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Denette Wilford

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What Soaps Can Learn From 'Dallas' Reboot

Posted: 08/07/2012 2:01 pm

Ahhh, the '80s. A time when everything was big and bold -- pouffy hair, shoulder pads, acid-wash jeans (though you couldn't see just how baggy since they were usually pinned) and all things neon. But nothing was bigger than soap operas. In its heyday, there were more than a dozen of them on the air. In fact, from 1981 to 1984, there were 14 ("General Hospital," "All My Children," "One Life to Live," "Guiding Light," "The Young and the Restless," "Bold and the Beautiful," "As the World Turns," "Ryan's Hope," "Search for Tomorrow," "Capitol," "Days of our Lives," "The Edge Of Night," "Another World," "Texas" and "The Doctors"), and those were just the serials on daytime. Prime time was a whole other beast, what with "Dynasty," "Falcon Crest," "Knots Landing," "The Colbys" and perhaps the biggest one of all, "Dallas."

The new version of the series, which premiered in June, wasn't really a reboot at all; rather, it was more of a continuation of the goings-on with the folks we loved (and loved to hate), the Ewings. I was a tad skeptical going in, considering other revamped former hits that had flopped miserably ("Charlie's Angels," "Bionic Woman," "Knight Rider," to name a few), but "Dallas" stuck to its guns and remained faithfully soapy, just like the original.

After watching last week's penultimate episode, it was all very happily ever after with Christopher (Jesse Metcalfe) and John Ross (Josh Henderson) striking a deal to go into business together. But anyone who knows soaps knows that being happy is the kiss of death. That might have been before the series got renewed, which would have left things nicely wrapped up for fans, but since it'll be back next year, all those happy, smiling faces may as well be replaced by sad-face emoticons, because everything goes downhill in the season finale, "Revelations."

The last two episodes (actually, scratch that; the entire season) should be studied by those helming and writing daytime soaps because this is how it should be done. "Dallas" is definitely a soap, but that's no slam. It has everything: romance, drama, suspense, a little bit of comedy, but most of all, at its core, it's all about family. That's what soap fans want and crave, but a lot of the time, the romantic and familial stuff gets tossed aside for bigger things, things writers and execs incorrectly believe viewers want.

Soaps can learn a lot from the continuing Ewing saga. It's about putting family first. It didn't matter what John Ross had done, what J.R. keeps doing. When the Ewings are threatened, they work together (albeit, with guards up). Of course, going into the finale, there are still secrets being kept that may or may not be outed, so that could all go up in flames, but it's still nice to see everyone have one another's backs. The Ewings actually reminded me of the Buchanans from "One Life to Live," one of the last (but no longer) soap clans who actually got it right.

"Dallas" also doesn't have any love triangles, a daytime staple. Rather, "Dallas" gives us rootable couples with former loves thrown in. I think we're supposed to want Christopher and Elena (Jordana Brewster) together, but I can't help but want her with John Ross. Perhaps it's Henderson's brilliance in the role, a role that started off a little too cartoonish and moustache-twirling for my liking, but has since evolved into a multifaceted character. Instead of being a little punk, we can't help but root for him because we know he's the way he is because of who his dad is.

The woman vying for Christopher's heart seems equally as vulnerable. There's more to Rebecca (Julie Gonzalo) than she's let on, but I can't help but want her, Christopher and their unborn babies to be all rainbows and puppies. But, of course, this is a soap so that's not going to happen. The outcome from the shot that ended the last episode won't be surprising, but what comes from it will. The description of "Revelations" reads: "Family bonds bring the Ewings together as a loved one faces a medical crisis. Meanwhile, Christopher and Elena learn that not everyone is who they appear to be, including the people closest to them. Long-buried secrets are revealed as the past rears its ugly head." And it doesn't disappoint. Bobby's (Patrick Duffy) health issues have been an ongoing storyline, but his scenes with J.R. (Larry Hagman) in the finale will appease longtime "Dallas" fans.

Brenda Strong also deserves a shout-out. Her portrayal as Bobby's wife, Ann, has been fabulous and her beginnings as the show's sweet, perfect character prove that not everything is what it seems. She also harbours a huge secret (involving a baby; more on that, I guess time will tell), but remnants of the shotgun-toting bad-ass from that early episode make a reappearance, and her plot to help Sue-Ellen (Linda Gray) pays off. Strong makes me ask something I didn't think I would say aloud: Victoria Principal who?

Some loose ends are tied up by the end, but in true cliffhanger style, we're left with even more questions. And, most importantly, we're left wanting more. If this was a daily soap, it would be that pivotal Friday episode. Instead, and even better, it's the perfect way to end a season, entertaining viewers as well as satisfying fans of the original series, which is no small feat. Now if only daytime soaps could return to their roots and stick to the simplest of formulas (romance + family = happy fans); if they did, there might be more than four of them on the air right now.

Dallas' season finale airs Wednesday, Aug. 8 at 9 p.m. ET on Bravo in Canada and TNT in the US.

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