Dallas and Trek together forever…
Watching some favorite television reruns recently I discovered a very striking similarity between two unlikely old favorites- Star Trek and Dallas. The hell you say, on the surface, yes, as their television journeys could not be more different; “Star Trek,” was a flop during its 1960’s run. “Dallas” was a huge, worldwide hit.
The styles and premises could not be more different and their television trajectories were miles apart, but once each show became entrenched with its fans, their similarities became very obvious as their television and pop culture legacy is nearly identical. For instance, despite being cancelled, remained popular in reruns having never left the air since its premiere, both had a spin-off (s), each has had several reunion movies, each has fan conventions all over the world at any given time of the year and each continues to be popular. Like “Star Trek,” “Dallas” has been pronounced dead more times than Bobby Ewing only to return bigger than ever.
Original Dallas Intro
As a kid watching CBS’s Friday night network schedule was the place to be; “The Incredible Hulk,” “The Dukes of Hazzard” and “Dallas,” the latter taking the network to number one by creating a pop-culture thunderclap. How else could a hunk of redneck piss like “Dukes of Hazzard” get to be #3 in the ratings? I love it anyway.
The epic tale of two feuding families began as a five part mini-series in the spring of 1978; the rich and powerful Ewings versus the working class Barnes set against the backdrop of the oil industry and family drama full of corporate takeovers, backstabbing, infidelity, sex, lies and more lies was a worldwide hit that agitation created frenzy by the end of season three with the “Who Shot JR?” cliffhanger aired on CBS in 1980.
A frenzy of such, it garnered 360 million viewers, number two still on the list of most watched television episodes- ever.
Geared mostly to the male viewers, “Dallas” defied all expectations and slowly became one of the biggest hits over the next decade by tapping into the simplicity of the art form-the serial narrative, or “Soap Opera” took bits and pieces from other areas; Shakespeare’s “Romeo & Juliet” and most obvious the Bible. A shade of “The Magnificent Ambersons”, but mostly taking its cues from the Montague’s and the Capulet’s, the series begins with two feuding families, the super-rich and powerful Ewings versus the working class Barnes.
The pilot episode begins with Bobby James Ewing (Patrick Duffy, The Man From Atlantis) and his new bride Pamela Barnes (Victoria Principal) come to live at the family ranch in Texas, outside Dallas, called “Southfork,” problems arise as the Ewings and Barnes patriarchs have a history of feuding over oil claims. Pamela’s wildcatter father, Willard, “Digger” Barnes a raging alcoholic, felt his claims had been stolen from him by John Ross, “Jock” (Jim Davis) Ewing some forty plus years prior. The feud continued on when Jock married Eleanor, “Miss Ellie” Southworth, and (Barbara Bel Geddes) a childhood sweetheart of Diggers’. While Jock and Ellie built a rich oil empire and raised three sons, (John Ross Junior, “JR”, Garrison Southworth, Robert, “Bobby” James), Digger drank his bitterness away, barely eked out a living and raised two children, son Clifford and daughter Pamela. All the while cursing the Ewing name and blaming them for his lost fortune, his first love Ellie and everything else evil in the world. At one point early in the series Jock even scolds Digger for blaming him for everything dating back to ‘original sin.’ Although Digger had long since given up on revenge his resentment of the Ewing’s was perpetuated through his son, with Pam caught in the middle, Cliff (Ken Kercheval), who as Assistant District Attorney and later a Senator, was hell bent on bringing down the family that he blamed for his father’s ruination.
The biblical allusions are more than just some throwaway dialogue from Jock; it’s the heart of the early and best years of the series as it’s embedded with many Old Testament motifs. The most prominent, is the “good son” Bobby fighting with the older brother “bad son” John Ross Jr., known by his nickname “J.R.” for control of the Ewing family business, Ewing Oil. It is your basic Cain and Abel homage. Throw in prodigal middle son Gary, a raging alcoholic, black sheep of the family and father of Lucy, who turns up later in the second season and leaves for his spin-off series, “Knots Landing.” Ranch Foreman, Ray Krebbs (Steve Kanally) would later be revealed as a fourth Ewing son, the result of Jock’s affair with a nurse during his stint in WWII. The dynamics were set up immediately, the rivalry between Bobby and J.R. over not only for their father’s favor, but as the head of Ewing Oil; JR feels it’s his divine right to have it, Jock feels its Bobby’s right to fight for it and thus the competition is born. JR’s unyielding love for his Dad and the constant need to prove himself to Jock, who is thrust in the middle as referee and Mama Ellie, is the moral compass of the series, as she tries to understand JR’s blind ambition and her husbands’ blind eye to all things J.R.
The Ewing’s abode.
The best aspect of the series was its moral simplicity that was worn like a badge of honor. The good guys were clearly drawn, Bobby, Pam, Mama Ellie and so are the bad guys; J.R., Sue Ellen and sometimes his Daddy Jock, probably the only character with a good heart and intent, but still clouded with shades of gray. The brother’s wives, Sue Ellen, (Linda Gray) who is clearly unhappy in her marriage and drinks like Ted Kennedy on Saint Patty’s day. Her performance is marginalized in the first season, but by second, she is a full-blown alcoholic while JR cheats on her with her younger sister and tries to commit her to a sanitarium. Pamela, Bobby’s wife, she’s the poor folk, allowed into the rich world by love, but met with a cynical eye from Jock and J.R… Jock learns to accept her, but J.R. never does and becomes a constant interference as does Pam’s brother, Cliff, (Ken Kercheval). The steady rocks, Jock and Miss Ellie offer wisdom and deal with their own problems; (her’s a mastectomy, his a heart attack) while trying to raise their wild granddaughter, Lucy, (Charlene Tilton) absent son, middle son Gary’s long ago abandoned daughter.
It was melodrama in its simplest, purest, shameless form and audiences loved it. Not only the suffering of the rich, but the manipulative, scheming ways of J.R. Ewing, as the show became a hit, he became the breakout character evolving quite nicely into arguably televisions greatest villain.
Even though Brother Bobby made the perfect obstacle for J.R.’s schemes, Cliff Barnes was his true enemy. Seething with revenge and bitterness thanks to his father Digger Barnes, the torch carrier of the Barnes/Ewing feud, Cliff used every resource possible to avenge his drunkard father by trying to destroy the Ewings in the field of business and politics.
Both men went to great lengths to destroy the other. One J.R.’s first attempts to destroy Cliff began in the series second season when Cliff runs for State Office. J.R. illegally funnels money to his campaign, Daddy Jock was partially aware of this, and pulls all the money out at the last minute causing his opponent to win. Other acts of kindness; J.R. framed Cliff for murder after sleeping with his wife Sue Ellen causing him to question his son’s paternity. He also bugged Cliff’s office to get the upper hand on a hot business deal. One of J.R.’s “best schemes” was to entice Cliff with a phony deal, prompting him to embezzle money from his mother’s company, forcing her to fire him causing Cliff to attempt suicide. Cliff tried to get back at J.R. too; he once blackmailed his secretary for some industrial espionage of his own and by series end wound up with sole ownership of Ewing Oil.
In the early seasons, Cliff is portrayed as the righteous good guy, a symbol for the working class against the evil rich, but when he inherits his mother’s vast fortune he becomes just like JR, but is never comfortable with his status. J.R. lived and breathed rich, and was mostly honest about his dishonest behavior.
Cliff was the opposite, never completely comfortable in scheming and dealing, he often lied to those he cared about to get what he wanted coming off sleazy. JR did too, but at least it was expected of him and he made no pretense about his dishonesty and gave him a scoundrel charm. The series also was a comment on how to be rich and live rich. Throughout the series Cliff had a reputation for being cheap and naive in contrast to J.R., who always dined in fine restaurants, wore a stylish Stetson, lived on South Fork and lavished his mistresses with generosity; Cliff often preferred take-out Chinese cuisine, wore cheap suits, lived in a condominium and assumed his romantic interests would clean his home. While J.R. was smooth talking and charismatic, Cliff tended to speak before he thought and frequently stuck his foot in his mouth.
Although it was fun to see J.R. occasionally bested by Cliff and whoever else, as a fan you couldn’t help but root for the guy to get back up and fight. When Cliff lied it was uncomfortable, when JR lied, it was illuminating.
J.R. Ewing was a liberating character to watch; shameless in his asshole behavior, he went completely around and came out on the other side. He was paradoxically likeable -yet wholly selfish, uncaring and mercenary in nature. He wasn’t totally evil, he stood by his family from outside attacks and truly believed what he did was for the good of the family, especially to get approval from his father, but he was who he was because of that- he lived and breathed the family business, oil and took anyone down that got in his way- including family members. He had no trouble telling middle brother Gary and half-brother Ray what he thought of them, which was not much.
His true ascension to evil prick began in the series third season when he mortgaged the family ranch, Southfork, to pay for some oil leases in southeast Asia unbeknownst to this parents, (who would never have approved). It was eventually discovered by his brother Bobby. A season earlier, as he was constantly trying to gain the upper hand, he blackmailed the son-in-law of the family lawyer to illegally obtain the document and allow him to read his Daddy’s will long before he was dead.
J.R.’s Best Moments…
He constantly tried to break up Bobby and Pam through various methods, once by photographing her with another woman to imply she’s a lesbian.
“Gee, I wonder why I liked this show so much” DUH!
“Sue Ellen as she is today! Not bad for an old broad!”
The first season cliffhanger had him “accidently” cause Pam to fall from a hay loft causing her to miscarry the Ewing’s first grandchild; although portrayed as totally unintentional, the results didn’t bother him one bit. He drills for oil on his family’s land, even though his mama strictly forbade it, he cheats on his wife constantly and has an on-going affair with his younger sister-in-law, Kristen, (Mary Crosby), who later tried to kill him with two gunshots to the gut. When he was not cheating on his wife, he was cheating business partners causing one to commit suicide and selling his banker worthless oil leases.
What a guy!
“The one who shot -J.R. I’d take a bullet for her too if I could take a peak!”
J.R. was the ultimate male fantasy, both in the boardroom and the bedroom. Males lived vicariously through him due to his well-fed libido and his approach to his enemies. Women liked his scoundrel ways and God-like confidence; men dug his no BS approach to life. He played by his own set of rules, which mostly consisted of getting laid and making money.
Larry Hagman’s good ole’ boy charm is what made the character work; he became a household name and the highest paid actor on TV as he played the role to the hilt, smiling and backslapping his way to the bank. It was hard to tell where the twain met with actor and character, but his performance was so convincing to some, he was accosted on the street a few times by angry female viewers for his lecherous ways.
Dubbed “The Human Oil Slick” by TIME Magazine at the height of the “Who Shot JR” pandemonium, JR put a face to the “Greed Decade” of the 1980’s. After the malaise and economic doldrums inflicted upon the country by the idiotic Jimmy Carter, “Dallas” became an escape as audiences witnessed the rich fat cats becoming heroes and the materialistic culture giving birth to the insufferable yuppie. As much as JR was fun to watch, his handlers knew he couldn’t always be on top so good guy Bobby would come in to kick him in the pants and deflate his raging ego. He would bring his scheme to usually a crashing halt and occasionally his Mama and Daddy would subvert his trickery, i.e. the mortgage on the family ranch, Southfork.
The series entered a crossroads at the beginning of the Fourth Season as it experienced its first loss of actor Jim Davis as Patriarch, Jock Ewing. Cancer quickly killed Davis in at the end of the third season, but Jock was slowly written out as the stage was set for a dramatic exit. A mid- 4th season event reveals Jock’s demise from a plane crash. A body is never found, but the sons know he is dead as they deliver the news to their mother. J.R. most of all mourns his passing. Some great character moments emerge as he pays more attention to this young son and realizes business is not all there is to make him happy…this works for a while until he returns better and meaner than before.
A noticeable shift in dynamics occurred as J.R. becomes the head of the family. Miss Ellie is still in charge, but its J.R. would lead the family into the new decade. No longer seeking curry from his father, J.R. becomes a more aggressive striking cobra; with Brother Bobby fighting him for control of Ewing Oil. For the first time their competition is laced with more viciousness.
Dramatically, the series continued on full throttle until the unthinkable happened- The eighth season started off wobbly with Barbara Bell Geddes, in a contract dispute, left the series and was replaced by Donna Reed as Miss Ellie, now married to Clayton Farlow. Reed did her best in the role, but the fans turned against her and demanded Geddes back. Another blow came with Duffy’s announcement he too would leave at the end of the season, his only stipulation was to be killed off…permanently.
The writers obliged and gave Robert James Ewing a dramatic send off with his ex-sister-in-law, Katherine Wentworth, in a fit of jealous rage, (who had shoot Bobby one year earlier) tries to kill her half-sister Pamela by running her down with a car. Instead, Bobby pushes her out of the way and takes the hit, injured; he’s rushed to the hospital and dies with his family at his bedside. A ratings blockbuster as everyone bid Bobby adieu.
The series 9th went through a strange metamorphosis; although starting off strong, we see the return of Babs Bel Geddes as Miss Ellie and with the characters suffering from the death of Bobby- we get some great acting in these early episodes; Miss Ellie and JR trying to console each other. Linda Gray as Sue Ellen playing her boozy- victim shtick to the hilt is quite impressive as she attempts to climb out of her drunken hell.
Ray and Donna have a brilliant storyline when they learn their baby will be born with Down’s syndrome, losing it and then wanting to adopt a deaf kid. Some of the best moments of the series are here; tender, well-acted stuff that was over-powered and largely forgotten thanks to the crappy stuff.
And boy is it crappy, just from a single character missing; the series polemic shift was forever altered. Once they move past the fallout from Bobby’s death and the series had to move on to regular storytelling, it tanked. By mid-season, the series had lost its creative mind- Pamela was off in South America looking for an Emerald mine Bobby bought years ago with a so-called friend of his, only to learn it and the friend, were a fraud…
Aside from a few brilliant moments, it was obvious things weren’t working and the series began to suffer from, “What do we do now?” syndrome.
J.R.’s scenes of mourning Bobby were great, well-acted, written and his final monologue to his brother was perfect. And that’s the problem- he was given too much pain, too much humanity, he became a real person and then over the season withered and died. J.R. was defanged, deballed- no longer the cobra waiting to strike, had he become…sympathetic, not in a good way, and with a heavy emphasis on the pathetic. And the lame attempt to put Jack (Ewing cousin) and Jenna together except no one told Pricilla Presley she couldn’t act. Running on two speeds- doe-eyed flirt or enraged crybaby, she was worse than the previous season by a country mile to be sure, but her pairing with Ray the following season made even less sense and only made her crimes against humanity worse.
The first of many mistakes, season 9 lost its voice. An attempt to broaden the storylines was Angelica Nero. The mysterious European shipping tycoon was obviously inspired by “Dynasty, (the #1 show at the time) and fans quickly picked up on this as she was met with a fan collective, BOO! At this point, it takes no genius to know that without Bobby; creatively the show began sinking becoming a clone of “Dynasty” with its European influx of guest characters and over-the-top costumes. Worst of all, J.R. had become…tamed.
It was in fact Hagman himself who expressed his dislike for the show at that time to the press and ultimately demanded Patrick Duffy back. He got it, with some cajoling and an incredible offer, (one that Duffy later said was something I could not refuse,) was lured back for the 1986- 1987 season.
In the opening episode of Season 10 in September 1986, Pam woke up to find Bobby in bathroom happily soaping himself in a shower. In possibly the most bizarre scenario (some would say cop-out) in TV history, the entire previous 1985-86 season was explained away as being nothing more than a bad dream that Pam had experienced, and the entire storyline picked up where the 83-84 season finished, with Bobby and Pam planning to remarry. Bobby only died in her “nightmare,” and everything else the producers didn’t like’ Merinos, Angelica Nero, Jack as a double nonsense, etc. was rendered null and void. Many fans felt cheated by the stretch in creditability, even for a soap opera, but just as many felt it was a necessary, to expel some boring storylines and fix the missing dynamic of J.R. versus Bobby. In Star Trek, they can go back in time or use any kind of sci-fi Mcguffin, (Spock’s ka’tra in “stasis” inside McCoy’s brain) to restore a dead character; “Dallas” had no such options.
Looking back, it was the best solution to a woefully wrongheaded move of killing Bobby off in the first place. A bold move for a popular show to admit the previous season was a piece of shit. There only true mistake was making his death so permanent, one scene of uncertainty was all that was needed to fix the mess.
Despite reports on the contrary, the series stayed on the air another five seasons with “Dream Season” having done little damage as the series would have at least two more good years.
The true decline, when the series really lost its jazz, began in May 1987 with the first of many cast departures, Victoria Principal left after her character was seriously burned in an auto accident. (Her fate was only half-resolved as Cliff would find her the next season in a hospital being treated for a fatal illness with her telling him to never contact her again.)
At least two actors a year until 1990 would exit the series, leaving Hagman and Ken Kercheval the only two actors to stay the entire run, but by this point, the series was obviously running out of gas.
Even as the show declined in its later years, beginning with the death and resurrection of Bobby, J.R. remained at the heart of the series. Once his Ewing Oil was no longer his prize catch and Sue Ellen left town for good, his character became tame and started to lose. Fans tuned out once their favorite winner began losing.
As the ratings sank and fans no longer interested, Hagman and the rest of his co-stars could take pride in the fact that they rode an extraordinary wave into television history. After the “It’s a Wonderful Life”- esque final episode, the series went off the air in 1991. It was then that “Dallas” became like “Star Trek” and instead of being just cancelled, it entered quiet phases and would never truly go away for good.
Entering rerun syndication, new generations of fans would be picked up in the 90’s pushing for a reunion, which happened in 1996, the first of several reunions aired, “Dallas: JR Returns,” saw the once thought defeated J.R. take back his home town and his beloved Ewing Oil.
1998 saw the less than stellar “Dallas: War of the Ewings,” but a hit still and 2003 had a third reunion comprised of interviews, clips and anecdotes of the glory days in “Dallas: Return to Southfork,” in 2004. Fans still clamored for more as conventions, gatherings fan parties continued. One film that is criminally forgotten and is hands down the best of these movies, “Dallas: The Early Years,” airing in 1986, is an excellent prequel set in the 1930’s detailing Jock and Digger’s friendship during their wildcatting years and the courtship of Jock and Ellie. We see their friendship and how it breaks down and the seeds planted for the Ewing Empire. Not considered an official reunion film since it aired when the series was still on the air and told the story of the Ewing parents and associates.
Like the “Star Trek” cast, Hagman and his crew are icons, celebrated around the world and will forever be associated with their respective characters and the actors have accepted that, attending various conventions around the world since the series left the air in 1991.
Dallas is the perfect definition of phenomenon; it was a celebration of high energy and distilled melodrama that verged on camp. A wallowing in the excess of high class couth, “Dallas” never met a moral value it did not offend, laughing at the old adage “Nice Guys finish last.” There wasn’t a nice guy left once J.R. was done. Making money and acquiring power was the series mantra and embraced it like a horny lover. The first significant soap opera aimed at the male sensibilities, J.R.’s dealings were always couched in the next big business deal or between the sheets of his many conquests. While it did not usher in the shallow culture of the 1980’s, it certainly enjoyed it and wore it like a fur coat. All the while reaping what it sowed and practically divorced from reality of life beyond the cathode ray universe it so effortlessly dominated.
Sitting on top of this Mountain was King Larry, watching over his television minions, he was the genial, manipulator with almost satanic magnetism, which made JR likeable, sometimes even sympathetic no matter how dastardly he was, defined an already cynical generation.
With reboots, remakes and revivals galore, it was a no-brainer that Dallas, the biggest network series of the 1980’s, too would get a second chance in series television in the summer of 2012… Not as a remake, rehash, retooling, but a continuation…taking its cues from “Star Trek” once again, TNT gave birth to, “Dallas: The Next Generation,” (the next generation is not its official title) to huge ratings, 7 million to be exact.
Usually series revivals do not work, anyone remember, ‘The New Avengers,” The New WKRP in Cincinnati,” ”Melrose Place,” and all those damn Brady Bunch series…thankfully, Dallas and its allusions to “Star Trek” continues, as its fans are just as passionate and vociferous when it comes to the Ewing clan and keeps the things that work and ignores the bad. (Take those reunion films, PLEASE!)
I was excited and skeptical about the series return, the last scripted reunion movie did a huge disservice making, “War of the Ewings,” nearly unwatchable.
I feared it would it be a trashy copycat more in like a aping the original with stock characters with pretty faces mouthing terrible, uninteresting dialogue.
My skepticism was inappropriate as it would seem lyin, cheatin and screwin never go out of favor. In an era of “reality” everything, the series is a welcomed fresh of scripted air. The cast is great; no surprise from the original kids as they’ve all stayed in the limelight and have been working fairly steady since the series left the air in 91. The newbies were the ones I was worried about. Jesse Metcalf as Christopher Ewing I have seen around for years, but he did nothing to set the world on fire; guest spots on “Smallville,” Passions” and the awful “Desperate Housewives”, Jordanna Brewster un-crapped the “Fast and the Furious” franchise and the “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” remake, both familiar, but not yet sold. The new-newcomers are Julie Gonzlo as Rebecca Sutter and Josh Henderson as John Ross Ewing III, the standout of all the cast. Henderson has the rakish charm of a scoundrel, he keeps John Ross in the gray area, we expect him to be a prick thanks to his Dad, but it’s not that easy. He has his problems with his father is not a member of Team J.R.
To play catch up for the uninitiated, the reunion movies from the late 90’s are ignored as those films tried to wrap up the series in 4 hours of television narrative; the new series has now rendered them non-canon as it picks up where the old series left off with JR, out of business and depressed and not Dallas’s fattest cat any longer
The three originals are back and doing just fine, Patrick Duffy as the formerly dead, Robert James “Bobby,” Ewing his third wife Ann (Brenda Strong) son Christopher (Jesse Metcalf) The one actor that needs singled out is Larry Hagman as J.R. Ewing, at 80, he’s as conniving and charming as ever. A cancer scare has the actor missing for several episodes of the first season, (ironically enough the character of Bobby has a cancer scare in first few episodes); Duffy and the newcomers try their best to compensate, but his absence is felt. His presence is felt too when he’s in an episode and the series reaches its glorious heights when J.R. is in full prick mode. What made the original series work was Hagman’s performance, he was so fully invested you couldn’t help but root for the guy even when he was mortgaging the family ranch. He’s back to his old tricks trying to wrestle Southfork, from Bobby, not for sentimental reasons, but because there is a parcel of land loaded with billons worth of crude oil.
As the series begins, Bobby is trying to be the peace maker in the family, put aside his old rivalry with his brother and hopes it doesn’t pass on to their sons, which is does as they not only fight over the family business, but their women as well. He intends to sell Southfork to conservatory, much to the chagrin of John Ross and J.R. Elena Ramos, daughter to the Ewing cook, she’s lived around the Ewing boys most of the last 20 or so years and was originally engaged to Christopher, but two years before the series begins, they split, and are now involved with John Ross. As the series opens, Christopher marries Rebecca Sutter, (Gonzalo) who is shrouded in mystery from the giddy-up.
Without getting into pages long storylines, the series knows its history and for this fan, it’s great to see nods to the originals kids… For instance, Miss Ellie, mother to the Ewing brothers, is almost constantly referenced, in episode 6 Bobby makes a graveside visit; her headstone says she died in 2001. He gives a nice speech, but it’s too short to make an impact. In the same episode, Bobby was willing to pump oil on Southfork to save John Ross and the ranch as the kid gets involved heavily with South American cartel gangsters. A nod to the season 3 episode when Miss Ellie was prepared to do the same thing after she and Jock found out JR had mortgage the ranch behind their backs and was days away from defaulting on the loan. Ellie would later pursue the idea of selling Ewing Oil in season 6 as she felt it was the source of all the fighting and all the bad things that befell the family. Much like now with Bobby pursuing the idea of selling Southfork, the last vestige of the former Ewing Empire. It’s the little things that give the show a history and to see them sprinkled throughout, give it life and truth. Other tidbits pop up throughout the season; in the first episode, and exchange between John Ross and Christopher takes us fans in the way-back machine and gets right to the heart of the original series back story: oil versus land, Ewing versus Southworth, what Daddy Jock told JR when they drove out to Section 40 in Season 2, (the rig J.R. would later try and steal from…)
“That’s where I first discovered oil, right after I married your mama. Old Man Southworth damn near skinned me alive after he found out what I’d done. Barely tolerated me the way it was. Hated all oil men; He said they ruined the ranges and stank up the air, and he figured the only way to live off the land decently was to raise cattle. So to keep the peace, I capped this thing off…”
How rousing that the first time Jock and Miss Ellie are spoken of in this new series it’s by the next generation, who refer to them not as Grandpa and Grandma as they would have back in the day, but using their first names – “Jock” and “Miss Ellie” – those iconic names tossed so casually out of the mouths of babes. “Eighty years ago, Christopher!” (Those events they speak of are depicted in the previously mentioned “Dallas: The Early Years.”) It’s a wonderful sense of the past that reminds you how time has flown by.
Cliff Barnes shows up a few times to rub it in that’s he’s richer than God himself and wants Bobby to sell Southfork to him. Kercheval slides back into his easy-going style, originally the blue-collar answer to J.R.’s super rich deity; they’ve now switched roles and plotting something. The season finale shows a different Cliff, more focused, angrier, but why?
It’s not a perfect show; it still needs to add some things to make it feel like a true continuation. The Ewings need to have dinner together more often, have pre-dinner drinks and exchange more snarky comments. The originals best moments were in the den with drinks in hand as the accusations flew and emotions ran high. We still need to see more characters from the original series; third brother Gary and wife Valene would be a good start, let them bring their California drama back to Texas. Rumors are flying however that they are indeed prepped for a return along with Gary’s nasty ex, Abby who J.R. had an affair with back in the day and was just a female version of him.
Afton Cooper (Audrey Landers), Cliff Barnes’s ex, Jeremy Wendell, former enemy of J.R., Punk Anderson, friend of Jock and the Ewing brothers need to show up. Give Ray Krebbs, fourth Ewing son, and niece Lucy, daughter of Gary and Valene much more to do. Fleeting one or two lines of nothing dialogue doesn’t cut it. Let’s see the current Ewing clan mix it up with the old timers and new comers to give the show more scope. I’m digging it, but it seems like the action takes place at two locations, Southfork or John Ross’s apartment in the city.
Nitpicks at worst, where the show shines is in its performances, which all are fantastic. Patrick Duffy as Bobby is the leader of the clan is as noble as ever. He and Hagman’s many years together spark when needed. Linda Gray returns as J.R.’s ex Sue Ellen Ewing, no longer the boozy doormat, but a strong, resourceful woman who is running for the Governor of Texas. She’s the woman J.R. created and he’s amazed at her current powerful image. He of course wants her back.
And of course Larry Hagman, the iconic role he shaped and twisted all through the 1980’s that made greed look good long before Gordon Gecko ever did. Although his appearances were limited in this first season due to a cancer scare-the few times he does show he makes an impact and leaves a twisted trail behind him as if he’s a tornado in human form. In this lame era of reality television, Hagman’s performance is an amusing new variation on Machiavellian mischievousness; he enjoys being bad and we enjoy watching him do bad things.
From this last season’s performance alone, it’s hard to believe he didn’t score at least an Emmy nomination, for nothing else just for hanging in all these years as he’s had personal problems with a liver transplant and just recently a successful cancer fight. A few years ago, Ellen Burnstyn won for a mere 38 seconds on screen, who does Hagman have to screw to get that damn Emmy!
The new show is no slouch with the newbies, especially Josh Henderson as John Ross Ewing III, angry at both his parents for various deeds and at his Uncle Bobby for not allowing him to drill for the oil on Southfork pasture, worth billions of course, but Ewings aren’t exactly in the poor house so Bobby could give a damn, plus it violates the wishes of his mama Ellie’s will. Henderson has been strong from the very start, cocky and focused. What gives me a geek thrill watching the show is that he has an Anakin Skywalker vibe- a good kid, turned bad by too many differing voices- over powered by his emotions and is unable to decipher where he stands exactly until it’s too late. Never a dull a moment with this kid around as he acts with his eyes better than anyone of recent memory; from that very first scene with he and J.R. in the home and the look of fear in his eyes when he awoke from his coma to his final scenes in the season finale where he cried genuine tears over the loss of his love Elena. He always looked engaged with his dialogue and engaged with his acting partner, that’s good acting no matter how you slice it. Should fate take over and prevent Hagman from continuing on as J.R., the kid is talented enough to carry the show himself, but he’s still in need of good dose of J.R.’s humor and hubris when completing a dirty scheme.
It is Larry Hagman’s J.R. who obviously steals the show. He’s the reason we tune in; somehow managing to be utterly preposterous and vividly watchable at the same time, he perfectly exemplifies the spirit of the show and every line he utters takes hold and brings back fond memories. From the first episode, he rises from his silent, depression-induced grave and spits out to John Ross, “Bobby was always a fool…”
The New Series Cast!
He’s looking tanned, rested, and ready for spiteful action. He refers to his adopted nephew as a “foundling,” as if this were a penny dreadful, which it kind of is. He has the boy call down for red Jell-O, and there is a satisfying rattle in his voice when he tells his son how they shall defeat their wayward kin: “Courts are for amateurs. No, this is personal.” The actor knows that the audience wants to see him chew the scenery and savor the chewing, and he indulges—and emotes as if the scenery is juicy with barbecue sauce. His relationship with John Ross takes an interesting turn in episode 3, he enters a barber shop, pays off the attendant to leave and holds a razor to his son’s throat telling him a story of when his Daddy Jock sold him a blind horse; the moral being he was taking offense to his son trying to cut him out of $2 billion barrels of oil found on Southfork- in typical Dallas fashion it turns into a bonding moment between father and son, they strike a truce and hatch their next scheme. For all the great moments in the original series with Jock and his sons, none we are compelling as this moment when J.R. fights for his fortune, his life, his name and his legacy by threatening his own son…
Hagman as J.R. has many more great moments throughout the ten episode first season, from scoundrel to hero, he plays it steady and cool showing us JR’s true motivations, but also reminding us he does indeed have a heart, especially when he tells Bobby sick in the hospital, “I’ve always loved you. I was never better than when I was fighting with you…” even though it pumps oil.
The season finale’s final moments reminded me of any beloved franchise I heap with attention. As J.R. and son are standing over the sky view of Dallas, they have a plan and devout their time together to conquer their town…
Hmmm.. who do they remind you of????
I pointed out the similarities to “Star Trek,” but another favorite institution is also nearby…someone had to have been a “Star Wars,” fan on the Dallas crew because the final scenes in episode 9 of the first season are much too eerie to be mere coincidence.
From “Revenge of the Sith,” Vader and Palpatine look over the Empire they begun to create…
John Ross and Papa J.R. look over their Empire they are about to resurrect…
“Only two. A Master and an Apprentice.”
“Everything is proceeding as I have foreseen.”
“It is your destiny! Join me, and together, we can rule the Dallas as father and son! Come with me. It is the only way.”””
The second season starts up in January and per Dallas tradition we are given a cliff-hanger to resolve. Will Elena and Christopher last, John Ross it seems has made the ascension, with daddy J.R. at his side, and he’s ready to be the series next best villain.
Not as dramatic or over-the-top as in previous years, but a damn good to start for things rolling; just what exactly has pissed Cliff Barnes off so bad that would motivate him to sanction what went down- have no clue and that’s a good start, a nice fresh twist that is starting off with a good solid mystery.
“Dallas” (The Next Generation) is vastly agreeable, a snarky cauldron bubbling over with oil and sex, power and betrayal; just as it was all those years ago. And there is a sense that, in spite of the new faces and the injection of some 21st-century pace, sensibilities underneath everything, it’s still the same old same old and that’s exactly how it should be.
Bobby Ewing- alive and well!
Dallas 2.0 Intro