Holy Crap Y’all- The New Dallas Doesn’t Suck- [California Seething]
In the fall of 1980, I was living in Arad, Israel- a very small town in a very small country a world away from Westchester County, New York where I was born. I was there because around the time that Star Wars came out (and it’s not Star Wars Episode IV or Star Wars: A New Hope, it’s just FUCKING STAR WARS. Get it right, millennials. You, too Lucas.) my parents, who have always lived on the corner of Awesome and Crazy Streets, decided to move their 3 bacon loving American children to Israel, a bold move which the prophet Moses referred to as “fucking nuts, y’all- I don’t know what was in the burning bush you guys were smoking.”
Anyhow, around that time, I asked my father who was running for president back in the US and he said a “peanut farmer and a cowboy.” When I asked who he liked better, he said “the peanut farmer”.
Not only does this story explain my life-long penchant for underdogs, Democrats and losers (and peanut butter- Yum! Anphylastic-tastic!) It also shows just how little I knew about American culture at the dawn of the 80’s. Basically, my only connection to America was my father’s analysis of the presidential election, my NBA team logo bedsheets (I like to think I peed on the Lakers, but I probably soaked the Clippers instead), and, of course, Dallas.
Israel in the early 80’s was a great place to live, but it was a country with no space, no money and no oil. Hell, you couldn’t even get a decent burger. When Dallas hit the airwaves, it became a national obsession since it was a glimpse into a world of unimaginable excess. Here was a single family living on a ranch bigger than my entire town with more money in the bank than my entire country. The cars they drove weren’t tiny little Fiats and Renaults with cigarette burns on the upholstery but massive rectangular behemoths larger than my entire apartment building and impossibly sexy sports cars that looked like grown up sized Hot Wheels. I mean, sure, we had Mercedes in Israel, but there’s a big difference between a dented old Mercedes taxi cab picked up cheap from the Germans during Holocaust Guilt Value Days and a shiny new lime green Mercedes with an oversized black bumper and the license plate “Ewing 3”.
Now, Dallas had its share of beautiful women but the sexiest thing about Dallas wasn’t Victoria Principal in a bikini, it was the oil. You see, the Old Testament God gave the ancient Israelites the only patch of land in the entire Middle East that doesn’t have a single drop of oil, because the Old Testament God is kind of a major dick. Seriously, dude, would it have been that fucking hard to give us Kuwait? I mean, sure it may not be the land of milk and honey, but how much milk and honey does one country need? Listen, I like tea as much as the next guy, but with 10 billion barrels of light-sweet crude we could buy all the goddamn milk and honey we could ever possibly want and still have money left over for a brand new lime green Mercedes for every last Israelite on the planet (mine would have the license plate “Jew 4,200,555”. ) The Ewing family, though, had plenty of oil. It spurted out of the ground and filled up their bank accounts so they could spend all their time screwing and slapping each other in the face and cramming their big Texan pie-holes full of barbeque and booze. It was a glorious life they were living and we were happy to tune in to Israel’s only channel once a week and watch them live it. The fact that they were miserable most of the time only made it more appealing since it let us salvage a tiny crumb of smug self-righteousness. Sure, they had money and cars and land and swimming pools and beef and oil and babes but they weren’t actually happy- and the unhappiness of others is a treasure more precious than gold, even black gold.
So yeah, I loved the old Dallas but how would the new Dallas stack up? I have to admit I wasn’t optimistic. Either it would be earnest, humorless and dull like the new Squint n’ Sneer Daniel Craig James Bond flicks or totally trashy and pointless like the new 90210. In a worst case scenario, it would be like the second Star Wars trilogy- so truly terrible that it calls into question the quality of the originals and makes me wonder if my entire childhood wasn’t just one big lie. Seriously- watching Phantom Menace was like finding out my father was the milkman. I dreaded watching the new series. For four days, the World Premiere episodes just sat unwatched on my DVR list like undigested broccoli in my gut. Finally, with the deadline for this blog post fast approaching, I forced myself to watch it. And, the results…
This was where everything could have gone horribly wrong. The original Dallas had, possibly, one of the greatest Opening Credit sequences of all times (and, yes, I did take The Brady Bunch and Happy Days into account when I wrote this. Don’t fuck with me.) The marching band horns, the beating drums, the wakka-wakka porno guitar- split screen shots of skyscrapers, herds of cattle, oil wells, Cowboys stadium – a thumping, pounding, sweeping vision of wealth and excess. It was glorious. If the 80’s were a country, this would have been the national anthem. Honestly, I expected the new series to screw this up badly.
But they didn’t. They captured the spirit of the original opening perfectly. No hip-hop remix, no self-aware irony- the same drums, the same horns- the same sweeping vision of Texas excess- hell, they even kept the split screen even though Brian DePalma’s the only one who still thinks those are cool. Just like the original, it starts with the Dallas skyline, it ends with Southfork and it’s bulging in the middle with Texas clichés. About the only thing missing was the wakka-wakka porno guitar because everybody who knew how to play guitar that way died of an overdose or found Jesus in rehab. Like painting a wolf on the side of a van or growing the perfect mullet, the wakka-wakka guitar is sadly a lost art.
This is where the new Dallas lets us know it’s not screwing around. Before the Opening Credits even roll, oil gushes out of a brand new well showering John Ross Ewing (J.R.’s unscrupulous son) and his crew with a fountain of gloppy black gold as they hoot and holler while John Ross makes out with his sexy Latina partner, Elena. Of course, right away we soon learn that the well was drilled on South Fork ranch without Bobby Ewing’s consent- and Bobby promised his mama, Miss Ellie, that no one would ever drill on South Fork. But John Ross doesn’t care- he did it anyway- he’s just that kind of loveable scamp, just like his papa!
In this segment, the show’s creators reassure us that this show isn’t going to be some earnest sermon about the evils of fossil fuels or a psychologically complex look at the dynamics of a wealthy family. It’s going to be a gushing celebration of all the dark powers that make the world go round: sex, lies, money and oil—just like the original show.
Of course, the new show doesn’t totally ignore environmental issues. Stalwart, honorable Bobby Ewing (the boring sap) wants to sell South Fork ranch to a land conservancy to protect it from development and oil drilling and give the money to his adopted son Christopher so that he can fund his research into alternative energy sources. Bo-ring. Christopher, who’s adopted status is mentioned so often on the show that Bastard Nation is organizing a boycott, is so concerned with alternative energy that he actually drives a Tesla which is like a Prius that stuffs its pants with a cucumber wrapped in foil.
It was worth giving Larry Hagman all those extra livers so he could live long enough to make this show. I’m sure everyone else on the transplant list would agree that it just wouldn’t be Dallas without J.R., even if they didn’t actually live to see it because their liver failed. I don’t care if they have to feed him fresh liver from once a week from the craft-services table as long as he keeps working his dark mojo on the show. As the episode begins, J.R. is in the world’s most luxurious nursing home (only Dallas could make being in a nursing home seem sinful and decadent) practically catatonic with depression. And who can blame him? The only one who ever visits him is earnest old brother Bobby who unloads all this mushy-gushy crap about how he loves him and misses him despite all their difficulties. I mean, Jesus Bobby, lighten up a little. I was falling into a catatonic stupor just listening to his sentimental blather. J.R. doesn’t perk up until sleaze-bucket junior, John Ross comes by and tells him about the unauthorized oil drilling at South Fork and to tell him about Bobby’s plan to sell the ranch to a conservancy. He finally speaks- “Bobby’s a fool” – the words leave his mouth like the first black droplets spurting from an oil well and for the rest of the episode, we celebrate deliriously as J.R’s malevolence rains down on our heads. I mean, come on, who else but J.R. could deliver the lines: “never pass up an opportunity to shut the hell up” and “blood may be thicker than water, but oil is thicker than both of ‘em”? He even uses a walker in a sleazy and manipulative way to convince people he’s old and helpless (he’s not). And the best part is, while J.R. is trying to fuck over Bobby, John Ross is trying to fuck over J.R. Yee-Haw- Texas family values! I can’t wait to watch J.R. crush that little punk-ass millennial son of his and grind his face into the oil rich dirt of South Fork. Now that’s parenting!
There are some other characters back from the original series, too. Of course, Bobby is back, and naturally he’s dying- because it just wouldn’t be Dallas if Bobby wasn’t dying or dead or back from the dead. He doesn’t tell anyone about his stomach cancer because he doesn’t want to ruin Christopher’s wedding and also because dignified suffering is the only emotion that Patrick Duffy really nails, though after Step by Step with Suzanne Sommers, stomach cancer must be a delight to work with.
Linda Grey is back, too- though her new Sue Ellen is a lot more Models Inc. than Dallas. I guess J.R.’s extended catatonia was the best thing for her, because she’s turned into some kind of major power broker and is now running for governor (don’t worry- she’s more Anne Richards than Sarah Palin.)
The new characters fit right in at South Fork- Christopher Ewing may be adopted, but he inherited his father’s inconvenient conscience. John Ross is, as J.R. ruefully calls him when he finds out that John Ross is trying to screw him over, “a chip off the old block” (ooh, Larry Hagman, please don’t die until this show is cancelled. And, producers- if he does die, PLEASE don’t cut together a creepy post-mortem Livia Soprano style scene. Just say it’s a plane crash. If it was good enough for Jock, it’s good enough for J.R. You just need to make sure that every episode ends with him flying off somewhere just in case he dies unexpectedly. “Alright, John Ross. You and I are going to have a good long talk about the future of South Fork. Just as soon as I get back from Orlando”) The new crop of women isn’t bad either- smart and sultry Elena- Christopher’s former fiancé and John Ross’ current partner and love interest, Christopher’s new wife Rebecca who only seems like she’s too good to be true because she is, in fact, a lying, conniving bitch and the mysterious vixen Marta. Every scene featuring Marta starts with an extended shot of her legs like she’s living her life in a Nair commercial. Aside from J.R., she’s the most evil character on the show. I can’t wait until somebody shoots her.
Look, I’m not going to try and explain this here. Just trust me, it’s fine. And by, “fine”, I mean, it’s blindingly difficult to follow and everybody’s trying to screw each other over and it doesn’t really make too much sense if you actually stop and think about it and the whole thing is just a pretext for characters to say really mean things to each other or get into fights wearing evening-wear or get drunk and have sex or blackmail each other (or all of the above.) And, you know what, now that I think about it, that doesn’t sound “fine” at all- it sounds “fucking great”. So, yeah, the story is “fucking great”. Just try not to think about it too much.
So, based on the 2 hour Season Premiere Spectacular Event Thing, the new Dallas is every bit as good as the original and manages to avoid the 21st Century remake curse of being overly serious, pointlessly trashy or just plain bad. It’s a reminder of a bygone era when being an American actually meant something. Sure, it meant that you were a repulsive, decadent, greedy, backstabbing capitalist scumbag- but, hey, that’s something isn’t it! Wouldn’t you rather be living in the country that everybody loves to hate as opposed to the country that everybody just rolls their eyes at? I know I would.
For me, Dallas reminds me of being a kid again clutching a Chewbacca action figure with a missing leg, watching the crazy Americans on TV and wondering what life would be like if only we had a God that gave us some lousy oil (whatever, God.) And, even though we moved back to the States around the time that Return of the Jedi came out and I lost interest in the show as I moved into my teens, that theme song still gets my blood pumping. I just hope this series gets it right and if Bobby dies of cancer, they don’t bring him back a year later. Actually I hope that he doesn’t die at all- I mean, if it’s a transplant he needs- I’m sure J.R. can hook him up with an organ. That is, of course, for a price…
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