Somehow, Judge Gordon Sullivan expected the new series to be about salad oil infighting.
Our reviews of Dallas: The Complete First And Second Seasons (published September 29th, 2004), Dallas: The Complete Third Season (published September 14th, 2005), and Dallas: The Complete Fifth Season (published November 17th, 2006) are also available.
Blood is thicker than water. And oil is thicker than blood.
Though it started in 1978 and ended in 1991, Dallas may be the quintessential eighties television show. Other shows were more trendsetting (Miami Vice) and other shows might have launched bigger stars (Moonlighting), but Dallas straddled the decade, producing several infamous television moments, including the question of "Who Shot J.R.?" and producing an entire season of television that turned out to be a dream. With remake fever in the air, it was only a matter of time before someone got the bright idea of redoing the show. However, unlike recent reboots of eighties fare (I'm looking at you, 21 Jump Street) Dallas wasn't wholly rebooted. Instead, they brought back two of the series' biggest stars to create something they should have called Dallas: The Next Generation. It's an interesting show—perhaps more interesting for its audacity in reimaging the franchise than the actual stories—but it probably won't win wide appeal outside those who have fond remembrances of the original.
Facts of the Case
Brothers J.R. (Larry Hagman) and Bobby (Patrick Duffy) return, but this time the focus is on the rivalry between their sons Christopher (Jesse Metcalfe, Beyond a Reasonable Doubt) and J. R. III (Josh Henderson, The Girl Next Door). The cousins are both hoping to steer the fate of the family estate, Southfork. J. R. III wants to drill for oil, while Christopher wants to donate it for conservation.
The original run of Dallas emerged from the shadow of the 1973 oil crisis that saw the OPEC nations declare an oil embargo. With that memory still fresh, focusing on the oil production of Texas seemed like a good idea. Couple that with the fact that oil money had long been a staple of dramatic narrative (see Giant for a particularly good example) and a perfect recipe for success seemed to be assured.
Reviving Dallas in 2012, however, would be a slightly different proposition. Though the fourteenth and final season of the original show aired as the first Gulf War raged, there's been a whole lot of geopolitical upheaval surrounding our oil-producing brethren in the Middle East since then. Perhaps more importantly, viewers are increasingly sensitive to issues of climate change and global warming. The kind of gung-ho oil-barony of the original series just wasn't going to fly.
The decision to update Dallas might be the best one that the series makes. This time, instead of it being just about the internal machinations of a particularly competitive family, the show layers the clean 'n' green versus drill-baby-drill mentalities of energy production onto the personal interactions of the family.
The second thing that the show gets right is bringing back Patrick Duffy and Larry Hagman. These two guys might not be the greatest thespians to ever share the small screen, but they know these characters back and forth. More importantly, both still have most of the charisma that made them attractive stars decades ago as well. They are by far the show's highlights, and the death of Larry Hagman after this season aired is going to make the show that much less appealing going forward.
Not that the youngsters are terrible. The new generation acquit themselves adequately, but acting in Dallas requires treading a fine line between a more serious primetime drama and the kind of emoting usually found on the afternoon soaps. The next generation isn't quite there yet, but they're all attractive and seem to have room to grow.
As befits a show with such a lucrative pedigree, Dallas: The Complete First Season gets a deluxe DVD package. The ten episodes of this season are spread across a generous three discs, giving the 1.78:1 anamorphic transfers plenty of room to breathe. Colors are generally warm and well-saturated, especially exteriors. Detail is strong throughout, and black levels are consistent and deep enough. No digital noise or compression artefacts crop up either. The Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround tracks are equally impressive. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout, with no balancing issues. The surround channels get used occasionally for atmospheric effects, and stereo separation is pretty good. They're the kind of tracks one expects from a top-of-the-line primetime drama and a step up from the show's soap opera roots.
Extras kick off with a commentary on the show's pilot from writer/executive-producer Cynthia Cidre and director Michael M. Robin. The pair is chatty throughout the episode, providing background on the series' revival as well as the show's production. Eight of the ten episodes feature deleted scenes, and there are six different featurettes provided. These include material specific to this series—like a look at the show's costuming—to more reflective pieces that examine the overall legacy of the series—including a nice look at the "Who Shot J.R.?" phenomenon.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Dallas is still essentially a soap opera, and that hasn't changed with these ten episodes. Everything about the show since 1978 has been outsized and these episodes are no exception. Don't come looking for nuance, subtlety, or inventive storytelling. This is Cain vs. Abel stuff—or perhaps more rightly, Jacob vs. Esau—and those not willing to check critical thinking before the credits roll will be disappointed. It's also an awkward time to get into the show. Larry Hagman is a huge part of the draw for this revived series, and his death leaves the show without one of its main characters. Though Dallas has come back from worse, the second season will be a make-or-break proposition. Viewers might want to wait for the dust to settle before becoming involved with the show.
Dallas: The Complete First Season delivers ten episodes of family centered melodrama much like its predecessor. With decent performances from everyone involved and a certain warm nostalgia for the original series (if only for its longevity), these ten episodes are engaging enough to recommend to anyone with a fond remembrance of "Who Shot J.R.?" and other shenanigans. The fairly full slate of extras and solid audiovisual presentation also make the show easy to recommend.
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