the return of dallas invites us to wallow in the horror that was the '80s

Pat Stacey

Mention the 1980s and forsome reason it's the bad things that come to mind first. Big hair and big shoulder pads on women. Poodle rockers with tumbling manes of blond highlights and cripplingly tight jeans -- all the better for hitting those squawking high notes.

Dreadful teen movies starring people called Corey. Foppish New Romantics whose synthesiser-led noodlings arrogantly, but mercifully briefly, proclaimed the death of guitar bands.

Throw in emigration, unemployment, drug epidemics, Reagan in the White House, Thatcher in No 10 and Charlie Haughey in the Dail, and the picture of misery is almost complete. The missing element is television, which by and large was terrible. Unless it was on the new, brilliantly brave and innovative Channel 4, some of the worst television ever made was made in the 1980s.

And as far as some of us were concerned, the worst of the worst -- at least until Dynasty came along -- was undoubtedly Dallas. Famous (or infamous) for its ludicrous and cheesy, over-the-top acting, the everyday saga of backstabbing, adulterous, duplicitous Texas oil family, the Ewings, ushered in a new kind of TV drama: the high-gloss, low-grade primetime soap opera.

It also turned Larry Hagman, who played greedy, scheming Ewing elder son JR, into a worldwide star.

And now, for better or for worse, Dallas is coming back. A new, 10-part series is currently in production and will be shown on Warner Bros' sister channel, TNT, next summer, before making its way to Britain's Channel 5, which is more widely available in Ireland than it used to be.

So far, all the world has seen of the new Dallas is a 60-second trailer. Three of the original series' stars return. Hagman, who looks his age (80) and appears to have grown an extra set of wing-like eyebrows, seems as nasty as ever as JR. Patrick Duffy is once again goody-goody younger Ewing brother Bobby, who famously died in season six but was found alive and well and taking a shower in the final episode of season seven, his absence from the previous 26 episodes being explained away as an epic dream by his wife, Pam.

And last but not least, there's Linda Gray as JR's vodka-swilling ex-wife Sue Ellen, she of the lips that quivered like a couple of twanged rubber bands. But if I were a Dallas fan, I wouldn't be getting too excited just yet.

Apparently, much of the action will focus on the younger generation of Ewings. Judging by the trailer, they're played by a bunch of near-interchangeable buff young things with all the personality of an empty Castrol can.

The characters in the old Dallas might have been ridiculously cartoonish, but at least they were played by real human beings and not something that appears to have emerged from a Hollywood plastics-moulding factory.

>FAMILIAR FORTUNES What do you imagine the people who run Irish television think we need more than anything else right now?

Fewer chat shows and talent competitions? More properly thought-out documentary output and less cheap and cheerless filler about food, fat people, gardening and property? In fact, what they have decided you need are more pointless Irish remakes of British shows. Step forward TV3's Family Fortunes with Alan Hughes, which hits screens like a damp dishcloth later this year.

What with RTE's versions of Who Do You Think You Are?, Dragons' Den, The Secret Millionaire and MasterChef, plus TV3's copies of The Apprentice, Deal or No Deal and Take Me Out, Ireland has become the television franchise capital of the world.

RTE might as well just drop the pretence and re-brand its channels McDonalds 1 and McDonalds 2. As for TV3, well, it's just go to be Wimpy, hasn't it?

>ABBEY'S DOWNTURN The massive success of ITV's Downton Abbey last year took a lot of people by surprise. Who could have guessed that what's basically a variation on '70s favourite Upstairs, Downstairs, featuring largely stock characters and Maggie Smith doing her usual Maggie Smith thing (silly hats, withering scowls and cutting put-downs), would have turned out to be more popular than the BBC's actual remake of Upstairs, Downstairs?

The vibe coming from fans and critics is that series two is a bit of a let-down. Could it be that its writer, the unashamedly posh Julian Fellowes, who seems to have been as gobsmacked as anyone else at its success, was forced to hammer out a second series too quickly? It wouldn't be the first time TV has killed the goose that laid the golden egg; it's just that it doesn't usually happen so fast.

>SUITS ME, SIR The Fast Show returns on November 14 -- alas, only online. Charlie Higson recently confirmed that he, Paul Whitehouse and most of the old team are making new sketches for the Fosters lager-sponsored comedy site. Still, any Fast Show is better than no Fast Show.