Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 153 — ‘And the Winner Is …’

And the Winner Is ..., Cliff Barnes, Dallas, Ken Kercheval

Everybody loves Cliff

Is Cliff Barnes the most lovable jackass in television history? I can think of no other character who manages to remain so endearing despite being such a jerk. Exhibit A: “And the Winner Is ….” In this episode, Cliff wins the auction for the government’s offshore oil leases, but only after J.R. has tricked him into inflating his bid by tens of millions of dollars. Realizing he’s in over his head but not willing to admit it to himself or anyone else, Cliff insults Pam, ignores Afton, alienates Marilee and treats Jackie rudely. And yet you can’t help but like the schmuck.

The question is: Why? I suppose several factors explain Cliff’s appeal, including the vulnerability he’s displayed in previous episodes. Yes, he’s a boor in “And the Winner Is …,” but he’s also the sweet-natured guy who famously reconciled with his estranged mom by offering her a bowl of licorice. We’re also willing to cut Cliff some slack because we recognize how much of him resides in each of us. Consider the “And the Winner Is …” scene where he gets mad at Sly and she smartly disarms him by saying he’s become more ruthless than her boss. It’s music to Cliff’s ears, reminding us that he doesn’t want to beat J.R. as much as he wants to be him. Once you realize that’s Cliff’s motivation, how can you not excuse his bad behavior? I mean, we all want to be J.R., don’t we?

Of course, if you really want to know why Cliff remains a sympathetic figure, look no further than Ken Kercheval. No “Dallas” actor is better at wearing his character’s obliviousness on his sleeve, and no one brings more electricity to their performances. You can feel Cliff’s manic energy throughout this episode: when he runs into Bobby while storming out of Pam’s house (“What the hell are you doing here on a weekday?” Cliff demands); when he pops out of Afton’s loving embrace to call Mark Graison about business; when he summons Jackie to his office to fix him a drink because he’s too wound up to do it himself. You don’t watch Kercheval, you experience him.

This is why J.R. and Cliff’s confrontation in “And the Winner Is …” is so entertaining. Kercheval and Larry Hagman are fire and ice; while Cliff rages, J.R. stands there, coolly burrowing deeper and deeper under Cliff’s skin. Watching this scene, it occurred to me: Just as Cliff wants to emulate his enemy, I have to believe J.R. harbors a secret, grudging respect for Cliff. Who else but “Barnes” would have the courage to stand in the middle of a crowded restaurant and shout at J.R.? Who else has the capacity to keep getting up and dusting himself off after J.R. has knocked him down? If nothing else, J.R. must enjoy having Cliff to bat around whenever he gets bored.

Kercheval’s scenes elevate “And the Winner Is …,” but this episode has several other good moments. I love seeing J.R. helpfully explain to Edgar Randolph that he did him a favor by blackmailing him because it will force Edgar to come clean to his wife. After Edgar punches him in the gut, J.R. deadpans to Sly and Phyllis, “I saved that man’s marriage and gave him a new lease on life. He doesn’t have a grateful bone in his body.” I also like when Miss Ellie and Clayton dine with Punk and Mavis, who reminisce about the beginning of their 25-year-old marriage. It turns out the Andersons were previously married and divorced from other people. Who knew? Speaking of divorcees: I’m charmed by the scene where Bobby and Pam take Christopher out for ice cream — especially when little Eric Farlow “photo bombs” one of Victoria Principal’s close-ups.

Not everything about “And the Winner Is …” works: The auction sequence is far-fetched — does half the population of Dallas show up to see Edgar and his fellow bureaucrats open a handful of sealed envelopes? — and so is the post-auction reception at the Oil Baron’s Club. Is this a government exercise or the Academy Awards? As silly as this is, nothing compares to the ridiculousness of Lucy and Peter’s fashion photo shoot at Southfork. Between the extras who hover in the background holding sparklers and the sight of Charlene Tilton and Christopher Atkins vamping through massive eyeglasses, I have to believe this sequence was every bit as campy when it aired in 1984 as it is today. On the other hand: If Lucy and Peter wore those frames today while walking down a street in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, or some other hipster neighborhood, I’m sure everyone would think they looked very cool.

Especially if Peter wore his Speedo too.

Grade: B

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

And the Winner Is …, Charlene Tilton, Christopher Atkins, Dallas, Lucy Ewing, Peter Richards

Give a hoot

‘AND THE WINNER IS …’

Season 7, Episode 22

Airdate: March 2, 1984

Audience: 21.5 million homes, ranking 3rd in the weekly ratings

Writer: Arthur Bernard Lewis

Director: Nick Havinga

Synopsis: Before the government auctions its offshore oil leases, Sly feeds Cliff false information, driving up his offer. After submitting his inflated bid, Cliff wins the auction to drill in Gold Canyon 340, only to learn Marilee has backed out of the deal, leaving Cliff on the hook with the government. Ray and Donna urge Edgar to come clean about his past to his wife. Bobby and Pam grow closer, alarming Katherine. Peter tells Sue Ellen he believes he was the father of the child she lost, which leaves J.R. seething when he overhears their conversation. Ellie encourages Clayton to invite his sister to their wedding.

Cast: Mary Armstrong (Louise), Christopher Atkins (Peter Richards), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Morgan Brittany (Katherine Wentworth), Martin E. Brooks (Edgar Randolph), Roseanna Christiansen (Teresa), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Eric Farlow (Christopher Ewing), Fern Fitzgerald (Marilee Stone), Wendy Fulton (Jan Higgins), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Alice Hirson (Mavis Anderson), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Rosanne Katon (Billie), Sherril Lynn Katzman (Jackie), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Audrey Landers (Afton Cooper), Joanna Miles (Martha Randolph), Priscilla Beaulieu Presley (Jenna Wade), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Don Starr (Jordan Lee), Paul Sorensen (Andy Bradley), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Deborah Tranelli (Phyllis), Debi Sue Voorhees (waitress), Morgan Woodward (Punk Anderson)

“And the Winner Is …” is available on DVD and at Amazon.com and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.

Comments

  1. In terms of body type I thought it was brave to cast Lucy Ann Ewing Cooper as “young Miss Dallas” as Charlene has a voluptuous rather than a slender figure!

  2. I think the trick about Ken Kercheval’s performance, especially in this episode, is that it is very truthful but also very funny. And the writers accommodate that, like in the scene where Jackie has to fix his drink – it works because you believe in his anxiety but it also makes you laugh.

  3. Woooohoooo, the classic reviews are back! 🙂 🙂
    I really liked your description of Cliff’s character and behavior – as annoying as he can be, it’s still so much fun watching him. Ken Kercheval did a terrific job indeed.
    Looking forward to reading more soon!

  4. Compared to what he had become on TNT’s Dallas, the Cliff of yesteryear was…well, he was never a good person, let’s face it. He was capable of a fleeting moment of humanity here and there, like when he accompanied Pam to help break the news to Digger about her marrying Bobby…or when he fell for JR feigning a heart attack and lowered his guard to fetch a glass of water. In those days he wasn’t quite as low as JR, but that is getting into hair-splitting territory.

    I know some folks like to separate the TNT edition from the CBS program and sort of go with the always handy Parallel Universe interpretation. I can do that with some shows and film series, but for some reason it doesn’t really work for Dallas with me (except in regards to the Dallas movies that are no longer considered official.) I have to view the show as one continual saga. Hence, I find Cliff utterly reprehensible and beyond redemption…and I still can’t shake the feeling he was actually behind Christopher’s assassination. Am I wrong about that, Cynthia?

    Kercheval was always terrific, though. I should try to seek out some of his other work. Other than Dallas, I have only seen him in the movie “The Seven Up’s,” an early 70’s cop drama with Roy Scheider. Ken’s poor character met a pretty nasty demise in that one.

  5. I think a part of JR likes to fight with Cliff because he needs that kind of things in his life or otherwise he might get bored.

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