When Dallas aired from 1978 to 1991, the standard-bearer nighttime soap was routinely TV's most watched show. The second season cliffhanger, iconically tagged the "Who shot J.R.?" episode, broke all ratings records. Now, two decades later, TNT is reviving Dallas, bringing back original stars Larry Hagman, Patrick Duffy, and Linda Grey to reprise their roles as J.R., Bobby, and Sue Ellen Ewing, and introducing a chiseled young cast as the Ewing clan's next generation. Wednesday night's premiere sees J.R. and Bobby's progeny squabbling over oil drilling, and has critics asking: Is the Dallas reboot a misfire or a welcome dose of classic camp?
It's guilty pleasure at its guiltiest: The new Dallas is appealingly crammed with "moments of crazy camp" and unrealistic tales of "big money, greed, and sex," says Brian Lowry at Variety. The new generation of Ewings are well-cast, the trio of original cast members are a welcome presence, and the soapy plot twists are executed with enough earnestness that "you can get drawn into the hijinks or simply chortle at them." Either way, you'll enjoy watching.
It's a mess: The Dallas reboot is a guilty pain, says Tim Goodman at The Hollywood Reporter, all "soap bubbles and silliness." TNT seems to be miscalculating: Why would a new audience that has "only heard of Dallas via Trivial Pursuit... flock to this new version with unbridled enthusiasm"? And all the charms of the original are missing, replaced with obvious writing, laughable acting, and a filming style so amateurish it seems like a "Saturday Night Live spoof of a soap opera." Warning to fans of the original series: Don't expect a rush of nostalgia.
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It's somewhere in between: The absence of logic is maddening and the plot developments are over-telegraphed, says David Wiegand at the San Francisco Chronicle. Hagman steals every scene — making it impossible to get wrapped up in the lives of the younger characters the way TNT is clearly hoping viewers will. Still, somehow, the show "will wear you down and pull you in with its mix of sex, intrigue, backstabbing, dirty dealing, blackmail, and family secrets." Dallas has always had that effect.
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Consensus: Worth sampling once, with low expectations, if you have an appetite for cheese.