It's impossible to mention TNT's revamp of "Dallas" without touching on the sudden passing of series star Larry Hagman, who died of complications from leukemia last November 23.
Fortunately for fans of the show and of the TV icon, Hagman had already filmed the first five episodes of Season 2 (which premieres on January 28), and his presence will continue to be felt throughout the season, and, it's safe to say, the rest of the series run.
[Related: How Larry Hagman created TV's best villain]
"Dallas" executive producer Cynthia Cidre has even written Hagman's death into the show, as the March 11 episode, the eighth installment of Season 2, will bring back several faces from the original "Dallas" run as friends, family, and enemies gather in Dallas for J.R. Ewing's funeral.
It's a rare occasion that a classic TV star and the character he or she played get a contemporary onscreen sendoff, so viewers of the original and new series certainly have reason to tune in for the special tribute to the Emmy- and Golden Globes-nominated actor. "It will be funny and appropriate to J.R., but it will also be sad because his family loved him," Cidre told EW.com. "As do the fans."
In the meantime, as the new season kicks off with back-to-back episodes -- "Battle Lines" and "Venomous Creatures" -- here's what else the Ewing clan is up to in the 15 episodes of Season 2:
- "Who's the Boss?" star Judith Light joins the cast as Judith Brown Ryland, Ann Ewing's (Brenda Strong) former mother-in-law. Ann's ex, Harris Ryland (Mitch Pileggi) only teased just how rotten he can be last season, and in Season 2, both we and Ann's hubby, Bobby (Patrick Duffy), learn a terrible, heartbreaking secret that came as a result of machinations by Harris and his meddling mama.
- Christopher (Jesse Metcalfe) and John Ross (Josh Henderson) continue to duke it out for control of the family business, with J.R.'s offspring continuing to push for Ewing Energies to focus on oil, and Bobby's son continuing to aim the company's focus on alternative energies. Bobby and even Christopher's fiancé Elena (Jordana Brewster) urge Christopher to consider John Ross's plans, but their efforts to make peace between the cousins is moot ... John Ross is committed to ruining Christopher and Elena now that they've recoupled.
- John will have plenty of help with his vengeance quest, namely from his cousin-in-law, Rebecca, aka Cliff Barnes's daughter. Rebecca (Julie Gonzalo) has vowed to destroy her estranged husband, Christopher, since he dumped her after realizing she had lied to him about who she really is, meaning she and John Ross have a common goal (and they are very, very committed to it).
- Viewers, by the way, know Rebecca is Cliff's daughter; Christopher does not. Yet. But he will soon.
- The newly single Christopher won't be spending all his time plotting with Rebecca. The season opens with him crashing a bachelorette party with several items on his agenda. "I don't think we had enough sex on the show last year because we had couples, and couples can't cheat if you want to like them," Cidre told EW.com. "But now John Ross is the stud around town."
- Cidre has a wish list of original "Dallas" characters she'd like to have pop in for J.R.'s funeral, including Charlene Tilton as J.R.'s niece Lucy; Ken Kercheval as Ewing family enemy Cliff Barnes; Steve Kanaly as Ray Krebbs, J.R.'s and Bobby's half-brother; Deborah Rennard as J.R.'s onetime secretary, Sly (who helped him carry out many a misdeed back in the day); Ted Shackleford as J.R.'s brother Gary; and Joan Van Ark as Gary's wife, Valene.
- Hagman, whose return as J.R. was truly a treat throughout Season 1, continues to deliver some wicked lines in Season 2. During "Venomous Creatures," he notices John Ross steaming while watching Christopher and Elena kiss, and advises Junior to use his anger to fuel his plans. "Love, hate, jealousy ... mix 'em up and they make a mean martini," says J.R. "And when we take over Ewing Energies, you'll slake your thirst ... with a twist."
- Mexican film star Kuno Becker will join the cast as Drew, Elena's brother, who became a hostile teen after witnessing the death of their father. Drew is a military vet who did a tour of duty in Iraq and then traveled around the world working on oil rigs, and is now about to return to Dallas and stir up more drama for the Southforkians.
- Sue Ellen's gubernatorial bid hits a snag, and that tempts her to return to a very bad habit.
And for those fans who need a primer on Season 1, here's everything you need to know:
- "Dallas" averaged 4.5 million viewers an episode for its 10-installment first season, meaning lots of viewers were interested in what the Ewing family of Southfork Ranch had been up to in the last 20 years (the original series ended in 1991, and TNT's revamp ignores storylines from 1996 and 1998 "Dallas" TV movies).
- When the TNT series begins, Bobby is married to his third wife, Ann, and they have been living at and operating Southfork. Big brother J.R. has been living in a nursing home for several years, dealing with clinical depression, and J.R.'s ex-wife, Sue Ellen, is now a successful, confident businesswoman who has major political aspirations.
- Southfork's new generation is made up of J.R. and Sue Ellen's son John Ross and Bobby's son Christopher, who was adopted by Bobby and his first wife, Pam. Christopher is the biological son of Sue Ellen's sister, Kristin Shepard, who infamously pulled the trigger in the original series' classic "Who Shot J.R.?" storyline.
- John Ross (born during the original series, like Christopher) was born during a period in which former beauty queen Sue Ellen was a raging alcoholic who was having an affair with then-husband J.R.'s bitter enemy, Cliff Barnes. A paternity test proved J.R. is the boy's father, but in the updated series, J.R. and his son don't get along, though they often team up for schemes, often against their fellow Ewings.
- John Ross, who is very much like his father, and Christopher, who is very much like his, do not get along. Their issue: John Ross, like his daddy, wants to drill for oil on Southfork, while Christopher, like his father, wants to preserve the ranch and seek alternative forms of energy to grow the family business.
- Also, both young Ewings are in love with Elena, their childhood friend and the daughter of the Ewing family cook. Elena, who holds a master's degree in energy resources, was engaged to Christopher, until he broke up with her via email. She then ran to John Ross, and they became engaged.
- Christopher, in the meantime, met and married Rebecca Sutter, who became pregnant with his twins. Throughout the events of Season 1, Christopher finds out Rebecca lied about who she is, and it's revealed that she was behind the email that led to Elena and Christopher breaking up. Rebecca, on her father Cliff's behalf, had staked out Christopher with the goal of becoming his wife and getting insider access to helping her dad destroy the Ewings.
- Yes, technically, Christopher and his wife are cousins (Cliff, Pam's brother, is Christopher's uncle, though not biologically).
- Bobby was diagnosed with life-threatening cancer when Season 1 began, and he slipped into a coma later in the season, prompting a teary J.R. to tell him, "I love you, Bobby, and I don't know who I'd be without you." When Season 1 begins, Bobby appears to be in much better health.
- Elena, who was still in love with Christopher, found out John Ross had been scheming against his family and dumped him. Christopher, who was still in love with Elena, found out Rebecca had been lying to him throughout their relationship and broke up with her. Elena and Christopher ended Season 1 and will begin Season 2 together.
- J.R. and John Ross made an oil deal with Venezuelan business Vicente Cano ("24" alum Carlos Bernard) that ended with the murder of a female business cohort and Vicente going to jail, while J.R. and John Ross (after a brief stint in jail) got away unscathed. But since no one has confirmed what the cause of J.R.'s death will be, fans are speculating the show may pay homage to the "Who Shot J.R.?" storyline with a "Who Killed J.R.?" plot, with Vicente and his associates among the suspects.
"Dallas" Season 2 premieres Monday, 1/28 at 9 PM on TNT.