YEAR OF THE SOAP: Kevin Mulcahy Jr. Reviews Two-Hour DALLAS Premiere and Critiques the Critic

Photo Credit: Mark Seliger
With hours still to go before the most-anticipated series premiere of this Year of the Soap, everyone is already talking about the second coming of DALLAS. After forcing me to chloroform myself and climb into the back of their van (oh wait - that wasn't me - that was Emily in REVENGE!) the DALLAS folks kindly let me watch the two-hour premiere in advance (and commercial free). I do, however, have to let you all know this: I was selected to participate in TNT's Dallas Roundup Network. I was not compensated for writing this post, but have received a screener of the first two episodes.

They're taking this rollout very, very seriously, and actually I think their outreach to critics and to the general public (if you haven't signed up for the Rise to Power game yet, what are you waiting for?) has been a great model for others interested in boosting the 2012 appeal of  serial dramas everywhere.

I'm not going to spoil anything, I promise, but allow me to tell you about how almost-unbearably awesome DALLAS is, and share my reactions to some good examples of what the other critics are saying. If there's anyone out there in the We Love Soaps audience who is not already planning on tuning in this evening, please let me try to change your mind.

Photo Credit: Martin Schoeller
Let me start by pointing out that the premiere was so good that, in fact, that I'm still planning to attend a live viewing party tonight, where I'll happily re-live all the nostalgic reunions, surprise revelations and Machiavellian machinations - and revel in my friends reactions as well. I'm fascinated by the level to which the new DALLAS balances respect for longtime fans and engagement of new viewers.

Viewers from back in the day will be glad to hear that the new set-up is 100% a continuation of the same grand story and an expansion of same canvas. On the other hand, as someone who is too young to be familiar with the original, I didn't feel at all left out.  Tonight, I look forward to seeing friends both familiar and virginal experience the launch in their own way.

Also, huge kudos to TNT for opening with a two hours of content.  Love seeing a network have the courage of its convictions!  New, continuing dramas can be top-heavy with new introductions and historical expositions - there's no easy way around it when the story is epic in scale - but with these first two hours airing in one big, satisfying serving, I got my bearings in the pilot, "Changing of the Guard," and got immersed and addicted during hour two, "Hedging Your Bets." It was a smart move, to set the series up with momentum from the get-go.

Now, before I take a look at what others have been saying, I'm going to force myself to choose just one favorite thing about the premiere as well as one thing I'm hoping will improve. After you watch, by all means, please do the same in the Comments section, below!  What worked for you?  What didn't?

Photo Credit: Martin Schoeller
My favorite part of the entire experience was that by the time they hit us with (what I think was) the sixth twist concerning Christopher's love life (it's all rather complex), I was in so deep, I started shouting at the TV. I'm a twist man;  that's what I love most about soaps.  And for me, the hallmark of a good soap is that it provokes a level of investment so high that I can't keep my mouth shut any longer, even if I'm alone.  DALLAS took me to my sassy place in record time.

If I had to point out one area that could improve, I would have to comment on Bobby's motivations. Or, more precisely, the fact that I had trouble reading them. Between the cancer pain (calm down everybody, you find out like 10 seconds in), his emotional ups and downs and the external drama, it was hard for me, as a watcher from "The New Guard" with essentially no previous knowledge, to figure out (and I have to be vague here) why he was doing some of the hings he was doing, and making the choices he made.

Now, obviously I have access here at work to some DALLAS experts, and I get it now, but if I were on my own, I would have been frustrated by my inability to nail down what made a major protagonist tick.  Other than Bobby, it must be noted, I connected well with everyone else.

Now, let me excoriate a colleague. Well, okay I'll start by citing a review that's fairly representative of what's out there--then we'll get to the ridiculous one, and finally the one I agree with most.

Bloomberg Businessweek (BB) pubished an even-handed, if brief, assessment that essentially celebrates the return of the old guard while tolerating the new:
The character on TNT’s updated “Dallas” who stirs J.R. Ewing from a catatonic sleep deserves big credit. Larry Hagman’s cantankerous oilman remains the best thing about “Dallas.”
While it's almost impossible to disagree on Hagman's all-around awesomeness, BB neglects to take into account that the new generation hasn't had much of a chance establish itself yet, while the classic characters benefit from decades of pop-culture legend. As the young-uns develop their characters perhaps BB's opinion will change. In the meantime, I do agree with the characterization of Josh Henderson 's John Ross as "impressively nasty."

As usual, at The Hollywood Reporter (THR), an ongoing obsession with being cute and sardonic displaces any attempt at a fact-based assessment of the premiere. Feigning ignorance of the phenomenon of old tycoons making babies, about a quarter of their review relates to their manufactured outrage at the relative ages of the two generations of Ewings.

Then, THR almost descends into farce when it complains that DALLAS "can make an hour feel like 90 minutes in a heartbeat." This is rich, considering that the premiere was two hours.  Maybe it went by faster than they thought?

In the end, THR wraps up with some bitchy blather that has the added irritant of being inaccurate. Their review was so gratuitously negative, I wondered if perhaps they didn't have a chance to watch before their deadline and decided, instead, that they had to fake their way through the review by relying on negativity and bluster:
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. This is pandering of the lowest kind. The writing is brutal and obvious, the acting is comical, and none of it is bettered by the directing, which puts a premium on shocked/horrified close-ups of the characters, lingering on them too long like they’re filming a Saturday Night Live spoof of a soap opera but nobody will admit it.
If anything's a spoof, it's that paragraph.

Overall, the San Francisco Chronicle review is the best I've read. It's as bullish as THR is bear, but the SFC actually backs up its assertions. I love the opening line: "TNT's new take on "Dallas" is so calculating, it's almost worthy of JR Ewing himself, and I mean that in the most complimentary way." Sadly, the SFC can't muster the self-control to hold back from calling poor Linda Gray a raccoon (that was tacky) but overall, I agree with most of their main assertions, and I enjoyed the parallel drawn with the earlier DALLAS and its sibling (same production company) THE WALTONS. Their best paragraph:
Resist if you want to, but whether you were a fan of the original series, or still in utero when it went off the air in 1991, TNT's "Dallas" will wear you down and pull you in with its mix of sex, intrigue, backstabbing, dirty dealing, blackmail and family secrets. The Ewing clan still makes the Medicis look like the Waltons, and there are even more of them 21 years later.
There is one thing all three reviews have in common: an acceptance of the fact that DALLAS was designed to be, and largely succeeds at being, "event television." Drenched in history, fortified with multigenerational appeal, and heaving with water-cooler-worthy reveals, TNT has created the perfect platform to unite soap fans and non, to be viewed communally with all types of friends and family.

So, it's not too late to invite yours to come by tonight, and visit for a few, so you can make the most of this complicated, fascinating and exhilarating premiere.  TNT, 9PM.  We'll even join you, via Twitter, @welovesoapstv.  Enjoy!

RELATED:
- PREVIEW: TNT's DALLAS Hits The Mark; Two-Hour Premiere Tonight!
- TNT to Launch Post-Episode Webshows for DALLAS and FALLING SKIES
- TNT and Jetblue Team Up: Special DALLAS Content On Flights!
- WATCH: New DALLAS Extended Promo
- DALLAS Is Back: A Look At The Characters
- TNT Reveals Cast Behind DALLAS Shower Curtain
- DALLAS Star Charlene Tilton Joins DEVANITY!

7 comments:

  1. It's phenomenal.. the best series reboot EVER. This and REVENGE prove you CAN execute old-time prime-time soap beautifully in the 21st century!!

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  2. You CAN go home again and all signs point to Dallas!

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  3. At different times J.R. Ewing, JR Ewing, Miss Ellie, Sue Ellen, John Ross & Lucy and Ray were all trending on Twitter. I loved it. Hoping for great ratings.

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  4. I'm just basically going to repeat what P.Kellach W. said: "It is PHENOMENAL!" I was a kid when the first Dallas aired and I have been waiting since last year for this reboot to finally air! IT WAS WELL WORTH THE WAIT! This definitely will be on my DVR on Wednesday night's and I may have to put a sign on my apartment door that says, "Unless it's an emergency, don't disturb! I'm watching Dallas!" Hmmm, that might just make the neighbors want to come in and join me in watching this show! If so, they better have their own drinks and snacks! I ain't rich like the Ewing's are!

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  5. It was a little better than I expected. So far I'm not impressed with the younger crew (especially John Ross), but J.R. and Bobby were in fine form and I like Brenda Strong's Ann. I hope they give Sue Ellen more to do in future episodes.

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  6. Thanks for all the feedback!

    Everyone at our viewing party last night (which was about half soap industry professionals and half "civilians" =) enjoyed the premiere episodes. It was 100% unanimous. For me, the most magical moment was when speculation about who sent the break-up email came to a head and one of us checked online to try to figure it out...

    There were tons of guesses out there, but the consensus candidate was wrong. This was a magic moment to me because it demonstrated that the DALLAS folks could keep a secret (maybe they could offer daytimers some advice) and that the audience was really into it.

    Can't wait for next week!

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