Even if it didn’t have to deal with a pivotal death, there would be much new in Season 2 of “Dallas.”
TNT’s reboot of the 1978-91 CBS serial resumes Monday, Jan. 28, with the ever-wily J.R. Ewing still present. Larry Hagman had completed five of the new episodes at the time of his death in November, and by necessity as well as the desire to give the actor and character a fitting send-off, the show will focus on J.R.’s sudden absence in an episode tentatively slated for Monday, March 11.
“Every episode will have it,” executive producer Cynthia Cidre tells Zap2it of “Dallas” retaining the spirit of J.R. once he departs. “And also [Ewing family patriarch] Jock’s. He died in the third season [of the original series], and his presence has been felt forever. I think J.R. will always be with the show, but for this season at a minimum, it’s the mystery of what’s happened to him.”
While she allows “we’ve worked longer hours than we’re used to,” Cidre is proud of how the “Dallas” cast and crew has rallied to accommodate the needed changes. “We’re an organized group. We normally start the day at 10 and finish at 6, and there were a few nights that were longer than that.” In fact, Cidre notes production has been added on weekends, to keep up with the scheduled air dates.
Among fresh “Dallas” developments that already had been planned, Emma Bell (“The Walking Dead”) arrives as another Emma, the stepdaughter Bobby Ewing (Patrick Duffy) doesn’t know he has until his current wife Ann’s (Brenda Strong) tearful revelation. And Emma’s strong-willed grandmother Judith (played by another same-named cast addition, “Who’s the Boss?” veteran Judith Light) won’t make the mother-and-child reunion easy.
A close friend of Hagman who says he feels “joy” whenever he thinks of his late colleague and pal, “Dallas” mainstay Duffy continues to appreciate getting new chapters of Bobby’s life, adding that Linda Gray — who also was in Hagman’s personal inner circle — feels the same way about her long-running role as Sue Ellen.
“We’re now in the very unique position of playing the same characters at the correct age for over 30 years,” Duffy reflects. “A lot of stage actors will play Hamlet several times in their careers, once in their 20s and maybe for the last time in their 60s … but they’re still playing a character who’s 20 years old. I got to play Bobby when he was 30, and now he’s 64. Very seldom does that happen in the acting world.”
Moreover, Bobby now has to deal with something his wife has kept from him for years. “It’s hard for Bobby to maintain his equilibrium when he’s been lied to, by omission,” reasons Duffy, “and it’s just good, high drama. There have been major secrets in what this man thought was a pretty open marriage to the perfect woman, and it’s kind of fun to see Bobby hurt and disappointed.”
As for the young actress who stirs that pot, “I was just so frightened that I wouldn’t be able to hold my own,” Bell says. “Patrick and Linda and Larry are legends, and Brenda and the rest of the cast all did amazing work last season. Being the newbie, but a newbie on a show that already has quite a following and a certain style to it, I really wanted to make sure I could rise to the occasion.”
“Dallas” lets Bell settle in slowly, since the fictional Emma first appears unfeeling, causing Bobby to support a devastated Ann physically as well as emotionally. That would seem logical, since Bell calls her co-stars “so supportive. They welcomed me with open arms, and never once did I feel that sense of, ‘Are you going to make us look bad?’ That can sometimes happen, unfortunately, but not on this set.”
Mexican actor Kuno Becker also joins “Dallas” as the ex-soldier brother of Elena (Jordana Brewster), the true love of Bobby’s son Christopher (Jesse Metcalfe). And there’s new fuel to Rebecca (Julie Gonzalo), Christopher’s estranged wife who’s pregnant by him with twins, following the jaw-dropper at the end of Season 1 that she actually is the daughter of Cliff Barnes (Ken Kercheval) — lifelong enemy of the Ewings.
For longtime “Dallas” devotees, though, the strongest lure may remain the question that now succeeds “Who Shot J.R.?” … specifically, “What Happened to J.R.?” Cidre suggests, “A natural death would seem tame for the character. And if it’s an unnatural death, how do we supersede what had been done before and really surprise the fans?
“I had already broken the whole season to the studio in August; we knew where we were headed, and we didn’t want to throw away what was pretty good, but it involved Larry. The next task was how to put what we’d already created into the new story. I’d say we’ve kept 80 percent, and it’s amazing that we were able to do that. It was the world’s largest Sudoku puzzle.”