Critique: TNT’s Dallas Episode 1 – ‘Changing of the Guard’

Changing of the Guard, Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Leonor Varela, Marta del Sol

Gripping grin

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.

Grade: A

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Changing of the Guard, Christopher Ewing, Dallas, Elena Ramos, Jesse Metcalfe, Jordana Brewster, TNT

Heartbreak kids

‘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)

“Changing of the Guard” is available at DallasTNT.com, Amazon.com and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.

Comments

  1. I really liked the first episode. Sure makes me want to watch the rest of the shows. This was an excellent review!!

  2. Cynthia Cidre did a remarkable job. When I watched the original mini-series last year, it took a while for things to “get going”. Thankfully, they shot right out of the gate. I haven’t finished the second episode yet, but the Marta fiasco is going to be good!

    Also, what kind of communication did Christopher and Elena have if that e-mail worked? Who knew their relationship well enough to know that would even work? Even though Elena has proven herself to be a highly capable person, she must struggle with inferiority.

    Great breakdown, Chris.

    • Very good point about Christopher and Elena’s relationship. If an e-mail is capable of breaking them up, maybe they don’t belong together! Thanks very much for commenting. I appreciate it.

  3. I kind of think the whole e-mail thing was pretty lame. I mean, these two were on the verge of a MARRIAGE, and they let a little email break them up without a phone call or anything for years? What about Carmen? Why didn’t she tell Christopher where her daughter was? Did she too hold a grudge against Christopher too for dumping her daughter? Did she even know what really transpired?

    *On a side note, I think THERESA should have been the mother, it would have been a crazy fun tie-in to the original series. We never see a real close-up of Theresa, at least not in the 4 seasons I’m in already. But I can tell she’s young and very pretty and has long black hair just like Elena. It would have made a lot of sense that she stayed on as the loyal maid for Bobby (Most likely her favorite Ewing after Jock and Ellie.)*

    Elena does have an inferiority complex, and Chris has a lot of pride. With all that Ewing money Christopher didn’t scour the ends of the earth to find her? I can imagine Bobby doing just that if it were Pam back in the day. (Hey, maybe he eventually does! lol)
    But Chris is no Bobby. He kind of annoys me the more I think about him. Eek! Maybe I shouldn’t say that out loud. But I don’t think Metcalf is a good actor. A handsome and good crier perhaps. Great at looking pained.

    This is nothing against adopted children at all, my heart was touched in the scene where Bobby tells Christopher that it was the happiest day of his life when he brought him home as a baby. But I feel bad that the original show thought so little of Bobby that he couldn’t have a child of his own with Pam. 3 miscarriages? And 2 were from freak accidents. That strains credulity so much. And then with all that happened to Pam after she disappeared. The ‘plastic surgery’ and the life threatening illness. She really had such little faith in Bobby’s love if it were vanity that kept her away because of her disfigurement. Looks like the apple didn’t fall far from the tree, she basically did what her own mother did to her and Cliff. In the end everything broke her. What a sad way to tie up a character’s story line. :( I know there was a Pam look-a-like but I don’t know her story. Or if she got involved with Bobby or not? Would have been interesting. She could have been Pam’s long-lost sister or something.

    But back to the e-mail debacle on new Dallas – it seems in this technology driven era, e-mails, texts, tweets, Facebook and like can drive people over the edge. As ridiculous as it seems, it happens in real life and some people even let complete strangers dictate their lives and self-worth. That’s sad.

    • You’ll see a lot more of Theresa in later seasons. As far as the e-mail, it kind of echoes something we see around the seventh season. I won’t spoil the fun, but a similar scenario plays out in Bobby and Pam’s relationship. Good stuff!

  4. Chris, I love your site! At first, I thought that it might have been a studio sponsored blog and that you were getting paid for your ‘insights'; but later on, I discovered that you actually create websites for a living, so hence this remarkable professional platform which I have enjoyed immensely. Thanks! :)

    I’m a big fan of Dallas from Australia. We’d only seen the new pilot episode over here thus far. I had had read the Decoder in advance because I knew that I would miss the twists and turns and some of the crucial dialogue which you had transcribed. Thanks again.

    Because of my limited internet bandwidth, I haven’t been able to watch the episode again online and I am hoping that you might be able to help me out, that is, if you still have you DVR copy… I’m keeping my fingers crossed that you haven’t deleted it.

    I was wondering about what was said between Christopher and Elena in his office. John Ross had sent Elena to spy on Christopher. There was a scene where Elena was getting Christopher his morning cup of coffee and she said something about waking up early in the morning and spending two hours making coffee for Christopher. Pam caught her in the act and Elena lied about making coffee for her mother. I think I must have misheard Elena. Why would anyone spend two hours making coffee?? I just wanted that dialogue clarified.

    Can you also help me with the dialogue for the interchangeable scenes where Christopher was shirtless and Rebecca was nursing his wounds; similarly, John Ross was shirtless with Elena. How did Christopher convince Rebecca that he wasn’t interested in Elena? I overheard Elena say something about “it would tear the families apart”. What did she mean by that?

    • Thank you! You are correct: My site is independent. It’s all a labor of love; I only wish I got paid for it! Also, this is my first website. I’m pretty technically challenged in real life, so I’m really flattered that you think it’s professional looking. Your kind words have really made my day.

      Regarding the audio on the show: I agree it’s often hard to tell what’s being said. I’m not sure why it would take Elena two hours to make coffee. Maybe because when she would only have been about 6 years old when Pam was still living at Southfork?!

      As far as the “interchangeable scenes” sequence (which I loved, by the way), I think Elena’s “tear your family apart” line was a reference to how the Ewings would be divided over Bobby’s wing of the family, which wants to preserve the land, and J.R.’s, which is all too eager to drill. I went ahead and transcribed the dialogue below (as I hear it anyway). Hope it helps.

      Thank you again for commenting and for your kind words!

      CHRISTOPHER: He wants money and power. Hell, he doesn’t even know the first thing about oil. Elena found the reserve.
      Cut to John Ross and Elena.
      ELENA: You knew this could happen.
      Cut to Christopher and Rebecca.
      CHRISTOPHER: He’s just using her. Just like when we were kids.
      Cut to John Ross and Elena.
      ELENA: Let’s cut our losses and move on.
      Cut to Christopher and Rebecca.
      REBECCA: Is Elena what this is all about, Chris?
      CHRISTOPHER: No, this is about me and John Ross.
      Cut to John Ross and Elena.
      JOHN ROSS: You don’t think I should fight him with every fiber of my being?
      ELENA: It’s not worth going to war over.
      Cut to Christopher and Rebecca.
      REBECCA: Don’t let John Ross get in your head.
      Cut to John Ross and Elena.
      ELENA: It’ll tear your family apart.
      Cut to Christopher and Rebecca.
      REBECCA: Hey, you’re better than that.
      CHRISTOPHER: You’re right.
      Cut to John Ross and Elena.
      JOHN ROSS: I’d hoped my uncle would listen to reason. But he’s forcing my hand.

  5. i don’t understand how JR could have meet marta from is hospital, and how he could have know that bobby was going to sell the ranch. Do you have explainations about that ?

    • Hi Antoine. It’s been awhile since I’ve watched this episode, but doesn’t John Ross tell J.R. about Bobby’s plan to sell the ranch? Not sure if this gave J.R. enough time to cook up his scheme to seize Southfork from Bobby. As far as Marta: J.R. was permitted visitors at the nursing home, so I guess that’s how they got to spend time together.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] she was using to record Ryland’s confession was terrific, and so was the big reveal at the end of “Changing of the Guard,” when the audience learned J.R. and Marta were in [...]

  2. [...] appropriately, TNT’s “Dallas” pilot, “Changing of the Guard,” is chock full of allusions to “Digger’s Daughter,” the classic show’s first [...]

  3. [...] the most intense scene in “Changing of the Guard,” TNT’s first “Dallas” episode, Christopher angrily accuses Elena of exposing flaws in his [...]

  4. [...] will include deleted scenes; audio commentary on the “Changing of the Guard” pilot; “Ewing Family Love Oak” and “Dressing Dallas” featurettes; and a “Who Shot [...]

  5. [...] “Dallas” memorably paid tribute to Hagman and Martin’s scene at the end of its first episode, “Changing of the Guard,” when John Ross went to Cowboys Stadium to meet with Marta del Sol. Having those characters meet in [...]

  6. [...] son at a Ewing dinner at the Oil Baron’s Club. The tradition continues: John Ross used Bobby’s birthday party to unveil his plot to drill for oil on Southfork, while Rebecca (Julie Gonzalo) decided the [...]

  7. [...] Michael M. Robin, who do a nice job explaining how much work – and love – went into making the “Changing of the Guard” pilot. Robin, the episode’s director, calls the scene where Bobby visits J.R. in the nursing home [...]

  8. [...] Michael M. Robin, who do a nice job explaining how much work – and love – went into making the “Changing of the Guard” pilot. Robin, the episode’s director, calls the scene where Bobby visits J.R. in the nursing home [...]

  9. [...] “Dallas’s” best fakeout (the cops were coming to arrest Frank, not Pamela!) since the end of “Changing of the Guard,” when we discovered J.R. was in cahoots with Marta. I also love the crosscutting between the scene [...]

  10. [...] J.R. returns. TNT’s first episode ends with John Ross visiting J.R. in the nursing home. The younger man is dejected because Uncle [...]

  11. […] “Dallas” revival. Coincidentally, “Changing of the Guard” is the title of the new show’s first episode, which ends with the revelation that J.R. is secretly plotting with another young beauty, Marta del […]

  12. […] Family Matter”). Three decades later, when Christopher and Pamela Rebecca were married in the first episode of TNT’s “Dallas,” their ceremony was depicted in a musical montage set to an Adele song. […]

  13. […] emerges from a nursing home and tricks Bobby into selling him Southfork so he can tap the ocean of oil […]

  14. […] To see what I mean, go watch the wedding scenes at the end of the new show’s first episode, “Changing of the Guard.” Notice how much more sophisticated and womanly Gonzalo’s character looks in “Lifting the […]

  15. […] The house used to film the interior Southfork shots in “Changing of the Guard,” the first episode of TNT’s “Dallas,” just sold for $3.5 million, Realty Today reported last […]

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