LARRY HAGMAN AS J.R. EWING. Image: Channel 5
LARRY HAGMAN AS J.R. EWING. Image: Channel 5

The relatively short gap between the UK transmission of first and second series of the revived Dallas should have been a cause for unrestrained celebration.

But the death of star Larry Hagman has somewhat soured the show’s return – for many of us it’s impossible to think of Dallas without the scheming J.R., TV’s original and most enduring bastard.

During its original run, Dallas struggled to cope for a single season without Hagman’s co-star Patrick Duffy. Now it has to find a way to continue without a character and actor who more than any other personified the show.

Hagman’s stealing of every scene in tonight’s season opener proves just how difficult a job the cast and production team have.

My sense is that the manner in which they despatch the old snake will prove whether they’re up to the task.

Hopefully through some judicious editing, some CGI and clever writing they’ll be able to revive the mania of ‘Who Shot JR?’ rather than palming us off with a Leo McGarry ‘someone go check his room’ exit.

Hagman and his alter ego deserve far better.

Since Hagman’s death many have pondered on the audience’s enduring affection for a character we were meant only to hate.

In all the years since J.R. first tried splitting brother Bobby from Pam Barnes, only his near-contemporaries Alexis Colby and Dirty Den have come close replicating his successful relationship with viewers. Certainly modern TV has nothing to come close.

For me it was the swagger of the man, his relish and obvious delight of his ruthlessness, that made J.R. so compelling and Hagman so utterly watchable. The gleam in the eye, the scene-stealing dominance and the relaxed and effortless portrayal of an outright bastard takes a very special actor to pull off.

Hagman invited the audience to become his silent but enthusiastic co-conspirators and for our part, we were only too happy to go along for the ride. Few other actors could pull that off, which is why past talk of a Dallas film with the likes of John Travolta taking over as J.R. was met with such scorn.

And like all great things, Hagman improved with age. The J.R. of 2012 and 2013 is even more relaxed, laid-back, and even more treacherous and dangerous, than his 80’s self.

Over the next few weeks fans have the chance to savour the final performances of a true legend. Prepare to be shocked, prepare to be outraged and prepare, even if you admit it to no-one, to be thrilled as TV’s baddest bad boy takes his final bow.

Dallas, Channel 5, Tuesdays at 9pm