Tuned In: 'Dallas' -- Return to Southfork

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Dialogue in the script for TNT's continuation of 1980s soap "Dallas" sounds like it may have been written back in the show's heyday, sealed in amber and then chiseled out just for this revival.

Viewers willing to bask in the familiarity of the aged Ewing characters surely will have a ball. Anyone expecting much in the way of nods to today's more sophisticated TV storytelling will be left to roll their eyes at this cheesetacular return to form.

As a fan of the original "Dallas" -- I remember watching the show Friday nights with my parents -- I thought it was a hoot seeing the old gang together again. Would I bother watching if not for nostalgic affection? Probably not.

'Dallas'

When: 9 p.m. Wednesday, TNT.

Starring: Larry Hagman, Linda Gray.

While TNT clearly hopes to draw new viewers with plots focused on Ewing offspring, it's the original show's returning cast who are likely to draw in most viewers. And those actors are clearly having the most fun.

As "Dallas" restarts, Bobby Ewing (Patrick Duffy) gets a cancer diagnosis that he doesn't want to share with new wife Ann (Brenda Strong, "Desperate Housewives") or about-to-get-married son Christopher (Jesse Metcalf, "Desperate Housewives") because Bobby doesn't want to wreck the wedding.

J.R. Ewing (Larry Hagman) is basically mute from clinical depression in a nursing home but the prospect of a family feud stirs him from his stupor. Ex-wife Sue Ellen (Linda Gray) is considering a run for governor of Texas and son John Ross (Josh Henderson, "Desperate Housewives") is drilling for oil at Southfork Ranch against the wishes of the late Miss Ellie.

This week's two-hour premiere introduces new and semi-new characters. (Viewers saw Christopher and John Ross as children on the original "Dallas" but they are played by different actors in this revival.) Bobby's wife, Ann, doesn't hesitate to hoist a shotgun when an intruder breaks into Bobby's office; however, she doesn't pull the trigger.

In later episodes Ann makes an effort to welcome Christopher's new wife, Rebecca (Julie Gonzalo, "Veronica Mars"), saying she knows how it feels to be outsider when marrying into the Ewing clan.

John Ross' current squeeze, Elena (Jordana Brewster, "The Fast and the Furious"), dated Christopher until she received a breakup email that he says he never sent.

Despite these additions, "Dallas" sticks close to its original dynamic. Instead of just Bobby and JR feuding, now it's Christopher and John Ross who are also at each others' throats in a rivalry bathed in political subtext (Christopher backs alternative fuels, John Ross supports "Drill, baby, drill!" as his birthright). This dynamic is exactly what Bobby had hoped to prevent.

"I don't want them to be like us," Bobby tells a mute J.R. "But all that being said, I do miss you."

Perhaps not for long. By the end of the first hour, J.R. is once again scheming to retake control of Southfork, which Miss Ellie left to Bobby in her will.

J.R. continues to get the best lines, including this gem from next week's episode: "Bullets don't seem to have much of an effect on me, darling."

Other returning characters from the 1980s series include Lucy Ewing (Charlene Tilton) and Ray Krebs (Steve Kanaly), who show up in two party scenes over the course of the first four episodes. J.R.'s longtime adversary, Cliff Barnes (Ken Kercheval), is back, too.

In an era when so many prime-time shows -- "Mad Men," "The Good Wife" -- have some soapy elements but manage to make their strongest impressions through psychological insights about the characters or genuinely surprising plot twists, "Dallas" relies more heavily on unsophisticated, soapy sleight of hand, including an out-of-nowhere revelation of scheming at the end of the second hour this week.

The new "Dallas," filmed entirely in Dallas (the predecessor series was mostly filmed in L.A. with some on-location work in Texas), attempts to show off with nonsensical location filming: John Ross meets a contact at the 50 yard line at Cowboys Stadium at the end of the first hour but there's really no good plot reason for this.

But for viewers who go into "Dallas" with modest expectations (might as well watch a summer soap with some familiar characters) it's hard not to get swept up in Ewing drama the moment the show's familiar theme song, played over a faithful recreation of the opening credits, begins to swell.

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Rob Owen writes this Sunday TV column for Scripps Howard News Service. Contact him at: rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582. Read the Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook.


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