture villains go, I’d rank him slightly behind Darth Vader and just ahead of Lex Luthor.
The show ran from 1978-1991 and still has a massive following. Once a Dallas fan, always a Dallas fan. In a world of watered down reality nonsense, Dallas has now returned from a 21 year hiatus and may just be drama’s gold standard yet again. This past Wednesday, TNT launched it’s two-hour premiere of Dallas’ return to primetime television, and the results far exceeded what many had expected. The show picked up right where it left off after a reunion movie some years back, and hit the gas in the first few minutes. The story largely revolving around the new generation of Ewings, mainly J.R.’s son John Ross (Josh Henderson) ready to fill his father’s footsteps as one of the most kniving men in Texas. The story unfolded with many twists and turns, brought back some familiar faces and the best part was it stayed true to business being the forefront of the plot. TNT was even going to nix an opening for the show, and got such a backlash, that they got the rights to the opening theme, for fear that true Dallas followers wouldn’t accept anything less. Smart move.
Many initial reports including taking snarky shots at Dallas’ famed “dream season”, where the entire slew of season nine shows were all a dream by one of the key characters. A dumb writing move, yes, but after eight seasons in the top rankings, Dallas could only decline. They just couldn’t compete with the bar that they had set. Thankfully, a near two-decade break seemed to do the trick.
The new plot deals with extremely current events, and has the younger Ewings fighting for business survival between the oil industry and the alternatives market. Plot lines are well thought out and researched, and concentrates on the individual character’s views, not some blanket statement about politics or ideology, which shows like E.R. had been widely criticized for. This drama is told through the players, not whatever views the studio and director wish to peddle on the viewers. It is a very smart drama, but viewers must be dilligent in keeping up with the story. Missing an episode will certainly set you back for awhile.
As a Dallas fan, I was proud to see the old gang dusted off and returned to glory. I was highly skeptical, since I was such a fan of the original series. Hey, c’mon, if you don’t remember who Merilee Stone (Fran Fitzgerald) was and what she was famous for on the show, you can’t call yourself a fan. The writers were even so true to the old dialogue, they had J.R’s son utter the phrase “that idiot Cliff Barnes”, which was a common sentence the elder Ewing said of his top rival from week to week on the original show.
As far as what I call “Dallas: The Next Generation” goes, it seems to have taken the right path by not copying garbage like Melrose Place or Beverly Hills 90210. Sure, the younger cast is easy on the eyes, but the old cast keeps the story anchored to its roots. Hats off to TNT’s campaign crew for the show as well, as they’ve started basing the series around “which character are you behind for all the marbles?” Nothing like backing a horse in a dysfunctional family battle royal.
Be sure to check out Dallas at 9/8 central on TNT. I’ll leave you with the famous opening of the original series, just to stoke the fires of yesteryear.