A philandering husband with the initials J.R. A drunk Sue Ellen. A major revenge plan involving Cliff Barnes. TNT's Dallas reboot is looking more than ever the way the show did in its '80s heyday. After securely establishing its own roots over the past two seasons by introducing a compelling new generation of Ewings, producers are now freely embracing the soap's rich history.
"I think this is a sexier, more fun season than we've had before," executive producer Cynthia Cidre says. "There are lots of references to the old show in a really fun way." Those nods include the fact that most of the Ewings now live at Southfork Ranch; another grand wedding (this one will find Jesse Metcalfe's Christopher enjoying a romp in the barn, just as Ray and Lucy did back in 1978); and Sue Ellen (Linda Gray) falling off the wagon — hard.
Sue Ellen's descent back into alcoholism, which began at the end of last season with the death of J.R. (Larry Hagman), gets worse as she watches her son, John Ross (Josh Henderson), repeat his father's wicked ways. Newly wed to Pamela (Julie Gonzalo), John Ross continues his affair with his stepcousin Emma (Emma Bell), who is living across the hall. "I wanted Sue Ellen to be front and center this season," says Cidre. "And she really does have a hell of an arc. I think it's some of the best acting Linda has ever done."
Initially hesitant to retread a storyline she thought had run its course and fearful of disturbing recovering alcoholics who look to sober Sue Ellen as a source of inspiration, Gray has made peace with the plot and is having a blast. "I love that she was running for governor [in Season 1] and she's now headed for rehab," Gray says. "It keeps me excited about playing her."
"I think it's going to take fans back to when Sue Ellen used to get really down and drunk," says Henderson, whose character is most impacted by his mother's relapse. "It takes him back to being a kid and seeing her drunk. It really gets raw, emotional and gut-wrenching."
In what Gray calls an homage to Hagman's favorite storyline from the original series, John Ross will have his mother committed, just as J.R. did three decades earlier. "There is a powerful confrontation between John Ross and Sue Ellen in the kitchen that is my favorite scene of the season," Gray says.
At Bobby's urging, Sue Ellen will reluctantly move into Southfork so her concerned family can look after her — joining Bobby and Ann (Patrick Duffy and Brenda Strong), John Ross, Pamela, Emma, Christopher and Elena (Jordana Brewster) at the ranch. When John Ross brings in contractors to design an addition, the plans do not sit well with purist Uncle Bobby. "It's been amusing," says Henderson. "The cast always jokes that we are supposed to be Texas billionaires, and yet we're all living under one roof."
Not to mention swapping beds with the people under said roof. "We keep it in the family," says Henderson with a laugh. "We all live together; we might as well marry the same people in the same place." At Pamela and John Ross's wedding party — only two years after she married his cousin Christopher — John Ross asks Chris to be his best man. "He tries to put his best foot forward and make the most of an awkward situation," Metcalfe says. "But it's a slap in the face and will turn into a pretty depressing scene."
Thank goodness for the alluring Heather (90210 alum AnnaLynne McCord), a rebellious ranch hand with an abusive ex and a 5-year-old son. "Heather is a breath of fresh air," says Metcalfe, and "a welcome distraction" for Christopher, who is getting over his breakup with first love Elena. (Just wait until he learns that she's scheming with nemesis Cliff Barnes to bring down the Ewings.) "It's a very grounded, human story," Metcalfe says. "Christopher sees himself in Heather's son and wants to shield him from the pain of abandonment he experienced himself."
And in keeping with the season's nostalgic theme, Metcalfe finds a parallel between the Christopher-Heather romance and the love Christopher's father, Bobby, found with single mom Jenna Wade back on the original series. "When you have 13 years of story to draw upon," Metcalfe says, "it only makes sense that we would be inspired by what came before!"
Dallas premieres Monday, Feb. 24 at 9/8c on TNT.