In Season 3, ‘Dallas’ Resets the Chessboard, J.R. Style

Dallas, John Ross Ewing, Josh Henderson, Linda Gray, Return, Sue Ellen Ewing, TNT

Welcome back, darlins

Who misses J.R.? We all do, but the third season of TNT’s “Dallas” still manages to be fun, freewheeling television — even if our beloved Larry Hagman is no longer there to breathe life into his most famous character. Watching next week’s season premiere is a little like attending a family reunion after the loss of a favorite uncle. You can’t help but wish the old guy was still around, but isn’t it nice to see everyone else again?

Besides, it’s not like J.R. is gone altogether. His memory looms large in Season 3’s first two episodes. Some examples: John Ross inherits his daddy’s Southfork-sized belt buckle and hires contractors to renovate the house using blueprints J.R. commissioned before his death. Bobby, once again at odds with his ambitious nephew, growls that John Ross isn’t “half the man” J.R. was. Bum, the Ewings’ go-to private eye who now doubles as John Ross’s conscience, urges him to “grow into your father’s greatness, not his weakness.” There’s even a much-improved painting of J.R. hanging in the Ewing offices, allowing Hagman’s visage to peer over the shoulders of the other actors as they move around the set.

With so many verbal and visual references to J.R., isn’t the show just reminding us that this franchise has lost its marquee player? Yes, but since most of us can’t tune into “Dallas” without thinking about Hagman anyway, the producers might as well acknowledge the ghost in the room. Besides, when your franchise is built on a character as endlessly fascinating as J.R. Ewing, why not use him to pull everyone’s strings from the great beyond?

That’s why “The Return,” the third-season premiere, resets the “Dallas” chessboard, J.R.-style. The episode — penned by Cynthia Cidre and Robert Rovner and directed by Steve Robin — picks up 12 hours after last year’s finale, when we learned J.R. was dying of cancer and masterminded his own “murder” so archenemy Cliff Barnes could be framed for the crime, thus ending the Barnes/Ewing feud. (Ha!) The finale also positioned John Ross as J.R.’s heir in every way, and so at the beginning of “The Return,” we learn why the young newlywed went to that hotel room to cheat with Emma, who appears to have traded her pill habit for an addiction to risky encounters with John Ross.

We’ll also hear how John Ross justifies the fling to Kevin Page’s Bum; his excuse will sound familiar to longtime “Dallas” fans who remember how J.R. used to rationalize his cheating on Sue Ellen. This storyline has upset a lot of fans of the John Ross/Pamela pairing, but it allows Josh Henderson to display the sly charisma that makes him almost as much fun to watch as Hagman was in his heyday. And even though John Ross is a cheat, we can’t help but feel charmed by his relationship with Julie Gonzalo’s Pamela, whose smoldering gaze makes her the ideal match for the oh-so-suave Henderson. Let’s acknowledge something else too: As much as we despise Emma, there’s no denying that Emma Bell is terrific in this role. Not since Mary Crosby’s Kristin have “Dallas” viewers had a vixen who’s so much fun to hate.

During last year’s execution of the Ewings’ “master plan” against Cliff, almost all of the characters got in touch with their inner J.R., but Season 3 finds the good guys returning to familiar terrain. Patrick Duffy’s Bobby slides back into his role as the heroic guardian of Southfork traditions, while Jesse Metcalfe’s Christopher gets a refreshingly angst-free romance with Heather, a new ranch hand. This role is played with equal parts spunk and sex appeal by AnnaLynne McCord, who was the best part of the CW’s “90210” and makes a welcome addition to “Dallas,” a far better revival.

(Oh, and even though “The Return” begins 12 hours after Season 2 ended, Christopher now sports a face full of scruff. How did he grow a thick beard in a half-day? It’s probably better not to ask. Let’s consider it this era’s version of Sue Ellen’s hair, which magically shortened itself between seasons in the early 1980s, even though mere minutes had passed on screen.)

“The Return” also recasts Elena, once this show’s romantic heroine, into a shrewd schemer out for revenge — or as she calls it, “justice” — after Cliff revealed J.R. once stole oil-rich land from her father, just like Jock supposedly cheated Digger out of half the Ewing fortune. This might seem like a thin premise to extend the Barnes/Ewing feud, but it gives the underappreciated Jordana Brewster something to do besides moon over Henderson and Metcalfe’s characters. Cliff and Elena’s unlikely alliance also includes Nicolas Treviño, a dashing young billionaire played by Juan Pablo Di Pace, another strong addition to this ensemble.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: What about Sue Ellen? It’s no secret Linda Gray’s character is once again headed for rock bottom this season, although she goes nowhere near a drop of booze in “The Return.” Some fans hate to see Sue Ellen drinking again; I’m not wild about the idea either, but I have no doubt Gray will deliver another knockout performance, just like she did last year. She’s Hagman’s truest heir in a lot of ways, including this one: Like him, Gray can say more with an arched eyebrow or a wry smile than most actors can with a script full of dialogue. She exudes Old Hollywood star power, and whether Sue Ellen is drunk or sober, Gray always delivers riveting television.

“Dallas” fans also want to know about a couple of other favorites, including Brenda Strong’s Ann and her dastardly ex-husband Harris, played to menacing perfection by Mitch Pileggi. Regarding them, I’ll only say this: Just because you haven’t read much about their characters in “Dallas’s” pre-premiere publicity doesn’t mean they have nothing to do in the first two episodes. I also don’t want to give anything away about Judith Light’s character Judith Ryland, except to say her return in the season’s second hour, “Trust Me,” is a hoot.

That episode, written by Bruce Rasmussen and directed by Millicent Shelton, features a Ewing family gathering that showcases the brilliance of costume designer Rachel Sage Kunin, who never fails to impress, and hairdresser Charles Yusko, whose contributions to the success of this series shouldn’t be overlooked. You’ll also want to watch “Trust Me” to see the long-awaited reunion between two characters who had a charming scene last year, along with one of the most audacious moments I’ve ever seen on “Dallas” — or any other show, for that matter.

Most importantly, the episode ends with a shock that rocks two characters and will make you reconsider everything you think you know about a third. It’s a twist you’ll never see coming — and another reason this show remains so much fun, even without the man who got the party started.

“Dallas’s” third season begins Monday, February 24, at 9 p.m. Eastern on TNT. Are you excited? Share your comments below and read more opinions from Dallas Decoder.

Comments

  1. So many teasers!!!! Can’t wait for the new episodes to start!!

    • Thanks Rosanne. Trust me: I only dipped my toe in the water with this article. There’s so much more to see. I can hardly wait for everyone to see these episodes.

  2. Jennifer Irons says:

    Hey, DD, thank you so much for these teasers about Season 3. And yes, I agree with you that, while JR and Larry Hagman’s presence will be sorely missed and he will never be forgotten, that does not mean that Dallas can’t still be a fun show to watch. I am looking forward especially to seeing Josh Henderson really step up and take over as JRIII where Larry/JR left off! But I sincerely hope that the problems in Bobby and Ann’s marriage don’t include an affair btw Ann and Harris. I love Patrick Duffy and Brenda Strong together, though I will admit she and Mitch Pileggi also have terrific chemistry! Looking forward to Monday night’s S3 premiere even more now thanks to you! You are the best, DD!

  3. I can’t wait!

  4. Since J. R. Ewing WAS Dallas, the absence of this vital character will probably adversely affect TV ratings very significantly. I think time will demonstrate that the show’s producers made a huge mistake in not re-casting the role of J. R. after Larry Hagman’s death. It would not have been easy to find another actor to play this role, but it could have been done. And it would have created tremendous “buzz” in comparing the new actor’s portrayal of J. R. with Hagman’s rendition. Is it too late? Dallas brought back Bobby from death at one time. Could it do the same for J. R.? A 4th season may depend on it.

    • Art, thank you for your comment, but I think recasting J.R. would have been a terrible mistake for many, many reasons. I don’t necessarily agree that J.R. was “Dallas,” but Larry Hagman was J.R.

  5. There is no way they could of re-cast the character of J.R., nor would anyone of gone for it. The cast, critics or fans. Donna Reed, anyone? That would of sunk the show for good.

    • No arguments here.

    • John Ross will be the new J.R. and rightfully so.

      • NO, Josh Henderson does not appear to have anything remotely close to the personality or charisma of Larry Hagman. Only a few actors do. But with an extensive search, the role of J. R. Ewing could have been filled with another actor with the ability to bring it off.

      • Art, I disagree with you about Josh Henderson. I think he has a lot of charisma and does a terrific job evoking the old Hagman charm.

        I’m curious: If you were going to recast the role of J.R., who would you choose?

      • So far, Josh Henderson is one dimensional–mostly angry. But perhaps the show’s directors wanted him to be in this limited mode the first two seasons. Given a chance, perhaps the character of John Ross can evolve into a more complex one.

        I don’t know who could have played the role of J. R. Ewing. Only an experienced casting director with knowledge of thousands of actors could answer that question.

        But it would be interesting to know what other actors originally auditioned for the role of J. R. back in the 1970s. Perhaps one of them who did well, but didn’t quite win the part, could have done it now.

        Several years ago, it appeared that Dallas would be made into a theatrical movie. Before the project fell apart, I believe John Travolta was slated to play J. R. When you first think about it, J. R. would seem to be light years away from Vinnie Barbarino. But Travolta has shown he can effectively play many diverse roles. For example, he was superb as a Bill Clinton-like presidential candidate in the movie, Primary Colors.

        And based on Larry Hagman’s character, Tony Nelson, in I Dream of Jeanie, I wouldn’t have cast him as the very different J. R. Ewing. But Hagman proved he could do a good job portraying totally different roles. (Hagman was also in Primary Colors, playing former Florida Governor Fred Picker.) And Wikipedia reports, “Hagman turned down the role of Dr. David Banner for The Incredible Hulk that ultimately went to Bill Bixby.”

        If Dallas had hired another outstanding actor to continue the character of J. R. Ewing, it would have created tremendous “buzz,” as viewers would have tuned in each week to compare and contrast the new actor to Hagman.

        I believe it was an enormous mistake for the show to kill off the character of J. R. Ewing. I’ll be very surprised if Dallas is renewed for a 4th season.

      • Art, I appreciate your passion for this topic and the polite manner in which you articulate your views, but you’ll never convince me the role of J.R. Ewing should have been recast after Larry Hagman’s death. The character was simply too identified with Mr. Hagman for audiences to accept anyone else in the role.

        I agree with you that recasting the part would have generated buzz, but I’m afraid it would have only negative publicity. Heaven help the poor actor who would’ve tried to fill Mr. Hagman’s boots. Even in daytime television, a medium in which recasting is common, some roles (Susan Luccy’s Erica Kane, Jeanne Cooper’s Katherine Chancellor) were never been recast after an actor died or left the show.

        To me and many other fans, Larry Hagman is J.R. Ewing. Period.

      • Are you going to post my comment??? Art

        Art Kelly says: February 22, 2014 at 10:46 pm Your comment is awaiting moderation.

      • Sorry, Art. I forgot to approve your comment when you posted it yesterday.

      • Brandon Childers says:

        I would quit watching it if JR had been recanted instead of killed off, wouldn’t have been horrible mistake to recast him, as I assume Bobby and Sue Ellen, and probably even Cliff would also have to be recasted. Duffy, Gray, and Hagman were great friends, and Larry wanted the role killed off, Duffy and gray would not have stayed if he had been recasted, especially since he got them both back on the original dallas. Te show may or may not have a season four, only season three will show, but if JR has been recasted there would not have been a season three. miss Ellie was replace and the switched back, and Jenna was recasted twice, but when she became a regular she was played by the same actress. Larry Hagman being able to play a variety of roles, doesn’t mean someone could replace him. I was born in the 90s before Dallas TNT began I could care less about that stupid old show, never seeing it before, and even before I started watching the oridinal dallas, I knew that Larry Hagman was JR. When I watch a tv show I like to pretend like it is actually real, replacing a actor, would devalue the show, and I wouldn’t be able to watch it, if Larry Hagman had quit, I would say maybe replace him, but he died and most of the Dallas fans would rather JR die with him, everyone dies, including JR Ewing

      • No actor or actress is irreplaceable. As one example, many actors have successfully played James Bond.

        When Larry Hagman declined to participate in the reunion movie of I Dream of Jeanie, Wayne Rogers played the role of Tony Nelson.

        And in the original Dallas, during a serious contract dispute between Hagman and the studio, Wikipedia states there was consideration of finding a new actor to play J. R. Ewing.

        Maybe the current Dallas without the character of J. R. will be successful. But I have my doubts.

      • Regarding James Bond: Recasting that character has become a tradition. Audiences have come to expect that every few years or so, a new actor will step into the role. Mr. Hagman, on the other hand, came into our living rooms as J.R. Ewing for 35 years (off and on). He was so closely associated with J.R., it’s hard for me to believe any other actor could take over the role and be accepted by the audience.

        It’s true that the producers reportedly considered recasting J.R. during Mr. Hagman’s contact renegotiations during the summer of 1980 — although I’m not sure that story wasn’t ginned up as a negotiating ploy — but at that point, “Dallas” had been on the air for just three seasons.

        The “I Dream of Jeannie” reunion movie example is a good example of why recasting iconic characters with new actors is often a bad idea. I like Wayne Rogers a lot, but does anyone remember his performance in that movie fondly — or at least as fondly as they would if Mr. Hagman had reprised the role of Tony Nelson? Also, keep in mind: When the second “I Dream of Jeannie” reunion movie was made, Mr. Rogers didn’t return; Captain Nelson was off on some mission. (Ken Kercheval stepped in as Barbara Eden’s foil in that one. Oh, the irony!)

        The bottom line, as far as I’m concerned, is that killing off J.R. was the only way to go. Recasting the role would have been unfair to the replacement actor and frankly, it would have also been unfair to Mr. Hagman’s memory.

      • Amen, Brandon. Thanks!

      • Brandon Childers says:

        Larry Hagman was one of those actors that when you see him in a movie or a tv show, you say there’s JR. I feel the show will continue for season 4, Last April everyone was saying there wouldn’t be a season three becuase Larry Hagman/JR died, but here we are with a season three. recasting JR, would have made me quit watching, and I doubt that Patrick Duffy and Linda Gray would still be on the show, as they all three agreed to do it only if all three of the, did it

      • Yes, Brandon, J.R. and Larry are pretty much one and the same.

      • Yes, indeed. Thanks Nancy.

  6. Is Pam mentioned at all? Do you think Christopher will confront Cliff about keeping her death from them?

  7. Oh, I loved reading that! Season 3 sounds awesome! Larry Hagman will be very missed, but he will surely never be forgotten! I really should stay away from reading these glorious teasers, considering how long it will be until I actually get to watch season 3 myself, but I just can’t! 🙂 Any of you Americans fancy a visit from a Swede? 🙂 I can sleep on the couch and be ever so quiet:)

  8. Won’t the murderer Cliff Barnes go nuts when Pamela pops out his grandson: John Ross Ewing the IVth?

  9. There is a rumor that the 3 way split intro is back. Can you confirm or deny?

    • Looks like it is! Did you see this from the article about JR Bourbon?

      The stars of “Dallas” came together last night for a party to preview the third season’s first episode — along with the show’s new three-way split-screen title sequence — and to launch the J.R. Ewing Bourbon.

    • I can now confirm: The three-way split is back for Season 3. (Sorry I wasn’t able to do this sooner, Dave.)

  10. Brandon Childers says:

    I am just guessing, but I think Bum might die this season

  11. Could Jenna and Lucas Wade be back this season to stir things up for Bobby? Can you imagine Bobby’s biological son being on Southfork? I picture him being a young Bobby look alike. What would Christopher do about it? What about Ray losing the son he raised to Bobby? That would be a great story.

  12. Herm. This twist has me intregued! It’s got to be audacious. Ryland is Jason Ewings illegitimate son? Elena is actually Cliffs daughter? Emma could be JRs daughter, she could then come after Ewing assets and it would really create conflict with Bobby and Anne, but the John Ross and Emma thing then becomes too gross to watch! In the preview they do suddenly mention Kristin, which is great but this Dallas only mentions old characters for new plot devices, so Kristin must be involved in this twist. Could it be Christopher really was JRs child and he concocted the whole Jeff Faraday story to get Bobby to get Christopher onto the ranch, something Sue Ellen would never have allowed otherwise. That would certainly unhinge Christopher, it would mess up Bobby, and it might explain why Sue Ellen totally falls off the wagon! John Ross and Christopher are then brothers and Christopher has parents who are the two most devious characters in the shows history. Talk about questioning everything you think you know about him!

    • Brandon Childers says:

      Sue Ellen brings up Kristen and says something like she was a slut, and they found her dead in the pool

  13. Anonymous says:

    Hi everybody, I just heard some exciting news that C5 are doing a programme on TV’S nastiest villains! J R Ewing is in the vote! thought I would spread the news encase people were also interested. I will copy in the link to the online vote! thanks everybody

    http://www.channel5.com/articles/tvs-nastiest-villains-vote-now

Trackbacks

  1. […] third-season premiere are beginning to roll in, but isn’t yesterday’s write-up from yours truly the only one that really matters? In case you missed it, be sure to also check out our interview […]

  2. […] is: How many of us will be watching? No matter how good “Dallas’s” remaining episodes are this season, if the ratings don’t meet TNT’s expectations, we might not get to see the Ewings rebuild […]

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