There’s no denying it – nostalgia is just as persuasive and seductive as ol’ JR Ewing. All it takes is a smirk from Larry Hagman and for him to raise those devilish eyebrows and we’re transported to a TV land of lost content, where any misgivings we may have are instantly wiped away.
Because let’s face it, we’d definitely fallen out of love with Dallas. It was once the king of US imports, indeed the 1980 episode in which JR’s would-be assassin was revealed remains the UK’s 16th most-watched programme of all time with 21.6 million viewers. But by the time its final season was aired in 1991, first-run episodes were being burned off on BBC1 during Sunday afternoons, the show’s credibility by then dented by the reintroduction of the once-dead Bobby, whose resurrection invalidated an entire season’s worth of storylines.
But the power of nostalgia proves that, after so much time away, we’re prepared to give the Ewings another chance. Tonight, Channel 5 aired the “continuation” of Dallas (everyone involved is very keen to stress that this is no sequel or reboot) following US network TNT’s broadcast of the series earlier in the summer.
The big issue for fans was whether writer and producer Cynthia Cidre could channel the success of Dallas in its heyday. Would this be a return to the boardroom-and-bedroom machinations of the show’s glory years or a misstep on the scale of Bobby’s shower-scene rebirth? Well, the good news is that Cidre has made damn sure that all the vital ingredients are in play, namely battles over oil, land and family ties.
Her smartest move has been to pass on to the next generation the codes of conduct that made the rivalry between Bobby and JR sizzle: so Christopher (adoptive offspring of Bobby) is pursuing an ethical business path with his interest in alternative energy, while John Ross – like his Daddy before him – wants to frack the hell out of Texas.
Thankfully, the old guard are on hand to offer moral and immoral support where necessary. Bobby (Patrick Duffy) retains the knack of speaking all his lines through clenched teeth (“I am sick of this family devouring itself over money!”), a miraculously well preserved Sue Ellen (Linda Gray) has put down the bourbon bottle long enough to pursue a political career, while a crepuscular JR snaps himself out of clinical depression at the first sign of the Southfork ranch being sold off.
What’s been added is a zip and a sheen that allows Dallas to fit in snugly alongside sudsters like Revenge and Ringer, programmes that have effectively taken the place of primetime soaps in the schedules. There’s glamour in the form of Fast and Furious actress Jordana Brewster and glowering good looks from Josh Henderson, but most importantly emotional complications that are writ as large as JR’s ten-gallon hat.
However, in this age of recession and belt-tightening, there is an argument that a melodrama about wealthy people wrangling over cash is the last thing we need to see on our screens. But then Dallas has never been a celebration of conspicuous consumption – you only have to recall Sue Ellen curled up in a gutter and reeking of Jim Beam to realise this. The Ewings are proof positive that money can never buy happiness, especially when JR Ewing is anywhere near the purse strings: “Blood may be thicker than water,” he tells his son and heir, “but oil is thicker than both.”
Such a skewed perspective will ensure that the well of goodwill we feel towards Dallas won’t run dry for a good while yet.