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A new generation of schemers joins J.R. on saucy ‘Dallas’ update

RAUNCHY RANCH: “Dallas” newcomer BrendStrong (right) stars with veterans Larry Hagman LindGray Patrick Duffy.

RAUNCHY RANCH: “Dallas” newcomer Brenda Strong (right) stars with veterans Larry Hagman, Linda Gray and Patrick Duffy.

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‘DALLAS’ ★★1/2

Two-episode premiere 8 to 10 p.m. Wednesday on TNT. (Regular time slot 8 to 9 p.m. Wednesdays.)

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Updated: July 14, 2012 6:30AM

J.R.’s gray eyebrows look like Texas longhorns these days, but those devious eyes still sparkle with mischief 21 years after “Dallas” went off the air.

The conniving patriarch of the oil-rich Ewing clan is back to stir up trouble at Southfork Ranch in a reboot of the prime-time soap whose 13-season run helped define the ’80s.

Cable network TNT’s modern-day version of “Dallas” features several blasts from the past, not least of which is the show’s unmistakable theme song and intro.

Ewing brothers J.R. (Larry Hagman) and Bobby (Patrick Duffy) are still kicking, as well as J.R.’s ex-wife, Sue Ellen (Linda Gray), who has her eye on the governor’s mansion. This time they’re joined by the next good-looking generation of schemers and dreamers, ready to carry on the family-feudin’ tradition.

“The cameras stopped in 1991 and now they’re turning back on in 2012 to pick up with this family where they left off,” said new addition Brenda Strong (“Desperate Housewives”), who plays Bobby’s third wife, Ann. “We wanted to make sure that when people tuned in, they didn’t feel like, ‘Wait a minute — what did you do with my ‘Dallas?’ ’ At the same time, we wanted to upgrade it, very much like a ‘Dallas 2.0,’ and bring it into the future.”

That future revolves around a couple of other characters portrayed by “Desperate Housewives” alums Josh Henderson and Jesse Metcalfe.

Henderson stars as John Ross — J.R. and Sue Ellen’s ne’er-do-well son who’s defying his grandma’s wishes by drilling for Texas tea on Southfork land. Among those standing in his way is a brainy bit of eye candy named Christopher (Metcalfe), Bobby’s adopted son who prefers alternative energy to oil.

Both Ewing boys take a shine to the Ewing family cook’s beautiful daughter, Elena (Jordana Brewster, “The Fast and the Furious” movies). We learn that Elena rebounded into the arms of John Ross after she got a fake email from Christopher calling off their wedding.

If you find that kind of preposterous plot line to be a deal-breaker, then you best mosey along to another channel because “Dallas” is full of implausibilities. So are a lot of soaps. But this one offers something the others don’t: a nostalgic romp in a dysfunctional ranch that was a Friday night fixture on many a TV set.

Some 350 million viewers in 57 countries tuned in Nov. 21, 1980, for the answer to that immortal question: Who shot J.R.? (In case you forgot, the answer is Kristin Shepard, J.R.’s sister-in-law and mistress.)

Even a generation more familiar with the “Who Shot Mr. Burns?” episode of “The Simpsons” can appreciate the added layer of fun that comes from the senior members of the cast — especially J.R., who isn’t about to let a walker disrupt his swagger.

“Bullets don’t seem to have much of an effect on me, darlin’,” cracks the shady tycoon while staring down the barrel of a shotgun.

Hagman clearly has a lot of fun in this role, and it’s contagious. The scriptwriters have saved their precious few good lines for him.

“Time has not been kind to that face,” quips J.R., when reunited with his old nemesis, Cliff Barnes (Ken Kercheval). “But I do recall the smell of brimstone and crazy.”

Speaking of Barnes, one of Strong’s first TV gigs was an uncredited role as his one-night stand in the original series.

The actress also used to have a major crush on Hagman when he was on “I Dream of Jeannie.” At the end of shooting the 10-episode “Dallas” season, Strong ’fessed up to Hagman, 80, that she once had the hots for him and spent more than one Halloween dressed as Jeannie.

“He said, ‘Do you have any pictures?’ ” she laughed. “I thought, ‘You do not miss a beat.’ ”

Both Strong and Metcalfe said they had some trepidation about getting involved with a “Dallas” revival.

“I was definitely hesitant to even throw my hat in the ring,” Metcalfe said. “I wasn’t sure if it was a good idea to remake such an iconic show, a show that was … so quintessentially ’80s. I wondered how they were going to make it contemporary and relevant.”

After reading the pilot script, he was sold.

“It segued brilliantly from the original series,” he said, adding that there are several key differences between the old and new “Dallas.”

“It was very misogynist,” Metcalfe said of the original. “The way J.R. would speak to Sue Ellen … there was one episode where he called her a stupid slut or something. It was pretty harsh. In the new “Dallas,” the women are a lot stronger.”

And the plot moves a lot faster.

“There’s probably four episodes’ worth of story line packed into one episode of the new ‘Dallas,’ ” he said. “TV moves more quickly these days.”

Even if J.R. doesn’t.

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