The 2012-14 (and beyond) Ewings: Sue Ellen (Linda Gray), Bobby (Patrick Duffy), John Ross (Josh Henderson), and Christopher (Jesse Metcalfe)
"You selfish bastard! Lying and cheating were the only two things you were good at, and now you've failed at them too!"
-- Pamela Barnes Ewing, after slapping terminally
estranged husband John Ross, in "Victims of Love,"
Episode 12 of Season 3 of Dallas (2012)
I love that line, even if I'm not sure Julie Gonzalo has read it quite right. Surely Pamela means to stress the "them too," but she kind of half-stresses "failed" and "too." But it's still a great line, following that nicely executed slap.
Today was a sick day for me, and while there's probably more productive stuff I could have been attempting to do, I needed to wallow. Fortunately, my timing was perfect -- I happened to be midway through a binge-watch of Season 3-to-date of the TNT resurrection of Dallas
, developed and executive-produced by Cynthia Cidre. I had watched a few episodes of the earlier seasons and never dveloped any interest, but I also never got around to canceling the series recording I programmed way back when.
I often do this with a new show, since if I'm going to program the DVR to record the first episode, it's just as easy to program the series, and this way if I like
the thing, the recording is already scheduled. It also means I'm under no pressure to watch that premiere episode right away, knowing that -- barring machine failure -- I'll have the ensuing episodes stacked up if I wind up having any interest. And if not, I can just undo it all. Except that in the case of Dallas
I apparently never got around to undoing the series programming.
I've noticed that my DVR is getting cluttered now with series that I once had some interest in but have already given up on. I recall that there's a season or more of Psych
and most of this past season of Blue Bloods
, which I couldn't bring myself to watch -- or to delete. The count on Dallas
episodes, I noticed, reached 13 after Monday night's airing. It was time to do something. Somehow, though, I couldn't bring myself to just delete the crop willy-nilly, so I decided to watch at least one episode and see whether that gave me the go-ahead to dump the rest.
Well, Episode 1 of Season 3 didn't thrill me. (It it seems like there have been many more seasons than three, it's because like so many cable series, Dallas
has been shown in split-season format. season has been shown in split-season format, so what I was watching was the episode first broadcast on January 28, followed by seven more episodes comprising the first half of Season 3. The rest of what I had stored was the first five episodes of the seven-episode second half of the 15-episode season.)
Of course a lot of my attention had to be devoted to remembering or figuring out who the heck the characters were. Sure Patrick Duffy as Bobby Ewing (the upright one among Jock Ewing's three sons) and Linda Gray as Sue Ellen Ewing (the long-suffering wife of J.R.) didn't require any introduction to original-series Dallas
watchers. Ditto for cutaways to Nuevo Laredo Prison for scenes with encootified Ken Kerchival in his now-recurring role as Cliff Barnes (age-old nemesis of the Ewing brothers), except I had to watch out for tidings of why Cliff was in prison in Mexico.
Among the new cast of characters for what Wikipedia refers to as Dallas
(2012), it was easy enough to keep track of the Ewing cousins, Christopher (Bobby's adopted son) and John Ross (J.R. and Sue Ellen's son), but the others in the crowd were kind of murky, and even as I began to sort them out and sort of remember which is which, it was often made harder by the need to remember who both
parents of each character were. I remember getting caught short when Christopher referred to Cliff Barnes as his uncle, until I reminded myself that back then Bobby Ewing was indeed married to Cliff's sister Pamela -- and what a to-do that had occasioned, a Ewing marrying a Barnes!
Still and all, I must have seen enough in Episode 1 of Season 3 to press on to Episode 2, and then Episode 3, by which time I began to suspect that I was in it for the duration of the stored-up episodes.
Which was strange, because I really didn't find the characters much more interesting than I had in the earlier episodes of Dallas
(2012) I'd watched. There are clutches of extremely pretty boys and girls -- obviously designed to give the new show appeal to viewers other than original-Dallas
ancients -- but as pretty as they all are, what's eerie is how not-really-attractive they are, and kind of short on personality.
But as the series began to exert some pull on me, albeit pull of the guilty-pleasure kind, I began to speculate that what was drawing me in was the machinations. It's not so much the oil-industry wheeling-and-dealing of the old Dallas
as it is scheming-and-reaming among Dallas's current crop of energy machinators, with the currently-in-play Ewings varously teaming up and splitting apart again. I'm not saying that the plots would hold up to intensive scrutiny, but they're functional, and the machinations have been striking as genuinely expert, even as regards the diabolical Mexican drug cartel that's fixin' to take over the Mexican government.
And that's the thing: Everyone is involved in the machinations, like as not involving blackmail of one sort or another if not as machinators then as machinatees. And the creative team seems pretty good at both involving their characters in rich enough machinations and respecting the established outlines of those characters. What has kept at least Season 3 going is that nearly all of the machinations seem credible enough to pass casual viewer muster, and yet nearly all of the machinations wind up de-machinating, though not until after they've caused much additional mayhem.
It's not that the characters lack intricateness, if not quite complexity. Poor John Ross (Josh Henderson), as J.R.'s son, has been cast not just by the producers but by his family and community as the machinator-in-chief, but comes to wonder himself whether his father's persona is something he has to live up to or something he ought to be living down.
The one thing I've noticed that was a little disconcerting at first but after a while comes to seem quite welcome is that the scene layout often jumps freely over in-between establishing-and-developing scenes that most shows would find obligatory to get us from Fix A to Fix B. I found that once I got used to knowing that no, I hadn't necessarily missed scenes that I could easily enough figure out what had taken place, and appreciated not having had to waste time on the dispensable scenes.
|Harris R -- the un-Skinner|
I should add that there are some genuinely engaging characters. There's shambly-looking old Bum (Kevin Page), J.R.'s old fanatically loyal retainer, a man who can get seemingly anything done. And good old Brenda Strong was brought in as a new wife for Bobby, packing lots of baggage but with a shining-through goody-ness. And among the corps of villians, that fine actor Mitch Pileggi as super-shady business Harris Ryland adds oily shades to the character type (if we hadn't seen him all those years as The X Files
' eternally upright, straight-arrow FBI Assistant Director Skinner, we might chalk up all that nonstop slithery motion under his shiny shaved head to mannerism, but it's as creepily un-Skinnerish as one might imagine), under the thumb of his recurringly appearing mother Judith, played with drawlingly sneering evil by TV super-veteran Judith Light. Evil Judith has one of the stronger machinating records among the heavy-duty machinators, and yet even she can be toppled. It was great to see her collapse, physically as well as spiritually, in Episode 12, when the nasty cartel guy Luis (Antonio Jaramillo) showed her evidence that his people new how to make her crumble.
When the show needs a big acting gun, they know where to find one. Until Episode 12, the identity of the supreme head of the cartel was so secret that even the CIA didn't know. (Oh, didn't I mention that the CIA is involved too?) I had noticed among the top-of-the-show guest-star credits the name of that great character actor Miguel Sandovál
, but I didn't make the connection until a late scene where right-hand man Luis delivers a good-news report -- so far the cartel people are by far our most successful machinators -- in his boss's enormous, lush garden. The Big Guy delivers some remarkable lines while fastidiously pruning tomato plants (at least some of them were tomato plants, I know; I wasn't really watching th plants). Like this, which he speaks in a philosophically-professorially disapproving but even tone:
"Drugs destroy families and social infrastructures. The more broken a society becomes, the easier it is for us to seize power."
When Luis assures him that this is "precisely why I have a plan in place which will double the volume of product going through the pipeline," "El Pozolero" (as I see he's called) says, again delivered in that calm, dispassionate professorial tone:
"Good. Not since the Europeans raped our ancestors have we truly been in power. Now, it is our time once again. [Extended pause for pruing.] Now will be the real Mexican Revolution."
This isn't the sort of plotting and writing -- and acting -- we see on the tube every night of the week.
Labels: TNT, TV Watch