The “Knots Landing” episode “A Family Matter” brings J.R. to Los Angeles, where he meets Abby Cunningham, his Southern California counterpart. This inaugural matchup between two of television’s greatest villains has its moments, but overall, it’s not as much fun as you might expect.
The problem: J.R. and Abby are too much alike. These characters are at their best when they’re clashing with principled do-gooders like Bobby or Karen Fairgate, not fawning over each other, which is what happens throughout “A Family Matter.” In one scene, J.R. tells Abby she is “wickedly clever.” In another, he calls her “the most delicious conniver it’s been my pleasure to encounter.” The love-fest gets boring pretty quickly.
J.R. previously visited Seaview Circle in “Community Spirit,” a first-season “Knots Landing” episode that found Gary and Karen rallying their neighbors to stop Ewing Oil from drilling near the local beach. That episode was a hoot because it took J.R. out of “Dallas’s” glamorous surroundings and plopped him into suburbia, where he was exposed to such foreign concepts as tuna fish sandwiches and housewives who pick up their husbands’ dry-cleaning.
J.R. is out of his element again in “A Family Matter,” but somehow, these scenes aren’t as much fun. A lot of this has to do with the context. In this episode, Abby is hoping to sink her claws into Gary, so she persuades J.R. to bail out his brother, who has gotten embroiled in a stolen-parts ring and needs $50,000 to pay off some underworld goons. It’s not quite as noble as stopping offshore oil drilling.
Maybe this is why my two favorite moments in “A Family Matter” don’t have much to do with the main storyline. In the first of these scenes, J.R. sits at Abby’s dinner party and boasts about how he’s going to bring Lucy’s fiancée Mitch “up to our standards,” which sends Valene off the rails. “How dare you meddle in my daughter’s life!” she fumes.
Later, Val, who doesn’t know about Gary’s underhanded dealings, visits J.R. and pleads with him to leave her and Gary alone. The insults soon start flying. J.R. declares Val is “a royal pain;” she calls him “a vile, evil man.”
Aside from showcasing the terrific chemistry between Larry Hagman and Joan Van Ark, these scenes remind us: Watching J.R. fight is much more fun than watching him fawn.
‘A FAMILY MATTER’
“Knots Landing” Season 2, Episode 9
Airdate: January 22, 1981
Audience: 15.4 million homes, ranking 26th in the weekly ratings
Writer: David Paulsen
Director: Edward Parone
Synopsis: When J.R. comes to Los Angeles for a convention, Gary and Val’s neighbor Abby Cunningham asks J.R. to give Gary $50,000 so he can pay off a debt to two shady characters. Gary reluctantly takes the money, but J.R. hints he wants Gary to help him squelch Sid’s plan to build an energy-efficient car engine.
Cast: Parley Baer (old man), William Boyett (Frank Kolbert), Tonya Crowe (Olivia Cunningham), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Steven Hirsch (Roy Lance), James Houghton (Kenny Ward), Bobby Jacoby (Brian Cunningham), Kim Lankford (Ginger Ward), Michele Lee (Karen Fairgate), Claudia Lonow (Diana Fairgate), Constance McCashin (Laura Avery), Donna Mills (Abby Cunningham), Don Murray (Sid Fairgate), Pat Petersen (Michael Fairgate), John Pleshette (Richard Avery), Ted Shackelford (Gary Ewing), Louise Vallance (Sylvie), Joan Van Ark (Valene Ewing)
“A Family Matter” is available on DVD. Watch the episode and share your comments below.