These Ewing kids are all hat and no cattle.
TNT’s reboot of “Dallas,” which debuts Wednesday, updates the classic prime-time soap by handing the crystal highball glass to the next generation of the Ewing family, whose underhanded success in the oil industry is the stuff of legend. Too bad the old people are the only ones who know how to party.
It’s a fossil fuel-driven story, but the themes are recycled. Bobby (Patrick Duffy) is still living on Southfork, the family’s ranch. His son, Christopher (Jesse Metcalfe), is earnest and honest. Christopher’s cousin John Ross (Josh Henderson) inherited the sleazy gene from his daddy, J.R. Christopher and John Ross don’t agree on much. Sound familiar?
In his best moments, Henderson is a younger version of Timothy Olyphant (“Justified,” “Deadwood”). In his worst moments, he’s a walking Axe Body Spray commercial.
Hot-headed John Ross, desperate to learn the business from his daddy, is clearly meant to be the heart and soul of the new “Dallas.” He’s certainly not the brains.
“You got the schoolin’, I got the instincts,” he tells his business partner.
That would be the allegedly brainy Elena (Jordana Brewster, “The Fast and the Furious”), who squints at her laptop at a drilling site before informing Bobby, “You’re sitting on 2 billion barrels of light sweet crudethe most valuable petroleum in the world
Thanks, doll. I bet he didn’t know that.
Elena also helps Christopher with his “invention,” which would revolutionize the energy industry if it didn’t trigger undersea earthquakes in China. Whenever “methane extraction” and “seabed slumping” come up, the actors look mildly panicked.
To work out a few kinks with this groundbreaking technology, Christopher whips up a home experiment that looks like a mini meth lab topped with a pasta strainer. Success! Now they can put the cue cards away.
The younger generation’s tendency to recite clunky exposition makes a big chunk of each episode cringe-worthy. But between a tiresome love triangle and what passes for industry jargon, “Dallas” serves up some legitimate guilty pleasures. Or rather, Larry Hagman does.
J.R. has been silently languishing in a deep clinical depression that hasn’t allowed him to groom his eyebrows since the original series went off the air. But the news that Bobby might sell Southfork puts a burr under J.R.’s saddle, and it doesn’t take long before he’s threatening, lying, extorting — all the activities he used to find so rewarding.
He can still rattle ex-wife Sue Ellen (Linda Gray) with a hello and a smile, and has little patience for his son’s shenanigans.
“Never pass up a good chance to shut up,” he tells John Ross.
But he saves the best of old-school J.R. for old-school adversaries.
“Time has not been kind to that face,” he says of a nemesis from the past, “but I do recall the smell of brimstone and crazy.”
That particular conflict should come to a head at a poker table in the near future. J.R. Ewing playing Texas Hold’em for millions? Deal me in.
With his clipped, sardonic delivery and gleeful cackle intact, Hagman is so much fun that you hate to see his helicopter take off, leaving John Ross with the cream-colored cowboy hat that always equaled power.
Without J.R., Southfork just isn’t fun. The pilot teases fans of the original series with a family wedding at the ranch — and nobody gets thrown into the pool. What a waste.
The Ewing family tree always had one redeemable twig. The presence of dearly departed matriarch Miss Ellie is still pervasive at Southfork. Her recipes, her diary, her will, her silver, her pearls — they’re all in play. She’d shake her head in sadness at the misguided hussies hanging around the ranch these days, one of whom actually hisses, “I told you not to toy with me!”
How much of this “Dallas” you’ll be able to stomach will depend on how much you loved the original. If you can’t drill through the younger generations to get enough J.R., use your DVR’s scan button to edit wisely. Or take a shower and pretend it was all a dream.