‘Dallas’ is back and is still as crude as the oil as the Ewing family obsesses over.
As the 2012 reboot of the trashy, flashy Texan soap opera got underway this week, it was hard not to feel you were travelling back in time to 1978 when the original series first aired.
There are some similarities. In 1978, America and Britain were in the grip of a recession. ‘The Sweeney’ was on our screens. A likeable Democratic President was struggling to hold onto power in the White House. Young people were emigrating from Ireland and there had just been a Queen’s jubilee.
But, despite all the difficulties now, it would be wrong to think we have been catapulted back to 1978.
The world is a more sophisticated, yet more fragmented place.
Instead of three television channels, we have hundreds. Instead of a clunky black or grey telephone sitting in the hall, we carry smart phones around with us that enable us not just to call others around the world but to have facetime chats and look up anything we need on the Internet.
The America of 2012 is a lot less glamourous and a more uncertain place, as anyone who watched the Republican and Democratic National Conventions over the past two weeks will know.
‘Dallas’ 2012, therefore, feels a little like the land that time forgot.
JR and Sue Ellen’s John Ross III (Josh Henderson) is as fixated on oil, money and power as his father was and he ruthlessly pursues profit, shafting his cousin Bobby’s adopted son Christopher (Jesse Metcalfe) and others along the way.
While John Ross looks to drill on the family ranch where he discovers there is a rich well of oil, Christopher, like Bobby, is devoted to Southfork remaining unspoiled.
In the first episode, he suffers a setback when his efforts to extract Methane Hydrate from the sea bed in China as an alternative to oil triggers an earthquake.
Throw into the mix, Christopher’s too sweet to be wholesome new wife, Rebecca (Julie Gonzalo) and his childhood sweetheart Elena Ramos (Jordana Bewster) and you have the traditional ‘Dallas’ ingredients for romantic betrayal.
In the first episode, we learn Elena was hoodwinked into believing Christopher wanted to break up with her by a false email.
With the exception of Bobby, it appears from the first episode that the younger cast will carry ‘Dallas’ 2012.
However the older generation are the real lure and neither age nor high definition television has been kind to them.
Bobby (a rather tired looking Patrick Duffy) has become the patriarch of Southfork ranch and the first episode begins with him being told he has stomach tumours and is probably living on borrowed time. Duffy conveys this from time to time by occasionally whincing in pain and clenching his fist as if he has just taken a laxative.
He clashes bitterly with John Ross over his plans to drill on the ranch, reminding him that it was his grandmother, Miss Ellie’s wish that Southfork be preserved and not despoiled.
An attempt to sell Southfork to those who will guarantee its preservation inevitably turns out to be a classic ‘Dallas’ double cross.
Sue Ellen (Linda Grey) is also in the mix – as morally confused and doe eyed as ever but a growing political force in Texas, quietly egging John Ross on to claim his birthright, even if it means ruthlessly contesting Miss Ellie’s sanity when she made her will.
There were cameo appearances too by the butt of many’s a Terry Wogan joke, Lucy Ewing (Charlene Tilton) and Bobby’s half brother Ray Krebbs (Steve Kanaly), wearing his trademark permanently startled chipmunk expression.
But the person we all waited to see had a rather inauspicious return.
A rather frail looking JR (Larry Hagman) sat in his dressing gown in an armchair in a nursing home, having developed a form of clinical depression where you stare permanently out the window.
It takes a visit by John Ross and the stench of oil inspired mischief to spark JR back into life, contemptuously dismissing Bobby’s soft centre and Christopher.
However the sight of JR 2012 was a bit like watching a beaten up De Lorean.
‘Dallas’ 2012 stays rooted to the same 1980s formula that made it such a phenomenon 30 years ago.
The acting is hammy, the plotlines are so loud and signposted and the writing is unsubtle.
For a 2012 audience used to the sophisticated writing and cinematic quality of dramas such as ‘The Sopranos’, ‘The Wire,’ ‘The Shield,’ ‘Mad Men’, ‘In Treatment’, ‘Breaking Bad’, ‘Borgen’ and the Danish version of ‘The Killing’, it suffers terribly.
But this version of ‘Dallas’ was never designed to appeal to those audiences.
You simply have to accept it. It’s time to grab your Stetsons and prepare for the Oil Baron’s Ball.