I never watched much of the original “Dallas.” All I know is that someone shot J.R. and that it came on CBS Friday night after my beloved “Dukes of Hazzard,” which is to say: After my bedtime. I didn’t even realize the show — which began in 1978 — ran until 1991, so I may not be the best person to judge the new series, which is not a reboot, but a continuation of the old “Dallas.” Then again, it’s been 20 years since the original left the air, and much of the cast is young and new to the series, so I’m probably in the same boat as most of the record 6.9 million viewers — the biggest debut for a cable series this year — are. We have a vague understanding of who J.R. Ewing and Bobby Ewing are, the show involves a family feud, it takes place in Dallas, and there’s oil involved.
Really, that’s all you need to know because by the end of the second episode, the show has dropped so many out-of-left-field curveballs without laying any of the foundation necessary to develop a decent twist that you’ll either be sucked in by the inherent ridiculousness of the series or turned off by its soap-opera absurdity. What is clear, however, is that Larry Hagman’s Ewing — two decades removed from the original run — still owns the place. He’s heroically evil, and while he’s certainly not in the same league as a Walter White or a Tywin Lannister, he’s at least on the same level as Madeleine Stowe in “Revenge.” Unfortunately, the supporting cast is almost universally dreadful, save for Patrick Duffy’s Bobby Ewing and his wife (Brenda Strong, “Sports Night,” “Desperate Housewives”).
The continuation picks up in the present day, where Bobby and J.R. are still fighting over ownership of Southfork. Now, they’re using their offspring as pawn. Bobby is dying and wants to use the land for good — conservation or an alternative energy designed by his son, Christopher (Jesse Metcalf). J.R., meanwhile, is wants to do with the land what his Daddy intended (oil!), and he’s playing his own kin (John Ross) while John Ross thinks he’s playing J.R. In fact, for the most part, half the characters in the series all think they’re pulling a fast one on someone else, and after two episodes, “Dallas” already feels like the end of David Mamet’s Heist, operating like a Matryoshka doll unburying the levels of “who got played?”
It’s dumb, but it’s not without some guilty enjoyment, mostly because it’s a pleasure to see the cunning manipulator J.R. Ewing and his giant muskrat-eating eyebrows get the best of the youngsters. How often can the writers keep this up before it gets tiresome? Probably for as long as the younger cast continues to be empty, though attractive, little shits. So, the entire series?