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'Dallas' review: J.R., Larry Hagman go out on top

When the rebooted "Dallas" debuted last year, TNT talked a lot about how the new generation of Ewings were at the center of the story. It was a good spin to get young viewers, but the Ewing kids had nothing on scheming oilman J.R. Ewing.

And the 20-something actors could do nothing as Larry Hagman, who created in the original "Dallas" arguably TV's greatest villain of all time with J.R., stole every scene he was in, chewed every piece of scenery and showed the youngsters exactly how it's done.
 
So it's bittersweet knowing that Hagman filmed just five episodes of the new season (8 p.m. Jan. 28, TNT; 3 stars out of 4) before he died of cancer the day after Thanksgiving, at age 81.. In the premiere, the visibly frail Hagman is just as commanding as ever in J.R.'s 10-gallon hat.

"You're not the first Pam to fox your way into the henhouse," he tells one vexing vixen. "I'm one-for-one on flushing out Pamelas and I plan on being two-for-two." (I can't tell you who "Pam" is, but it's another delicious reveal.)

In another scene, J.R. continues training his son, John Ross (Josh Henderson), on how to double-cross the family: "Love, hate, jealousy: Mix them up and they make a mean martini. And when we take over Ewing Energies, you'll slake your thirst--with a twist!"

Hagman may not have written J.R.'s lines, but he sure knew how to deliver them.

The entire Ewing clan faces various crises as the new season begins. Sue Ellen's (Linda Gray) efforts to help John Ross endanger her run for governor. Bobby (Patrick Duffy) and Ann (Brenda Strong) suffer marital strife when someone from Ann's past resurfaces--someone other than her evil ex, Harris Ryland (Mitch Pileggi, now a series regular), who causes plenty of trouble as well. Christopher (Jesse Metcalfe) and Elena (Jordana Brewster) spend more time plotting than planning their wedding thanks to a sneaky legal (and an illegal) maneuver by Christopher's pregnant ex-fiancee, Rebecca (Julie Gonzalo).

So yeah, "Dallas" is just as superbly soapy and ridiculous as ever, but you have to wonder whether the show can survive without its legendary star. Executive producer Cynthia Cidre came up with a twist that echoes the cliffhanger "Who shot J.R.?" from the 1980 series' second season. The answer was revealed in the Season 3 premiere that was seen by 80 million viewers.

A "Who killed J.R.?" plotline and revelations during J.R.'s funeral in the eighth episode will play out through the end of the season "with a giant, delightful, delicious climax," she told The Associated Press.

I imagine Hagman's sporting a Texas-sized grin.

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Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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