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