When the reboot of Dallas was unleashed onto the television landscape last summer, it wasn't revolutionary. While cable shows on HBO, AMC and FX have experimented mightily with narrative form and content in the past ten years, Dallas was of a different sensibility, one of outlandish twists and turns, of crazy mistresses, of backstabbings and stink eyes. Its young, sexy stars couldn't act. There were laughable plot holes, like how Elena and Christopher's marriage was dissolved by a simple email.
This doesn't sound like a very entertaining show, or even one worth watching.
Except Larry Hagman was on it.
Hagman, who died Nov. 23 at the age of 81, lit up the screen whenever he was on it as the mercurial oil baron J.R. Ewing, turning his supporting cast (with the exception of Patrick Duffy as Bobby and sometimes Josh Henderson as J.R. III) into mere scenery as he smirked and sauntered his way through Southfork. Though his gait was a little slow and his voice weak, his presence was still as electrifying as ever. His schemes, often contrary to the wishes of his family, were central to the show, contrasting the strong moral compass of Bobby with sheer selfishness and guile.
Though I had never seen the original Dallas, I was intrigued with the idea of bringing back a classic villain, even at an old age. A soap is usually like any other soap, unless its characters are great. It's part of the reason that Sons of Anarchy is so popular -- the show is, at its core, a violent soap opera, but the characters are so interesting to watch that it makes the show stand out from the pack.
When he died, Hagman had filmed six episodes of the upcoming 15-episode second season, which premieres in January. The writers are expected to give him a "proper send-off," which in Dallas terms probably means that his death will be wrapped in an interstate struggle for oil, money and sex... OK maybe not sex. When Nancy Marchand, an equally effective actress in the twilight of her career, died in between the second and third seasons of The Sopranos, showrunner David Chase adjusted the season to account for her death and the show stayed the course, even though Livia Soprano was a major part of the plot of the first two seasons.
But is Dallas really capable of the same longevity?
Sorry, Patrick Duffy, but as good an actor as you are, you're not enough to carry a cable television show. Neither is Henderson. The guy from John Tucker Must Die can't act, and you can find talentless-yet-attractive "actresses" like Jordana Brewster on any run-of-the-mill TV drama. After the dust clears from J.R.'s eventual death, can the show really last?
There's only one solution: Combine Dallas and Nashville into one super-soap, with J.R. III hooking up with Juliette Barnes, Lamar Wyatt squaring off against Sue Ellen Ewing, and Rayna James being the one who shot J.R.
It could happen.
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