Reason Writers Around Town: Peter Suderman on Wealth and Power in the new Dallas


In today's Washington Times, Reason Senior Editor Peter Suderman looks at TNT's revival of the long-running primetime soap, Dallas. An excerpt:

In the new "Dallas," things have changed. It's not just the Ewings who have money—it's the whole state. In the opening-credits montage, modeled after the old one, everything has the sheen of newness to it. Skyscrapers watch imposingly over downtown Dallas while shiny streetcars zip through the streets. It's a monument to the transformational prosperity created by the state's decades-long oil and energy boom.

Yet aside from a few cosmetic updates—sleeker sports cars, more luxurious homes—the Ewings haven't changed all that much. J.R. and David are still around, and while they remain rivals, the battle's locus has shifted to their sons, J.R.'s scheming oilman son John Ross (Jesse Metcalf) and David's earnest alternative energy entrepreneur Christopher (Josh Henderson). Both are young, rich, startlingly handsome, and dull beyond words.

It's the bland and the beautiful, and their love interests are equally vapid: At one point, Christopher asks John Ross' girl, Elena (a sad, lost looking Jordana Brewster), about a thesis she wrote on—no, really—petroleum and waterflooding. Actual academic papers on petroleum recovery and waterflooding discuss things like procedures for "solving the transport-dominated diusion process generated by two-phase, incompressible, immiscible displacement in heterogeneous porous media." Elena barely seems capable of pronouncing multisyllable words.

It doesn't help that none of the star performers could act his or her way out of an automatic car wash: When John Ross declares portentously that "the fun is just beginning," a line that is meant to suggest the devilishly amusing times ahead comes across more like one of those gunpoint videos in which a bloodied hostage attests to the virtues of his captors.

Like their patriarchs, the two sons are locked in perpetual struggle—but over nothing of consequence or meaning. There's the familiar uninterrupted stream of incident and event, family traumas and hidden agendas: The subplots are as vast as the Texas deserts, and just as empty. The largest and smallest events are treated with the same petty urgency. Ultimately, the show's plot contrivances exist to put the characters through endless traumas and social stresses. The characters exist to suffer for audience amusement, their wealth to excuse our pleasure.

Whole thing here