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Dallas

By Tom Keogh

Dallas: The Complete First and Second Seasons is an American equivalent to those British miniseries about historical chapters in that country's royal monarchy. Full of family in-fighting, political intrigue crossed with personal triumph or disappointment, and plenty of sensational infidelities and betrayals, Dallas is a captivating story of a wealthy oil family's power and travails. It is also uniquely fun and daringly absurd, albeit with a straight face; this hugely successful, primetime soap opera began in the late Super70s and ran 14 seasons in all, built on a handful of primary relationships that stretch credulity but never descend into self-parody.

Not unexpectedly, Dallas begins with a Romeo and Juliet tale that instantly exposes an old feud between two families and strips the civilized veneer from several major characters. Bobby Ewing (Patrick Duffy), youngest of three sons of independent oilman Jock Ewing (Jim Davis), arrives at the Ewing clan's Southfork ranch just outside Dallas, Texas, with a new wife, Pam Barnes Ewing (Victoria Principal). Pam is the daughter of Digger Barnes (David Wayne), an old business rival of Jock's and one-time suitor of the Ewing matriarch, Eleanor (or "Miss Ellie," played by Barbara Bel Geddes). Pam's also the sister of a state senator, Cliff Barnes (Ken Kercheval), whose vendetta against the Ewings is played out in the legislature, imposing costly regulations on their business and holding committee investigations into questionable practices of company president J.R. Ewing (Larry Hagman). Pam's status as the newest Ewing causes an uproar in the family (besides being a Barnes, she also dated the Ewings' genial but lonely foreman, Ray Krebbs, played by Steve Kanaly) and prompts Dallas' charming villain, J.R., to make many Iago-like attempts, over the first two seasons, to drive her from Bobby's arms. Pam has a different set of problems with the other, jealous Ewing women, including J.R.'s possibly barren and alcoholic wife, Sue Ellen (Linda Gray), and teenage Lucy (Charlene Tilton), daughter of exiled Ewing son Gary (Ted Shackleford). With new and old resentments flying and everyone deeply suspicious of everyone else's motives (even the ailing Jock doesn't trust J.R.), there's plenty of drama to chew on. Still, storylines are often larger than the sum of these parts, with lots of kidnappings, marital affairs, plane crashes, and shootings ratcheting up suspense. Dallas is pure pleasure, a little guilty, perhaps, but not a sin.

Dallas: The Complete Third Season, originally broadcast in the fall of 1979 through early 1980, surely represents one of the most raucous and tantalizing years in the life of any television series in history. Murder, banking fraud, kidnapping, adultery, alcoholism, cancer, vengeance, a miscarriage, extortion, bribery, and astounding levels of betrayal both in business and private lives are just part of the catalogue of sins that make season 3 particularly juicy. Actually, what makes the 25 episodes in this box set so much fun to watch is a viewer's gradual awareness that every crime committed, every ethical breach or personal tragedy is part of an overall design, reverberating in dozens of directions and affecting multiple relationships and numerous schemes. As enjoyable as each program is on its own terms, it's quite clear that by the 25th episode, "A House Divided," in which a major character receives a surprise-ending comeuppance, that all chickens were intended to come home to roost in the last show's very clever script.

A remarkable number of story threads found their way into season 3. Starting with a two-parter concerning the kidnapping of a newborn baby belonging to J.R. (Larry Hagman) and Sue Ellen Ewing (Linda Gray), problems just keep on sprouting like weeds. First, there's Sue Ellen's emotional deep-freeze and refusal to nurture her child as a healthy mom should, which in turn prompts the childless Pamela Ewing (Victoria Principal) to free her maternal instincts toward J.R.'s son, much to the chagrin of J.R.'s brother, Bobby (Patrick Duffy). Meanwhile, teenager Lucy (Charlene Tilton), abandoned daughter of missing Ewing son Gary (David Ackroyd), threatens to teach J.R.'s son, one day, to turn against the Ewing clan, inspiring J.R. to escalate plans to get rid of Lucy any way possible. (Gary, by the way, kicks into gear a famous Dallas spin-off by moving to Knots Landing, California.) Matriarch Miss Ellie (Barbara Bel Geddes) faces a mastectomy, making her worry that husband Jock (Jim Davis) will stop loving her, though he faces problems of his own when a skeleton found buried on Ewing property turns up near Jock's missing handgun. (Whoops.) Finally, J.R.'s almost Shakespearean manipulation of the sale of Asian oil fields to old family friends, just before those fields are nationalized, is brilliantly wicked stuff. His actions have enormous, grievous ramifications--not least of all for J.R.

Dallas on DVD!
Dallas is now available on DVD! Get it at Amazon.com!
Season One, Season Two, Season Three

 

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Very early in the show's run, Sue Ellen (Linda Gray) is in a drunken stupor, railing at J.R. (Larry Hagman). As she spews her rage, she reminds her husband that they're married "till death do us part, J.R. Till death do us part." That moment summed up the twisted, sick, co-dependent and highly entertaining relationship between two of television's most interesting characters. Watching Sue Ellen and J.R. rip each other was like watching two prize fighters who knew exactly where their opponent's weak spots were located.

--Jeff

Note: This is just a random sample of the Dallas messages in our TV forums! Click here to see what others have said or to post your own comments!

 

TV TIDBITS

Aired: April 2, 1978 - May 3, 1991

Cast: Larry Hagman, Victoria Principal, Patrick Duffy, Barbara Bel Geddes, Linda Gray

Network: CBS

Genre: Drama

Theme song

SpinoffsKnot's Landing

Image courtesy of CBS


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Use of this site is subject to our Terms of Service.
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