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Dallas - review

The revival of Dallas makes Rachel Cooke nostalgic for the 1980s.

Channel 5

One of my many worries about the return of Dallas (Wednesdays, 9pm) was that its producers would attempt to make the cast look like real millionaires and Southfork like the kind of place a real millionaire would live. But, no: the family ranch still looks like Barbie’s house, its swimming pool the size of a Chigwell hot tub, its kitchen so dinky Sue Ellen can reach for the ice box and the drinks trolley at the same time, no problem. The women still favour earrings that look as if they came from Walgreens, and the men the kind of high-waisted jeans you would have to ransack J C Penney to find.

The producers still don’t splash out on extras either – at Christopher Ewing’s wedding there were 30 guests max, for all that the Ewings are at the very pinnacle of Dallas society. And when the Southfork cook passes round the canapés, you can’t help but notice that her platter is laden with something that was probably made by Sara Lee and only recently defrosted.

All in all, this is unexpectedly comforting. So, too, is the presence of quite a few of the original cast: Patrick Duffy as Bobby, Linda Gray as Sue Ellen, Larry Hagman as JR, Charlene Tilton as Lucy, Steve Kanaly as Ray Krebbs. (Come on, you remember Ray! He was Jock Ewing’s illegitimate son. Lucy? She was, um, some sort of miniature cousin.) They have aged so spookily little, it’s as if some far-thinking network executive had them all cryogenically frozen. The only thing that has changed even slightly is JR’s eyebrows, which are now so fabulously luxuriant and perky they resemble a pair of bull-horns.

Also immaculately preserved: their ropy acting skills. When Bobby is in pain – apparently he is dying of stomach cancer – he looks like he is trying to fart silently. When Sue Ellen is angry – Bobby wants to sell Southfork, which will destroy the plans of her son, John Ross, who has just discovered a two-billion-barrel reserve of crude in one of its fields – she looks like she is trying to remember if she applied her deodorant. Later on in Dallas 2012, Sue Ellen is, I read, to stand for governor of Texas. I can’t wait to see her face when she starts grappling with the state’s budget deficit.

Oh, it’s so hard to explain, now, why Dallas once meant so much to me! Think of it this way. I was a teenager. I had nothing to do, and nowhere to go, unless you count cider drinking in the park. Lots of things were grim: school, the city, the state of my parents’ marriage. But once a week, I could plunge into this ridiculous world of lip gloss and shoulder pads and ten- gallon hats, and forget about everything else. It was silly but it was soothing, too – the wheels of the plot always turning in the same direction (booze, infidelity, sibling rivalry). Was ever a theme tune more irresistibly cheery? And remember: whatever people tell you, Dallas had relatively little competition in those days. American television had not yet begun producing ace dramas such as The Sopranos. Sure, we had The Jewel in the Crown. But that only ran for 14 weeks; the evenings, long and dark, had to be filled somehow.

Not that this means I’m in favour of reviving it – and I’m truly amazed that, thanks to good ratings in the US, TNT has already commissioned a second season. Nostalgia is almost always a fatally underpowered engine for creativity and you can feel its feeble putter in pretty much every scene of Dallas 2012. There is something dreary and tokenistic about the way the writers have tried to update the storyline (Christopher wants to invest in renewable energy because even in the world of American cable TV there is a vague awareness that oil is mucky).

The young actors – Josh Henderson as John Ross, Jesse Metcalfe as Christopher – are so bland, so identikit handsome, I can hardly tell them apart; and the compulsively watchable Larry Hagman is, thanks to his poor health, on screen far too rarely (though at least the scriptwriters still have him use words like “foundling”; I love it when JR comes over all Antebellum). Perhaps, though, things will pep up a little when Cliff Barnes (Ken Kercheval), who now owns Ewing Oil, strides into town. Eyebrows at dawn? Here’s hoping.

Rachel Cooke trained as a reporter on The Sunday Times. She is now a writer at The Observer. In the 2006 British Press Awards, she was named Interviewer of the Year.

This article first appeared in the 10 September 2012 issue of the New Statesman, Autumn politics special