The Best & Worst of Dallas: Season 1

“Dallas’s” first season is comprised of just five episodes, but there’s no shortage of things to cheer and jeer.

Performances

Dallas, Digger's Daughter, Pam Ewing, Victoria Principal

Own it, honey

Sorry Mr. Hagman, but Victoria Principal owns Season 1. The actress makes Pam confident and charming, with a laugh that would make Julia Roberts envious. Pam is also unapologetically sexual, making her one of television’s breakthrough women characters. If you’ve forgotten how intriguing Pam is when “Dallas” begins – and how terrific Principal is in the role – go watch any of the first five episodes. She’s the best thing about each one.

Episodes

I tend to like my “Dallas” dark, which might be why “Digger’s Daughter” is my favorite first-season entry. Some of this has to do with the writing, but a lot of it has to with the weather: This episode was filmed in the real-life Dallas in early 1978, when the city was in the midst of its coldest-ever winter, and all those stark landscapes and lifeless skies make it one of the show’s moodiest, broodiest hours. It’s also remarkable how many “Dallas” hallmarks are present from the very beginning: the Southfork cocktail hour, J.R. and Bobby’s Cain-and-Abel shtick, J.R.’s daddy issues, everyone’s obsession with the firstborn grandson.

Some fans consider “Lessons” the season’s lowlight. I don’t. Yes, the episode’s main plot – Lucy is skipping school! – makes “Lessons” feel more like an “ABC Afterschool Special” than “Dallas,” but don’t overlook the many wonderful character-building moments here, including Miss Ellie and Pam’s coffee talk and the precedent-setting office scene between J.R. and Bobby. As an added bonus, “Lessons” concludes with that ’70stastic disco sequence, which only gets more fabulous with age.

Scenes

Hands down, the season’s best scene showcases two characters you’ve probably forgotten: Tilly and Sam, the gossipy caterers who appear in “Barbecue” and are never seen or mentioned again. Irma P. Hall and Haskel Craver are a hoot; imagine the cheeky, “Downton Abbey” vibe they would have lent the show if they had become regulars.

No scene qualifies as the first season’s “worst,” although hindsight being what it is, I could do without all those shots of Lucy and Ray cavorting in the hayloft.

Supporting Players

Dallas, Julie Grey, Tina Louise

Grey matters

Oh, how I love Tina Louise in “Spy in the House.” Of all of J.R.’s mistresses, Julie Grey will always be my favorite because Louise makes the character feel so heartbreakingly real. I can’t help but root for Julie, even when she doesn’t root for herself.

My least favorite guest star: Cooper Huckabee, who cackles his way through his role as Payton Allen, Brian Dennehy’s “Winds of Vengeance” sidekick.

Locales

I know this puts me in the minority among “Dallas” diehards, but I like the estate used as Southfork during the first season. The compound-style setting – one big house for Jock and Miss Ellie, surrounded by a series of smaller homes for each son and his wife – feels more credible as a wealthy family’s homestead.

Worst set: Sky Blue, the Braddock disco where the Ewings shake their booties in “Lessons,” is the least convincing nightclub I’ve ever seen. Was this place a Sizzler in real life?

Costumes

Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman

Seeing red

Bobby’s leather jacket is iconic and also metaphorical: He’s wearing it at the beginning of “Digger’s Daughter” when he and Pam are nervously headed to Southfork to announce their nuptials. We wonder: Are the Ewings are going to tan Bobby’s actual hide when they discover he has wed a Barnes?

Worst wardrobe choice: J.R.’s garish red belt buckle. Of course, as gaudy as it is, at least it’s not covered in gold and stamped with the character’s initials like the one he sports on the new TNT series.

Behind the Scenes

Every time I watch these early episodes, I can’t help but wonder what direction “Dallas” might have taken if creator David Jacobs had retained control of the series after the first season. Jacobs is a television genius; if he had stuck around, I have no doubt this great show would have turned out even greater.

What do you love and loathe about “Dallas’s” first season? Share your comments below and read more “Best & Worst” reviews.

Comments

  1. I have to agree, Victoria Principal’s Pam was one of the greatest highlights of season 1. The poor character went on a steady madcap decline until she crashed and burned literally. :/ I also loved the moody, cold atmosphere and Bobby’s jacket. Even before we knew Ray was a Ewing the shenanigans with Lucy were extremely high on the ICK factor. And Julie was the greatest of all JR’s secretaries. I also tend to think he did love her to a degree. And the estate with separate apartments was so much better and less intrusive than everyone falling all over each other in that house. I would want to tear my hair out. Great post!

    • Ha ha. From a television standpoint, I realize having everyone under one roof makes everything much more efficient, but as you point out, the original Southfork is a bit more realistic. And you’re right: Lucy and Ray’s relationship has a high ick factor, even if they aren’t blood relatives.

      Thanks for commenting, Lady G.!

    • From my understand “Season One” was really a mini-series/pilot for “Knots Landing”. David Jacobs wanted to do a show about Gary and the Network liked the Ewing family better. Ray Krebbs was not intended to be a Ewing. I was not until Steve Kanaly told Larry Hagman, during a game of raquetball if I remember the interview correctly, about his desire to leave the show. Hagman told Kanaly that he should become a member of the Ewing family and get more involved with the show. Larry Hagman played a charecter, a shady oil man, on an episode of “The Rockford Files” called “Forced Retirement” (1977) Here is a link to a youtube video that has a collection of scenes of Larry Hagman’s appearence – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DP3SujYfL4Q It is odd when I see different people playing Digger Barnes and Gary Ewing. Victoria Prinipal is beautiful, truly beautiful. She can act and I am certain she is the reason why so many people started watching the show. Jim Davis is the man and we get to see the very best of him. I agree with you about how many aspects of the first season of “Dallas” is groundbreaking. “Dallas” changed television around the world. It is amazing how many countries, even communist countries, watched “Dallas”. I love the scene where JR is doing the crossword next to the swimming pool while Pam is swimming. As far as Southfork goes, I guess the house and everyone living in it was the running joke. I think Theresa was the maid and stayed the maid through most, if not all, of the series.

      • Wow, what a great “Rockford Files” clip. So prescient! It’s funny to see Larry Hagman become annoyed with another character’s constant quoting of their “daddy.” I’m glad you agree “Dallas” is groundbreaking and that you like Victoria Principal too. She’s amazing during the early years.

        Thanks for commenting, Jumpsteady.

      • That’s a good way to view it, Southfork and the inhabitants were the running joke. LOL. I still think in Dallas 2012 Theresa should be Elena’s mother and loyal to Bobby and Southfork, not this stranger Carmen.

  2. Isn’t Lucy ray’s half niece? Or am I missing something? Was weird in any sense.

    • Yep, Lucy is the daughter of Valene and Gary, who is Ray’s half-brother. (Ray is the product of Jock’s wartime affair with nurse Margaret Hunter.) But no matter how you slice it, Lucy’s fling with Ray is inappropriate!

    • Yes, but they didn’t know they were related during their…um…relations.. lol

  3. Aaron Ampula says:

    I just finished re-watching season one/miniseries and totally agree about Victoria Principal’s Pam. The character is wonderful and Principal does great work.

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: