Growing up, Friday nights were sacred.
I don’t mean that in a religious sense, although my parents did an excellent job giving me and my brother a solid upbringing in that regard. Friday was Pizza Night, followed by our family’s weekly pilgrimage to the Neshaminy Mall. As an engineer who spent his days off immersed in some home improvement or gardening project, my Dad always seemed to need something at Sears for the weekend fun ahead.
By 9 p.m. sharp, we were home in front of the TV, the channel tuned to CBS. (Yes, I’m old enough to remember when entertainment consisted of only three TV channels.) Nine o’clock was when the weekend really got started, ushered in with that distinctive “Dallas” theme song accompanied by glimmering skyscrapers, grinning-but-guilty-as-hell oil barons, and their glamorous, shoulder-padded women.
“Dallas” in its heyday was iconic, escapist, legendary, and fun. Who among a certain generation doesn’t remember the infamous “Who Shot J.R.?” episode? We loved to loathe J.R. and his conniving, scheming ways with money and women. There was, it seemed, no end to the “Dallas” drama.
Until …it ended.
We grew up, went on with our lives, had families of our own, and were content – sorta – with the occasional “Dallas” movie. J.R. and Sue Ellen and Ray and Donna became akin to the kind of cousins once so constant in your life but whose names you’re damned if you can remember at family funerals.
Then, like a mirage out of the desert of decades of economic recession and collapse, back-to-back wars, and political scandals run amok (and that’s just in any given week), along came “Dallas” in 2012, like Bobby Ewing appearing Lazarus-like in the shower, back from the dead.
This latest incarnation of “Dallas” has, for three seasons, been one of the most brilliantly acted dramas on television, thanks to the indisputable talents of Linda Gray, Patrick Duffy, Ken Kercheval, Judith Light, and of course, the late Larry Hagman. Combine their star power with the energy of “Dallas” newcomers Josh Henderson, Jesse Metcalfe, Jordana Brewster and Julie Gonzalo — and the dead-on, true-to-the-original writing of Cynthia Cidre and team, complete with meticulous research and sly references (“Dallas” fans, you see what I did there?) from the ’80s — and you’ve got one hell of an explosive show.
It shouldn’t have worked. These things rarely do. These days, when everything old is new again, such efforts are usually embarrassing at their best and abyssal at their worst.
Not “Dallas.” Because nothing with J.R. Ewing’s imprimatur is a failure.
Ours is a low-key, cheap date kind of family.
On the rare occasion we eat out, most likely you’ll find us at Pittsburgh’s standby, Eat’n Park. It’s affordable, I usually have a decent coupon for the Soup and Salad Bar, and everyone in our picky-eater family gets what they like.
We’re not athletically-inclined or outdoorsy, so our leisure-time family activities usually involve the four of us akin to islands in the stream of life in our house: hanging out together in the same room but pursuing our own thing: reading a book, playing Minecraft, listening to One Direction, writing a blog post.
My husband shares my original “Dallas” love and affection, so naturally we tuned in weekly to see John Ross, Christopher and the latest generation of Ewings. At times, they proved to be just as good – dare I say, sometimes better – than the originals. They did their homework; you could tell, for example, that Josh Henderson as John Ross was a student of Larry Hagman as J.R. That look, those sneers, that’s art taught by the master.
Proving the adage that history really does repeat itself, our kids soon put down their iEverythings and joined us – just as my brother and I did when our parents watched “Dallas” in our suburban Philadelphia family room. All these years later, “Dallas” is still among the few things that – as our kids slip into the coveted teenage demographic market – we’ve been able to bond over as a family.
Just as in the ’80s, the magic was there a second time.
As our kids asked questions about the original “Dallas” and we nostalgically filled in the pieces about J.R.’s nemesis Cliff Barnes and the shaky branches on the Ewing family tree, those explanations segued into stories.
Stories about our own personal Cliffs, those former middle school arch-enemies now turned Facebook friends, filled then with as much drama as anything on must-see-TV.
Stories about parents and grandparents who watched “Dallas” alongside us and who – because they died before our kids would be born – became alive again in our retelling.
On Friday night (of all nights!) TNT announced the cancellation of “Dallas.”
The show, experiencing a viewership decline, wasn’t attracting the younger viewers advertisers fiercely covet.
What “Dallas” has is a decades-loyal fanbase that is showing its passion on social media with links to petitions and hashtags like #SaveDallas that have attracted the attention of the cast. For we are all Ewings. We are all family.
You may think that I – and thousands of others – need to move on, to get a life. Here’s what I know about that:
Life is vastly different than when J.R. was shot. Our lives – all of our lives – have challenges. At 45, my husband and I have experienced cancer, infertility, long-term unemployment, parenting a special needs child, and a loss of nearly 20 years of steadfast retirement savings in the economic recession. We face the same or equally challenging day-to-day situations as many people who grew up in the ’80s, believing they would do better than their parents but now wondering how the hell they’re going to make it to retirement – or, more likely, next month.
Somehow, with the magical blending of the nostalgic old and the electrifying new, this present incarnation of “Dallas” gave us …something.
A connection to our past and a reminder of a simpler time.
A salve to our world-weary spirits.
And a reassurance that in the end, family is what matters most of all.