‘Dallas’ 15.01 Recap: “We Got Some Catchin’ Up to Do”

Talk about a hiatus! The once-powerhouse primetime soap ‘Dallas’ ran on CBS for 14 seasons from 1978 to 1991, and single-handedly established the now-common convention of the season finale cliffhanger. The fourth season premiere episode (which answered the question “Who shot J.R.?”) was watched by 83 million viewers, and remains the second highest-rated television episode in history (topped only by the series finale of ‘M*A*S*H’). Sadly, over time, the show lost its luster, grew more ridiculous (the notorious “It was all a dream!” Season 9 premiere has been the butt of countless jokes over the years), and eventually left the air with a whimper. But now ‘Dallas’ is back, after a 21 year break, in a brand new revival on the TNT network that’s not a remake or a reboot, but a straight continuation with much of the original cast picking up where they left off. Against all odds, it’s surprisingly fun so far.

Technically, TNT considers last Wednesday’s two-part premiere (episodes ‘Changing of the Guard’ and ‘Hedging Your Bets’) to be the pilot for the first season of a new show. Whatever. For all intents and purposes, this is Season 15. The show even has the same theme song and opening credits. Sort of like the CW’s ‘90210’ revival, ‘Dallas’ introduces a new generation of characters while retaining some of the original cast. However, in this case, most of the important original players – including Larry Hagman’s conniving J.R. Ewing, Patrick Duffy’s earnest brother Bobby, and Linda Gray’s bitch-queen Sue Ellen – are still in place and have very prominent, central roles. Also unlike ‘90210’, the younger cast additions actually aren’t too annoying, except when they’re supposed to be, of course.

The basic plot pits J.R.’s jerkwad son John Ross (Josh Henderson) against family head Bobby. Against Bobby’s wishes, John Ross drills for oil on the Southfork ranch and discovers that they’re sitting on a reserve worth billions of dollars. Bobby, who hasn’t told anyone that he’s dying of cancer, refuses to let John Ross drill further. He prefers to honor his late mother’s wishes and preserve the land by selling it to a conservancy. Meanwhile, Bobby’s son Christopher (Jesse Metcalf) has been trying to get the family into the alternative energy business. Unfortunately, his efforts to extract methane from the ocean floor have a side effect of causing earthquakes. Whoops.

In the midst of this, elderly J.R. himself, diagnosed with clinical depression, has been sitting catatonic in a rest home. At least, that’s what he wants everyone to believe. Really, he’s been biding his time, and is now ready to wrest control of Southfork out from Bobby’s hands.

This sets off what can only be described as a cyclone of schemes and double-crosses, each more outrageous than the last. Every character has a secret agenda. Everyone tries to play everyone else for personal gain. Even just two episodes in, the show has already had so many twists and turns that it would be pointless for me to try to describe them all.

Sitting at the top of this pyramid is master manipulator J.R., pulling everybody’s strings. Larry Hagman is so goddamn much fun in this show. The actor clearly knows that J.R. Ewing is the role of his lifetime, and jumps back into those cowboy boots with gusto. He and his crazy eyebrows steal every scene.

I wouldn’t quite call myself a fan of the original ‘Dallas’. My mother was a regular viewer, and I caught bits and pieces every now and again, but I wasn’t really the target audience. Nonetheless, the new show does a very good job of quickly re-establishing all of the characters and their relationships in a way that’s perfectly clear – and entertaining – whether you’ve seen the old show or not. I watched the new pilot episode(s) without much in the way of expectations. I hardly expected the relaunch of an ’80s soap to be something I’d tune in for again, yet it turns out that ‘Dallas’ may just be exactly what the summer needed.

8 comments

  1. Shannon Nutt

    Yep this show is better than it has any right to be. And it’s fun to watch Hagman act circles around his younger co-stars. He may be 80, but he hasn’t lost a step.

  2. William Henley

    The show even has the same theme song and opening credits.

    Well, its not EXACTLY the same – Josh, I posted on Facebook I think it was Wednesday the different openings. The new opening (aside from being in HD) includes the new Omni Hotel, a park, the DART Lite Rail, the new Trinity River Bridge (we are so embaressed by that thing, it is SO ugly and is an eyesore, and yet the new show features it in the opening – AGH), the NEW Cowboy stadium (which isn’t in Dallas anymore – but technically neither was the old one, but at least the old one was in Dallas County), and a lot of the new opening is shot at sunset rather than in the middle of the day, which looks amazing in HD.

    But for the most part, yeah, it has the same feel.

    We were picking apart some of the show the other day. It seems as if the writers actually knew very little about minerals and drilling, and actually confused some Gas drilling terms with oil drilling terms. Here are two issues I saw:

    1) They mentioned that they were going to have to “Frack” the oil out of the ground. Fracking is a process used for extracting natual gas from shale by pushing high pressure water through it. It causes minor tremors, but most are unnoticable, and is how they are pumping natual gas from the Dallas / Fort Worth area. If you were to “frack” an oil reserve, wouldn’t that render the oil useless?

    2) There are WAY more effecient ways to get methane than extracting it from the Chinese Sea Floor.In fact, if I am reading this map right, there ARE no deposits off of China – but there are a few off the coast of the US. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Methane_clathrate#Natural_deposits There are some off the coast of Siberea and Japan. Maybe the Chinese claimed the area off of Siberea. Wouldn’t surprsie me.

    3) Why does drilling on Southfork prevent them from selling the land for a conservatory? The Ewings can maintain the mineral rights, and after you drill, the pumps are not that big. People raise cattle and grow crops on land that is producing oil all the time.

  3. Shannon Nutt

    William – re: #3 of your points, that was actually a “twist” in the second of the two post-series TV movies…land on Southfork was sold, but JR maintained control of the mineral rights, so he still controlled all the oil. However, for purposes of the new DALLAS, those two TV movies are being considered apocryphal.

    Also, Southfork Ranch isn’t in Dallas County either (it’s in Collin Country), so I think you’re being a little nitpicky over the credits…the show has always been about the Dallas “area” and not just the city itself.

    • William Henley

      LOL, my point about the opening credits wasn’t to be nit-picky – it was to say that it wasn’t the same as the earlier seasons. A lot of the same areas are there, but they are showing changes that have happened. I actually like it. Just pointing out that the Cowboys are not in Dallas County anymore.

      And you are right, Southfork is in Collin. I’ve been there a few times for events

        • EM

          Maybe it’s because you were littler then.

          (When I was 35, I visited a branch of the family I hadn’t seen in thirty years. In the intervening years they had moved to a different part of town. One morning I went for a walk and went looking for the old place. I wasn’t entirely sure I’d found the right place…until I crouched. That’s when the building looked like the one I remembered looking up at when I was 5 years old!)

        • William Henley

          Southfork Ranch is huge, as is the barns. The house itself, though, is not as large as you might think – its actually pretty average size for a rich ranch house. The house is only 4769 square feet. I have some friends who own cattle who have houses about the same size. But the barns are HUGE, and there is quite a bit of land there. According to the Wikipedia article, the actual location was only used from the second season up until 1989, so apparently this location wasn’t used for the entire run of the show.

          I know when I first saw it, I was actually surprised it wasn’t bigger.

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