Wednesday, 23 March 2016

359 Dallas

First  viewed :  5  September  1978

Autumn  1978  saw  the  modest  beginning  of  an  eighties  classic. I  only  saw  the  tail  end  of  the  first  episode  which  my  mum  and  sister  had  been  watching  but  I  soon  got  hooked. It  was  only  supposed  to  be  a  five  episode  mini-series  , loosely  based  on  James  Dean's  final  film  Giant,   but  went  down  so  well  it  was  developed  into   a  mega-soap.

The  series  began  with  an  impromptu  wedding  between  Bobby  Ewing  ( Patrick  Duffy  fresh  from  Man  from  Atlantis ) ,  youngest  son  of  an  oil  tycoon  Jock  ( Jim  Davis )  and  Pamela  Barnes  ( the  impressively-chested  Victoria  Principal )  , daughter  of  a  guy  called  Digger  , formerly  Jock's  partner  but  now  an  embittered  old  drunk  believing  that  Jock  stole  his  fortune  and  his  girl  Miss  Ellie  ( Barbara  Bel   Geddes ) heir  to  the  Southfork  cattle  ranch.  You  never  really  got  to  the  bottom  of  what  happened  until  a  spin-off  mini-series  halfway  through  the  show's  run.  Pam's  encouragement  to  Bobby  to  get  more  seriously  involved  in  the  family  business,  Ewing  Oil, ensures  the  hostility  of  elder  brother  John  Ross  Jnr  or  J.R.  ( Larry  Hagman ) who  schemes  to  break  them  up. To  hook  the  youngsters  you  also  had  saucy  teenager  Lucy  Ewing  ( the  pretty  but  vertically- challenged  Charlene  Tilton ) , the  child  of  a  middle  brother , Gary,  who'd  fled  the  nest  before  the  series  started. The  initial  series  was  a  bit  of  a  mish-mash -  the  episode  where  the  family  is  held  hostage  by  a  couple  of  hicks  ( one  of  them  played  by  Brian  Dennehy ) is  a  strange  one - but  it  introduced  the  main  characters  and  one  or  two  series  tropes  like  Bobby's  handiness  with  his  fists, J.R's  womanising   and  Lucy's  promiscuity.

A  24-part  second  series  was  already  in  production  when  the  first  one  hit  the  UK.  The  expansion  of  the  series  led  to   two characters  getting  promoted  to  the  opening  titles ; JR's  neglected  trophy  wife  Sue  Ellen  ( Linda  Gray )  and  ranch  foreman / stud  Ray  Krebbs  ( Steve  Kanaly ) . It  began  with  a  two-parter  about  the  temporary  return  of  Gary  to  the  family  fold  with  his  white  trash  wife  Valene.  Most  significantly  for  the  future,  it  established J.R. , in  the  first  series  a  rather  awkward,  insecure,  conservative  older  brother  , as  the  manipulative  villain  we  came  to  love.  It  was  also  the  second  and  last  appearance  of  Pam's  cousin  Jimmy, a  character  that  was  never  developed ( I'm  not  sure  he  was  even  mentioned  again )  but  he  does  have  the  distinction  of  being  the  first  character  to  change  heads  between  series.

The  story  of  Gary's  return  was  one  of  three  two-parters  as  the series  was  in  transition  between  standalone  stories  with  guest  characters  ( some  of  whom   later  became  series  regulars  though  not  always  with  the  original  actor )  and  the   long -running  story  arcs  of  a  soap. After  Gary  departed,  the  next  episode  featured  Bobby's  ex-girlfriend  Jenna  Wade  and  her  daughter  Charlie  who  might  be  his.  There  were  also  one  episode  appearances  by  Ellie's  brother  and  Pam's  ex-husband. The  meatier  storylines  revolved  around  JR , his  relationship  with  Sue  Ellen   and  his  lifelong  feud  with  Pam's  revenge-crazed  brother  Cliff   ( Ken Kercheval ). This  led  to  the  death  of  JR's  former  secretary/ mistress  Julie  who  became  the  series'  first  casualty  when  she  was  chased  off  a  roof.

The  season  ended  with  the  sort  of  cliffhanger  that  became  a  trademark  of  the  series. Sue  Ellen , drunk  and  pregnant  with  either  J.R's  child  or  Cliff's  , crashes  her  car  and  both  lives  are  in  the  balance.

By  the  end  of  it  the  series  was  enormously  popular  in  the  UK  and  had  its  number  one  cheerleader  in  Radio  Two's  Terry  Wogan  who  kept  up  a  running  commentary  on  the events  at  Southfork  although  I  doubt  Ms  Tilton  was  fully  appreciative  of her  nickname  the  "Poison  Dwarf".

For  the  third  season , it  was  Kercheval's  turn  to  be  promoted  to  the  main  credits  and  unfortunately  it  went  to  his  head ;  his  mugging  seemed  to  get  worse   with  each  succeeding  season.  This  was  when  the  series  really  hit  its  stride  with  JR  the  undisputed  star as  he  swindled  his  business  associates  and  bonked  his  sister-in-law  Kristin ( now  played  by  Mary "daughter  of  Bing"  Crosby  after  Colleen  Camp  played  her  in  the  second  series ). The  paternity  issue  was  settled  in  his  favour  so  his  love  for  son  John  Ross  became  a  redeeming  feature. Sue  Ellen  herself  got  a  lover  in  cowboy  Dusty  Farlow  ( Jared  Martin ).  Digger  Barnes   came  back  with  a  new  head  ( Keenan  Wynn)  and  a  deathbed  confession both  to  a  murder  and  the  fact  that  Pam  wasn't  his  daughter.  Gary  returned  briefly, also  with  a  new  head  ( Ted  Shackleford ), to  promote  spin-off  show   Knots  Landing   and   Lucy  got  engaged  to  lawyer  Alan  Beam  (  Randolph  Powell  from  Logan's  Run  with  his  amazingly  abundant    chest  hair )  who  was  working  undercover  for  JR  to  undermine  Cliff.  The  season  built  up  to  the  most  famous  cliffhanger  of  all  in  "Who  Shot  JR ? ", the  TV  phenomenon  of  1980. It's  hard  to  imagine  just  how  big  a  deal  the  issue  was  in  the  summer  of  1980. Hagman  came  over  for  an  interview  with  Wogan, did  a  series  of  ads  as  JR for  Dunlop    and  then  appeared  in  the  Royal  Variety  Performance . This  was  probably  a  mistake  as  first  he  forgot  the  lyrics  to  his  song  and  then  was  completely  upstaged  by  his  mother, veteran  musical  star  Mary  Martin,  standing  awkwardly  to  the  side  while  she  did  her  turn.  Bookies  ran  a sweep  on  the  shooting  issue with  Lusty  Dusty  the  favourite  but  inevitably,  with  the  new  season  broadcasting  first   in  the  States  news  leaked  out  that it  was  actually  Kristin  who'd  done  the  dirty  deed.

Kristin  didn't  go  to  prison  because  she  was  pregnant  and  claimed  it  was  JRs. After  giving  birth  to  the  baby  she  ended  up  floating  in  the  Southfork  swimming  pool  in  the  season's  cliffhanger. In  other  developments  in  what was  a  rather  anti-climactic  season,  Ray  finally  settled  down  with  a  good  woman  in  Donna ( Susan  Howard  from  Petrocelli ) then  found  out  he  was  Jock's  bastard  son  ( a development  prompted  by  Kanaly's  dissatisfaction  with  his  marginal  role  )  , Lucy  married  a  medical  student  called  Mitch  ( Leigh  McCloskey )  , JR  bedded  the  latter's  busty  sister  Afton  ( Audrey  Landers ) before  she  moved  on  to  Cliff  ( I  must  draw  up  a  list  sometime  of  the girls  who  went  to  bed  with  both  of  them; it  must  run  into  double figures )  and  Pam  tracked  down  her  long  lost  mother  Rebecca  ( Priscilla  Pointer ). The  most  dramatic  event  happened  offscreen  with  the  death  of  Jim  Davis  so  Jock  Ewing  was  no  more.  I'm  sure  Davis  was  a  nice  guy  but  I  didn't  mourn  the  character  finding  him  a  really  objectionable  old   tyrant  who  treated  his  family  like  shit.

Season  5  ( with  Howard  replacing  Davis  in  the  opening  titles )  took  12  episodes  to  confirm  that  Jock  was  dead, killed  during  an  extended  visit  to  South  America  but  not  until  he'd  divided  the  voting  shares  in  Ewing  Oil  amongst  his  family, an  arrangement  that  would  drive  the  plot  for  years  to  come. Sue  Ellen  moved  in  with  Dusty  but  his  impotence  came  between  them  and  his  father  Clayton  ( Howard  Keel  moved  in ). By  a  convoluted  series  of  events  Kristin's  baby  ended  up  being  adopted  by  Pam  and  Bobby  as  their  son  Christopher. Rebecca's  wealthy  husband  died  leaving  Cliff  with  his  own  rival  oil  company  to  run  but  he  and  Pam  now   had  a   psychopathic  half-sister  Katherine  ( Morgan  Brittany )  with  whom  to  deal. The  cliffhanger  revolved  around  Cliff's  suicide  attempt.

I  lost  interest  in  the  series  at  that  point  and  missed  all  of  Season  6  ( 1982-3 ) in  which   Rebecca  was  killed  off . I  watched  Season  7  intermittently  and  was  greatly  taken  with  JR's  secretary  Sly  ( Deborah  Rennard ) who  he  used  as  a  double  agent  to  feed  false  information  to  Cliff. There  are  a  couple  of  scenes  where  Cliff  talks  to  her  after  she's  just  got  out  of  the  pool  and  looks  gobsmackingly  beautiful. Though  she  stayed  in  the  series  right  through  to  the  end  she  was  never  featured  as  prominently  again  and  I  always  thought  that  was  a  great  shame.

The   other  main  storylines  were  Ellie  and  Clayton  getting  it  together  and  Pam  and  Bobby  drifting  apart. Jenna  returned  with  a  third  head  ( Elvis's  widow  Priscilla  despite  her  extremely  limited  acting  experience )  and  stuck  around  while  Pam  found  a  new  boyfriend  in  Mark ( John  Beck ).

I  was  largely  back  on  board  for  Season  8  for  which  Keel  and  Presley  were promoted  to  the  opening  credits. The  most  dramatic  cast  change  was  replacing  the  ill  Bel  Geddes  with  Donna  Reed  who  was  an  experienced  actress  but  never  settled  into  the  role  and  was  hated  by  audiences. Fortunately  Bel  Geddes  was  able  to  resume  the  role  and  with  one  exception  the  producers  never  re-cast  a  major  character  again. Another  stunner  was  introduced  to  the  cast  in  Mandy  ( model  Deborah  Shelton )  who  , you  guessed  it, went  to  bed  with  Cliff  and  JR.  They  also  pepped  up  the  Ewing  family  with  two  younger  additions  Jamie  ( Jennilee  Harrison )  and  Jack  ( Dack  Rambo ),  children  of  Jock's  never  previously  mentioned  brother  Jason. Harrison  had  an  amazing  body  but  unfortunately  a  rather  mis-shapen   mouth  which  spoiled  the  effect. Jack  had  clearly  been  drafted  in  to  replace  Bobby  as  Duffy  wanted  to  spread  his  wings  and  leave  the  series   and  so  at  the  third  attempt  he  was  killed  off  by  Katherine. Also  departing  at  this  point  was  Lucy  as  producers  felt  the  character  had  run  its  course.

Season  9  was  probably  my  favourite  of  all.  I  had  nothing  against  Duffy  but  Bobby  was  never  the  most  interesting character   and  his  departure  allowed  others  to  breathe. JR  and  Pam's  relationship  as  she  took  Bobby's  place  in  the  office   developed in  interesting  ways  and  JR  and  Jack  became  friends  as  they  both  got  involved  in  a  series-long  murder  plot  organised  by  mysterious  tycoon  Angelica  Nero ( Barbara  Carrrera  with  her  black  nipples ). Donna  and  Ray  got  involved  in  working  with  handicapped  children. However  ratings  were  not  what  they  were  and  Hagman  convinced  the  producers  that  they  should  attempt  to  draw his  friend  Duffy  ( who  wasn't  finding  much  work  due  to  his  very  limited  abilities  as  an  actor  )  back  into  the  fold.

This  led  to  the  most  famous  "jump  the  shark"  moment  in  TV  history  - even  more  so  than  Fonzie's  aquatic  acrobatic  display  itself - when  Season  9  ended  with  Bobby  walking  out  of  the  shower  and  making  every  event  of  the  season, even  those  she  was  nowhere  near, part  of  Pam's  nightmare.

I  was  really  disappointed  and  though  I  continued  it  to  watch  it  , it  rarely  resonated  in  the  same  way.  Season  10  was  rather  troubled. Firstly  it  was  shot  in  a  different  aspect  which  didn't  translate  so  well  to  British  analogue  TV  so  the  picture  quality  notably  dipped. Then  they  had  to  come  up  with  new  departures  for   Katherine  and  Jamie  who  were  also  resurrected  from  the  dead  by  Pam  waking  up.  Then  they  had  to  dispose  of  the  now  redundant  Jack  who  disappeared  shortly  after   his  ex-wife  April  ( Sheree  J  Wilson  )  was  introduced . A  wound  of  their  own  making  was  continuing  with  the  silly  plot  about  a  fake  Jock  which  had  started  towards  the  end  of  the  dream  series.

The  remaining  seasons  saw  a  steady  exodus  of  the  key  players. Principal  decided  to  quit  at  the  end  of  season  10  so  the  cliffhanger  had  her  crashing  into  a  petrol  tank. Reluctant  to  lose  such  a  major  star  the  writers  decided on  a  very  messy  line  that  she  was  in  hiding  after  plastic  surgery  in  the  hope  that  Principal  could  be  persuaded  back  but  it  never  happened. Howard   left  at  the  same  time  after  being  openly  critical  of  the  decision  to  bring  Bobby  back. Tilton  was  persuaded  to  return  at  the  end  of  series  11  but  to  no  great  effect.  As  she  returned  Presley  and  Kanaly, now  an  item  on  screen, departed  although  he  would  return  occasionally.

Season  12 did  have  its  moments. George  Kennedy  joined  the  cast  as  Carter  McKay  a  new  adversary  for  the  Ewings  with  the  twist  that  Bobby  rather  than  JR  was  the  main  target  of  his  ire. JR  got  a   new  wife  after  a  shotgun  wedding  with  a   gorgeous  young  hick  girl  Cally  ( Cathy  Podewell  )  he'd  taken  to  bed; I  remember  my  mum's  outrage  at  the  age  gap  between  them. Pam  was  finally  written  out  with  a  guest  appearance  by  a  lookalike  actress. In  the  most  ridiculous  storyline  Sue  Ellen  hired  a  British  film  director  Don  Lockwood ,  played  very  unconvincingly  by  Ian  McShane  who  looked  ill  at  ease  throughout  the  season,  to  make  a  film  about  JR  which  came  to  look  like  and  excuse  to  pad  the  series  out  with  old  clips. Linda  Gray  then  became  the  next  major  departure  as  she  and  Don  left  for  England  at  the  end  of the  season.

Season  13  introduced  Sasha  Mitchell  as   James  an  illegitimate  son  of  JR  and  Michelle  Foster  as  April's  sister   but  the  series  was  really  beginning  to  creak  by  this  point. However  it  did  end  on  a  high  with  a  completely  bonkers  but  hilarious  storyline  whereby  JR  commits  himself   to  a  mental  asylum  to  get  Clayton's  mad  sister  Jessica  ( unmentioned  for  half  a  decade )  to  sign  some  business  papers. The  script  and  Hagman's  comic  timing  in  the  asylum  scenes  are  brilliant  although  certainly  in  questionable  taste.

That's  really  where  it  should  have  ended  but   it  returned  for  a  sorry  final  season. The  BBC  immediately  realised  they  had  a  turkey  on  their  hands  and  stuck  it  in  a  graveyard  Sunday  teatime  slot. Season  14  had  a  real  smell  of  death  about  it  ; it  was  like  watching  a  house  clearance.  Ellie  and  Lucy  were  gone  and  Clayton  only  made  a  handful  of  appearances  April  was  killed  off  early  on  by  a  group  of  terrorists led  by  daytime  soap   regular  Susan  Lucci  and  Bobby  spent  most  of  the  series  trying  to  track  her  down  by  dating  her  entirely  innocent  daughter  Jori. The  business  transactions  were  a  real  yawn, impossible  to  follow  and  we'd  seen  it  all  before.  The  worst  moment  came  when  Bobby  met  Jori  on  campus  and  two  of  her  fellow  students  started  talking  about  a  daft  TV  idea  they  had  which  featured  a  woman  with  a  log  ( i.e  Twin  Peaks )  which  begged  the  response - get  your  own  house  in  order  before  you  start  knocking  other  shows. The  only part  worth  watching  was  when  James's  wife  tracked  him  down  with  their  baby  son  and  JR's  joy  at  having  a  grandson. In  the  penultimate  episode  JR  finally  loses  Ewing  Oil  and  is  pretty  much  deserted  by  everyone  setting  up  the  bizarre  final  episode, a  sort  of  perverted  take  on  It's  A  Wonderful  Life  with  a  camp  demon  played  by  Cabaret's  Joel  Grey  showing  what  life  would  have   been  like  for  selected  other  characters   ( including  a  supposed  replacement  brother  for  Gary  and  Bobby )  if  he'd  never  existed. For  example , Bobby  would  be  just  a  small  time  hustler  and  Cliff  would  be  President  ( I  guess  he  couldn't  be  worse  than  Trump ). It  was  just  weird , closing  a  landmark  series with  alternative  futures  for  minor  characters  like  Gary. At  the  end  JR  supposedly  committed  suicide.

There  were  a  couple  of   TV  movies  in  the  late  nineties  which  confirmed  that  he  hadn't  actually  shot  himself  but  I'm  not  sure  they  were  broadcast  here. In  2010  though  a  revival  of  the  series  was  announced, 20  years  after  it  finished. The  main  characters  now  were  John  Ross  ( John  Henderson )  and  Christopher  ( Jess  Metcalfe ) now  grown  up  though  not  quite  as  much  as  they  should  have  been  given  the  time  lapse. Duffy , Gray  and  Hagman  ( now  80 )  were  the  returning  regulars  while  Kercheval  was  semi-regular. A  sprinkling  of  other  old  characters  - Ray , Lucy, Gary, Valene, Cally, Mandy, Afton -  appeared  in  tiny  inconsequential  cameos. Others  were  airbrushed  out  of  history :  James  was  never  mentioned. The   main  new  characters  were  Bobby's  new  wife Ann  ( Brenda  Strong  who'd  been  in  the  original  series  as  a  different  minor  character,    Elena  ( the  lovely  but  un-Latin  Jordana  Brewster ) daughter  of  a  Mexican  cook  at  Southfork  ,  and  Cliff's  daughter  Pamela  ( the  not  so  lovely  Julie  Gonzalo  who  is  Latin )  . The  latter  two  were  involved  in  a  love  quadrangle  with  John  Ross  and  Christopher. In  the  second  season  the  cast  expanded  to  include  Ann's  jealous  ex-husband  Ryland ( Mitch  Pileggi ) , their  scheming  minx  of  a  daughter  Emma  ( the  very  tasty  Emma  Bell )  and  his  batty  old  brothel-running  mum  Judith  ( Judith  Light   -  I  guess  those  in  charge  of  naming  the  characters  were  running  short  of  inspiration  though  Emma  and  Judith  did  better  than  the  guy  playing  JR's  fixer  who  was  christened   Bum )  whose  continued  interest  in  sex  at  an  advanced  age  gave  her  scenes  a  distinctly  queasy  feel.

I  thought  it  was  a  brave  attempt  to  match  past  with  present  , to  bring  the  Ewing  feuds  into  the  world  of  the  internet ,  darker  sex , carbon  reduction  and  murderous  drug  cartels  but  it  didn't  quite  come  off. The  pace  was  dizzying ; John  Ross  seemed  to  be  trying  to  set  a  new  world  record  for  how  many  words  he  could  cram  into  a  second  and  often  finished  his  lines  with  his  back  to  the  camera.  The  most  egregious  departure  from  the  original  was  Cliff's  turning  into  a  murderous  gangster  willing  to  have  his  own  daughter  blown  up  to  scupper  the  Ewings  ; I'm  disappointed  Kercheval  didn't  put  his  foot  down  over  that.  Gray  and  Duffy  looked  fine  though  obviously  older  but it  was  clearly  a  bit  late  in  the  day  for  Hagman. He  managed  OK  in  the  first  series  but  by  the  second  he  was  suffering  from  cancer  , could  hardly  speak  and   was  being  plonked  down  in  a  seat  for  scenes  he  had  no  business  to  be  in , just  looking  on  helplessly. Sadly  he  died  while  the  second  season  was  in  production; his  meagre  contribution  was  eked  out  to  the  middle  of  the  season  when  JR  was  shot  once  more  and  the  rest  of  the  season  given  to  the  unfolding  of  a  "master plan"  he'd  devised  to  fix  the  Ewings'  enemies.

Without  Hagman  , the  once  decent  ratings  plummeted  and  though  it  made  a  third  series   the  show  was  cancelled  a  couple  of  years  ago  with  its  plot  lines  unresolved. It  was  broadcast  here  with  some  fanfare  on  Channel  5  but  gradually  got  pushed  later  and  later  in  the  schedules  and  I  ended  up  watching  the  third  series on  the  internet. I  guess that  really  is  it  for  the  Ewings  but  who  knows ?  

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