TNT’s “Dallas” had two things to accomplish on opening night: hook today’s audiences on the Ewing saga and satisfy viewers who fondly remember the original series. I can’t speak for the newbies or my fellow fans, but the two-hour premiere exceeded my Southfork-sized expectations in every way. I loved it.
“Changing of the Guard,” the first of the two episodes TNT telecast last night, evoked the old “Dallas” spirit, if not the old “Dallas” style. The pace was faster, the music was modern (Adele!) and even though Larry Hagman remains “Dallas’s” most magnetic actor, his talents were used judiciously. He appeared just four times: once with Patrick Duffy and in three scenes with Josh Henderson. The stage is set to slowly insert J.R. into the lives of the other characters, which seems like a wise approach.
Still, with J.R. more or less waiting in the wings, I wish “Changing of the Guard” had given the audience more opportunities to get to know the younger characters. It wasn’t clear to me, for example, why John Ross is so determined to drill on Southfork, or why star-crossed lovers Christopher and Elena allowed an e-mail to break them up. (At least it wasn’t a text.)
But even if the characters’ motivations were murky, the actors were terrific. Henderson smolders as John Ross, and I was really impressed with Jesse Metcalfe and Jordana Brewster, particularly during Christopher’s wedding day confrontation with Elena. Metcalfe made his character’s heartbreak palpable – his quivering lip almost made me cry – and Brewster delivered her lines with real conviction, which is essential on a show like “Dallas.”
Other favorite “Changing of the Guard” moments: Bobby’s visit to the catatonic J.R. in the nursing home, where Duffy did a nice job delivering scriptwriter Cynthia Cidre’s beautifully written monologue; Linda Gray’s first appearance, when Sue Ellen oh-so-coolly zoomed into the Southfork driveway in her white Porsche; and the Southfork dinner scene, which was as entertaining as any of the Ewing meals from the original series.
The latter sequence, expertly directed by Michael M. Robin, was probably “Changing of the Guard’s” best homage to the original “Dallas,” but it certainly wasn’t the only one. I also liked the scene where Ann grabbed her gun and chased an intruder out of the house, recalling one of Miss Ellie’s most memorable moments from the old show, as well as John Ross’s encounter with Marta del Sol on the 50-year line at Cowboys Stadium, which seemed to be a hat tip to some of J.R.’s clandestine stadium meetings of the past.
It may have been unintentional, but “Changing of the Guard” also honored the “Dallas” spinoff “Knots Landing.” After John Ross and Christopher scuffled at the drill site, each character retreated to the arms of his leading lady, with the scenes edited together in a seamless series of quick cutaways – a style “Knots Landing” made one of its signatures.
Even though I would have preferred a little more character development and a little less narrative in “Changing of the Guard,” the plot twists were smartly executed. The second scene, when Bobby was diagnosed with cancer, was genuinely rattling. I appreciate the boldness of this storyline, but it worries me a little. The last time “Dallas” toyed with Bobby’s mortality, things didn’t work out so well. I hope Cidre, the new creative force behind TNT’s “Dallas,” knows what she’s doing here.
The revelation that J.R. is in cahoots with Marta was another jaw-dropper. I don’t mind admitting I got chills when J.R. flipped on his Stetson, flashed his devilish grin and declared, “Bobby may not be stupid, but I’m a hell of a lot smarter.” This was the moment I knew “Dallas” was really back.
Frankly – and this is a small quibble – I kind of wish “Changing of the Guard” had ended there. Instead, Cidre threw the audience for yet another loop in the final scene, when we learned John Ross and Marta are plotting to triple-cross J.R.
I suppose the goal here was to demonstrate how John Ross is even more devious than his daddy, but it felt like one twist too many. Then again, if Cidre wanted to make sure “Dallas” diehards like me hung around for “Hedging Your Bets,” opening night’s second hour, mission accomplished. I’ll post my review of that episode tomorrow.
‘CHANGING OF THE GUARD’
Season 1, Episode 1
Telecast: June 13, 2012
Writer: Cynthia Cidre
Director: Michael M. Robin
Audience: 8.3 million viewers (including 6.9 million viewers on June 13, ranking 1st in the weekly cable ratings)
Synopsis: Bobby Ewing is diagnosed with cancer but doesn’t tell his family. To finance his son Christopher’s alternative energy project, Bobby decides to sell Southfork, the family’s ranch, to land conservationist Marta del Sol, unaware she is in cahoots with Bobby’s devious brother J.R., who wants control of Southfork’s vast oil reserves. Unbeknownst to J.R., Marta is also plotting with his son John Ross, who wants to drill on the ranch, too. Christopher marries Rebecca Sutter, although he still pines for old flame Elena Ramos, who is now John Ross’s girlfriend and business partner.
Cast: Jordana Brewster (Elena Ramos), Richard Dillard (Mitch Lobell), Akai Draco (Sherriff), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Marlene Forte (Carmen Ramos), Julie Gonzalo (Rebecca Sutter), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Callard Harris (Tommy Sutter), Josh Henderson (John Ross Ewing), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Linda Leonard (Mrs. Stanfill), Jesse Metcalfe (Christopher Ewing), Matthew Posey (Earl), Ryan Rutledge (Dr. Bill Glaser), Brenda Strong (Ann Ewing), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Leonor Varela (Marta del Sol)