The supersoap where only the eyebrows have grown

Everything is bigger in Texas. Bigger still in Dallas. Remember Sue Ellen's hair? JR's Stetson hat? Southfork Ranch? Gazing back into the ancient history of the small screen, all three seemed to stretch as far as the eye could see.

Dallas, the television soap, is one of popular culture's great icons. It is an eternal monument to the epithet that if you build it, they will come. Particularly 25-54 year old women, whom the network's network's advertisers love above all others.

Indeed, Dallas was no mere TV show. It was the soap opera that gave birth to its own genre: the 1980s "supersoap".

From Dallas's deep well sprang Knots Landing, knock offs in Dynasty and The Colbys, and many more: Falcon Crest, Flamingo Road and Bare Essence. The list goes on. Each show a little more ridiculous than the show before it. Each title slightly more absurd.

But through it all there was Dallas, indefatigable, immortal and untouchable, as timeless as the sky and ancient as the soil of Southfork Ranch, ancestral home of the rich and rotten Ewing family.

This was a world of sex and power. And big hair. Of lust and betrayal. And big hair. Of oil wells and cattle stations. And really, really big hair.

Dallas redux, which launched on Channel Nine last night, picks up the story some two decades after we left it.

J.R. and Sue Ellen's son John Ross (Josh Henderson), and Pam and Bobby's son Christopher (Jesse Metcalfe) are all grown up and, in the best Ewing tradition, at each other's throats.

Watching from the sidelines, the freshly exhumed J.R. (Larry Hagman), his do-gooder brother Bobby (Patrick Duffy) and Sue Ellen (Linda Gray), no longer an alcoholic, but in possession of the biggest hair in Dallas.

But it must be said, time does strange things to all of us. J.R. has, inexplicably, turned into John Howard, an angry, easily excitable small man with enormous eyebrows.

And Sue Ellen, curiously, looks more like Miss Texas than she did in 1978. This is partly because, thanks to the miracle of modern beauty products, she actually looks younger than she did in the 1978 iteration of Dallas, but mainly because after years of eye-rolling and jaw-clenching, it appears she finally has her hair under control.

Perhaps the most striking thing about Dallas redux is that it is filmed in 16x9 widescreen. That's bad news for the set builders who need to build bigger sets. But it's good news for the director who can, finally, get all of Sue Ellen's hair in the one shot without panning.

Of course, it wouldn't be a party without punch. Cue the arrival of Lucy Ewing, former fashion model, saucy niece of Uncle J.R. and Uncle Bobby, and daughter of Ewing family back sheep Gary and sister-in-law, that no-good hussy Valene.

They moved to Knots Landing in the early years of Dallas but, smelling the possibility of a coveted People's Choice Award - remember, it's special because it's from "the people" - Lucy was smart and opted to stay in Dallas.

The upshot of that is that she gets a cameo in Dallas redux, while poor old Gary and Valene have to content themselves with royalty cheques from a hit TV show which, ultimately, ran longer than Dallas itself.

Of Lucy we can say only this: age shall not weary her, nor the years condemn. Actually, let's rethink that last point. The years haven't been kind.

Back in 1978 Lucy was four foot tall and the least likely working model in Dallas. In 2012 she's four foot wide and, well, let's leave it at that.

What made Dallas unique was its unflinching belief that no matter how ridiculous the plot, the audience would buy it.

Lucy had a torrid affair with ranch hand Ray (Steve Kanaly) until he was revealed to be grandpa Jock Ewing's long-lost son, and therefore, technically, her uncle. There were three Jenna Wade's, two Kristin Shepard's and two Pamela Ewings. Who could keep up?

J.R. was shot by his wife's sister Kristin, Bobby was shot by his wife's sister Katherine, who later returned, ran him down and killed him. A year later Bobby came back from the dead in a shower - best line in the show's history: "Mornin' Pam!" - and the audience discovered an entire season of the show had been a dream.

No, you did not mis-hear that. A dream. A flipping dream. Not that we're still carrying scars from that one, no.

Love it? Oh yes. Hate it? Sometimes. (Hello. Dream season.) But no matter who did what to whom, there was nothing like Dallas. It was soap, glorious, soap.

The story The supersoap where only the eyebrows have grown first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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