In a demonstration of the old maxim “If life gives you lemons….,” the producers of “Dallas” have spun a new “Who Shot J.R.?” mystery out of the unexpected death of Larry Hagman, who played the iconic character. Yet the stunt and tease of a serialized storyline tied to the character’s murder seem to be a case of too little, too late for TNT’s reboot, which started out promisingly and simply didn’t possess the staying power to keep viewers reliably coming back.
Part of that was generational, as showrunner Cynthia Cidre gamely tried to balance the mix of old and new in the cast, with considerable success initially. That mix was very much on display Monday, where a who’s who of former cast members — not to mention Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, among others — assembled for J.R.’s memorial and funeral. (Spoiler alert if you haven’t watched and still care to.)
The real standout moments on Monday belonged to Patrick Duffy and Linda Gray — Hagman’s original co-stars — who clearly felt an additional resonance in playing out these farewell scenes. Duffy’s character, Bobby, will have to become more of a badass, apparently, to seek revenge and simultaneously protect the family’s interests, while Gray’s fell off the wagon the night before the funeral.
It’s hard to blame the producers — faced with such a turn in mid-flight — from trying to make the best of a difficult situation, however awkward it might be. And the hour was filled with nice touches, including a revised version of the main theme in a more muted, melancholy tone.
Still, perhaps the best tribute TNT and everyone else associated with the show could offer would be to play out this current string, provide closure to the J.R. plot, and let “Dallas” ride off into the sunset. Because the truth is even in his dotage Hagman and J.R. were still the best thing about the series, and the prospect of keeping it going with the next-generation Ewings doesn’t seem likely to produce Idaho-sized ratings, much less Texas ones.
In an earlier episode this season J.R. joked that he never does the right thing, which is of course what made the character such devilish fun. But those holding the reins on “Dallas” can. Cidre told TV Guide the current story arc will “come full circle to the original ‘Who shot J.R.?'” And as anybody knows, when drawing a circle, once you’ve reached the point where you started, there’s really nothing to be gained by going on.