The idea of a _Dallas_ revival or reboot, either in film or television, has been batted around since at least 1998, but it’s had an important cultural reason since 2002. Given the parallels between our society today and the late 70s, given the fact that half of the storylines of _Dallas_ were taken from the life of Ken Lay, _Dallas_ would have been the perfect venue for addressing the corporate scandals of the last decade. Indeed, when a movie was being seriously considered, that was the objective: to treat the Enron Issue. A focus group found the script too serious. Entertainment executives are infamous for completely misreading focus groups, and rather than inserting humor into the script, they decided to make the movie a parody. The project floundered and eventually died.
And for the past year, there have been rumors, recently reignited, that the Turner division of Warner Bros. is working on a pilot for a _Dallas The Next Generation_ series either for TNT or TBS.
In the meantime, FOX has jumped into the bandwagon, sort of, with a show called _Lone Star_, but the “ripped from the headlines” premise is more Bernie Madoff than Ken Lay. Bob Allen is a con man, the son of a con man, who makes his living on Ponzi schemes. He also lives a double life. In Houston, he’s married to the daughter of Clint Thatcher (Jon Voight), a self-made oil millionaire.
Now, there are reasons why _Dallas_ was the second-longest running drama in history at the time of its cancellation (the reason why other dramas like _Law and Order_ have surpassed it in the past 20 years, of course, was their ability to withstand cast changes). _Lone Star_ is missing everything that made _Dallas_ work.
1. A good television or movie premise starts with a good idea. _Dallas_ started as “Romeo and Juliet” update. Then they worked in some other Shakespearean archetypes. _Lone Star_ very blatantly borrows from the echetypes of _Dallas_ without going back to the archetypes.
2. One of my constant complaints about TV and movies these days is the lack of multi-generational casts. Roles that traditionally went to people in their 30s or 40s now go to people in their 20s or early 30s. Roles that even *should* be middle-aged people are being played by young adults. And 20 year old medical doctors abound.
3. It is one thing to depict evil–that’s what makes literature and drama interesting–but it must be depicted in a context that is balanced.
There is character on this show, at least based upon the pilot, who’s sympathetic. The most sympathetic characters were the “hero’s” victims, and that includes the women he loves.
The show opens with a sexy scene where “Robert” is leaving his girlfriend Lindsey in her small house in Midland to go on a business trip. He’s all domestic with her. We see him going around getting checks from people to invest in “Oil Wells.” Then he calls Lindsey on a cell to tell her he’s arrived at his hotel. He puts away one cell phone, pulls out another, and walks into a huge mansion where he greets his wife Cat.
So, we’ve established in the opening sequence that the “hero” is a slimeball. Contrast to the earlier series’ opening of a bright eyed bride and her new husband driving home to tell his family of their elopement.
Again, America wants a show depicting Bernie Madoff and Ken Lay as bad guys. We don’t want a show where Bernie Madoff is the guy we’re supposed to be rooting for. I had expected it to at least be some kind of “Robin Hood” thing, where the guy was going around cheating *rich* people.
In one scene, Bob goes to an oil rig and claims to be working on research for a film. He gets permission to tour. He goes around with his con artist father and a kindly old man in a hat. When they finish their tour, we learn that the kindly old man is one of their “investors,” who has gotten cold feet. They’ve told this guy that the well they’ve toured is *their* well. And Bob offers to return his investment in cash if he still wants to pull out, showing him a suitcase of bills. Instead, the poor old man buys two more “shares.” The audience is supposed to be cheering for this??
In another scene, at a “down home” picnic in Midland, he talks to his girlfriend Lindsey’s parents, who think the world of him and his fake company they’ve put their life savings into. We know he’s cheating them, and our hearts ache for the fact that this creep is conning them.
The critics are baffled why America has not accepted another “flawed” hero, especially coming off of _House_ as a lead-in.
I never understand why execs can’t discern the difference between “characters you love to hate” and characters you just hate.
1) The concept of the anti-hero. We like somebody who does bad things to get people who are worse. J. R. Ewing is, within his family, the bad guy. However, many of his schemes involve bringing down people who are worse than he is. When he hurts innocent people, or poor people, he has his father, or his brother, or Cliff Barnes to bring him down a peg, and the audience cheers for that. Or else the reason people root for him is not so much that he wins as that he doesn’t bring his family down with him.
Dr. Gregory House is a kind of anti-hero in that, like a modern day Socrates or Diogenes, he picks at people’s arrogances and falsehoods. House is a jerk, but he exposes other people for being jerks. The _House_ writers realize this, and that’s why they insert the occasional story arch (most of which haven’t worked well) where House has to confront someone who’s an even bigger jerk.
By contrast, Bob Allen is no anti-hero. He’s just a slimeball. The anti-hero is the dangerous-seeming father in law, Clint, or the scheming brother in law “Trammell” (what kind of name is that??).
2) Humor. Most great villains have a level of comedy to them–it keeps their edge off. That’s why the Joker is one of the greatest comic book villains of all time. Larry Hagman and Hugh Laurie were both known as comic actors before taking on their iconic roles. Both actors have a sense of fun that takes the edge off their characters’ faults. Newcomer James Wolk, who is being compared to “a young George Clooney”, plays his part way too straight. He comes off as callous.
3) Sympathy. House may be a jerk. House may be a drug addict. But he really *is* disabled. Even “ol’ J.R.” had an edge of sympathy in that a) if he went down, his family went down with him and b) he was conflicted by his own sense of never meeting either of his parents’ approval. The only sympathy angle with Bob Allen, established in the opening scene, is that his father has raised him this way and roped him into this lifestyle. We’re supposed to sympathize him for the fact that he “loves” both these women, but that’s hardly a sympathetic trait. He has a clear choice in the show to be faithful to his wife and accept the high-paying job her father has offered him.
His conflict comes from wanting to maintain his relationship with Lindsey and the lower-middle-class lifestyle in Midland. He’s cheated a lot of people in the town, and some of them have started to ask questions, questions that are being investigated by the local DA. So he cooks up a scheme to embezzle from his father in law’s company to pay off his debts in Midland. This isn’t sympathetic. This is just stupid.
4) Lastly, “flawed heroes” have some admirable qualities to them. House can be an arrogant jerk and get away with it because he’s the smartest guy in the room, and he gets the job done.
Our society needs a good drama series to address the various corporate, economic and political crises of our times. Hopefully, the total failure of this show to do so will not prevent further ventures to fill this void.