What Do the Critics Think of ‘Dallas’?

TNT's 2012 gloss on the Ewing family premieres tonight, and the advance word has been (mostly) good. Here's what ten critics have to say about the reboot of Dallas.  

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TNT | Zade Rosenthal

After a full year of advance hype, TNT’s 2012 gloss on Dallas premieres tonight, with J.R., Bobby, and Sue Ellen Ewing joined by a too-pretty younger generation, including Josh Henderson as the next J.R. (John Ross Ewing III, who was born during the original show’s first season) and Jordana Brewster as his love interest Elena Ramos (the daughter of the South Fork Ranch’s cook).

The advance word has been (mostly) good. As of early Wednesday morning, the show had a Metacritic score of 62, which may not look good on a school report card, but is counted by the site as “generally favorable,” with nine positive reviews, six mixed, and only two negative. 

How critics have reacted to the remake seems to depend entirely on how they felt about the first Dallas, so with that in mind, we’ve broken down the reviews into three categories. 

Loved it the first time, loving it the second time 
Robert Lloyd, Los Angeles Times

“Dallas,” which in its love of the anti-hero and elevation of the cliffhanger set the stage for much of what is now considered Important Television, is back, 21 years after the end of the series proper and 14 years from the last branded TV movie. And the presence of Larry Hagman, Patrick Duffy and Linda Gray as JR, Bobby and Sue Ellen Ewing — arguably the most important characters from the original series — means that you should take it as seriously, on its less than serious terms.

Then as now — and acknowledging some good work among the younger set, especially the Texas-born Henderson — it is Hagman’s show. To say there is no series here that would be worth watching without him is indeed only to point out another way in which the new “Dallas” is very much like the old.

Dorothy Rabinowitz, the Wall Street Journal

As the premiere episode nears its end, the plot begins thickening agreeably with so many secrets, dark revelations, shocks and betrayals it all begins to seem familiarly and comfortably absorbing. Enough anyway to evoke memories of the “Dallas” that America and half the world came to know and love during its long run on CBS (1978-91).

Like that gusher of oil, the show surges to life with the re-emergence of J.R. Ewing.

The reboot’s a kick when the veterans are on screen; they’re the gods, after all, and their offspring are mere mortals….

Writer Cynthia Cidre, who rescued the series from myriad attempts at campy big-screen adaptations, has great fun with J.R. as a senior citizen. A scene at the Cattle Baron’s Ball (held at the American Airlines Center) ranks among the best in the series’ history, as J.R. brandishes a walker as prop. He’s still the greatest con artist in the 214.

What I like about TNT’s “Dallas” is its reverence for the deceit and despair that so thoroughly colored the original. “Dallas,” always an epic tragedy, has learned important contemporary tricks from “Desperate Housewives” (from which it also borrows some of its new ensemble), “Revenge” and even some telenovelas, while mostly avoiding the pitfalls of the self-conscious camp displayed in ABC’s fizzled “GCB.”

“Dallas,” the Rosetta stone of the city’s stereotypes, is now somewhat circumspect when it comes to transacting in caricatures. Though it’s sprinkled with the usual colloquialisms, there’s very little talk here of big hair and boob jobs.

Southfork, which is still a popular tourist attraction in real life, is portrayed even now as a bucolic ideal far outside the bustle of glitzy Big D. In fact, it’s Plano-adjacent, in a county that has quintupled in population since Kristin Shepard shot J.R., an endless unfurling of metroburbs approaching one million residents. The Ewings certainly would have long since moved another 30 miles north, into a custom mansion many times larger. Yet they remain in little old Southfork, forever resolute in their shared pride and scorn.

Loved it the first time, not so much the second time
Heather Havrilevsky, New York Times Magazine

“Dallas” is the show that is most emblematic of its era. How else did a scoundrel as arrogant as J. R. Ewing wind up on the cover of Time magazine in 1980? J. R. wasn’t even meant to be the lead character of “Dallas,” but when audiences were first treated to his smooth patriarchal condescension in 1978, they couldn’t get enough. A far cry from the deeply conflicted protagonists of today’s TV dramas — Don Draper, Walter White, Tony Soprano — J. R. was always smugly satisfied with his bad behavior . . .

This flavor of swagger isn’t as common today, outside Kanye albums and certain self-promotional Twitter feeds. But it once represented a period-specific American grandiosity that felt synonymous with Texan pride. In the ’80s and early ’90s, plenty of us watching “Dallas” bought into this mythical vision of Texas as the heart of the country, the last frontier, a land of handsome cowboys galloping across the grassy ranchland, home of the freest and the bravest.

Aside from John Ross’s cowboy hat and the occasional outdoor barbecue, this is just another gaggle of energetic, beautiful people with international ambitions and very little body hair, bedding and double-crossing one another to a generic twangy-guitar soundtrack.

Alan Sepinwall, Hit Fix

Hagman and his eyebrows are simultaneously the best and the worst thing about this “Dallas” sequel…
On the one hand, even at the age of 80 and moving much slower and speaking in a raspier voice than he did in his 1980s peak, Hagman effortlessly commands the screen. It’s a pleasure to watch him slip on J.R. Ewing’s old Stetson and sneer at the thought of his good but naïve younger brother Bobby, or once again wrap ex-wife Sue Ellen around his wrinkled fingers.
On the other, Hagman — and to a lesser extent fellow returning stars Patrick Duffy and Linda Gray — are so much more fun to watch than their four new, young co-stars that the new “Dallas” plays less like a passing of the torch than a suggestion that torches were better back in the ’80s.
Hated it both times 
Bruce Tomaso, Dallas Morning News

Responding to the New York Times‘s Havrilevsky, Tomaso wrote:

So the new Dallas disappoints because its stars are pretty, if vacuous; and because it lacks the authenticity, the sense of place, of  the old Dallas?

As someone who’s lived here nearly 30 years, I find that latter criticism to be impossibly curious.

Dallas the TV series portrayed Dallas the city about as honestly, and discerningly, as Pretty Woman did the L.A. hooker scene.

Indeed, I can barely think of a TV show that presented a more thoroughly phony view of a place.

Glenn Garvin, Miami Herald

You don’t need a lot of background from the original show to understand or enjoy — using the word loosely — this Dallas. In fact, ignorance may be bliss: You won’t be troubled by rips in the space-time continuum like Bobby Ewing’s death in the eighth season and return to life in the 10th. (It was all a dream. Really. I’m not making that up.) Or how Sue Ellen is running for governor in this version, after 14 seasons as a homicidal, drunken, promiscuous psychopath in the first one. (Depending on party affiliation, insert your own George Bush and/or Lyndon Johnson joke here.)

Tim Goodman, Hollywood Reporter

If TNT believes that a younger generation who may have only heard of Dallas via Trivial Pursuit or some joke on Twitter will flock to this new version with unbridled enthusiasm, well, that’s some fantastic spin. Good for you. We are a country lacking in optimism.
If TNT thought it was a good idea to toss in a bunch of young actors pretending to be the children of the above-mentioned, very old actors [Hagman, Duffy and Gray], tremendous. We are a math-challenged country…
And let’s not sell TNT short. The channel may have done a survey that asked Americans if they’d watch a slow-moving, super-obvious soap opera with bad acting and the answer may have come back, “Absolutely!” We are not privy to that data.

But here’s what you should know (write this down in case you forget in five minutes): Dallas is terrible. No matter how many guilty-pleasure excuses you may have used up in the initial run, if in fact you’re still alive to remember it, there’s no good excuse for watching it now.

TEXAS MONTHLY writer-at-large Christopher Kelly fell into the first camp, giving the show a fairly enthusiastic once-over in the June issue. 

The new Dallas strikes a precise balance: knowing but never campy, overheated and over-plotted yet also fundamentally earnest. Which is to say, it strikes exactly the same balance as the old Dallas. Like Bobby Ewing stepping out of the shower and telling us it was all a murky dream, the show disregards the past two decades’ worth of Dallas copycats and borrowers—from Melrose Place to Grey’s Anatomyto Downton Abbey—and pretends the Age of Irony never descended. The result is a throwback whose old-school showmanship sets it apart from everything else on the air.

The original… was as sprawling, enveloping, and unhinged a family saga as Anna Karenina, minus the philosophical longueurs and hard-to-pronounce Russian names. I pay this new Dallas the highest compliment possible when I say that it has the potential to be more of the same.

Dallas airs two episodes tonight on TNT at 8 p.m. Texas time. Need an even bigger fix? Read Harry Hurt III’s profile of Larry Hagman, also from the June issue of TEXAS MONTHLY. And Larry Hagman, Linda Gray and Patrick Duffy were on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno last night:

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