What the Frack is Up With ‘Dallas’?

Is TNT's reboot of the classic soap opera also a mirror of the country's changing relationship with fossil fuels? 
Thu June 21, 2012 7:09 pm
TNT | Zade Rosenthal

Everyone agrees that J.R. Ewing’s eyebrows are the star of TNT’s updated Dallas, which aired for the third time (after a two-hour season premiere) Wednesday night. But there was another obvious angle to a soap opera about the oil bidness in 2012, as summed up by these two tweets:

At Pro Publica , Abraham Lustgarten, the author of the book Run to Failure: BP and the Making of the Deepwater Horizon Disaster , delves into this topic more explicity, in a  story headlined “The New ‘Dallas’: Sex, Scandal and U.S. Energy Policy!”

Lustgarten writes that through the show, “the fundamental dynamic of U.S. energy policy –- err… I mean, of the Ewing family in Dallas Tx – is laid bare,” with J.R. Ewing’s son John Ross hoping to drill for oil at Southfork Ranch, and Bobby Ewing’s adopted son Christopher focusing on “alternative energy.”

Today Big Oil remains as powerful as ever, but wealth, technology and industry have diversified and become more complex. Today’s corporations often seek -– and in fact profit from -– social responsibility and sustainability. The notion that resources are finite and that environmental protection necessary have become mainstream. They are certainly no longer laughable.

The next-generation Dallas -– which still has its aging stars but picks up with a rivalry between Bobby and J.R.’s sons –- appears to be all about trying to transcend its old paradigm, seizing on its oil roots as an opportunity to build on the current conversation.

Never mind that, as both Lustgarten and Mark Whittington of the Houston Examiner noted, Christopher’s big hope, methane hydrate, is still a fossil fuel. That’s realistic too.

And if Dallas does stay on the air for several seasons, it’s hard to imagine they won’t take the suggestion Lustgarten concludes with:

Perhaps Bobby will discover that in addition to a billion-barrel reserve beneath his ranch he has something even more valuable in post modern Texas –- an aquifer.

T. Boone Pickens cameo, anybody? 

Naturally, the same themes Lustgarten picked up on have been catnip to conservatives. The headline on blogger Debbie Schlussel’s post called the show “Anti-Drilling, Anti-Fracking, Anti-Oil Propaganda.”

“Drill Baby Drill,” Schlussel wrote. “And tell the left-wing writers of the new ‘Dallas’ to go screw themselves.” 

At Newsbusters, Lauren Thompson  complained that John Ross is “portrayed as the bad guy, ruthless, conniving and a ‘chip off the old block,’” while “Bobby and Christopher are clearly the good guys in the drama.”

This of course, is factually correct, yet wildly uninsightful—not for nothing did J.R., originally a minor character, supplant Bobby as the focus of the original show. Anyone who’s not insanely parsing generic cable soap operas for objectionable political content knows the bad guys are the stars.

“Politics or not, I predict this show will fail and fail quickly,” wrote Schlussel, who also found it meaningful that Dallas has so many actors in common with Desperate Housewives,  which “pimped us on the goodness of illegal aliens and gay marriage.”

This has not turned out to be the case: last week’s premiere was watched by 6.9 million viewers, making Dallas the most-watched new cable show of the current TV season.

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