The makers of the Dallas revival should bear in mind the old maxim that money doesn’t buy happiness. Ostensibly, the 1980s supersoap was all about shoulder-pad dresses and lavish wealth, but some forget that the perfect teeth of its characters were often clenched with anguish.
Those who think of Dallas as being the ultimate cultural representation of the ‘me decade’ don’t remember that everyone involved was bloody miserable. For instance, oil baron JR Ewing was a man who seemed to have it all: a maid to serve him meals, ready access to a sanatorium where he could keep dipso wife Sue Ellen locked up and an endless supply of dead birds with which to line the brim of his ten-gallon hat.
But the only time he ever cracked a smile was when he got one over on Cliff Barnes, his floundering archenemy. With greed came an undeniable and all-consuming cruelty.
The long-standing feud between the Ewings and the Barneses was what fuelled the early period of Dallas, with JR possessing the zeal of a eugenicist as he aimed to keep his family’s blood pure. Incomer Ray Krebbs was continually referred to as a “half-breed”, while Pam (who had married JR’s younger brother, Bobby) was routinely described as “that Barnes woman”.
But over the years, this central antagonism got lost as the programme became increasingly risible and baroque. Most notoriously, the entire eighth season was explained away as a dream following the miraculous resurrection of Bobby, who had been killed off the year before.
Viewers felt that the whys and wherefores were overtaxing credibility in a way that they hadn’t experienced before on primetime TV and Dallas never really recovered from this plotline blunder.
Those who stuck with the show until the bitter end will recall a finale that laughably saw JR being taken taunted by the Devil – who had appeared in his bedroom mirror – to shoot himself. It’s slapdash storytelling like this that would never make the grade in the 21st century, where online forum-users pick television apart in remorseless detail and feel no qualms about shaming shoddy scriptwriting.
What Dallas needs to do is go back to basics and create some decent family antagonism that adds a flinty edge to the surface gloss. Thankfully, a lot of its target audience will be too young to remember the fag-end years that featured the lookalike Pam and the Bobby shower scene. So let’s hope that they don’t get any similar jolts when the gates of the Southfork ranch reopen in 2012.