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John Boland: These oily new 'Dallas' stars ain't fit to lick ol' JR's cowboy boots


Hat a boy: Larry Hagman,
second left, as JR Ewing with
the cast of the rebooted Dallas

Hat a boy: Larry Hagman, second left, as JR Ewing with the cast of the rebooted Dallas

Hat a boy: Larry Hagman, second left, as JR Ewing with the cast of the rebooted Dallas

Dallas was first aired in 1978 and ended its run in 1991, which means that anyone under the age of 45 has no memory of its early years, while anyone below the age of 30 can't even recall the demise of this American soap opera.

So who, beyond those viewers now firmly in middle age, is the new Dallas (TV3) aimed at?

The makers seem unsure, forefronting a young cast in the hopes of snaring the twentysomething audience weaned on Melrose Place and One Tree Hill, while also relying heavily on those characters and performers who made the Texan soap opera famous in the first place -- only Barbara Bel Geddes (through death) and Victoria Principal (through choice) are missing from the original line-up.

As it turns out, it's the oldies who steal the show. TNT, the cable channel behind the new series, may have thought it was enticing a young viewership by casting Josh Henderson and Jesse Metcalfe (both from Desperate Housewives) as the battling offspring of oilmen JR and Bobby, along with Jordana Brewster (The Fast and the Furious) as the love interest they fight over, but all three are colourless performers and are effortlessly outshone by their elders.

Grey-haired and careworn, the 63-year-old Patrick Duffy brings an authority and gravitas to Bobby that wasn't there before, while Linda Gray imbues Sue Ellen with a septuagenarian flakiness that seems only partly attributable to the booze-and-sex binges of her past.

But this was always JR's show and, in Larry Hagman's gleefully malevolent turn, it looks as if it will be again. Hagman is now 80, but age has not diminished his power to dominate any scene he's in, so that even when mute and immobile in a care home chair (which is where we first encounter him), he conjures up decades of scary intensity and ill will.

And he gets all of the script's few good lines, which he delivers with obvious relish. Elsewhere, alas, it looks as if we're in for the same old infighting as before, though mainly carried out by a callow cast who aren't fit to lick JR's cowboy boots.

This being the first week of September, RTÉ One came back from its holidays and decided to get seriously purposeful with three hour-long back-to-school documentaries -- all of them so intent on being worthy that they forgot to be interesting.

Sunday night's Primary Pressures was the result of six months spent in a Deis school for the disadvantaged in Co Wexford. Lots of aspirational things got said by dedicated teachers doing their educational utmost in cash-strapped times, but I felt as if I were watching a left-over episode from the fly-on-the-wall school series that RTÉ screened a couple of years back.

Monday night's Inside the Department was made possible by the goodwill of Ruairi Quinn, who gave a camera crew generous access to his education ministry soon after he took over the job.

One of the Government's ablest performers, he's also clearly concerned to do the utmost with his brief, which isn't easy at a time of swingeing cutbacks.

Nor, alas, was it easy to make this dilemma engrossing for the viewer -- so much of the filming took place at various meetings and discussions that I felt as bored as if I'd been trapped in them myself.

But his advisers, including our own former education correspondent John Walshe, proved an engaged and personable bunch and the minister himself emerged with both his seriousness and his sense of humour intact.

"I wouldn't like to provoke them," he replied when asked if he'd consider meeting with protesters outside his office, while he chuckled on being told that his inability to fulfil certain pre-election promises had earned him the nickname Quinnochio.

If Ruairi Quinn has educational reforms he'd like to see implemented, he's not the only one because on the following night, John Lonergan's School Principles revealed the former governor of Mountjoy to be a man on a mission -- even if his mission seemed to consist largely of spouting platitudes.

In this vein, we heard that education is the "key to many of our social problems". We also heard about "life chances" for the disadvantaged, who needed to "fulfil their potential". We discovered, too, that the role of parents was "crucial" if children were to gain "self-confidence", whereas in our current system "self-esteem is suffering" and "people feel alienated".

All very true, of course, and delivered with the unfakeable passion for which Lonergan has always been renowned, but pious aspirations can sound terribly like pietistic waffle when unaccompanied by concrete proposals on how to effect change.

Firefighters (RTÉ One) was the first instalment of an eight-part series, which seems to me probably five programmes too many. Yes, the work of the Dublin Fire and Rescue Service (or the Dublin Fire Brigade, as most of us know it) is of vital importance in the saving of lives, but after watching this first half-hour I'd ascertained that fact.

During that time, a fire was extinguished in Ballymun; a woman pedestrian who'd been hit by a car was treated by paramedics; a child who'd fallen on his head was taken away by ambulance; a patrol boat searched the Liffey for a body that wasn't there; and a teenage girl who'd climbed on to the roof of a Luas shelter was reprimanded for wasting her rescuers' time.

All very interesting, but hardly justifying seven more weeks.

Indo Review