"Dallas." For 14 seasons and a handful of TV movies, that one word defined a generation of prime time television. The epic, melodramatic saga of a Texas oil fortunes was in fact overshadowed by one of its own characters, the villainous but compelling J.R. Ewing. Even those who have never seen a single episode of the show know the pop culture value of the phrase "Who Shot J.R.?" Naturally, when TNT decided to revive the show in 2012, following the children of the original series' main characters, there was some very justified scoffing; but when the man himself, Larry Hagman was announced to return as J.R. alongside his on-screen bother Bobby (Patrick Duffy), it would be very hard to not be intrigued. Debuting to impressive ratings and strong critical buzz, the initial 10-episode season of "Dallas" proved that nostalgia can sometimes payoff and the return of not just J.R. and Bobby, but other prominent cast members from the original series helped bridge the gap between generations of TV viewers.
Yet, once that nostalgia wears off, "Dallas" is tasked with seeing that the new blood of the show, John Ross Ewing III (Josh Henderson), J.R.'s equally conniving son and Christopher Ewing (Jesse Metcalfe), Bobby's adopted son, along with their respective ladies, Elena Ramos (Jordana Brewster) and Rebecca Sutter (Julie Gonzano), blaze their own trails, if for no other reason than, to be blunt, the older stars aren't going to be with us forever. Sadly, after a solid first season and promise of a second, lengthier season, time caught up with the face of Dallas, as Larry Hagman succumb to a long battle with cancer, leaving the second season in turmoil and the legacy of a series forever changed. To be fair, "Dallas" always was a soap opera, albeit a well-acted one, and on that note, this re-launched series is very much top-tier when compared to other entries in the genre. When the action isn't on the older generation, viewers are in store for numerous squabbles, romantic betrayals and reconciliations, and performances that lack nuance. Henderson fares best of the new cast, channeling the mean streak of his iconic father, while making the character into something unique; Metcalfe on the other hand becomes grating on the nerves, with an overly earnest do-gooder attitude that is only upstaged by the vapid machinations of Brewster and Gonzano.
The series comes alive whenever Duffy or Hagman are on screen, although Duffy himself succumbs to the awful tropes of the genre late in the season. It's a testament to these actors not missing a beat on their characters that the season arc involving a power struggle over the Southfork Ranch as well as Christopher's clean energy research manages to feel more thoroughly fleshed out than it is under closer scrutiny. A lot of the gaps are filled by cameos and supporting roles from other fellow "Dallas" alumni, most notably Linda Gray as J.R.'s equally infamous ex-wife. The nostalgia does eventually fully wear off and the season ends satisfyingly, but nowhere near the promise offered in the first two episodes; yes there's a trademark, "Dallas" cliffhanger, but it feels more contrived than it should, almost as if it were an eleventh hour addition. This new incarnation of "Dallas" doesn't break any new ground and there's nothing to suggest it ever aspired to do so; it merely trades on goodwill towards its legacy series and for major fans, it's a satisfying revisit to that world. In hindsight, it provides the rare opportunity for an actor like Larry Hagman to have his swan song, revisiting his most iconic role and he doesn't disappoint one moment; he and Duffy get to act their butts off, delivering some moving work at times and although there's still a little more J.R. left to be unleashed on the world, the end result is bittersweet.
The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is a solid visual offering, albeit no one aspect jumps out as being overly impressive. Colors are naturally warm, making those Texas exteriors pop with visual appeal, although interiors definitely have a studio vibe to them. Detail is firmly above average with minimal digital noise/grain, perhaps the result of some minor DNR. Edge enhancement is most noticeable in location shots, although it's never distracting and compression artifacts are kept to minimum.
The Dolby Digital English 5.1 audio track gets a few chances to flex its surround muscles; notably at the Cattle Baron's Ball early in the season, providing some subtle atmospheric effects. A few standout moments aside, it's a well-mixed, clean track that sounds better than any soap opera I've ever heard and is on par with the best nightly network dramas. English SDH subtitles are included.
The bonus features include a feature-length commentary on the pilot, deleted scenes for all but two episodes, and a host of promotional style featurettes including: Back in Production, Dressing Dallas, Who Shot J.R., Ewing Family Love Oak, Southfork Legacy, and Oil and Water. While not incredibly enlightening, they do cement the fact the old cast has a true love for the series and was happy to be back.
Once the nostalgia fades, "Dallas" is a solid, nightly melodrama, elevated at times by solid performances from the original series cast members. At 10 episodes, it never overstays its welcome and has enough twists and turns to keep you coming back, even if they can be a bit hackneyed or obvious in hindsight. Old fans will definitely want to give this one a go, while new fans, especially genre enthusiasts should find this return to Southfork an entertaining one. Recommended.