Everything is bigger in Texas. So it should come as no surprise that the remake of "Dallas," the juicy 1980s soap opera that shaped an entire genre of dramatic primetime television, will feature big hats, big egos and even bigger drama.
But the new "Dallas" TV show on TNT is unlike other remakes. In fact, it is not so much a remake as it is an evolution, taking viewers from where it left off in 1991 straight into 2012.
How does the revamped version of everyone's favorite guilty pleasure work?
The 2012 "Dallas" features the most important original characters, the Ewings. J.R. (Larry Hagman), Bobby (Patrick Duffy) and Sue Ellen (Linda Gray) each make his or her comeback in the new series. But in 2012, the returning male characters have become fathers. A main focus is on the rivalry between cousins John Ross (Josh Henderson), son of J.R. and ex-wife Sue Ellen, and Christopher (Jesse Metcalfe), adopted son of Bobby.
"That's it in a nutshell," Duffy told Cleveland.com. "You want to recall that magic and yet make it fresh and accessible to a new audience. Great concept. Very tough to pull off."
"Over the years, I had accustomed myself to the idea that we'd never do a remake of 'Dallas,' because nobody knew how to do it," Duffy said during a telephone interview with the website. "We had read scripts for features and for TV, and they were atrocious. So Larry, Linda and I felt it never was going to happen. And we heard that TNT and Warners wanted to do it, and we just rolled our eyes."
But when he received executive producer Cynthia Cidre's script, featuring a mix of the three original stars with vibrant new youngsters, Duffy was instantly hooked.
"Our worlds changed at that moment," he told Cleveland.com. "As soon as I read it, I was in, as long as Larry and Linda wanted to be in it, too. We were off and running, and have not regretted one day."
Here are five things to know before the two-hour season premiere of "Dallas," which hits TNT June 13 at 9 p.m. EST.
The Original Three
Before watching the 2012 version of "Dallas," one must get to know the original version, which aired from 1978 to 1991, a bit better. More importantly, one must get to know the three original characters who make their return to "Dallas" Wednesday night.
J.R. (Larry Hagman), the antihero sensation of the original series, is an oil baron whose scheming ways had viewers hooked. He is the eldest of the three Ewing brothers, heirs to Ewing Oil, and had the lowest morals. Striking oil in South East Asia made J.R. and the Ewings billionaires. But his life was a rollercoaster of ups and downs, and in 1991 he was contemplating suicide. In the 2012 premiere, J.R. returns to Southfork Ranch after years spent at a nursing home with plans to take back the oil kingdom he helped to create.
Bobby (Patrick Duffy) is the moral antithesis to J.R.'s haughty scoundrel. He is the youngest Ewing boy and leads a charmed life, marrying the lovely Pam, adopting son Christopher, getting elected to the senate and beating J.R. for control of Ewing Oil. In 2012, he is the current proprietor of Southfork Ranch. He is determined to keep the promise he made to his mother, Miss Ellie, before she died: not to let anyone drill for oil on Southfork.
Sue Ellen (Linda Gray) is the beautiful wife of J.R. A former Miss Texas, she meets J.R. at the pageant in 1967, for which he is a judge. After several years, their marriage deteriorates in a haze of philandering and alcoholism.
"I loved my drunk scenes," Gray told Digital Spy in September 2011. "I know that may sound very strange to people! I got to just let go and just do a down and dirty version of Sue Ellen. ... They told me they were going to take me down as Sue Ellen. I said, 'How far?' And they said, 'Down.' I said, 'OK, if you're going to take me down, it's got to go all the way.' As an actor, that was my joy. I just loved it. I loved the freedom, and I loved the lack of any kind of ... she didn't care what she looked like. She didn't care about her clothes."
"I just wanted Sue Ellen to be raw unlike any other time in her life, where she was the victim and she was this and she was that; J.R. would do something, and she would react; he would do something, and she would have an affair or drink or whatever. This was just like, 'Let me go. Let Sue Ellen out of that box.'"
Fast forward to 2012, and Sue Ellen is a powerful society woman living in Dallas, leading a successful fund-raising campaign, with various causes under her belt and a roster of influential cronies in her phonebook. She might even run for governor. But she continues regret how inferior a mother she was to her son, John Ross.
The Final Episode, 'Conundrum Part II'
The final episode of the original "Dallas" series was one of the most legendary TV finales of all time. The question "who shot J.R.?" became famous after the sudsy soap opera ended. So where did "Dallas" leave off in 1991? J.R. has lost it all -- his son, his business and his home. He is down and dejected and contemplating suicide when an otherworldly figure named Adam offers to show him what life in Dallas would be like if J.R. had never lived.
"After 15 seasons, the show wrapped up in 1991 with one last serving of melodrama: In the final scene, legendary villain J.R. raises a gun to his head while looking in the mirror; the gun goes off while the camera is on his brother Bobby in the hallway, and the series ends with Bobby surveying the damage and saying 'Oh, my God,'" writes Time's Laura Fitzpatrick. "The widespread assumption that J.R. had killed himself was upended five years later, when it was revealed in the reunion movie, 'Dallas: J.R. Returns,' that he had shot the mirror. What a cheat."
John Ross Versus Christopher
One of the main plotlines of "Dallas" 2012 is the relationship between cousins John Ross (Henderson) and Christopher (Metcalfe).
John Ross is the son of J.R. and Sue Ellen and a carbon copy of his old man. John Ross wants to prove himself in the oil business. He is a steadfast oil driller hungry for success. He wants to prove his manhood to his father and clench the Ewing Oil empire as his own.
Christopher is the adopted son of Bobby and Pam. Growing up, he was consistently reminded by John Ross that he was never a real Ewing, but the two were best friends before John Ross left for Europe. Christopher remained home in Texas, working to build pride in the Ewing name. He is a champion for alternative fuel sources, after having studied the potential in Asia, and wants to help change the world for good.
"It's such a big part of the story line," Henderson, who was originally born in Dallas, told Red Eye Chicago. "And he and I are competitors naturally at heart, so it kind of really works well for our story line. But at the end of the day, Christopher and John Ross are both very proud. We're proud to be Ewings. John Ross feels that he's a real Ewing. 'I was born into this family. This is rightfully mine. I do oil, that's what I believe in. That's what I know; it's in my blood.' And he stands very firm with that."
"Christopher, on the other hand, has always felt like he kind of has to prove his worth to the family and to the Ewing name," he said. "So they're both out to prove something, both to their fathers and to themselves. And we both want the same thing, and, at the same time, we want something different. John Ross believes in oil. Christopher believes in new green energy. And so it kind of makes the show relevant to the times."
"But it just adds a great, familiar clash as the original had with Bobby and J.R. It's kind of the same deal, just 20 years, 30 years later with the kids. It's kind of perfect timing, and it really makes for good TV."
Love and Lust
"Dallas" is just as much about oil and money as much as it is about sex. Love and lust play a major role in the revamped version of the series, as any good soap opera would. Two beautiful new young ladies make their debut on the premiere of "Dallas" -- Rebecca Sutter (Julie Gonzalo) and Elena Ramos (Jordana Brewster).
Rebecca is the fiancée of Christopher. The two met when Christopher was studying in Asia just days after he broke off his engagement to Elena. When the two return to Southfork Ranch, engaged and planning a wedding, they are excited to start a new chapter together.
Elena is the daughter of the Southfork Ranch's chef. She grew up on the ranch with John Ross and Christopher, and the three were best friends. Christopher eventually stole her heart, and the two were engaged to be married. A misunderstanding occurred, and Elena broke off the engagement and fled to Mexico. John Ross eventually found her and confessed his love. The two make a return to Southfork armed with a plan.
Jordana Brewster, previously of "Fast and the Furious" fame, spoke about her role in the revival of the 1980s soap, cult classic, revealing the true persona of her character.
"She's an outsider, and yet she's a part of them in that she's very loyal to Bobby and [his current wife] Ann," Brewster explained to IGN. "I think that Bobby's almost like a foster dad to her, because she lost her dad so young, and I think Bobby helped with her education."
"Of course, Christopher's her first love, so I think there's that relationship, which I think is very interesting. So Elena's really interesting, because there's this conflict where she wants to draw on Southfork -- she's very ambitious -- and yet she's very loyal to them, and I think deep down she's a very moral, good character. So that was really fun to play."
Gonzalo dished about the love triangle the new series of "Dallas" has in store.
"I think people are going to be excited," the actress told FanBolt. "You're going to see a very tormented Christopher. It's smart. There aren't catty fights. Elena and Rebecca are very smart girls."
Gonzalo did not grow up watching the original series. "I had heard of the series, and my mother was a big fan," she said. "I grew up in South America, in Argentina, and it was really big down there. I do remember the theme song. But when I got hired on the show, I went ahead and bought all 14 seasons, and I got a little familiar with it. It was just so iconic. Just to mention to people that you're working on the show ... it's such a flashback for so many that it's just very exciting to be a part of it."
The New 'Dallas' In A Nutshell
Time magazine's James Poniewozik puts it best:
"The new Dallas isn't aiming for creative reinvention or epic sweep; instead it seems to want to be a competent 2012 soap. It's not something I'm personally likely to keep up with, but on the terms of its own modest aims, it could work. Caveat: For triage reasons, I'm basing this review on four episodes of seven TNT sent out, and already at that point it has sprung some reveals and triple-twists that are outlandish even by prime-time soap standards. I understand the show wanting to hook viewers, but at this pace it risks plot whiplash."
And J.R. helps viewers of the revamped "Dallas," both young and old, remember: "Blood may be thicker than water, but oil is a hell of a lot thicker than both."
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