‘Dallas’ is Bringing the Heat. Now Let’s See Some Heart.

Dallas, John Ross Ewing, Josh Henderson, TNT

III

Did “Dallas” go too far by showing John Ross, Pamela and Emma’s three-way in last week’s midseason finale? I say no. The scene put a fitting punctuation mark on a storyline that’s been building all year while continuing some longtime “Dallas” traditions, including the original show’s practice of pushing the envelope in its depiction of sexuality. I liked it, but now it’s time for the new series to get back to emulating its predecessor in other ways — starting with restoring its focus on the Ewings and delving deeper into their lives. To put it another way: “Dallas” has shown us the heat; now it needs to show us some heart.

Before I get to that, let’s address the controversy over the threesome. Many viewers have taken to Facebook and Twitter to decry the scene, saying they were offended by the sight of John Ross, Pamela and Emma making out — especially when the women kissed. If you find this distasteful, probably nothing I can say will change your mind, but let me point this out: These characters are consenting adults. They’re acting in the privacy of a hotel room, and no one is being forced to do anything against their will. (Yes, Pamela is under the influence of drugs, but she apparently decided to sleep with her husband and his mistress before she popped the pills.) Contrast this with J.R.’s extra-marital affairs on the old show, which almost always took place behind Sue Ellen’s back. To me, that’s more immoral than a consensual threesome.

Some fans also say the “Dallas” three-way is too graphic. I suppose whether or not you agree depends on your definition of “graphic.” In this case, there’s a lot of kissing but not much nudity: John Ross takes off his shirt, but the women remain in their lingerie. It strikes me as much less explicit than what I saw a few nights later on another cable drama, “Mad Men,” when Roger Sterling woke up in a room full of half-naked bodies after an orgy. For the record, this didn’t offend me either because it helped illustrate Roger’s ongoing womanizing, which is central to his character.

Ultimately, this is why I believe “Dallas’s” threesome works: It serves the story. From the beginning, the John Ross/Pamela/Emma triangle has been about the characters using sex to achieve some other purpose: John Ross sleeps with Emma to gain access to her father’s secret files; Pamela buys a sexy corset to surprise her husband and help him take his mind off his problems; Emma buys the same outfit to seduce John Ross and one-up Pamela. In the midseason finale, sex is once again used as a tool when Pamela lures John Ross and Emma into the ménage a trois, only to spring a drug-induced seizure on them. It’s kind of poetic.

Let’s not forget that sex has always been part of “Dallas.” The first episode in 1978 showed the teenaged Lucy rolling around in the hay with silver-haired Ray. “Dallas” went on to break ground in other ways too: Lucy became engaged to a closeted gay man in 1979, which ended up being one of television’s first sympathetic portraits of homosexuality, and during the mid-1980s, the show hinted Grace was more than a mere “assistant” to Angelica Nero. “Dallas” also gave us prostitutes, J.R.’s affairs and Sue Ellen’s foray into the lingerie business — which included plenty of shots of Mandy Winger modeling nighties that were every bit as revealing as Pamela and Emma’s corsets — along with countless scenes of shirtless men kissing women wrapped in bed sheets. Sometimes it was tawdry and sometimes it was romantic — just like on the new “Dallas.”

Did the producers of the TNT series go out of their way to be a little more provocative than usual with the three-way? Of course they did. They wanted to grab as big an audience as possible in order to keep fans hooked during the show’s four-month hiatus. This is also nothing new: Cliffhangers are a “Dallas” tradition going back to the days of “Who Shot J.R.?” By today’s standards, this latest stunt was a success: The midseason finale, “Where There’s Smoke,” debuted to 2.1 million viewers on April 14. It was “Dallas’s” second biggest audience of the year, although it’s probably nothing compared to the chatter the episode inspired on social media and around office water coolers. People are buzzing about a “Dallas” cliffhanger again. When was the last time that happened?

So does this mean the new show should spice things up even more? I think that would be the wrong lesson to take from last week’s ratings bump. Instead, I hope the producers will remember this: Sex on the original “Dallas” was always balanced by moments of familial warmth, like the quiet scenes where Miss Ellie dispensed wisdom to one of her troubled children or the humorous occasions where Bobby bested J.R. with a wink and a grin. There’ve been flashes of these kinds of scenes this year — the women of Southfork sit around the patio planning Pamela’s wedding, Bobby introduces John Ross to the lesser prairie chicken — but they’ve been too far and few between. In their place, we’re getting scenes about Mexican drug lords, upscale brothels and misguided quests for “justice.”

More problematic is this: Two-and-a-half seasons into TNT’s “Dallas,” fans still aren’t sure what makes some of the main characters tick. Jordana Brewster is a terrific actress, but poor Elena has whiplashed from being “good” to “bad” and back again. Constantly adding new players to the mix isn’t helping us get to know the people we should be paying attention to. It’s not like the new “Dallas” isn’t capable of delving deep: One of the reasons “J.R.’s Masterpiece” remains the TNT show’s high-water mark isn’t just because it paid such loving tribute to Larry Hagman’s character — it’s also because it opened a window into Sue Ellen’s psyche and allowed Linda Gray to deliver one of her finest performances.

The closest we’ve come this year is the powerful scene where John Ross confronts his mother about her alcoholic relapse. Frankly, this is another reason I’m willing to cut the show some slack when it comes to that now-notorious threesome. I’ve seen what Josh Henderson’s character can do when his clothes come off, but I’ve also seen what happens when John Ross bares his soul. Doesn’t everyone else on “Dallas” deserve the same opportunity?

What do you think? Share your comments below — please be respectful — and read more opinions from Dallas Decoder.

Comments

  1. My problem with the threesome was not that I was offended. It just didn’t make sense and was unexpected. My problem is with characters like Elena. Like you said, we have her and others behaving erratically and in ways not consistent with who they have been. People are going gaga over Ann and Harris kissing. I find this sudden coziness between them absurd even if it was supposed to be born out of concern for Emma’s safety. This is a man who abused her and kidnapped her daughter. A man she stood up to in order to protect her family. I also don’t like the treatment of Bobby and Ann as a couple. Aren’t they supposed to be the new Jock and Miss Ellie? That has been all but obliterated with her and Harris and the fact the only time we really saw them together they have a ridiculous fight with Bobby being hypocritical and self righteous (hey Ann ask hubby about Cliff Barnes and his son he rejected with Jenna Wade). Also am I the only one disappointed in the Ann/Emma relationship? The writers had a gold mine with mother and daughter getting to know each other but they have all but ignored that save the fights they’ve had and one nice scene at the stables. I find I care less and less about any of the characters and what will happen when the show returns. I would like to believe the second half will bring us back to what it should be but I’m not holding my breath.

  2. brian smith says:

    chris i concur with you 110% on your post sir .im not a prude come on people its only a tv show

  3. I was shocked at first then I enjoyed it. Pamela and Emma kissing and then John Ross joining them was great.

  4. Brandon Childers says:

    It’s 2014, I say this not meaning get with the times, but TV can show more now, I bet you never heard so many people say Bullshit on the original Dallas either

  5. Brandon Davis says:

    The major difference between the two shows is that classic Dallas was character-driven. New Dallas is plot-driven. I don’t feel like I know the new characters 3 seasons in like I did with the old show.

    • I think you’ve summed up the problem with the new show in a nutshell – I can put up with the more graphic sex scenes, this is 2014 not 1982 after all – it’s the lack of character that’s the problem and as Chris pointed out, too few quieter, more reflective scenes to counter-balance the melodrama.

  6. I totally agree with you. Dallas is my favorite show. I do not think the threesome was a mistake now I hope they change things up like you said. Dallas is a terrific show. Bring Dallas back for season 4.

  7. I love the show too, loved it the first time around years ago, I too, was not shocked about the scene, and am not a prude, but it really didn’t make sense, but really didn’t like it, too many other things going on with the show, next august should be great~

  8. Dallas, as you said, has always been “sexy”. I, too am not a prude, but Pamela is a very strong young lady and it didn’t make sense to me, either. I couldn’t careless about the sex on the show, it’s what makes the show. But, come on now, don’t let Pamela flip out on Sue Ellen and do something as dumb as trying to OD and make out with the woman that caused her so much pain. PLEASE, bring back season 4. Makes Monday’s worth facing!

  9. garnet mcgee says:

    we need more time devoted to the core characters from season 1 of reboot. I want to see return of those saavy women. threesome was fine.

  10. Raymond Krebbs says:

    The alternative to the threesome/overdose was a confrontation and yelling, which we have seen thousands of times. The threesome was original, innovative and provocative – could not have served the show any better.

  11. U know what they say C.B., & its appropriate with the dual green lingerie in the 3 some boy!: “The grass is always greener on the other side!

  12. I was okay with the scene– it was something new and creative. But overall, I’m disappointed about the little things.
    -Suellen’s relapse (Why didn’t they turn her into a less scheming but equally business-saavy JR? After all, if anyone should know how to be strong, it would be her after being with JR all those years…)
    -That scene where Bobby kicks Emma out. Really? That’s not Bobby.
    -I want Emma AND Harris gone from the show completely. Keep Harris’s Mom. She rocks and is a perfect character to love and hate all at the same time, just like JR was.
    -More Cliff, Afton, Ray, Lucy.
    -Why did Pamela tell Suellen that she was a weak alcoholic and then turn around and do drugs? Doesn’t make sense.
    -No more drug cartells. Ridiculous.
    -More of those quiet, poignant family scenes like you described. Why does everyone have to be so bad all the time??
    -Pay more attention to detail from the old show in order to provide continuity for the original fans, but keep up the cutting-edge creativity (like the scene in question) for the new fans.
    I hope the writers read your site and make some changes. Otherwise I fear it will soon be doomsday for the show…

    • Dancing to the theme song says:

      I agree with a lot of what Ted said except I do think Bobby would kick Emma out. I have disliked how extremely awful john Ross has been. He is so much more interesting when you see a bit of humanity like the scene when sees Sue Ellen drinking. Harris is getting interesting. Judith Light is fab! Charmed to see a diaphragm. I didn’t know people still used them. Poor Pamela. Good season but yes I’m down with more character and call backs. Love when the old timers show up

  13. Chris,

    I checked out the time shifted numbers for the mid-season finale of Dallas today.

    Good news, after live+3 numbers, “Dallas” jumped from 2.05 million all the way to slightly north of 3 million. That includes 1.4 million of viewers (25-54) and 1.1 million for (18-49). This was an average increase of about 26% from last week.

    • Where do you find the ratings numbers? Love the show -Bring on season 4!
      Now I am back to watching the original shows again. I am up to season 8 just before Bobby dies. Does that count in the ratings? I buy the seasons online from Amazon prime, download and then watch them. That should count for something in the ratings!

Trackbacks

  1. […] episode — which featured the notorious three-way between John Ross, Pamela and Emma — scored 1.4 million adults between ages 25 and 49, a […]

  2. […] “Dallas” has buzz. “Dallas” raised a ruckus with that notorious three-way in the midseason cliffhanger, but the show has made its mark in other areas too. Entertainment […]

  3. […] TNT’s programming should be a little edgier. Well, my goodness, did you see “Dallas’s” midseason finale? It wasn’t everybody’s cup of tea, but it sure got people […]

  4. […] shift gears and talk about another one of Pamela’s memorable moments: the threesome scene from the midseason cliffhanger. What can you tell me about […]

  5. […] struck back at John Ross and Emma in the midseason finale by luring them into a threesome, only to begin overdosing on drugs in the midst of their ménage a trois. What should she do once […]

  6. […] which left Southfork in flames and Pamela in convulsions after she lured John Ross and Emma into a kinky, kooky three-way. By the time the closing credits roll, we’ll know why Pamela initiated the threesome and who […]

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