J.R. Wakes Up ‘Dallas’; ‘True Blood’; Elder Bush: Review

Larry Hagman and Patrick Duffy in "Dallas." The show airs Wednesday on TNT at 9 p.m. New York time. Photographer: Zade Rosenthal/TNT via Bloomberg

Who Woke J.R.?

The character on TNT’s updated “Dallas” who stirs J.R. Ewing from a catatonic sleep deserves big credit. Larry Hagman’s cantankerous oilman remains the best thing about “Dallas.”

Modernized by executive producer Cynthia Cidre, the horse opera mixes old guns with new. Hagman resurrects the nefarious patriarch of the Texas oil clan, and Patrick Duffy is on hand as good brother Bobby. Linda Gray’s Sue Ellen, J.R.’s ex, is back to open old wounds.

The newcomers are J.R.’s son John Ross (Josh Henderson, impressively nasty) and Bobby’s adopted son Christopher (Jesse Metcalfe, buffer than he was in “Desperate Housewives,” but no weightier a presence).

Cidre doesn’t tinker much with the “Dallas” formula: The men battle over women (Jordana Brewster and Julie Gonzalo) and backstab for the oil-rich family ranch Southfork.

“Dallas” smartly gives equal time to the old coots. Duffy -- who made TV history by stepping out of a shower and relegating an entire season to dreamland -- knows the difference between nice and wimpy (a lesson the weepy Metcalfe might learn).

And Hagman remains one of soap operadom’s great villains. With his aged eyes popping open beneath white eyebrows the size of small kittens, Hagman’s J.R. doesn’t miss a beat.

“By the way,” snaps the old man to his startled son, “I forgive you for not visiting.”

“Dallas” airs Wednesday on TNT at 9 p.m. New York time. Rating: **

‘True Blood’

Dressed like a CEO and ruling like a mob boss, Christopher Meloni’s take-charge vampire Roman might be the fresh injection needed by HBO’s “True Blood,” which has begun its fifth season.

Ruthless in ferreting out challengers to his dominion, Meloni is a good break from the series’ creaky foundational characters.

The show’s writers seem intent on turning longtime rival vampires Eric (Alexander Skarsgard) and Bill (Stephen Moyer) into an undead Hope and Crosby. Their love triangle with sorta-human Sookie (Anna Paquin) has been a drag for at least a season, but softening the bad boys is risky business.

Perhaps to add some heft, the series has cast Scott Foley as an Iraq War vet involved in mysterious fires that seem connected to a wartime atrocity. The plot is off to a slow start.

Better is the return of Michael McMillian as the Rev. Steve Newlin, the smarmy anti-vampire preacher who has crossed over in more ways than one.

“I am a gay vampire American,” Newlin announced last week, and his party-crashing reappearance Sunday is the episode’s stand-out.

“True Blood” airs Sunday on HBO at 9 p.m. New York time. Rating: **1/2


Comprehensive but ankle-deep, “41,” HBO’s languid, undemanding documentary about George Herbert Walker Bush, disappoints.

We learn more about the man’s preference for dogs over cats than his assessment of son George W. Bush’s presidency. Indeed, “41” takes its strongest stand on the beauty of Kennebunkport, Maine.

The 41st president, who turns 88 today and has not written a memoir, gave director Jeffrey Roth unprecedented access to his family’s coastal compound over 17 months, beginning in 2009.

If Roth’s film does nothing to broaden our understanding of Bush’s place in history, it does make clear why the Bushes have held tight to this chunk of paradise for well over a century.

Boating, Fishing

Produced by Bush’s longtime friend Jerry Weintraub, the documentary neither pretends nor aspires to be anything but a loving look at a leader in twilight. His legs weakened by a form of Parkinson’s disease, Bush has largely retired to boating, fishing and the occasional ceremonial appearance.

“41” juxtaposes new footage of just that with archival film (most remarkably, of his World War II rescue at sea) and recent interviews conducted by the director.

Bush swats away a question about Ross Perot, his third-party nemesis in the 1992 elections.

“No, can’t talk about him,” Bush says. “I think he cost me the election and I don’t like him. Other than that I have nothing to say.”

And that’s that.

“41” airs Thursday on HBO at 9 p.m. New York time. Rating: *1/2

What the Stars Mean:

**** Excellent
*** Good
** Average
* Poor
(No stars) Worthless

(Greg Evans is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)

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