The 2012 revival of "Dallas" left me pleasantly surprised as it single handedly defied all the odds and legacy of its parent series and delivered a well more than adequate ten-season freshman year, that in all honesty, exceeded the standard of quality the original series offered in its waning years. When I reviewed that initial season late last year, the iconic Larry Hagman had just succumb to a long battle with cancer and left the fate of "Dallas" up in the air prompting rewrites and pushing the new cast into the forefront, no longer having the always engaging J.R. to carry the weight of a scene and at minimum make even the most rote, expository episode worth watching. It comes as a very pleasant, but bittersweet surprise that season two of "Dallas" which had all the warning signs of a disaster waiting to happen, manages to not only overcome the hurdle of losing its key attraction, but to take that loss and refuse to let a series with such promise wither on the vine.
As expected "Dallas'" sophomore season opens on the heels of the satisfactory but less than shocking cliffhanger of Christopher's (Jesse Metcalfe) estranged wife, Rebecca (Julie Gonzano) was in fact the daughter of longtime Ewing rival and J.R's arch-nemesis, Cliff Barnes. The first third of season two keeps this plotline running with every melodramatic turn you could hope for, while mixing in the classic Ewing oil (or in this new series' case, alternative energy) battle with a conspiracy involving Bobby's wife Ann. It's all the elements a "Dallas" fan could hope for and then some. The writers do great job of never overplaying their dramatic hand, well, at least for a soap opera, which when you boil it down, is what "Dallas" was and forever shall be. Add to that a generally slick and eye-popping production design that elevates it above its daytime competitors and season two hits a mid-point of a firmly above-average product, only for real-life tragedy to strike.
The death of Larry Hagman was a great loss to the world of television. Few actors can claim one iconic role, let alone two, and Hagman's contrast of most memorable TV characters was testament to the actor's skill in his craft. Although age had definitely shown it's effect on the face of the wizened and cantankerous J.R. Ewing these past two seasons, the quality of Hagman's performances never betrayed what would be a fatal struggle with cancer. Even at "Dallas'" most disposable moments, Hagman could be counted on to bring that complex gamut of emotions to the table, segueing from a cold, calculated, ruthless businessman, who upon exiting a room, cold throw a devilish wink and grin to an unsuspecting secretary and simultaneously win over the favor of even the most passionate despiser of "Dallas'" most colorful character. If nothing else comes out of "Dallas" in years to come, J.R.'s funeral as captured in "J.R.'s Masterpiece" stands as a high-water mark in not just the series' legacy but the modern TV medium; it's not just a fitting send-off to a classic character, but a very touching tribute to the actor himself.
The latter half of "Dallas" this year, is where I expected things to fly off the rails, but in true "Dallas" fashion, the death of J.R. only serves as the most combustible fuel for the narrative fire, taking that "above-average" start and racing forward to a season finale that gives viewers the trademark cliffhanger they want and rightfully deserve. More importantly, the younger cast, in particular Metcalfe and Josh Henderson (who is slowly coming into his own as J.R.'s son) step-up their acting game and along with all the new characters, show viewers that investing trust in this next generation is worth their time and while old favorites like Bobby, Cliff Barnes, and Sue Ellen are never going to be not-interesting, they shouldn't be relied on to be the main draw. Personally, I had found this new "Dallas" fun to watch, but far from "must-see" TV. Having now seen where the series continued, solely out of personal curiosity, "Dallas" has me back on board for season three and it's the second half of season two, put together after the most unexpected circumstances that is the sole decider. Old-school and new-school fans alike should give "Dallas" their time, it takes what it so carefully built last year and makes it something exciting.
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. 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.
Bonus features include an extended cut of the episode "J.R.'s Masterpiece" along with a commentary track. The remaining extras are a handful of fluff featurttes, "Dallas: Fashion Files," "Dallas at PaleyFest 2013" and "The Battle of Ewing Energies." Of more note to fans are "Memories of Larry Hagman" and "One Last Conversation with Larry Hagman" as well a collection of deleted scenes.
The second season of "Dallas" provides anything and everything one could hope from a series bearing such an iconic name. The ante is upped from season one and the cast and crew have shown they will not let the passing of the series' biggest star slow them down, instead choosing to pay tribute to their fallen star while at the same time, ensuring his impact on the show is never forgotten, while allowing his younger successors their chance to shine. Highly Recommended.