The latest entry in the booming genre of Texas-based TV is “The Son,” an AMC drama based on the captivating historical novel of the same title, which sounds promising. It stars as its Texan patriarch the very Irish Pierce Brosnan, which does not.
Maybe Mr. Brosnan will pull it off. As an actual Texan (now living in New York), I’m rooting for him. But I know that Lone Star TV has a star-crossed track record. For every “Friday Night Lights” there is a “Walker, Texas Ranger” and several rich-lady reality shows. As a result, Texans have learned to approach shows set in our state with clear eyes and managed expectations.
Here is a survey of Texas TV, arranged in order from the realistic to the ridiculous.
‘Friday Night Lights’
It’s hard to describe the weird buzz of football Fridays in Texas towns, as anticipation builds throughout the day to explode that night in garish light, color and sound. Luckily I don’t have to: “Friday Night Lights” nailed it, as it did most details. These include the push and pull of hometown relationships that confine and nurture in equal amounts; the egalitarian marriage between the Taylors (Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton); and the cinematography captured in and around Austin. When the sunlight turned golden in the Dillon sky, it was enough to make a Texan expat homesick.
‘King of the Hill’
“King of the Hill” was an animated show full of clownish characters. But it was also attuned to the rhythms of the Texas exurbs, its families’ schedules defined by school functions and trips to the Mega Lo Mart. The rare sitcom that treated Southern characters with respect rather than mockery, it nevertheless took sly aim at the way Texan grandiosity collides with reality — oversize riding mowers tending modest lawns — and how outmoded ideas about masculinity endure. Or as Hank Hill once put it: “Bobby, if you weren’t my son, I’d hug you.”
Larry McMurtry became the bard of Texas partly by deflating its myths, and this 1989 mini-series is a prime example. Mr. McMurtry adapted the screenplay from his novel about a cattle drive from Texas to Montana, and his West is a place of raw beauty but also cruelty and sudden, ghastly death. Gus (Robert Duvall) and Call (Tommy Lee Jones), the aging ex-Rangers saddling up for one last adventure, represent the twin poles of classic Texanhood — swaggering self-regard and gritty stoicism. More important: Their drawls are tremendous.
“Dallas” was, for a time, the most popular show on television and Larry Hagman’s J. R. Ewing is one of TV’s most indelible characters. But when it comes to authenticity, the Ewings were all hat and no cattle, even when you set aside the car crashes, the affairs and the infamous dream season. The show was shot mostly in Los Angeles and looks like it, and its glitzy boomtown of 10-gallon Stetsons and freewheeling oil barons was a fairy tale. TNT’s 2012 “Dallas” update was more representative of the city. It was filmed there, and its urban apartments and diverse subplots were truer to a modern metropolis. The melodrama was milder, and a cynic might surmise that that’s why the show lasted only three seasons, compared to the original’s 14. But the competitive pressures of 21st-century TV and Mr. Hagman’s death probably had more to do with it.
‘The Real Housewives of Dallas’
The Dallas installment of the “Housewives” franchise debuted in 2016 and it’s hard to imagine why it took that long. The latest in a string of reality shows (“Dallas Divas and Daughters,” “Big Rich Texas”) about the city’s ladies who lunch — and bicker and backstab and slurp “Jesus Juice,” or wine, in the show’s vernacular — the series wallows in tired stereotypes about big hair, big rocks and big plastic surgery bills. The thing is, they’re not (totally) wrong. Spend an afternoon at the Neiman Marcus flagship and soon you’ll be mentally casting your own reality show. But it’s not a representative depiction of the city.
‘Walker, Texas Ranger’
Visit the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum in Waco and you’ll find fascinating artifacts and plenty of lore surrounding the mythic, still active law enforcement group. But you won’t see a dojo, which is only one of the reasons the roundhouse-kicking “Walker, Texas Ranger,” starring Chuck Norris, was so laughable. As patrolled by Walker, Texas was an open-air ThunderDome, a place where grudges were occasionally hashed out with helicopters and surface-to-air missiles. Texans love their firearms, sure, but try fitting a rocket launcher in the gun rack of your pickup.
Source: New York Times
By: Jeremy Egner
29 March 2017