Dallas 2.0: Well Oil Be Damned

The flashy and trashy shoulder pad fest of 80s classic Dallas, may seem like a distant and cringeworthy memory, but apparently in these recession ridden times, an escapist revival may be in order.
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The flashy and trashy shoulder pad fest of 80s classic Dallas, may seem like a distant and cringeworthy memory, but apparently in these recession ridden times, an escapist revival may be in order.

Does anyone really believe in the concept of 'too much of a good thing'? Surely, if something's great, then our appetite should be insatiable?

Take American TV drama, for instance. In recent years, cinema's once-poor relation has evolved into the number one destination for discerning viewers. Boardwalk Empire, The Sopranos, Mad Men, Lost, Breaking Bad, True Blood - all these shows have helped to establish the small screen as the best place to find incisive writing, great performances and compelling story-lines. But there's a danger that we might start to suffer from quality fatigue. With countless high-end shows clogging up our Sky+ hard drives and vying for our attention, we could easily overdose on prestige drama. The only likely cure is a sudden injection of something trashy and demented, ideally the kind of soap that makes us feel dirty.

There was a time when the glossy soaps represented the best that TV had to offer. With high production values and big name guest stars, they offered a different kind of escapism than Erik Estrada's porcelain teeth or the prospect of seeing the A-Team locked up in yet another well-stocked tool shed. That's not to say that they were particularly complex or worthy of acclaim, but they knew how to manipulate their audience and keep them coming back for more with Pavlovian monotony.

Unlike modern dramas, which thrive on not just throwing out the rulebook, but rolling it up and sodomising Steve Buscemi with it, the big soaps were predicated on familiarity and repetition. Like some twisted vision of hell where reality manages to loop back on itself every 45 minutes, the shows were notable for plots that could be recapped in the time it took to play the theme tune, characters who swapped allegiances quicker than they changed their outfits, and a steadfast commitment to maintaining the status  quo.

So if you're in dire need of something a little more low-brow, without plundering the depths of reality TV, wave your stetson in the air at the news that both shows have been reimagined for the 21st century.

If a lead character was marrying a new addition to the cast, the fresh-faced fiancee's future could be determined by where her name came in the opening credits. Usually, 'guest starring' meant that they were going to die before the honeymoon was over. Yet despite its predictability and over-acted melodrama, Dallas enjoyed over a decade as the world's most popular TV show, thanks to a heady combination of deceit, deception and double-dealing. In an average day, any member of the Ewing family could find themselves forging a will, staging a corporate takeover and escaping a house fire, whilst still finding time for two different hairstyles and a love triangle.

Focusing on the internecine rivalries between two feuding oil families in Texas, the long-running series was really about the battle of the sexes. Whilst the men postured and pontificated in hats large enough to sustain their own micro-climate, the women struggled to assert their independence in an alpha-male world. And when it all got too much, there was always a handsome stable-hand or bottle of vodka to help soften the blows. Whereas British dramas preferred to depict alcoholics as park bench-dwelling destitutes, swigging from a brown paper bag, Dallas managed to make chronic drink dependency look positively glamorous. Sue Ellen would always remember to take off her clip-on earrings before making short work of a crystal decanter full of burgundy.

In their own way, Dallas and its diabolical doppelganger Dynasty were just as fantastical as Star Trek or Battlestar Galactica, they just had fewer spaceships. No-one ever tuned in for searing sociological insight. They wanted to see glasses of champagne thrown in people's faces, or two ballgown-clad matriarchs duking it out in a conveniently placed swimming pool. Now, how often did you see that in The Wire?

So if you're in dire need of something a little more low-brow, without plundering the depths of reality TV, wave your stetson in the air at the news that both shows have been reimagined for the 21st century. Finally, a chance to reacquaint ourselves with the opulence, escapism and shoulderpads that had to enter a doorway one at a time. Although Dynasty is being talked up as a prequel of sorts, hoping to appropriate some of Mad Men's alluring sixties ambience, Dallas is heading back to the small screen with some of its original characters still in place.

Larry Hagman, Linda Gray and Patrick Duffy have all been recruited to reprise their iconic roles as the Ewing clan, with the PR machine promising 'a mix of old and new faces' - in Linda's case, both at once. Of course, the surviving cast has been padded out with the next generation of oil-hungry ne'er-do-wells, half of whom seem to have wandered over from the set of Desperate Housewives. Although Dallas 2.0 is still a year away from its premiere on TNT, a teaser trailer has already hit the web and it shows that twenty years have done nothing to ease the rivalry within the Ewing clan. When the new show was first announced, TNT boss Michael Wright told the press "This is not a remake as much as a continuation. It takes the next generation of Ewings and continues the battle." And he's certainly stuck to his word.

A few months ago, Hadley Freeman wrote a cautiously celebratory article about the reboot for The Guardian, warning that the show's obsession with conspicuous wealth might seem distasteful in "the recession-heavy 21st century". But if there's one thing that both Dynasty and Dallas managed to prove, time and time again, it's that money doesn't buy you happiness. In this interminable age of austerity, maybe that's a moral we could all benefit from.

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