Dallas: "Blood May Be Thicker Than Water, But Oil Is Thicker Than Both of 'Em."

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It may be difficult for those under the age of...say, 35 to understand, but the original Dallas was a cultural phenomenon when that phrase actually meant something and wasn't bandied around by everyone trying to describe the latest Kevin Smith podcast. The episode revealing who shot J.R. ("Who Done It?") was watched by an estimated 83 million people, and the actual season finale in which Larry Hagman's character was shot by a mysterious assailant essentially created the "cliffhanger" phenomenon.

Dallas was indescribably popular. This was the days before widespread cable TV access, much less original cable programming. The Big Three dominated the airwaves, and Dallas dominated everything else. I still blame it for creating the lingering impression of Texans I have to deal with every time I've gone overseas.

So continuing the show was something of a no-brainer, really. I will say this, TNT's revival of the franchise stays surprisingly faithful to the spirit of the original. How much of an endorsement that is I leave to the reader.

John Ross Ewing III (Josh Henderson, sporting facial hair that would do Snidely Whiplash proud) has hit oil. On Southfork Ranch. Needless to say, current ranch owner Uncle Bobby (Patrick Duffy) has no knowledge of this, and John Ross aims to keep it that way. Miss Ellie's will granted Bobby the land, with the stipulation it not be used for oil drilling, y'see. For newbies to the show, it was the constant contending for leadership of Ewing Oil that tore the family asunder.

Bobby has other things on his mind, one of which is the impending wedding of adopted son Christopher. Another is his recently discovered stomach cancer. Ever the stoic, Bobby insists on not telling anyone until after the wedding, including new wife Ann (Brenda Strong). No word was given in either episode of what happened to his first wife, Pam (Victoria Principal reportedly had no interest in joining the new show).

The opening score/credits are nice, being essentially identical to the original, updated so we can see Jerry's World in HD.

But where John Ross is still about the crude, Christopher (Jesse Metcalf) is pimping his methane extraction idea, but his insistence on going it alone and not getting help from Daddy causes problems. There's also the little issue of the extraction process potentially causing earthquakes.

Finally, after 12 long minutes, we get to J.R. (Larry Hagman). The former head of Ewing Oil/gunshot victim is in an assisted living facility, suffering from clinical depression. Bobby pays a visit to try and mend fences (that's ranch talk) after a lifetime's worth of backstabbing and treachery. J.R. ignores him, or is incapable of response. No...he's ignoring him, because when John Ross comes by to bitch about losing out on a two-billion-barrel reserve, he finally perks up.

The new ladies of Southfork are also introduced. Elena (Jordana Brewster, getting more cadaverous every time I see her) is dating John Ross, but also used to date Christopher. Rebecca (Julie Gonzalo) is Christopher's fiancée. They're laying the groundwork for a nice conflict between those two, but still making time for the older ladies. Sue Ellen (Linda Gray) is now the head of a bank -- I think -- and considering a run for Governor (guess those DWIs aren't a big deal anymore, post-George W. Bush), and there's some definite frost between her and Ann. The potential for a few Dynasty-style pool fights is tantalizing.

One thing you have to give TNT, they don't waste any time. Bobby announces he's selling Southfork, which prompts John Ross to take him out to his little oil rig. He doesn't help his case by talking shit about Miss Ellie, and Bobby gives him the boot (Bobby wants to sell Southfork to a nature conservancy, per Mama's last wishes). John Ross tries to have Miss Ellie's will overturned, and Bobby responds by getting the cops to throw him off the ranch. Like a chip off the old block, convincing Elena to spy on Christopher by emphasizing her humble background (she's the daughter of Carmen, Southfork's cook). Her snooping is abetted by Christopher's idiotic willingness to report all the drilling problems to her, but to her credit, she doesn't tell John Ross anything.

Oh, and any questions about whether or not this is Texas are answered with the sight of Ann getting the drop on an intruder with her 12-gauge (though why she doesn't fucking SHOOT HIM escapes me; must be that gentle heart). The guy was rooting around in Bobby's desk, and Ann finds a bottle of Bobby's meds. A quick Google Web search turns up the medicine's purpose, much to her dismay. The thief brings a flash drive to Christopher's co-worker, who copies all their data to it. Unsurprisingly, this ends up in John Ross's hands. He threatens to expose the dangers of the methane venture unless Christopher gets Bobby to change his mind. Christopher naturally thinks Elena leaked the information. It's also revealed that John Ross may have sent the e-mail breaking up the two of them in the first place. That's a FEDERAL CRIME, dude (which I tell my wife whenever she reads my Gmail).

The weddng day arrives, bringing with it a few revelations: Lucy (Charlene Tilton) and Ray Krebbs (Steve Kanaly) are...together? HE'S HER UNCLE. Cliff Barnes is still running Ewing Oil (so much for J.R. Returns)? Sue Ellen has cleavage?

And that's just the first hour. In the second part (which I'll sum up, Inigo Montoya style), J.R. learns that Marta Del Sol (Leonor Varela), the woman brokering the purchase of Southfork for the Del Sol Conservancy who he assumes is in his pocket, is not actually who she says she is. Bobby's lawyer is conspiring to betray his client with John Ross, but now he wants $2 million (instead of $500,000) or he's going to rat John Ross out. Bobby goes to get surgery for his tumor, but not before Ann has a come to Jesus meeting with him, telling him he needs to fight for the ranch. Christopher wants to partner with Elena (she's a whiz with oil leases), the newly wed Rebecca Ewing is apparently working a long con on the Ewings with her "brother" Tommy (Callard Harris), and John Ross hires a private investigator to dig up dirt on Bobby's lawyer, and to find out once and for all who sent that stupid e-mail.

The new Dallas picks up pretty much where the original series left off: slaps, fistfights, adultery, fake e-mails (well, scratch that last one). I like the fact that John Ross is far from the accomplished bastard his father is (Christopher calls his bluff, and "Marta" dopes him up and then films them having sex for future blackmail purposes), even if that facial hair makes me think of a barely pubescent version of Timothy Olyphant from Justified. Bobby is still boring, it's true, but I dig Brenda Strong as Ann (nothing gets the motor running like a woman racking a shotgun), and the chemistry between Hagman and Gray is still there. Hell, there may never be a more perfect actor/role combination than Larry Hagman as J.R. Ewing, who at 80 still looks like a shark as he crosses the floor to threaten someone (the centerpiece of the second hour is the interaction of the principals at the Cattle Baron's Ball). In fact, I found myself wishing a few times we were just sticking with the original cast.

In this era of reality television and broad, uncomplicated network fare, Dallas recalls a simpler time, when being American meant trying to screw (literally and figuratively) everyone else before they did the same to you. I won't say it isn't trash, but trash has its place, especially when it's as unapologetically over the top as this.

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