Though we fully expected the Dallas season two premiere to be bittersweet, following the news of Larry Hagman’s passing a few months ago, the result is actually much more depressing than celebratory. Though J.R. Ewing (Hagman) may not move around as quickly or steadily as he used to, everything about his character in this reboot was on point with the charismatic man we loved to hate from the original series. Realizing just how heads and tails above everyone else on TNT’s version he actually is—well, was—means without him mid-season, we feared there may not be a whole lot left to keep us interested at all.
Dallas season two sets off on a few stories sans J.R. that do have potential. John Ross (Josh Henderson) is still fuming from losing to Christopher (Jesse Metcalfe)—both in business and personally, with Elena (Jordana Brewster)—and he pulls every dirty trick his daddy taught him to get back at him, including teaming up with Rebecca—the real one and the one who now goes by Pamela (Julie Gonzalo). Both John Ross and Henderson have matured nicely over the hiatus and are now longer just filling out their Stetsons with big egos and hot air. There will never be another J.R., but John Ross increasingly instills confidence in us that there can at least be another sympathetic villain. He is electric on-screen, and it’s almost impossible not to root for him—especially when looking at Christopher as your alternative. In all honesty, though, John Ross’ cockiness wouldn’t be so welcome if Christopher was as dynamic as he needs to be in order to be a hero.
Click here for a photo preview of Dallas' second season premiere.
The writers certainly seem to recognize this divide, though, because season two of Dallas doesn’t seem to be setting up the J.R./John Ross and Bobby/Christopher parallels of the initial episodes, or even pairing them up as much on-screen. The family rivalry between the younger men is still intact, but after Bobby’s (Patrick Duffy) health scare last season, he and J.R. are playing a little nicer. Additionally, Christopher is off on his methane kick harder than ever (seriously, we’d tell you to play a drinking game with the amount of times that word is said, but that wouldn’t be telling you to drink responsibly), so he’s not really looking to follow in his father’s footsteps. This allows the show to veer off and expand on additional, almost unnecessary, complications and threats to the Ewings from other parts of the family—and slightly outside.
As aforementioned, Pamela is still playing dirty to get at Christopher—all because of what her father set up so long ago. But even she is coming to realize she doesn’t have to live in his shadow and can use the skills he taught her to her own advantage. Gonzalo does a great job at playing Pamela conflicted, rather than just calculating. Her feelings for Christopher easily become complicated, as does her newfound power within her own family’s conglomerate, but at times it feels contrived—designed to milk extra drama where there is none organically. While we’re glad to see Dallas did not write Gonzalo out, we wish she would be utilized as something more evolved (and more worthy of her talents) than just another schemer. Though the locations vary this season (courtroom, boardroom, bedroom), “bitch” is still a one-note trait.
Hot off blackmail, Harris (Mitch Pileggi) has a new trick up his sleeve to get under ex-wife Ann’s (Brenda Strong) skin, and it’s a doozy, but it comes with all-new layers of deception, and unraveling them is a joy, especially when you meet his mother. Judith Light truly is the boss in this family, but she’s also a severely cold matriarch to fear. It's an interesting color to bring that a man like Harris, who seemed to instill so much fear in others, really could be defecting to the orders of his own mother. Suddenly his actions inspire a bit of sympathy: he's trying to control anything he can because his mother lords control over him.
Harris wastes no time playing with Ann’s emotions regarding a daughter that was kidnapped over two decades ago, and Dallas doesn’t waste time dragging out whether this girl actually is who she appears to be but instead dives headfirst into a reunion that goes incredibly wrong and threatens Ann’s previously strong sensibility. While it’s nice to see Strong play the other side of the spectrum—and even nicer to see Duffy tap into his own secretive side when he investigates this girl behind his wife’s back—it feels like a backslide for a character and a relationship we really loved in season one. Not every solid couple has to be boring; these two were the heart and hope of this new show, and season two is promising to chip away at them.
While these are absolutely juicy, melodramatic stories, they don’t inspire complete confidence in the season. The parts of the premiere that build upon the momentum of season one deliver “twists” so fast, it is as if the series is afraid of the audience catching on too quick. Rather than word-vomit all the answers through dialogue, though, the stories would be better served by actually slowing down a bit and being expressed with care, rather than exposition. There seems to be a rush to do as much as possible in a short amount of time in some cases, while other moments stall, or worse, repeat themselves. We can’t stress enough how boring scenes that revolve on methane are—especially when they don’t go anywhere. There is a whole sequence with Christopher at the racetrack, pimping a methane-fueled car’s merits. It certainly seems like something bit should happen—maybe the car will crash and a methane crash will prove that much worse than one involving a car running on regular gas—but when nothing does, the result is that we just wasted time with filler.
Christopher and Elena, together, are extremely dull, as well, and every one of their scenes is fast-forwardable. It’s not a case of “happy couples are simply boring” on relationship dramas, but rather a case of these two just not having any chemistry. Every conversation they have turns to work—and more methane—and that is a storyline worthy of at which rolling one’s eyes. Their biggest problem being Christopher needs an annulment because Elena wants to get married in a church? Also ridiculous and uninspired, just in a different way. J.R. trying to make amends of sorts with Sue Ellen (Linda Gray) are scenes that, although extremely short in length, hold so much more subtext, sweetness, and power. Knowing they are numbered, though, makes us long for what could have been and a little irrationally angry at what will instead come.
Dallas returns to TNT on January 28th 2013 with a special two-hour season premiere starting at 9 p.m.
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