14 June 2012

"Dallas" (2012) Episodes 1 & 2

Dallas
"The Changing of the Guard" (Episode 100) and "Hedging Your Bets" (Episode 101)

What follows is an overview of my chief reactions and observations, without much polish or organization. I envision this being a sort of ongoing sub-series here, and they'll be written as close to the immediate end of each episode as I can manage. (Tonight's was delayed because I had to go buy cat food and take care of some incidental errands.) I am also going to assume you've seen the episodes so there will be spoilers. Speaking of which...

Dallas may be the ultimate water cooler show of all time, which is weird because the original series aired on Friday nights. This is not a show for casual viewers. I almost began to construct an actual flow chart just to explain to my grandmother what she missed by not tuning into the first episode on time. This will be one of those shows where fans are passionate and probably will not shut the hell up about on Thursday mornings...or all day long Wednesday in anticipation of that night's episode.
Cynthia Cidre (Series Developer & Writer) and Patrick Duffy. Photo from TNT.
Kudos to series developer and writer of both episodes, Cynthia Cidre. She did a terrific job making clear that this is a direct continuation of the original series, while not creating self-homage. That's a surprisingly difficult task in mainstream entertainment. The best microcosm I can offer was the prominence of the swimming pool at Southfork during Christopher and Rebecca's wedding. I actually commented on Facebook, "Someone is going into that pool. It's a requirement of formal events at Southfork." It would have been a nice comedic throwback moment, but Cidre didn't give it to us. At first I almost felt cheated, but then I felt really good about it. She knows what she's inherited inside and out and it shows; she's thrown in all kinds of back story in casual expository dialog throughout the first two episodes...but this is something new. It is not a tribute to the original series. It's a continuation, and frankly the fewer "obvious" bits we get, the better I think this new show will be.

I've said for years and it bears repeating: For my money, Larry Hagman as J.R. Ewing is the apex of television. I found myself feeling genuinely exited to see him emerge from his state of whatever-the-hell and reassert himself. I laughed at least twice, just at realizing the sly old fox is still playing chess while everyone else is playing checkers.

J.R.'s motivations are different now (at least early on) than they were on the original series. He used to justify everything he did as a means of providing security for the Ewing family. This J.R. is more blatantly selfish, though perhaps that's what happens when your parents are gone and you've become estranged from everyone else. Still, I can't help but feel that he's still got his eye on the same old prize: consolidated power of Ewing Oil and patriarchy of the Ewing family at Southfork. The ranch means something different to him than it does to the rest of the Ewings, but I don't believe for a moment that his sole interest is in acquiring the oil.

I love that Sue Ellen has become a powerful woman in Texas politics. New fans may be unaware, but J.R. met her when she was a beauty pageant contestant and their dysfunctional marriage led her to self-destructive behavior including alcoholism and a nearly fatal car collision. I like the idea that, once sufficiently removed from the poison of J.R., she was able to get her act together. Moreover, I like that she's not going to just be a token "generation one" figurehead here. She has legitimate power now.

John Ross is perhaps the laziest schemer ever. Seriously, Christopher's methane project caused an earthquake. It was clearly reported by various news media. Does he not go online? Hell, "earthquake" trended on Twitter during tonight's encore airing because of a minor 'quake near Yorba Linda, California. The idea that Christopher could somehow keep something like that under wraps, like some kind of disappointing lab result, is ludicrous.

Side note: Who doesn't maximize their browser? Or password protect their computer? How has Ann lasted five years in that family, with her computer apparently just open to whomever wishes to sit down and begin using it?
Jordana Brewster as Elena Ramos. Photo by TNT.
Of the new characters, my early favorite is easily Elena Ramos. She's a very sympathetic character, having already become a casualty of Ewing narcissism. I suspect she'll give as good as she gets, but right now I just feel really bad for her. That said, I also call shenanigans on the story of her and Christopher breaking up just before their wedding day because of an email. Elena is clearly an ambitious woman, and she didn't get where she is today by being deferential. I have a hard time picturing her refraining from instantly calling Christopher to demand an explanation and to give him an earful. Or for her own mother to remain in the Ewings' employ after that?! Either she doesn't share with her own mother her reason for not showing up at the altar or her mother - whom we know liked her relationship with Christopher - was not sufficiently offended as to find another job? Remember, this is a Hispanic mother. Her daughter allegedly being told she's not good enough for her boss's son should have led to her trying to poison the entire Ewing family.

Also, I am now in love with both Jordana Brewster and Julie Gonzalo. Brewster's profile at the official Dallas website states that she's married, but if that should change and you run into her, I'd appreciate if you'd put in a kind word on my behalf. Gonzalo's profile informs me she played the daughter, Blair, in Christmas with the Kranks (something of a guilty pleasure of mine among Christmas movies) and makes no mention of her relationship status. So, again...if you know her and you hear her mention she's in the market for a poor guy in dubious health with four cats and nothing else to offer, point her in my direction.

Lastly, I come to John Ross. I have to wonder, with Christopher off in Europe, just how his relationship with Bobby had been like prior to where we pick up. They were basically the only two living at Southfork from what I could glean. I'm unclear whether their thinly veiled resentments of one another had been simmering all along or if this was all out of the blue, brought on by John Ross's duplicitous oil strike. At times I felt he was antagonistic just for the sake of being so; a provocateur, lacking the nuance of his father. I think that's the point, though. He's so prone to hotheadedness that he can't play chess like J.R. does. He's the kind of guy who, instead, will turn over the checker board and yell that he's not playing anymore.

Oh, and man...when he dissed Miss Ellie, I really wanted to see Bobby just bitch slap that punk. New viewers shouldn't have any problem understanding why it was so upsetting to Bobby that his nephew just badmouthed his own grandmother, but this touches on the aforementioned balance struck so solidly by Cidre. For those of us who actually knew Miss Ellie (played mostly by Barbara Bel Geddes, but also by Donna Reed for a season), the affront was personal. It was also a betrayal; I can literally recall Miss Ellie sitting outside at Southfork while John Ross played. She loved that boy dearly, even standing up to J.R. to do right by him at one point. Maybe he was too young to remember it, but dammit, I do!

Upon reflection, I feel like this is my TV equivalent of DC Comics's New 52 relaunch. I've been away for quite some time, but my enthusiasm and interest have never been extinguished. I finished watching tonight's episodes with full-on excitement and anticipation for the next episode, much as I get all excited when I finish reading each month's Batgirl. I've withdrawn from most TV content over the last 15 years or so, only following a handful of shows very closely. It's kind of nice to actually be excited about a weekly series again. I'm glad it's Dallas.

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