The Best & Worst of Dallas: Season 7

“Dallas’s” seventh season clocks in at 30 hours, making it the show’s longest season yet. Does quantity equal quality?

Performances

Cliff Barnes, Dallas, Ken Kercheval

Winning loser

If Cliff Barnes were played by anyone other than Ken Kercheval, we’d probably hate him. Cliff is foolish, petty, self-centered — yet throughout the seventh season, Kercheval brings a startling amount of vulnerability to the role. Cliff doesn’t want to beat J.R. as much as he wants to be J.R. — and who can blame him for that? The more I watch Kercheval, the more I appreciate his ability to balance Cliff’s bombast with pathos and humanity. What a great actor.

Storylines

Is there anything more satisfying than seeing J.R. climb back to the top? When the season begins, his marriage to Sue Ellen is on the rocks, Bobby and Pam’s pending divorce is no longer a sure thing and Cliff is stealing big deals out from under him. By the end of the year, J.R. has everyone right where he wants them: Sue Ellen is back in his bedroom, Bobby is poised to marry Jenna and Cliff’s life is ruined. Once again, we’re reminded of a fundamental truth: “Dallas” is at its best when J.R. is at his worst.

Best storyline runners-up: Ray’s trial for euthanizing Mickey, a plot twist that dared to inject some topicality into “Dallas’s” narrative mix, and Miss Ellie’s struggle to tell Clayton about her mastectomy, another sensitively handled subplot that’s still ahead of its time. The season’s most disappointing stories: No, not Sue Ellen and Peter’s affair, which at least had the whole fortysomething-woman-gets-in-touch-with-her-sexuality thing going for it. Instead, the last-and-least prize goes to Bobby and Jenna’s “love story,” as dreary a romance as “Dallas” has ever offered.

Episodes

Dallas, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing

Bag that nag, honey

“The Road Back” delivers the most exciting episode opening in “Dallas” history. Southfork is ablaze when Bobby roars into the driveway in his convertible, leaps into the pool and races into the house to rescue the Ewings. This episode also gives us the classic scene where Pam admonishes Sue Ellen for sipping champagne and Sue Ellen purrs, “Pam, don’t be a nag.” What “Dallas” fan hasn’t dreamed of saying that to Victoria Principal’s character?

Scenes

I’ve written before about how much I love the scene where J.R. visits Pam and warns her to not call off her divorce from Bobby. The score, the staging, the performances — this is a highlight of the series, not just the season. Best scene runners-up: Bobby’s shocking shooting, Bobby and Pam’s breakup in Thanksgiving Square, Pam slapping Katherine, J.R. accusing Sue Ellen of treating him like a “stud service,” J.R. confronting Sly about her spying and any time Larry Hagman shared a screen with Kercheval.

Worst scene: Lady Jessica picks up a knife in the Southfork kitchen and wonders whether she should chop Miss Ellie’s vegetables or Mama herself. Who thought turning “Dallas” into a horror movie was a good idea?

Supporting Players

Dallas, John Beck, Mark Graison

Good. Bye.

John Beck shines in “Love Stories,” the episode where Mark Graison learns he’s dying and quietly slips out of Pam’s life. This is the most interesting thing Mark ever did; too bad for the underappreciated Beck it came during the character’s farewell. At the other end of the spectrum: Alexis Smith. Yes, she brought admirable gusto to her role as Lady Jessica, but if I wanted to see someone named Alexis camp it up, “Dallas” isn’t the show I’d watch.

Behind the Scenes

And now let us pause to honor Bradford May, whose brilliant cinematography transformed the seventh season into “Dallas’s” most gorgeous year ever. Under his lighting, Southfork was exquisite, Ewing Oil finally looked like a real executive suite and the Oil Baron’s Club radiated class and sophistication. “The May way” elevated the storytelling this season, making it easier to overlook flaws in other aspects of the production. He departed “Dallas” before the season concluded — one of the great blunders on a show that had more than a few — but his contribution to this franchise will never be forgotten.

The year’s other backstage VIP: Jerrold Immel, whose seventh-season version of the “Dallas” theme music remains my favorite. Every time I watch the titles and hear Immel’s synthesized riff (it occurs right when the split-screen sequence starts), I can’t help but smile.

Costumes

Christopher Atkins, Dallas, Peter Richards

Little boy, blue

I usually don’t complain about good-looking dudes showing skin, but Peter’s Speedo is the worst costume in “Dallas” history. Every time he pranced around in that thing, we were reminded how Christopher Atkins — an otherwise fine actor — was too boyish to play Peter, who is supposed to be so studly, Sue Ellen can’t resist him. (Sue Ellen swooning over Mickey in his jean cutoffs? That I’d believe.) Best accessory: Katherine’s hats, of course.

Quips

Was this J.R.’s quippiest season yet? I can’t think of another year where he delivered so many classic gems. To Pam: “I don’t give a damn about you or your happiness, honey. But I do care about what’s good for me.” To Katherine: “Loving always makes me thirsty.” To Edgar: “Once you give up integrity, the rest is a piece of cake.” My favorite, though, is this one, which he delivered to Vaughn: “J.R. Ewing doesn’t get ulcers. He gives ’em.” That one should have hung on a sign above his office door, don’t you think?

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

Comments

  1. This was my favourite year, and I have lost track of how many times I have seen it, this was when the show peaked in my opinion.

  2. I agree that C Atkins was too boyish to play Peter. I hated the way JR blackmailed the situation to get Sue Ellen back in his bedroom, and I hated that she gave in as she did. Her character waxed and waned in showing increased strength (definitely stronger than in first few seasons but…)

    • Wendy, you’re very correct about Sue Ellen. She had some great moments in Season 7 — especially when she treated J.R. like a “stud service” — only to submit to him without much of a fight in the season finale. Sigh.

  3. You hit the nail on the head with your analysis, Chris! I admit, though, I love Alexis Smith as Jessica playing with the kitchen knife… 🙂

  4. Chris, I’ve always wondered why Dallas looked so gorgeous this Season (and I don’t just mean the characters!) – now I finally know why – do you know what other series May worked on?

    Even 30 years later (they’ve just finished repeating this season in the UK on CBS Drama Channel ) they still look awesome and better looking than a lot of modern shows.

    • Thank you, Paul! Bradford May went on to serve as cinematographer for several TV series and movies. He won an Emmy for his cinematography for a 1992 made-for-TV movie called “Lady Against the Odds.” I haven’t seen a lot of his other work, but you’re very correct about his work on “Dallas’s” 1983-84 season. It looks better than a lot of modern shows.

      • Thanks for that reply Chris; I think some of the scenes in, especially the earlier episodes of this season are jaw-droppingly beautiful. Scenes of Bobby and Ray and other Southfork workers riding over the ranch, Bobby in his cool salmon-pink coloured shirt walking around the fire-damaged interior of Southfork and Jenna in any scene when she’s a waitress in Billy Bobs – maybe her character would have been more popular if she’d stayed a waitress than having that silly Boutique bought for her?

      • I agree with your view of the exterior scenes at the beginning of the season. They’re gorgeous. It sounds like we’re also on the same page where Jenna is concerned. The idea of her being an ex-heiress forced to wait tables made her seem a lot more interesting, didn’t it?

        Thanks as always, Paul!

        Chris

  5. Thank you! So on the spot! Have not rewatched for a while (although I know all the Bobby and Pam scenes by hear, but now I want to. Noone could do Cliff like Ken Kercheval for sure. He is something else! Loved the Katherine slapping scene and when JR threatens Pam. Did not particularly like Jessica/Alexis, haha!
    Bobby and Jenna were boring for sure, and so were Mark and Pam, but that was whole point I guess, they were not meant to be, and it showed! (I did enjoy the whole Bobby April storyline though, a lot, which was very far from boring, but complicated, sweet and sad.)

    • Thank you! I’m glad you agree about Ken Kercheval. Isn’t he great? Thanks for your comments about Bobby and Pam’s other love interests. I’m looking forward to seeing the Bobby/April love story again.

  6. lisa knight says:

    Just give us the best tv series back
    Why is this not being reconized by the network . Seriously.

  7. Peter and Sue Ellen storyline was the worst to me, Chris Atkins cannot act and he looked too much like a young boy than a young man. The best were Pam slapping Katherine, Bobby telling Katherine what he thinks of her and the best story line was Mark dying, did not feel for or care for this character and it was time he left, I cannot say much about John Beck’s acting because he was not given that much or major to work with just a temporary wedge between Pam and Bobby. Now if he was brought in as a business rival for JR and love interest for Sue Ellen that would have been better!!!

    • I always thought Mark and Sue Ellen would have made a good pair too. It’s interesting that the show didn’t make Mark a business rival to J.R. … that would have been interesting too.

      Thanks for your comments!

      • I like the idea of Mark and Sue Ellen! Also, I always hated that Sue Ellen left Holly’s doorway without saying anything. I wanted JR to clearly know he had been caught. I know everyone loves the evil JR, but I would have liked to see JR get caught and then go through a psychological awakening–depression, so-hatred, therapy(?), Etc, as he, for the first time in his life, realizes how cruel he was to his wife– a self-revelation that he is an abuser.

      • Interesting ideas, Wendy. Thanks. I wonder how “Dallas” would have been different if J.R. had experienced a reawakening after the Holly Harwood incident?

  8. The best was Sue Ellen/JR/Holly, Pam slapping Katherine, Bobby telling Katherine how he felt about her, Mark dying, it was far time he left the show, this character was not interesting, just an overindulged and rick playboy (good riddance). The worst was Sue Ellen and Peter, Christopher Atkins looked more like a young boy than a young man and he could not act.

    • Thanks for your feedback, Mary Ann. I think Christopher Atkins is a fine actor, but I don’t think he was the ideal choice to play Sue Ellen’s love interest. Now that I think about it, I wonder if the show would have been better off pairing him with Victoria Principal? Hmmm.

      • Mary Ann says:

        No way pairing him with Victoria would not have been good, Pam is too sophisticated and not that needy to hook up with a young boy. VP and CA would not make a good match at all!!!!

      • Poor Peter can’t find a love connection anywhere at Southfork!

  9. Tony Ewing says:

    I actually liked the Peter and SueEllen storyline. He was head-over-heels about an “older” woman and rightly so as she was, and still is, hot! Being his first love he was very vunerable and this was acted well. I wish they had developed the storyline more and let Sueellen fall for him too. If it had been an older man falling for Sueellen there wouldn’t have been any negativity (Clayton and Sueellen)!

    • Good point about Clayton and Sue Ellen, Tony. Thank you!

    • Good point, Tony! Actually, the Clayton thing bothered me more–I could understand Peter’s feelings, but Clayton was different. His son had been in love with her, and he clearly knew that she saw him as a father figure. I was floored when Clayton was going to profess his love to her! Poor Sue Ellen couldn’t catch a break with the men in her life!

  10. I thought Alexis Smith as Jessica was wonderful – a dominant lady with her craziness well hidden to start with. I wish she could have stayed in the series for longer and she and JR were a good match for each other! Mark Graison also performed very well in the moving story of his deliberate exit. Worst part of the series – the story with Sue Ellen and Peter which was hard to believe throughout. Sue Ellen never showed any interest in young men before, she preferred older wealthy men anyway.

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