Linda Gray is Speaking Up — Just Like Sue Ellen Would

Dallas, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing, TNT

Still our girl

Atta girl, Linda Gray.

In a candid interview with Ultimate Dallas last week, the actress expressed her disappointment with the amount of screen time her character, the indomitable Sue Ellen Ewing, has received on TNT’s “Dallas” revival. The cable channel has telecast five hours so far, and Gray has been missing from two of them.

“I’m not happy not to be in an episode. I’m not a happy camper,” Gray told the fan site, adding viewers should “go and rattle cages” if they want to see more of Sue Ellen.

Let’s be clear: Gray doesn’t sound at all angry during the interview. In fact, she seems pretty enthusiastic about the show overall. (In addition to a transcript, Ultimate Dallas has posted an audio recording of its conversation with the actress.)

Still, I suspect it took more than a little courage for Gray to admit she’d like to be given more to do. We’ve all seen Hollywood sideline older actresses, and I’m sure there are plenty of people in the entertainment industry who will look at Gray and think she should be happy to have a steady gig, even if she isn’t getting as many scenes as she’d like.

That’s why I’m proud of the actress. Gray is demonstrating she’s learned a thing or two from her “Dallas” alter ego, who has always had to fight to make her own way in the world.

Think about it: Sue Ellen has been part of our popular culture since the Carter era, and in that time she’s gone from an alcoholic Stepford wife to a confident, independent woman. In the history of prime-time television, few characters have endured as long as Sue Ellen, and fewer still have changed as much.

‘Dallas’s’ Secret Weapon

Make no mistake: “Dallas” is Sue Ellen’s story as much as it is J.R. and Bobby’s – and Linda Gray has always been the show’s secret weapon.

Since I began re-watching the original series for Dallas Decoder, I’ve been struck by the quiet power of Gray’s performances. I marvel at her work in classic early episodes like “John Ewing III, Part 2,” when Sue Ellen confesses her affair with Cliff in a heartbreaking, four-and-a-half-minute monologue. Her work later in the series, particularly during the unfairly maligned “dream season,” blows me away too.

Most surprisingly, Gray dominates the famous “Who Shot J.R.?” episodes, more so than Larry Hagman. She is mesmerizing in “A House Divided,” the season-ending cliffhanger where J.R. is shot, and she absolutely owns “Who Done It?” the most-watched “Dallas” episode ever.

Gray still impresses me. She hasn’t been given much to do on TNT’s “Dallas,” but when she appears, she lights up the screen. With the exception of Hagman, no one on the new show is as charismatic as Gray.

Sue Ellen is Us

Of course, I’ve had a soft spot for Sue Ellen since I was a kid. I’ve come to see the character as an avatar for the gay rights movement, but the truth is, Sue Ellen serves as a stand-in for anyone who has ever had to stand up for themselves. In other words: Sue Ellen is us.

I think that’s why she’s always been a fan favorite. Remember, “Dallas” was prime-time television’s 26th most popular series until the 1989-90 season, when Gray left and it plunged to 43rd.

To be fair, because Sue Ellen is so beloved – and because she’s changed so much over the years –I would imagine the character is tough to write for. I wish TNT’s writers had made more of an effort during the new show’s early episodes, but as we head into the first season’s home stretch, Sue Ellen seems poised to get more screen time.

The character is featured in several pivotal scenes in “The Enemy of My Enemy,” the episode TNT will telecast tomorrow night. As audiences will see, some of Sue Ellen’s old habits endure, a revelation I welcome. I’m glad Sue Ellen has changed with the times, but it’s also good to see she’s still human.

And as much as I appreciate Gray’s suggestion that fans “rattle cages” and demand to see more Sue Ellen in the future, I don’t believe television scripts should be crowd-sourced. Cynthia Cidre, the creative force behind TNT’s “Dallas,” has a vision for the series, and she deserves an opportunity to fulfill it.

But let’s face it: Unless that vision includes Sue Ellen, it won’t really be “Dallas.”

Do you want to see more of Sue Ellen on “Dallas”? Share your comments below and read more opinions from Dallas Decoder.

Comments

  1. Perfectly said!

  2. I agree with your sentiments here. I think Sue Ellen is the most relatable character on Dallas precisely because of the flaws and insecurities so beautifully splayed open in the early seasons of the original series and nearly overcome towards the later seasons. Sue Ellen was the real underdog of Dallas, not Pam who was portrayed as the outsider but had her husband’s support and adoration. Sue Ellen was on her own, emotionally. That’s why I rooted for her and forgave all her misdeeds and bad judgements. Even though she’s seemingly got herself together now, you can see glimpses of her desperation for affirmation, especially from John Ross. I just don’t get why the writers aren’t making use of her complexities. Linda hasn’t missed a beat resurrecting Sue Ellen 20 years later so it’s not a question of the vessel. Now fill her up with some quality script!

Trackbacks

  1. […] is it the first demonstration of the love J.R. feels for Sue Ellen (who has experienced her own share of changes over the years). J.R. had moments like these on the old show too, but they occur more frequently […]

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