The Dal-List: 37 Reasons to Love ‘Dallas’

Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing

Love to love them

“Dallas” debuted 37 years ago today. Here’s why we still love the Ewings.

Bobby Ewing, Dallas, Pam Ewing, Patrick Duffy, Victoria Principal

Drive us crazy

37. “Digger’s Daughter.” Bobby marries Pam, Lucy and Ray take a roll in the hay and Jock calls J.R. a jackass. Could this show have gotten off to a better start?

Dallas, Southfork

Big house on the prairie

36. Southfork. To a lot of us, the white house on Braddock Road is more revered than the one on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Bobby Ewing, Dallas, Jim Davis, Jock Ewing, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Linda Gray, Patrick Duffy, Sue Ellen Ewing

Is blood thicker than liquor?

35. Bourbon and branch. Forget oil. This is what really fueled the Ewing empire.

Dallas, Jim Davis, Jock Ewing

Can’t touch this

34. Every time Jock asks for “a touch” of bourbon. Spoiler: It was always more than a touch.

Barbara Bel Geddes, Dallas, Miss Ellie Ewing

Stop or mom will shoot

33. “Ray, get me the shotgun out of the hall closet.” The quintessential Miss Ellie moment.

Dallas, Pam Ewing, Victoria Principal

Long walk

32. Pam’s middle screen during the opening credits. It never changed! For almost a decade, she never stopped crossing the Southfork lawn.

Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Knots Landing, Larry Hagman


31. J.R.’s first visit to “Knots Landing.” J.R.: Hey, that is good. What do you call this? Valene: Tuna fish.

Dallas, Kristin Shepard, Mary Crosby


30. Kristin Shepard. So much more than the answer to a trivia question.

Dallas, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing

About face

29. Sue Ellen’s 180s. No one does the slow, dramatic turn better.

Dallas, Who Shot J.R.

Clean scream

28. The cleaning lady who found J.R. Her reaction alone made it worth waiting eight months to find out who shot him.

Dallas, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing

Moment of truth

27. “It was you, Kristin, who shot J.R.” The most famous line in “Dallas” history.

Dallas, Jim Davis, Jock Ewing

Daddy’s decree

26. “Real power is something you take.” Or maybe this is the show’s most famous line. Six words that encapsulate the Ewing creed.

Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman

He sizzles

25. Breakfast on the patio. Would you like some insults with your bacon?

Afton Cooper, Audrey Landers, Dallas

Them pipes!

24. The musical stylings of Miss Afton Cooper. She can steal us away anytime she wants.

Dallas, Dallas Press

Bleeds it leads

23. Headlines like these. The editors of The Dallas Press: The only people more obsessed with the Ewings than we are.

Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman

Snake in the grass

22. “Hey, Ray. … You getting good mileage on Donna’s car?” So nice of him to be concerned, isn’t it?

Dallas, Donna Culver Krebbs, Susan Howard

Wind ’em up

21. Donna vs. Bonnie. “Dallas’s” best barroom brawl.

Bobby Ewing, Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Linda Gray, Patrick Duffy, Sue Ellen Ewing

Will power

20. Daddy’s will. Pitting your hyper-competitive sons against each other in a yearlong battle for control of the family empire? Sounds like a plan!

Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing

Watch out, wallpaper

19. “I’m going to drink myself into oblivion.” And she damn near did.


Paging KITT

18. The synthesized seventh-season theme music. We half expect Knight Rider to come roaring into the credits.

Bobby Ewing, Christopher Ewing, Dallas, Eric Farlow, Pam Ewing, Victoria Principal

Oh, that lighting!

17. Bradford May’s cinematography. The Ewings never looked as gorgeous as they did from 1983 to 1984.

Dallas, Larry Hagman, J.R. Ewing

J.R. Ewing here

16. The phone at the Oil Baron’s Club. Be careful with that thing or you’ll poke out Dora Mae’s eye!

Charlene Tilton, Christopher Atkins, Dallas, Lucy Ewing, Peter Richards

Yes, sparklers

15. Lucy’s modeling career. There’s nothing about this picture I don’t love.

Dallas, Katherine Wentworth, Morgan Brittany

Hat attack

14. Katherine Wentworth. How can you blame a gal for going a little nuts over Bobby Ewing? Also: the hats!

Dallas, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing

Turban renewal

13. When Sue Ellen changed into this outfit to go to the movies. What, you mean you didn’t wear something similar when you saw “Porky’s II” in 1984?

Cliff Barnes, Dallas, Ken Kercheval

The best loser

12. Cliff Barnes. As essential to the “Dallas” mythology as any Ewing. Ken Kercheval is brilliant.

Dallas, Fern Fitzgerald, Marilee Stone

Drip drop

11. “Marilee, you all right, honey? Did it go up your nose?” Best pool dunking ever.

Dallas, Pam Ewing, Victoria Principal

Buzz kill

10. When Bobby flat lines, jolting Pam. Gets us every time.

Dallas, Ray Krebbs, Steve Kanaly

Who says cowboys don’t cry?

9. … And then when Ray loses it. Few things move me more than this moment.

Dallas, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing

What a dream

8. The dream season. Look, we love Bobby as much as anyone, but this is one of “Dallas’s” best years — especially where the leading ladies are concerned.

Bobby Ewing, Dallas, Patrick Duffy

Mr. Clean

7. Bobby’s return. Was the dream explanation a cop-out? Sure, but who’s going to complain about seeing Patrick Duffy in the shower?

Dallas, Pam Ewing, Victoria Principal

The long goodbye

6. Pam. Give the lady her due: Fans spent twice as long clamoring for her return as she spent on the show.

Dallas, John Ross Ewing, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Omri Katz


5. “John Ross, this is Ewing Oil.” Chills.

Brad Pitt, Dallas, Randy

A star is born

4. Brad Pitt’s hair. Also: “Randy”!

Dallas, J.R.'s Masterpiece, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing

Woman of the hour

3. “J.R.’s Masterpiece.” Linda Gray’s tour de force. If you can watch this episode without bawling like a baby, you’re stronger than me.

Dallas, John Ross Ewing, Josh Henderson, TNT

Another star is born

2. “I am not my father!” Chills again!

Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman

Forever our hero

1. Larry Hagman. How we loved this man. What an actor! What a guy! We’ll never stop missing him, and we’ll always be grateful he shared his gift with the world.

Why do you love “Dallas”? Share your comments below and read more “Dal-Lists.” 

Critique: TNT’s ‘Dallas’ Episode 26 – ‘The Return’

Dallas, John Ross Ewing, Josh Henderson, Return, TNT

That smile

Now that “Dallas” fans know who killed J.R., we can turn our attention to a much trickier question: Who’ll be J.R.? We all realize Larry Hagman is irreplaceable, but we also understand TNT’s sequel series needs a character who can keep the plots — and on this show, that means the plottin’ and the schemin’ — moving forward the way J.R. did. Last year, the producers seemed to toy with several possible successors — even white-knight father/son duo Bobby and Christopher got in touch with their inner J.R.s — but in “The Return,” John Ross emerges as Daddy’s true heir. It’s the obvious choice. It’s also the smart one.

I’ve been a fan of Josh Henderson’s sly performance from the beginning, even comparing him to “Dallas’s” most famous alum, Brad Pitt, in my first review of the TNT series. Most of what I wrote then remains true: Henderson still has an effortless, seductive charm, and even when John Ross is up to no good, you still find him alluring. But it’s no longer accurate to call Henderson or his character “boyish,” as I did two years ago. Maybe it’s the fact that John Ross is now married and a big-shot oilman in his own right — or maybe it’s the fact that Henderson’s pecs have seemingly grown three cup sizes, as Entertainment Weekly cheekily pointed out last week — but John Ross is now much more man than boy.

Wisely, “The Return” wastes no time establishing him as “Dallas’s” new J.R., who turns out be a lot like the old one. John Ross frolics with his mistress in a hotel room, comes home and lies to his wife about his whereabouts (he says he was in Houston, buying her a “proper” engagement ring), sweet talks his mama when she frets about his ambition, clashes with Bobby over Southfork’s future (To remodel or not to remodel? To drill or not to drill?) and wheels and deals in the boardroom, where he enthusiastically declares Ewing Global is going to be “bigger than Exxon and BP combined.” (Shades of J.R.’s oft-repeated vow to make Ewing Oil the “biggest independent oil company in the state of Texas.”) John Ross even sports J.R.’s wristwatch and belt buckle, and even though the latter looks kind of big on him, is that so bad? I see it as a symbol of how carrying J.R.’s legacy will always be a burden for John Ross, no matter how muscular he gets.

What impresses me most about Henderson — in this episode and others — is how he evokes Hagman’s spirit without ever resorting to imitating the actor. Like Hagman, Henderson possesses one of the great smiles in television, but he uses it differently than the way Hagman used his. Whereas J.R.’s smile often concealed his intentions, John Ross’s lets us know what’s going on inside his head. In “The Return,” Henderson arches his eyebrow and smirks when he’s sparring with Patrick Duffy, but when John Ross is on bended knee proposing to Pamela, watch how the actor’s whole face lights up. This is a smile to melt your heart, reminding us that there’s a sensitive soul beneath all that bravado.

Of course, even though Henderson has become the new face of this franchise, “Dallas” remains a group effort, as “The Return” makes clear. This episode gives almost every member of the ensemble a nice moment or two, although special mention goes to Jordana Brewster, who is such a good actress, she makes Elena’s overnight transformation — literally — into a Ewing enemy seem believable, if not altogether reasonable. (Is Elena unaware of Cliff’s role in blackmailing Drew into blowing up the rig last season?) Brewster’s character has become the latest in a long line of “Dallas” heroines to do Cliff’s dirty work, and I love how the actress holds her own against Ken Kercheval, who is as electric as ever in Cliff’s jailhouse scenes.

I also applaud the introduction of Juan Pablo Di Pace, who makes one of the all-time great “Dallas” debuts when the oh-so-suave Nicolas Treviño sweeps into the Ewing Global boardroom and upsets the family’s apple cart. Treviño has the potential to become an altogether different kind of “Dallas” villain: richer than Jeremy Wendell and Carter McKay and every bit as calculating, but also a heck of a lot hotter. (No offense, William Smithers and George Kennedy.) I’ll never understand how the Ewings lack the “supermajority” they need to sell a division in their own company — just like the whole matter about the Southfork surface rights seems like a bunch of hooey — but let’s face it: “Dallas” has always existed in a universe where the legal realities bear little resemblance to our own.

Besides, I’d rather focus on the other ways in which “The Return” lives up to its title. This episode marks a return to many of the “Dallas” hallmarks that so many of us love, beginning with the revival of the classic three-way split-screen title sequence, which has received widespread acclaim from fans. Under Steve Robin’s direction, “The Return’s” pacing also feels a little more deliberate; there are more old-school, quiet scenes like the one where the women of Southfork sit around the patio and plan Pamela’s wedding; and there are more sequences set outdoors on the ranch, which cinematographer Rodney Charters always showcases in all of its high-definition, green-grass/blue-sky glory. No matter where the characters go on Southfork — whether it’s to the wood-chopping pile or to the “shale formation” where the cattle graze — Charters makes us feel like we’re right there with them.

I also appreciate how this episode’s script, written by co-executive producers Cynthia Cidre and Robert Rovner, is sprinkled with dialogue that pays homage to classic “Dallas” themes. One example: The tension between moving forward and clinging to old traditions has always been central to the “Dallas” mythology, which we see in Bobby and John Ross’s argument over remodeling Southfork. “It’s about time you learn to respect the past, boy,” Bobby says. John Ross’s cutting response: “The past is what holds us back, Uncle Bobby.” If I heard that line a season or two ago, I might worry it signaled this franchise was going to abandon its history, except the people in charge have long since demonstrated their commitment to preserving “Dallas’s” heritage, even if they sometimes play a little loose with the continuity.

Nothing demonstrates this better than all the references to J.R. in “The Return.” I counted at least 13 instances where he’s mentioned by name, and that doesn’t include lines like the one where Sue Ellen catches John Ross sneaking out of Emma’s bedroom and says, “What’s the matter, Mama? You look like you just seen a ghost.” There are also plenty of visual reminders: the wristwatch, the belt buckle, the gravestone and most importantly, the much-improved portrait hanging in the background at Ewing Global, which makes it seem like J.R. is always peering over someone’s shoulder.

Indeed, as tempting as it is to think of “Dallas’s” third season as the beginning of the post-Hagman era, is such a thing even possible? “The Return” keeps our hero’s memory alive, not that it was in any danger of fading in the first place.

Grade: B


Dallas, Elena Ramos, Jordana Brewster, Return, TNT

Look who’s lurking


Season 3, Episode 1

Telecast: February 24, 2014

Audience: 2.7 million viewers on February 24

Writers: Cynthia Cidre and Robert Rovner

Director: Steve Robin

Synopsis: Elena forms a secret alliance with Cliff, takes a job at the newly renamed Ewing Global and recruits Nicolas Treviño, a childhood friend who is now a billionaire, to serve as Cliff’s proxy. Emma, Ryland Transport’s new chief executive, gives John Ross control of the company’s drilling and cargo ships so Ewing Global can tap oil and methane reserves in the Arctic. When Nicolas tries to scuttle the Arctic deal, John Ross suggests drilling on Southfork to finance the project, but Bobby disagrees. The Mendez-Ochoa cartel bribes a judge to get Harris out of jail and threatens to kill Emma if Harris doesn’t resume his drug shipments. Christopher meets Heather, a spirited ranch hand.

Cast: Amber Bartlett (Jill), Emma Bell (Emma Ryland), Donny Boaz (Bo McCabe), Jordana Brewster (Elena Ramos), Juan Pablo Di Pace (Nicolas Treviño), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Marlene Forte (Carmen Ramos), Julie Gonzalo (Pamela Ewing), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Josh Henderson (John Ross Ewing), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), AnnaLynne McCord (Heather), Jesse Metcalfe (Christopher Ewing), Kevin Page (Bum), Mitch Pileggi (Harris Ryland), Brenda Strong (Ann Ewing)

“The Return” is available at, and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 147 — ‘Some Do … Some Don’t’

Barbara Bel Geddes, Clayton Farlow, Dallas, Howard Keel, Miss Ellie Ewing, Some Do ... Some Don't

Limited engagement

The first scene in “Some Do … Some Don’t:” Donna and Lucy are making muffins in the Southfork kitchen and listening to Miss Ellie and Clayton tease each other about their recent misadventures in Jamaica. Clayton recalls taking Ellie to a French restaurant, where she mistakenly ordered a head of veal instead of a veal chop but ate the whole thing because she was too stubborn to admit her error. Ellie, in the meantime, describes how Clayton accidentally lost his swim trunks on the beach in front of a group of New Jersey schoolteachers. “I would imagine I’m quite famous in Paramus,” he says.

The last scene in “Some Do … Some Don’t:” Clayton brings Ellie home after escorting her to the opening of Jenna Wade’s boutique. The mood is as light and as jovial as the earlier kitchen scene — until Clayton suggests he’d like to stay over so he and Ellie can spend their “first night together.” Suddenly, Ellie becomes rattled, begins to cry and calls off their wedding. “I can’t marry you. I can’t marry anyone,” she says as she runs upstairs. In the freeze frame, Clayton stands at the bottom of the steps, looking more than a little bewildered.

The two sequences serve as the emotional bookends in “Some Do … Some Don’t,” the strongest episode yet from “Dallas’s” seventh season. The opening scene does nothing to advance the show’s storylines, but it’s essential to the episode because it showcases the warm, effortless chemistry between Barbara Bel Geddes and Howard Keel. Together, these actors have charm to spare, and watching their characters gently chide each other allows the audience to feel emotionally invested in their relationship. By the time the hour is over and Ellie has called off the wedding, we can’t help but feel concerned for them.

I also love how “Dallas” doesn’t shy away from the idea that Ellie and Clayton, who are probably supposed to be in their late 60s or early 70s, are capable of having an intimate relationship. I find this subplot even more provocative than Sue Ellen’s May/December romance with Peter Richards. (Frankly, I’m also a little surprised Clayton wanted to sleep with Ellie before their wedding. Who knew the old chap was so modern?) When I watched these episodes when I was younger, I’m sure it never occurred to me to think of Ellie and Clayton as sexual beings, but now it’s not such a hard thing to wrap my head around. Bel Geddes was still a beautiful, vibrant woman when this episode was filmed in 1983, retaining more than a hint of the sauciness she exhibited in her early film roles. Meanwhile, Keel was dashing as ever. In this episode’s final shot, when Clayton stands at the bottom of the Southfork staircase with his hand on his hip, I’m reminded of Clark Gable striking a similar pose in “Gone With the Wind.” I’m sure this was intentional.

Indeed, “Some Do … Some Don’t” is full of flourishes like this. This comes as no surprise: This episode is helmed by Larry Hagman, who always brings an eye for detail to the director’s chair. For example, in one of the Ewing Oil scenes, Bobby tells J.R. about a company he wants to buy. Hagman could easily have started the exchange with J.R. seated in his office, but instead, he opens the sequence with a shot of Kendall at the reception desk, answering a phone call. In the background, J.R. steps off the elevator and walks through the room, stopping by Sly’s desk to pick up his phone messages. As he heads into his office, Phyllis buzzes Bobby on the intercom to let him know that J.R. has arrived, and then Bobby pops into J.R.’s office to tell him about the potential purchase. Maybe this was Hagman’s way of making sure the actresses who played the Ewing Oil secretaries each got a few lines in this episode — too often these performers toil silently in the background — but it nonetheless makes Ewing Oil feel like a real, functional workplace.

More details: The scene where Pam and Mark visit Cliff and Afton at their townhouse begins with Cliff sitting on the sofa, playing a videogame. It’s another small point, but isn’t it just like Cliff to get so wrapped up in a game that he would ignore his guests? (Also: Notice how John Beck seems to be limping as Mark crosses the living room, a subtle throwback to the previous episode, when the character pulled a muscle while playing tennis with Pam.) Additionally, I love when Cliff arrives at the dive bar for another clandestine meeting with Sly and steals the fries off her plate. In another great restaurant scene, J.R. brings Edgar Randolph to lunch at his favorite French eatery, where J.R. threatens to ruin Edgar’s life in one breath and enthusiastically orders him the bouillabaisse in the next. “Oh, you’re just going to love it. It’s really good,” J.R. says with a smile. I dare you to watch this scene without doing the same thing.

The scene where J.R. and Katherine sleep together for the first time is more wicked fun, and so is Pam’s confrontation with Marilee Stone. Pam is clearly out of line when she orders Marilee to stay away from Cliff, but who cares? Isn’t it nice to see Pam exhibit a little backbone and do something besides whine about being torn between Bobby and Mark? It also turns out that Pam and Marilee make good sparring partners. What a shame Victoria Principal and Fern Fitzgerald don’t have more scenes together on this show.

Surprisingly, I also like Sue Ellen and Peter’s scenes in “Some Do … Some Don’t.” Their once promising storyline took a turn for the ridiculous in the two episodes that preceded this one, but heaven help me, I find the couple’s outing to the ice rink kind of charming. I also like when Sue Ellen and Peter run into his classmates from the university and they mistake Sue Ellen for his mother. This feels like the kind of thing that might happen to a woman who dates a younger man, and Sue Ellen and Peter’s reactions to the situation ring true. Sue Ellen, ever the lady, is aghast at the thought that Peter’s friends are gossiping about them, while Peter couldn’t care less. I still have trouble believing Sue Ellen’s attraction to Peter, but at least it’s nice to see the show bring the couple back to a place that resembles reality.

Some more thoughts about Sue Ellen and Peter’s encounter with his friends: Besides Linda Gray, the actor who impresses me most during the scene is Lee Montgomery, who plays Peter’s pal Jerry Hunter. Watch Montgomery’s sly smile when Jerry spots Sue Ellen and Peter; it’s very subtle, but it lets us know he realizes there’s more to their relationship than meets the eye. It’s also worth noting this scene’s two young actresses, who both became science-fiction stars: Kate Vernon played Ellen Tigh on “Battlestar Galactica,” while Claudia Christian was Ivanova on “Babylon 5.” According to, Vernon and Christian are slated to appear together in a forthcoming film called “Chicanery” along with three other “Dallas” actresses: Colleen Camp, who originated the role of Kristin Shepard in 1979; Patty McCormack, who played Mitch Cooper’s friend Evelyn Michaelson during Season 5; and Michelle Scarabelli, who appeared during the 11th season as Connie, Ray’s stalker.

I have a lot of fun finding these connections. I’ve always appreciated how “Dallas” offered steady work to older performers like Barbara Bel Geddes and Howard Keel, but until I started this website, I didn’t realize how many young actors appeared on the show at the beginning of their careers. None of these up-and-comers have become as famous as Brad Pitt, who appeared on “Dallas” a few times in 1987 and will probably always be its most famous alumnus, but it’s impressive to see how so many actors who got their start on the show continue to find work.

This realization has made me watch TNT’s sequel series in a whole other light. Pay attention to all the actors who appear in small roles on the new show. Chances are some of them will still be entertaining us years from now.

Grade: A


Dallas, Linda Gray, Some Do ... Some Don't, Sue Ellen Ewing

Not the mama


Season 7, Episode 16

Airdate: January 20, 1984

Audience: 22 million homes, ranking 5th in the weekly ratings

Writer: Leonard Katzman

Director: Larry Hagman

Synopsis: J.R. sleeps with Katherine, allows Cliff to steal another deal from Ewing Oil and continues to pressure Edgar to unseal the offshore oil lease bids. Jenna celebrates the opening of her boutique by sleeping with Bobby. Clayton suggests he wants to be intimate with Miss Ellie, who is rattled and calls off their wedding. Mark checks into the hospital for tests without telling Pam.

Cast: Denny Albee (Travis Boyd), Christopher Atkins (Peter Richards), John Beck (Mark Graison), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Morgan Brittany (Katherine Wentworth), Martin E. Brooks (Edgar Randolph), Claudia Christian (Peter’s friend), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Eric Farlow (Christopher Ewing), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Omri Katz (John Ross Ewing), Sherril Lynn Katzman (Jackie Dugan), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Audrey Landers (Afton Cooper), Anne Lucas (Cassie), Shalane McCall (Charlie Wade), Lee Montgomery (Jerry Hunter), Priscilla Beaulieu Presley (Jenna Wade), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Danone Simpson (Kendall), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Deborah Tranelli (Phyllis), Kate Vernon (Peter’s friend)

“Some Do … Some Don’t” is available on DVD and at and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.

TNT’s ‘Dallas,’ a Good Show Poised for Greatness

Once and future kings

Once and future kings

TNT’s “Dallas” is a good show on the verge of becoming a great one. It has the potential to surpass the original “Dallas” in overall quality, much like “Star Trek: The Next Generation” is now more highly regarded than its 1960s precursor. Of course, it took Captain Picard and his crew awhile to hit their stride, and this new brood of Ewings is going to need time to find their bearings, too.

TNT has produced 10 one-hour “Dallas” episodes and will show them on Wednesday nights, beginning June 13. I’ve seen the first seven entries and was impressed with all of them, especially the pilot, “Changing of the Guard,” which beautifully captures the old “Dallas” spirit.

The episodes that follow are more of a mixed bag. Each one is solidly entertaining, with good performances and gorgeous cinematography (Rodney Charters, get your Emmy submission ready), but the pacing is a bit frenetic. The new show moves at the speed of Twitter, offering a torrent of plot twists that are genuinely surprising but leave the audience little time to get to know the characters.

Hagman Still Has It

Hands down, the best thing about the new show is the man who was the best thing about the old one: Larry Hagman, whose return as J.R. Ewing is everything I hoped it would be. The actor is now in his 80s and looks every bit of it, but as viewers will discover, Hagman still has it. Yes, the hair is thinner, the voice is raspier and the eyebrows are out of control, but the twinkle in Hagman’s eye hasn’t dimmed a bit.

To its credit, TNT doesn’t try to conceal Hagman’s age. In fact, the show seems to embrace it. In one scene in “Changing of the Guard,” director Michael M. Robin allows the camera to linger for a moment on J.R.’s wrinkled hands. It’s a small gesture, but at a time when television seems more obsessed with youth than ever, it’s downright bold.

In later episodes, the show deals with J.R.’s age rather playfully. At one point, the character begins using a walker – not because he needs it, but because he wants to make Bobby feel sorry for him. In another scene, we see J.R. shuffling around the Southfork kitchen in a cardigan sweater, making breakfast for Bobby and Ann, Bobby’s new wife. It seems like a warm moment, until you stop and realize the cuddly old man dishing up scrambled eggs is secretly plotting against everyone at the table.

Patrick Duffy, who returns as Bobby, uses his more “mature” appearance to his advantage, too. Duffy’s silver hair imbues Bobby with instant authority, allowing the actor to command every scene he’s in. Duffy has always been “Dallas’s” unsung hero, but now his gravitas is readily apparent. He makes a worthy heir to Jim Davis’s spot at the head of the Ewing dinner table.

The real revelation, though, is Linda Gray, who once again plays Sue Ellen. She doesn’t have nearly enough to do in TNT’s first seven episodes, but when Gray appears, she lights up the screen. The show has cast Sue Ellen in the role of elder stateswoman, but the truth is, Gray is still “Dallas’s” leading lady, even if the producers haven’t realized it yet.

Mr. Henderson, Presented

Among the new cast, no actor will be watched more closely than Josh Henderson, who portrays John Ross, J.R. and Sue Ellen’s son. I’m not going to make the inevitable comparisons to Hagman because, hey, there’s only one of him. Instead, I prefer to ponder Henderson’s similarities to another young actor who got his start at Southfork: Brad Pitt, who played a long-forgotten teenage character on “Dallas” a quarter century ago.

Henderson reminds me a lot of Pitt, not during his “Dallas” days but a little later, when he was making movies like “Thelma & Louise.” Like Pitt in that film, Henderson has an effortless, seductive charm. He is boyish and dangerous at once, and even when he’s up to no good, you can’t help but find him alluring. Maybe comparisons to Hagman aren’t so unfair after all.

I’m also impressed with the other members of TNT’s ensemble: Jesse Metcalfe, who delivers several moving performances as Christopher, Bobby’s strong-but-sensitive son; Brenda Strong, who is casually elegant as Ann; and Julie Gonzalo, who does a nice job keeping the audience on its toes in her role as Rebecca, Christopher’s mysterious fiancée.

My favorite newcomer, though, is Jordana Brewster, who plays Elena, the young geologist torn between John Ross and Christopher. Brewster carries herself with the same kind of confidence and youthful wisdom Victoria Principal did during the original “Dallas’s” earliest episodes. Brewster makes me care about Elena, even when the role is underwritten. This show is lucky to have her.

People Before Plots

While “Dallas’s” new actors are good, their characters need a little work. For example, I’m not sure why John Ross is so antagonistic, aside from the fact that’s what the narrative demands.

This is the classic trap soap operas fall into: The writers allow the plots to dictate the characters’ behavior, something the original “Dallas” skillfully avoided. Think about it: Unless you’re a “Dallas” diehard, you probably don’t remember the specifics of J.R.’s schemes, but chances are you haven’t forgotten about his relationships with his family.

The new show hasn’t quite figured out viewers care more people than plots. The twist-a-minute storytelling style doesn’t give the new characters time to become knowable, relatable people. It also leaves little room for warmth, which was such an important part of the fabric of the original series.

Bobby always forgave J.R. for stabbing him in the back because, well, they were brothers, and that’s what brothers do (on TV, at least). The new show emphasizes the rivalry between cousins John Ross and Christopher, but I never get the impression they feel anything for each other but animosity.

Honoring the Past

Cynthia Cidre, the creative force behind TNT’s “Dallas, has pledged to honor the original show’s history, and she mostly follows through. Cidre seems to understand the “Dallas” mythology, with its emphasis on the conflicts between conservation and capitalism and its depiction of modern people defending old values like land and family.

Cidre also upholds many of the longtime “Dallas” traditions. During the first few episodes, for example, we see a Southfork wedding, a Ewing barbecue and a black-tie ball. I’m also pleased to hear so many references to Principal’s character Pam, “Dallas’s” original heroine, as well as Jock and Miss Ellie (although I’m no fan of the cheap-looking portrait of Jim Davis and Barbara Bel Geddes that now hangs in the Southfork living room).

At other times, I wonder how closely this show’s writers watched the old “Dallas” episodes before they began cranking out their scripts. The TNT show’s major storyline revolves around John Ross’s fight to drill on Southfork’s Section 18, which we learn in the pilot is brimming with oil. Fine, but why not make it a battle over oil-soaked Section 40, which has been rooted in “Dallas” lore since the original show’s second season?

Mostly, the small stuff trips up the writers. Duffy’s character is referred to as “Robert James Ewing,” not “Bobby James Ewing,” as he was known throughout the original series. I’m the first to admit the overwhelming majority of viewers won’t notice or care, but details like this matter to me – especially when you consider the character’s name is the first line of the first episode of the first “Dallas” series. (Pam: “Bobby James Ewing, I don’t believe you!”).

And yes, I know the original “Dallas” didn’t always honor its own continuity, either. This is the show that infamously wrote off an entire season as Pam’s dream, after all. But this is also why TNT’s “Dallas” should work harder to avoid flubs. The new series shouldn’t be content to be as good as the old one. It should strive to be better.

My gut tells me that’ll happen, and I’m sure I’ll one day remember TNT’s “Dallas” as fondly as I recall the show that spawned it. But first, the writers need to slow things down and pay a little more attention to their characters – and for goodness sakes, learn their names!

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