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

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  1. Goddam, but that’s one crappy photoshop job. Either that, or an absolutely brilliant picture somehow staged and lighted to look like a crappy photoshop job.

  2. Hoopy froods!

  3. Like their patriarchs, the two sons are locked in perpetual struggle – but over nothing of consequence or meaning.

    It is a campy soap opera not Chekhov. Sometimes I wonder if the Reason staff gets out enough.

    1. No kidding. FFS, it’s not trying to be anything more than a soap opera.

      But I’m still skeptical that a dramatic soap opera will work in primetime. It’s been a while. I think it’s all been supplanted by trashy reality soap operas on Bravo.

      1. I think it might work. All Mad Men is a period soap opera. This is the same thing only more fun and less pretentious.

        1. I haven’t watched Mad Men but you’re probably right.

          Sometimes it’s hard to separate “Soap Opera” from “Serial”. Technically, I would think that “Sons of Anarchy” is a “Soap Opera”. So there may be more out there than I think.

          1. I consider all serial dramas that involve a high amount of sexual hi-jinx to be soap operas. So a show like Breaking Bad really isn’t a soap operas since who is screwing who is not a significant part of the plot. But it is in Mad Men.

          2. The Tudors
            The Borgias
            That Rome one with Lucy Lawless (can’t remember the name off the top of my head)
            True Blood (and you can probably throw in the Vampire Diaries too)
            Game of Thrones
            Desperate Housewives
            GCB (while it lasted)

            and so on and so forth.

            The primetime soap opera never really died, it just mostly moved away from being focused on the lives of the rich and famous to other sources of conflict between the large cast of characters.

            1. I suspect Desperate Housewives will be back in a few years. They still have the set, and they’ve cleared out the over the hill gang.

            2. That Rome one with Lucy Lawless

              Spartacus: Blood and Sand

            3. Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice

    2. I remember being a small child in the late 80’s, living in NOVA, when this show came on and I thought that it was called “Dulles,” and wondering why they didn’t show the airport in the opening credits.

      1. The dramatic tension in Reston and Herndon is so thick, that you could cut it with a knife…

  4. On the bright side: if this show can come back then perhaps Serenity will fly again.

    1. I don’t think you’d want to see a “reboot” of Firefly, sage.

      1. Because they wouldn’t do it right?

        1. They’d probably turn it into a Glee-like musical show. You know, sage, the kind of stuff you like.

          1. Yeah, they…HEY!

          2. Does anybody seriously believe that Whedon would not have eventually made a musical episode of Firefly had it not been prematurely canceled?

    2. Given how much money Wheedon just made with the Avengers I’m pretty sure he’s gonna be able to make whatever show he wants from no on. The question is whether he loves Firefly enough to buy the rights from Fox and do it on his terms or whether other endeavors will capture his attention.

      1. I think if Whedon really wanted to bring it back he would have done so a long time ago. Even before the Avengers, he had enough stroke in the entertainment industry to get that shitty Dollhouse series on the air.

        Honestly, a Firefly reboot at this point would likely just be a let-down for the fans. The minute he announced it, there’d be a ridiculously unreasonable buildup of anticipation on par with the Star Wars prequels. Adolescent nerds who made up the core audience and were devoted to the series based on their ideas that Firefly was something more significant than just a hokey sci-fi western, would end up either thinking it was the greatest thing ever or crying about how Whedon ruined their childhood.

  5. Wait, in the original series, which ran in the 80s, they should Texas as run-down and frontier-y? Most of the skyscrapers were built in the 80s…

    1. It ran in the late 70s. And Dallas had plenty of a skyline in the late 70s.

  6. HBO could have made this work with lots of nudity, but as is? Meh.

  7. Who cares about a soap opera? Oh wait, all those people on the West coast who had people on the East coast call them when they found out who shot JR on Eastern time before the people on Western and Central. Shit, that was a stupid day.

    Did they at least keep the excellent theme song?

    1. Hopefully. But sadly, they can’t do the great helicopter shot looking in the roof of Texas Stadium anymore.

      1. They could always just do some glamour shots of Tony Romo, John.

    2. The theme song and the one for Hawaii 5-0 are the probably the best ones ever.

  8. The original started in the last 70s and ran through the early 90s. Which is why I suggest that the show, especially in context with the update, serves as a record of the state’s transformation.

  9. who is David?

    1. Dr. David Banner. The Incredible Hulk used to be the lead-in for Dallas. Or was that The Dukes of Hazzard?

      1. Dallas, if I recall, was on Friday nights (I remember because I didn’t watch it because 1) Miami Vice was on, and 2) I fucking hate soap operas). I thought The Incredible Hulk was Thursdays.

        1. It was Fridays. It was the lead in for Dukes and Dallas. Thursdays was Magnum PI and Simon and Simon.

          1. the early seasons of Simon Simon were full of awesome. Finding them on Hulu has made me a very happy man.

            1. It really was a good show. Very underrated.

              1. One sad note. The actor who played Rick is playing a judge in some show that centers around a ditzy girl that is a professional mediator. The show is steadily going down hill, mainly because the character, her profession and the plots all contradict each other. It’s so sad watching a great actor being wasted on a show whose writers are idiots.

                1. I think you’ve got someone mixed up. Larry Manetti isn’t doing much and nothing like a judge according to IMDB.

                  The show you’re talking about sucks in the plot dept, but does have the hot Sarah Shahi, a former Dallas Cowboys cheerleader, which brings us full circle.

            2. Yeah it was a really underrated show. I was too young to really appreciate it when it was first on but when I watched it in reruns during the early 90’s I really liked it.

          2. That was some great TV right there. No need to hunt through 100 channels to find something to watch. Luckily, because we only had 4 channels that came in.

        2. In all seriousness Epi, how is Mad Men not just a well made Soap Opera? Noting against it or Soap Operas. But it sure looks like a soap to me.

          1. I don’t watch Mad Men, so I can’t tell you.

        3. Dear Diary:

          Today Episiarch was finally caught in a blatant lie. I will tell you later how he reacts to getting called on it. (Probably by acting like a baby.)

          1. You didn’t catch shit! Nya nya nya nya!

      2. It was both. The Hulk was on at 7, The Dukes at 8 and Dallas at 9 every Friday night.

        1. Maybe if you lived in some weird place that wasn’t Eastern Standard Time. PRIMETIME STARTS AT 8PM. It always started at 8PM.

          1. Wasn’t Love Boat and Fantasy Island in there somewhere?

            And Knight Rider and A-Team?

            Man TV was awesome back then.

            1. Love Boat was Saturdays at 9 EST. Right before Fantasy Island at 10 EST. It was a whole night on ABC of be careful what you wish for and be happy with what you have. The plot of both shows consisted of people getting what they wanted and then wanting their old life and or spouse back.

            2. If you think TV was awesome back then, I suggest you don’t revisit those shows today. Hold on to that sweet nostalgia.

              1. The vast majority of those old shows are completely unwatchable. Only Miami Vice, Magnum PI, and a very few others hold up. TV has gotten so, so much better.

                1. Hill Street Blues has held up. So have some of the comedies. The 70s was pretty much the golden age of the Sitcom. But beyond that, TV was really bad.

                2. Of course, cell phones have transformed the plots.

                  No longer can you create drama by having the characters split up, or having someone in the bathroom when the phone rings, etc.

                  1. I think The X-Files was the first show to use cell phones to the benefit of the plot.

                3. The 6 million dollar man held up, except for the inflation aspect.

                  1. Later seasons of 6MDM were so bad they were painful. Sasquatch. Fembots.

                4. TV has gotten so, so much better.

                  I don’t know about that. There aren’t any shows I watch now with the same regularity that I did as a kid. Granted, when you are young, as Fist said, just about everything is cool–hell, I even remember liking Double Dare and the Super Mario Brothers Super Show.

                  The only thing I’ll actually make time for is Hell’s Kitchen when it’s running, because I like seeing Gordon Ramsey insult the contestants and crush their egos. Everything else is just boring.

                  1. What RRR said. I remember “Hey, Dude,” and the other crap on Nickelodeon that we would watch religiously, just for lack of alternatives.

              2. What Fist of Etiquette said. TV is awesome when you are ten no matter what it is.

        2. You’re right, John, but unless you got a different schedule than me because you were in a different time zone, it was Hulk at 8, Dukes at 9, and Dallas at 10 (though I watched Miami Vice at 10 instead).

          What time zone were you in?

          1. I lived in the Central Time Zone back then. We got prime time from 7-10. Those of you on the coasts got it from 8-11. We go to bed early out on the plains.

            1. Me too. I could actually watch the news before going to bed, and still wake up in time for school.

              Now the TV goes off at 11, which is just as well, because I don’t care to watch the news anyway.

        3. How the hell do you remember that?

          What’s odd is nowadays I hardly even remember what night shows are on which I currently watch. DVR time shifting has make the actual broadcast date meaningless.

          1. I couldn’t tell you when any shows I watch are on other than a couple. When I was a kid I actually watched prime time TV and so remember it. Same way I can tell you where every Super Bowl was played up until about the mid 1990s when I stopped paying attention. But couldn’t tell you for certain where they played last year’s.

          2. Friday nights in the early 80s was really the only time I was allowed to watch TV as a child, which is why I remember the lineup so well. I think it was 1983 that Hulk lost its Friday slot and Dukes brought in the “cousins” during Schneider and Wopat’s contract dispute, and I lost interest in all of them after that. I didn’t see another full episode of Dallas until the series finale.

      3. He never did get that tire changed.

        1. Those tire shops do tighten the lug nuts way too tight with their pneumatic tools. Very maddening. In fact, I’m getting angry just thINKING ABOU

      4. On Fridays in the Mountain Time Zone, the Incredible Hulk was at 7 pm, Dukes at 8 pm, and Dallas at 9 pm.

        Daisy Duke and Pam Ewing were my first celebrity crushes.

  10. Dallas metaphor 2012

    Same Larry, new liver.

  11. As a former daytime soap watcher this can’t be any worse in the acting or storytelling department then I’ve seen. Yet, I wonder if it will have the same unintentional comedy gold that is General Hospital?

  12. They’ve turned Patrick Duffy into Bobby Kennedy Junior.

    Fuck it. Not watching a moment of this crap.

    1. He was better as the man from Atlantis.

      1. I agree, though that show was crap. But at least it was FUN crap.

  13. I honestly thought Larry Hagman was dead.

    1. Damn near. He’s got the cancer.

      1. But does he have The Diabeetus?

  14. Fun fact: Dallas first aired the same week I was born.

    1. Fun fact 2: my wife worked in the “Ewing Oil” building when I met her.

      1. Fun fact 3: my buddies and I won a flag football tournament at Southfork.

  15. Soooo, it’s just as good as the original Dallas, then?

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