The Best & Worst of TNT’s Dallas: Season 1

The first season of TNT’s “Dallas” brought the Ewings back to series television after a two-decade absence. I loved it – mostly.

Performances

Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, TNT

The Great One

The new “Dallas” cast divides into two categories: Larry Hagman and everyone else. As the now-elderly J.R., Hagman was sometimes mischievous, sometimes moving and always magical. Trying to figure out how Hagman does what he does is futile, so I just sit back and enjoy the ride. Nominate him in a supporting category if you must, but if Larry the Great doesn’t take home an Emmy next year, we should all raise hell.

Dallas, Julie Gonzalo, Rebecca Barnes, Rebecca Sutter, TNT

Your next queen

Among the rest of the cast, give it up for Julie Gonzalo, who made Rebecca’s desperation palpable as the character’s world collapsed in the season’s final hours. Seeing Rebecca drag around Tommy’s dead body in “Revelations” reminded me of when Abby Ewing did something similar on “Knots Landing” – which is fitting since Gonzalo seems destined to claim Donna Mills’s crown as television’s next great queen bee.

Storylines

The war for Southfork was the ideal vehicle to re-introduce “Dallas,” not just because the storyline ensnared every character – even Gary got involved – but also because it helped keep alive the memory of Miss Ellie, whose ghost looms over the new show the way Jock’s did on the old one.

The most incomplete plot: Sue Ellen’s run for governor. The character’s foray into politics can be seen as a logical outgrowth of her civic activism on the original show (remember all those Daughters of the Alamo luncheons Sue Ellen hosted?), but I wish the new series had acknowledged some of the skeletons rattling around her closet. Given Sue Ellen’s scandalous past, shouldn’t voters have been more skeptical of her candidacy?

Episodes

Dallas, John Ross Ewing, Josh Henderson, TNT

Scarred, inside and out

“Family Business,” the episode where J.R. returns the Southfork deed to Bobby, is as good as any of the best entries from the classic series. This intimate hour offered poignant performances from Hagman and Patrick Duffy, but no one moved me like Josh Henderson, especially in the scene where John Ross pours out his heart to Elena about his failure to live up to J.R.’s legend (“I spent my entire life missing him, wanting to be with him, wanting to be him.”).

“The Last Hurrah,” the Ewing barbecue episode, was the season’s biggest letdown. It brought together more original cast members than any other TNT entry – in addition to J.R., Bobby and Sue Ellen, we also saw Cliff, Ray and Lucy – yet these old favorites shared little screen time. On the other hand, allow me to defend “The Last Hurrah’s” much-maligned calf-birthing sequence, a metaphor I appreciated, even if the snarkmeisters at Entertainment Weekly didn’t.

Scenes

As fantastic as J.R. and John Ross’s tense-then-tender “shaving scene” was in “The Price You Pay,” nothing wowed me like Ann’s sting against smarmy ex-husband Harris Ryland in “Revelations.” What a great scene! I liked Brenda Strong’s character from the beginning, but this was the moment that made me love her. Somewhere, Miss Ellie is smiling.

Twists

Ann Ewing, Brenda Strong, Dallas, TNT

Great twist!

The new “Dallas’s” twist-a-minute storytelling was often too much, but not always: The moment Ann exposed the mic she was using to record Ryland’s confession was terrific, and so was the big reveal at the end of “Changing of the Guard,” when the audience learned J.R. and Marta were in cahoots.

Meanwhile, what should have been the season’s biggest twist – the revelation that Rebecca is Cliff’s daughter – was no surprise at all, at least not to “Dallas” diehards. Gonzalo’s character’s first name was a huge tipoff, and once we discovered Cliff had become a high-stakes gambler, her “Changing of the Guard” reference to her poker-playing daddy became another big clue. Still, seeing Cliff emerge from his jet in the final moments of “Revelations” – and then hearing Frank Ashkani refer to Rebecca as “Miss Barnes” – was pretty damn cool.

Cameos

Charlene Tilton’s appearance in “Collateral Damage,” when Lucy and John Ross reminisced about his boyhood antics while brunching at the Omni, was fabulous. Let this serve as the model for integrating old favorites into new storylines.

Less enthralling: The “Truth and Consequences” scene featuring Jerry Jones. Nothing against the Dallas Cowboys owner, but why remind fans of the dreadful 1998 reunion reunion movie “War of the Ewings,” which also featured a Jones cameo?

Homages

Dallas, Leonor Varela, Marta Del Sol, Veronica Martinez, TNT

Nut’s landing

The TNT series spent a lot of time honoring its predecessor. Among the best tributes: Ann’s penchant for shotguns and pearls (a la Miss Ellie), Marta’s deadly dive in “Collateral Damage” (shades of Julie Grey) and John Ross’s “Changing of the Guard” meeting with Marta at Cowboys Stadium, which evoked J.R.’s many stadium encounters in days of yore.

Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t also point out some of the historical liberties the new show took: Ellie’s commitment to a sanitarium after Jock’s death (when did this happen?), Grandpa Southworth giving the Ewing brothers the Southfork mineral rights (Ellie controlled them on the old show) and Cliff’s visit to Islamabad in the early 1980s (did he do it during the summer reruns?).

Villains

Carlos Bernard was effectively oily as Vicente Cano and Faran Tahir makes Frank a genuinely frightening dude, but my prize for best villain goes to Mitch Pileggi, whose Harris Ryland was creepy and charming all at once. Here’s hoping Pileggi will become the new “Dallas’s” answer to Jeremy Wendell, J.R.’s best adversary from the old show, played by the great William Smithers.

Supporting Players

Dallas, Margaret Bowman, Mrs. Henderson, TNT

Mrs. Henderson, Presented

Let’s hear it for the supporting actors – many of them honest-to-goodness Texans – who didn’t log a lot of screen time but made each moment count. My favorites: Richard Dillard, who was perfectly sleazy as Bobby’s double-dealing lawyer Mitch Lobell; Glenn Morshower as Lobell’s no-nonsense replacement, Lou; Brett Brock, who had real presence as John Ross’s private eye, Clyde Marshall; Kevin Page, who was oddly endearing as J.R.’s henchman Bum; and Margaret Bowman, who was a hoot as Southfork neighbor Miss Henderson.

Music

TNT’s heavy use of music on “Dallas” might be the new show’s best innovation of all. In “Hedging Your Bets,” J.R. and Sue Ellen reunited at the Cattle Baron’s Ball to the sounds of Justin Townes Earle’s gorgeous “Midnight at the Movies,” while Adele’s “Turning Tables” was the ideal soundtrack for Christopher and Rebecca’s “Changing of the Guard” wedding sequence.

The real highlight: the instant classic montage that concluded “Family Business,” when Bobby’s collapse and Rebecca and Tommy’s gun struggle played out as Johnny Cash’s “The Man Who Came Around” boomed in the background. And while Cash’s “God’s Gonna Cut You Down” was a fine choice to end “Revelations,” I hope the show doesn’t return to that particular well for awhile.

Costumes

Dallas, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing, TNT

Cool zip

The zip-front dress Sue Ellen wore when she visited Ryland in “The Enemy of My Enemy” was the perfect garment for a woman who was exposing her vulnerabilities in a bid to help her son. I also liked how the dress showed Linda Gray, now in her 70s, could still be sexy and playful.

Sets

Loved the groovy spectrum artwork in Sue Ellen’s office. Hated the watercolor painting of Jock and Ellie that hangs in the Southfork living room.

Quips

As much as I enjoyed all the hilarious stuff that came out of J.R.’s mouth, Sue Ellen delivered the season’s best line in “No Good Deed” when she blackmailed the hapless medical examiner by reminding him, “You’ve been writing more prescriptions than Michael Jackson’s doctor – which is odd, since all of your patients are dead.”

Biggest head-scratcher: “We ain’t family, bro.” – John Ross’s putdown of Christopher in “Hedging Your Bets.”

Behind the Scenes

Much praise goes to the many talented folks on the other side of the camera, including Michael M. Robin, the most inventive director in the history of the “Dallas” franchise; cinematographer Rodney Charters, who makes the real-life Dallas look so good, the city should name a street after him; and the TNT Publicity Machine, which did a helluva job promoting the show in the months before its debut.

Of course, the biggest hat tip goes to Cynthia Cidre, the new “Dallas’s” creative force. After an uneven start, Cidre – with help from a team of talented writers – brought “Dallas” back to its roots as a character-driven family drama. Let’s hope they keep the momentum going in Season 2.

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

Comments

  1. Awesome post. I agree with everything. *Shades of Julie Grey. 😉 I also think they dropped the ball on the High Stakes poker game between Cliff and J.R – what happened there? There was not enough Ray Krebbs for me, no mention of Jenna or the family either. Did they drop all that and Lucas? Hopefully we’ll find out in season 2. And I have to put Duffy up for Emmy consideration with his truly frightening seizures (I nearly cried!) and his poignant speeches throughout the season – like when he spoke at Miss Ellie’s gravesite and burned up the ‘evidence’ Harris gave him on Ann. Please someone give him an Emmy. Don’t make him the male Susan Lucci, he’s just one of my favorite actors period. 🙂 Hey, i was in the doctor’s office and he had a TV Guide magazine from June 7th! Get a backorder, there are 2 separate covers with Hagman and Linda on one and Duffy and Strong on the other, along with the younger cast. Wonderful article inside too.

    • Thanks Lady! You’re right about Patrick Duffy. It would be great to see him get some Emmy love too.

      I know the TV Guide you’re referring to! I bought both covers, of course. Great article by William Keck.

  2. Best:
    * Larry Hagman’s performance was utterly compelling from start to finish – even when it was obvious he was struggling with poor health. Gone is the pantomime villain of old and back is a genuinely malevolent JR not seen since very early in the classic show’s run. He really is an extraordinary actor.
    * The stand out (N)ewing has to be Josh Henderson. Season 1 was really John Ross’s story and it was mostly a captivating one where Henderson demonstrated he is an actor of considerable depth. I was often choked by JRIII’s predicament and Henderson’s depiction of it.
    * The cinematography and the direction have been excellent. I agree with your nod to Robin.
    * Some of the new supporting characters have been great. I loved Valera and especially Pileggi who is shaping up to potentially be one of the Ewings’ most formidable foes. Season 2 will certainly have Harris and JR lock horns. Special commendation must also be given to the actor who played JR’s latest crooked investigator, the aptly named ‘Bum.’
    * Some of the scenes easily eclipsed the best of the classic series. The shaving scene will linger long in the memory and I found the last Faustian scene of the finale to be pitched perfectly. Has John Ross’s soul now been mortgaged forever to the devil?

    Worst:
    * The remodelling of the Southfork interior is a disaster. There’s still time to change it and I hope that they do.
    * Some of the continuity errors (I’ve listed them in a previous post) were sloppy and could easily have been remedied by a few lines of dialogue. I hope the producers hire a script consultant for Season 2.
    * Much as it pains me to admit it, Sue Ellen was rather lacklustre throughout. I am aware that this is due to the writers but Ms Gray must share some of the blame by insisting upon Sue Ellen being a powerful role model for other women. Sue Ellen is a deeply damaged, needy and neurotic character – we need to see some more of this in Season 2. Sue Ellen seemed to be the interloper in this new show – maybe because her story has already been told in the old series? At the moment she is the most expendable of the original cast members.
    * Cliff Barnes adopting a kid from Islamabad at a time when he was defrauding his mother’s company, losing Sue Ellen and attempting suicide? I think not.
    * We need a little more humour and the show would benefit from a more extended chorus (similar to the old Cartel) to comment upon the Ewings and their machinations.
    * Of course it was going to be a fast paced show (especially with only 10 episodes) but the succession of twists and turns was sometimes achieved to the detriment of character development. Things need to slow down just a little.

    • Great choices, Vance! Josh Henderson is terrific and I love your “(N)ewing” expression. I also like your idea of an extended chorus to comment upon the Ewings although instead of the cartel, I’d like to see the new show introduce more “downstairs” characters — servants, secretaries, etc.

      As always, thanks for commenting.

      Chris

  3. I love the new series. J.R. is still the best character on television. I know that he was going through chemo during the filming of the first season in real life which shows what an amazing actor he is. He is said to be in remission now, so I hope to see more of him in season 2 and a return to power. I think Josh Henderson is a real find.

    I would like to see TNT extend the running time to an hour and ten minutes per episodes because these days television is filled with too many commercials. It is hard to find enough screen time for everyone. An extra ten minutes would allow an additional few minutes for storylines.

    The biggest compliment I can give is every Thursday after Dallas, my coworkers and I would talk about the previous episode. It felt great to have a show back on that I truly care about.

    My only real complaint was I would like to see a little bit more of a background story on what has been going on with the characters (especially the older ones the last twenty years). I do think that one storyline from the two Reunion movies (the first one J.R. Returns was actually quite good, War of the Ewings was meh) that should be covered is how J.R. had become President of Weststar Oil. Over the last several years it is possible he lost that which spiraled him into depression but I think that should be covered. Since he made a couple of cameos, I would like to see a little more mention of Ray. I may be in the minority, but I know some people want Pam to return. I personally think that would be a mistake at this point. Victoria Principal hasn’t acted in years and has a successful business and has shown very little interest since she left the original Dallas. I grew to really like Ann as Bobby’s wife and if you bring her in too soon, it potentially could destroy viewers growing to like Ann, besides even if the Dallas writers could convince Victoria Principal to return, it would be only for a few episodes more than likely.

    Great stuff!

    • Stef, I like your idea about extending the length of each episode. That would be great!

      I also know what you mean about discussing the show on Thursday mornings. That’s part of the fun of watching the new “Dallas.”

      It seems as if the new series is pretending the events of “J.R. Returns” and “War of the Ewings” didn’t happen, so I doubt we’ll see any references to J.R. being president of Westar. Then again, you never know.

      Thanks for commenting!

      Chris B.

  4. Mark Engelberts says:

    Oke i see a lot of good things writen down (as it should be for a great show) so i´m gonna write about the one thing i hated the most (no not the calf but close)
    No it´s not the cannon slip ups or even the missing wentworth money that by now should be in the triljons and Christopher´s, No it´s the hammering on poor ADOPTED Christopher there hasnt been an episode his adoption hasnt been trown in his face once ore twice…. so yeh he´s adopted and a blood cousen to JRIII and no bloodline to Rebeca. but does he and we be reminded of that every 30 mins?

    • First, thanks for commenting!

      The references to Christopher’s adoption were a bit much, although as you suggest, I suspect the writers did that so the audience would know Chris and Rebecca aren’t blood relatives once the truth about her identity was revealed. However, the frequent references to Christopher’s adoption are also keeping with the character’s history: When Christopher was a boy on the original series, he was rather preoccupied with the fact he wasn’t Bobby and Pam’s “real” son.

      Thanks again for sharing your feedback. I appreciate it!

      Chris B.

      • References to Christopher’s adopted status were made almost simultaneously with overly wrought references to ‘birthright.’ I sincerely hope that this latter term is quoted less frequently in Season 2.

        More worrying, perhaps, is Christopher’s tendency to phrase almost everything? As though it was a question? Even though most of these inquiries were? Incomplete sentences?

        Jesse is unbearably cute. Nevertheless, he ought to be encouraged not to deliver every second line in the interrogative mode.

        Are you listening, Cynthia?

      • Good observations, Vance. As always, thanks for sharing your thoughts.

        CB

  5. Great post! Enjoyed reading your assessments!

    I bought the series on iTunes partway thru the season. I know I love something when I can watch it several times and enjoy it every time. I have to say that I have watched every scene with JR in it several times and LOVE them each viewing. The nuances of LH performances are amazing. I also enjoy watching LG as well. Now, one of the few disappointments this season was Sue Ellen ‘s lack of storyline/underdeveloped storyline. But when LG had scenes, she was a joy to watch. Patrick was also fun to watch. Brenda Strong looked very comfortable in her new role. I often forget that she is one of the new additions to the cast. She fits very well …although there were times I felt her portrayal was overly tough/ aggressive. But I think that is part of finding the character.

    I think that Josh and Julia were outstanding. As the season progressed and their characters opened up, they both continually impressed me. I do think that the best newbie award overall goes to Josh. I did like the other 2 new actors as well. Jordana is a much more quiet, nuanced performer. Sadly, for her, she really did not have her own storyline. Jesse did a good job as well. I

    Besides the fact that it is great to see the 3 returning stars and to catch up with the characters, part of the success of this new series is the pairing of old and new. There are obvious reason why this worked…..built in fans, etc. But one thing is not often mentioned,….. when the younger cast are in scenes with LH, LG, and PD, we got some of their best performances. Josh was lucky. He got fantastic scenes with all 3 of the older cast. When I stop and run thru the entire season, scenes that jump to mind are Josh with Larry ….in the home, the razor scene, the give SF back scene, and the last scene of the season…….scenes with Linda….brattily demanding she help him with his problems and the scene at the jail when we see him scared/vulnerable for the first time and he finally calls her Mama….also the 2 confrontations he has at SF with Patrick stand out.

    One of my favorite scenes with Jesse was when he is talking to Bobby while watching the new calf with adopted mom (not the birth..i was kind bored by that) He was great…I loved the look of pure innocence and joy he had when he looked at Bobby when they talked about his adoption.

    Those 3 returning actors elevate the performance of others who are in scenes with them. They own those characters so well and play off each other incredibly well.

    The crew….directing, photography, writing, etc. were fantastic. I really commend all of those teams. I enjoyed the way the show felt. Cannot say how much I appreciate their work Also got to say kudos to the wardrobe department as well…nicely done as wel.

    There were some minor missteps. The aforementioned poor use of LG.
    plus, I agree the Ewing BBQ was sad…..very sad. It looked like a small get together with a few strangers in the driveway. It did not have the grand feel. It was not a hurrah in any form or fashion. I look forward to the deleted scenes when the DVD comes out, I would like to see if those scenes capture what a Ewing BBQ should be. We know JR and SE were there…But no scenes with them. No long shots. A single wide set scene with everyone present would have made a difference.
    Plus, the mineral rights….not b/c of continuity issues…but because it was just stupid….I am from Texas. I distinctly remember my Dad explaining mineral rights to me as a kid after driving past oil wells out in west Texas. If I know about mineral right and buying property…I am positive that JR…a very intelligent man with 60 years of in the oil business…would know to check that out when dealing for that land.

    But in all… I truly love this new series. Quite a few people I know got into it as well…it was so much fun getting to discuss it with them at work on Thursdays and Fridays!

    • Yes! I love Jordana Brewster and Jesse Metcalfe too and you paid a very nice compliment to Brenda Strong. I also agree with your assessment of the barbecue: The crowd was much too small. If there’s a barbecue next season, let’s hope more friends and family attend!

      Thanks again for commenting. I appreciate it.

      CB

  6. Mark Engelberts says:

    The casting for S01 was flawless lets hope they keep it up for S02 still hoping they´ll get Victorya to reconsider to take a role, Pam has always been a crouwdpleaser and the oldy´s like me would like her back but i doubt she´ll change her mind someone need to temper Cliff and now Rebeca that was always a Pam job.

    • I agree! I would love to see Victoria Principal return. As you suggest, she could help keep Cliff and Rebecca in line. But even if she returned only briefly, I’d still love it.

  7. In thinking about the size of the BBQ, considering the state of the economy and all that, I suppose even the Ewings have to downsize everything. lol.

  8. Diego Ortega says:

    There is something, none has pointed out until now. The Elena character is also a continuity error. She supposedly was the daugther of the cook (Carmen), grew up with John Ross and Christopher and even knew Pamela. Whatever happened to Teressa?

    • Good question about Teresa. As far as Elena, I’m willing to accept that she was around — but never seen — when John Ross and Christopher were growing up.

      • They clarify some of it on Facebook and Twitter. If you follow the Dallas page on Facebook, the timeline says that Carmen became the new cook in 1987. However, remember that Carmen was the cook and Teresa was the housekeeper, so it’s possible they could have overlapped.

      • Oh, yes. I’m willing to believe Carmen was around but just not seen. Still, part of me wishes Elena was Teresa’s daughter.

        Thanks for commenting, Kait!

        CB

  9. Miss Ewing says:

    I have to say I never get bored of Dallas and what I loved was how quickly the action got started I didn’t watch the first sereiss first but picked up lmost automatically and am now watching the old ones So much happens in one episode which is great like the email story was started episode 1.
    I think that if JR/ Larry had passed before Dallas Series 1 then it would have got way inder half of the viewers and since he has died people are unaare his charactor is still a big part of the show. I think 1 of Jr key qualities is that he trys to asct a like a inncoet man and as he gets older it seems more easy to dofot him, Most of his double deals are on the phone behind peoples back and he doesen’t actually bloackmail anyone or kill anyone but he uses verbailty an things , Dallas was amzing and the cliff hanger was great but everyone could see it was coming and especially when they told everyone that Ken would appear i the last episode thansto te titles s oyou just know that hes the man walking down the ladder since the cliff hangers have just got better ranging from bobby having a seizure , cliff as rebeccas dd , the babuies dieing and the jr’s masterpiece etc

    • I agree, Miss Ewing. TNT shouldn’t have revealed Ken’s appearance in that episode before it was telecast. It would’ve made the revelation about Cliff and Rebecca’s real relationship seem more surprising.

  10. Lisa Kay says:

    Not only am I wondering when Cliff visited Islamabad in the 80s but why would he? Not only that, but why or how could this poor as a church mouse, selfish man adopt some kid off the streets and raise him and give him an education? Cliff could never have afforded that, nor was he the type of man who would have done something like that. This rewriting or revising of original Dallas history was one of Ms. Cidre’s worst offenses.

Trackbacks

  1. […] second season of TNT’s “Dallas” was even better than the first. Here are my laurels, along with a few […]

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: