Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 171 — ‘Charlie’

Charlie, Charlie Wade, Dallas, Shalane McCall

Gone girl

On “Dallas,” children are seen and heard. The series often involves its youngest characters in major storylines, unlike other 1980s prime-time soap operas where kids are treated as little more than props. (Does Krystina Carrington ever do anything other than smile sweetly at Mommy and Daddy?) Of course, even when “Dallas” puts kids front and center, it’s usually to tell us something about the adults on the show. Lucy’s skipping school allows Pam to assert her authority in the Ewing family, Bobby’s friendship with Luke Middens illustrates the emptiness of his childless marriage, John Ross’s kidnapping brings J.R. and Sue Ellen closer.

“Charlie” continues this tradition. This episode takes its title from Jenna Wade’s pubescent daughter, who runs away from home after learning Naldo Marchetta, her long-lost father, has come to town and wants to meet her. (Ignore the fact that Jenna sent the girl to visit Naldo during the third season.) Even though Charlie sets the plot in motion, this story is about Bobby and Jenna. Everything is told from their point of view, from Jenna’s frantic call to Bobby when she realizes Charlie is missing to the resolution, when the couple finds the girl and lovingly assures her they’ll always be a family. It’s also worth noting how director Michael Preece arranges the actors in the latter scene. He films Patrick Duffy and Priscilla Beaulieu Presley at eye level, while Shalane McCall is shot from above — the way most adults see children.

Some “Dallas” fans like to complain about McCall’s performance in “Charlie” and other episodes from the eighth season. It’s true that the older this actress gets, the whinier her delivery becomes. Nevertheless, I think everyone should cut her some slack. Remember: McCall was only 11 years old when this episode was filmed. She’s just a kid, and this is the most demanding material she’s been given since she arrived on “Dallas” a year earlier. Besides, a lot of real-life children are whiny around this age. Why should Charlie be any different?

There’s also this: Charlie, as much as she annoys some fans, isn’t as insufferable as Lucy, who has yet to fully mature. In this episode’s weirdest scene, Clayton runs into Charlene Tilton’s character and suggests she should spend more time with Miss Ellie. Lucy snaps, reminding Clayton that he isn’t her grandfather and has no right to tell her what to do. Clayton’s response: “You’re right. I’m not your grandfather, but I am your elder — and you’ll damn well talk to me with respect. Now I don’t like your manner or your tone of voice, and if you think I won’t turn you over my knee and paddle you, you’re very wrong!” I suppose the point here is to remind the audience of Clayton’s mettle, but hearing him threaten to spank a grown woman is a strange way to make this point, no matter how bratty Lucy behaves. Did this scene make audiences as uncomfortable in 1984 as it does today?

Clayton and Lucy’s confrontation ends with Preece pulling back the camera to reveal Miss Ellie eavesdropping. No shock there — someone always is lurking around the corners of Southfork — although the pink floral-print blouse and striped skirt worn by Donna Reed does catch me off guard. This is the most un-Ellie outfit Reed has worn yet since taking over the role from Barbara Bel Geddes. Reed looks beautiful, but the character’s newly stylish wardrobe takes some getting used to. As readers on this site have wondered: If the producers had dressed Reed a little more plainly and softened her hair, might fans have accepted her more readily?

Mama isn’t the only person who’s changed lately. Notice how I haven’t mentioned J.R.? That’s because Larry Hagman’s character doesn’t have much to do in “Charlie.” Somewhat shockingly, the season is now one-third over and no major business storyline has been introduced. At this point last season, J.R. was figuring out Sly was spying on him for Cliff, and two years before that, the contest for control of the family empire was well underway. After this episode, “Dallas” will begin the storyline in which Jamie and Cliff join forces to claim partial ownership in Ewing Oil, a legal fight that’s not nearly as much fun as the past stories about corporate warfare.

At least J.R. finally introduces himself to Mandy Winger in this episode. I guess if we’re not going to see him wheel and deal, we’ll have to make do with watching him cat around.

Grade: B

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Charlie, Dallas, Donna Reed, Miss Ellie Ewing Farlow

Pink different

‘CHARLIE’

Season 8, Episode 10

Airdate: November 30, 1984

Audience: 22 million homes, ranking 2nd in the weekly ratings

Writer: Leonard Katzman

Director: Michael Preece

Synopsis: Bobby and Jenna help Charlie cope when she learns Naldo is her father. J.R. asks Mandy out for drinks. Pam’s salvage company recovers Mark’s cockpit, along with evidence he wasn’t in the plane when it crashed. Eddie sleeps with Lucy and reveals he knows that she’s a Ewing.

Cast: Michael Alldredge (Steve Jackson), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Jenilee Harrison (Jamie Ewing), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Fredric Lehne (Eddie Cronin), Shalane McCall (Charlie Wade), Daniel Pilon (Renaldo Marchetta), Priscilla Beaulieu Presley (Jenna Wade), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Donna Reed (Miss Ellie Farlow), Sherril Lynn Rettino (Jackie Dugan), Deborah Shelton (Mandy Winger), Danone Simpson (Kendall), William Smithers (Jeremy Wendell), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing)

“Charlie” is available on DVD and at Amazon and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.

Comments

  1. Tony Ewing says:

    And it’s around this time we are back in the studio for outdoor/patio shots of Southfork! I always loved the first lot of episodes every season when we get to see the real outdoors. Then suddenly we see a hedge beside the garage and cars drive straight up to the garage door rather than at an angle to it indicating we are back indoors really. The sound also changes with an echo.

    I am glad to know I’m not the only one that thinks Charlie was whiney.

    • You’re definitely not the only one, Tony! And I feel the same way you do about the patio and outdoor sets on the soundstage. It’s just not the same.

      Thanks for commenting!

  2. Stephan says:

    This instalment must be one of the least satisfying from the glory days of DALLAS. It reminds me of one of the less successful self-contained episodes of the early seasons. The whole “Oh my God, where is Charlie?” drama feels like filler, and at the end of the episode we have hardly moved beyond where we were at the beginning.

    • You’re so right, Stephan. Other episodes from this season also feel self-contained. Sometimes the music and transitions from scene to scene also evoke those early episodes. I’m thinking specifically about a scene from “Family” in which we see Ray and Lucy standing outside the Hot Biscuit; something about the transition to that scene screams 1978-79 season to me.

      As always, thanks for your good comments.

  3. Chris, I’m glad someone has finally pointed out the great use made of the children on Dallas (what a contrast with a certain rival show to Dallas which I still can’t bring myself to dignify with a name on this site!)
    Omri Katz was always brilliant – in the previous season he must have been about 6 or thereabouts but was able to carry great scenes and dialogue with Larry and Linda in the otherwise dubious Peter Richards storyline!
    And Shalane McCall is also very good as Charlie – as you pointed out, she is at an age, and even more so over the next few seasons, when kids are a bit whiney – I know I was.
    Re Donna Reed, I think it would have been better if in the episode where she returned from honeymoon someone (maybe Donna?) had actually complemented or at least drew attention to her new appearance – by no means the first woman to have a makeover and new hair style after getting remarried and it may have helped audiences accept her instead of the pretence that nothing has changed and she is essentially BBG mark 2. (Although nothing can truly replace BBG!)

    • Paul, thanks for your comments. I’d like to write more about the children of “Dallas.” I’m especially looking forward to the ninth-season custody fight for John Ross. Omri Katz delivers some pretty great performances during that storyline, as I recall.

      I also agree with your comments about Miss Ellie returning from her honeymoon with a new look. It would have been plausible, as you point out. Perhaps the “Dallas” producers didn’t want to call any more attention to the recasting than necessary — which seems like a miscalculation in retrospect.

      Thanks again. Always appreciate your feedback.

      Chris

  4. They had a difficult job with Donna Reed (I recently saw the glorious Wonderful Life – brilliantly parodied in the final episode of the original Dallas) But I admire her for even making the attempt to replace BBG – but I look forward to your reviews of Season 9 when BBG returns in all her glory!

  5. Actually, I think the whole “Where is Charlie?” drama doesn’t make much sense. Since Jenna and Bobby (and whoever else) already had the idea that Charlie might have been upset by hearing about Naldo and running away, why on Earth did nobody think the obvious: That Charlie would seek refuge and comfort at Southfork, with her beloved horse?? Why didn’t it cross anbody’s mind to look there?… Ouch!

    Chris, I agree with what you wrote about the strange Clayton-and-Lucy-scene. Lucy may have been bratty, but Clayton was pretty much out of line too.

    • Thanks Balena. It’s funny you mentioned Darius. While I was writing this critique, I asked my husband Andrew the first thing that came to mind when I say the name “Charlie Wade.” Andrew’s response: “She loves her horse.”

      I’m glad you share my opinion on the Clayton/Lucy scene.

      Thanks again for commenting!

  6. Maryann says:

    This episode was bland and boring to me because it centered on Charlie who like her mother I did not really care about. I also found Clayton’s threat about spanking a grown woman made me feel uncomfortable then and now watching the DVD. I also was praying that when they recovered the cockpit as a matter a fact ever since Pam saw his car that Mark was dead and never to return!!! Then Season Nine came and ruined that hope then gave it back to me at the end when it was all a dream oh I mean nightmare.

    • At least Pam’s wild goose chase gives us the great scene where she marches into J.R.’s office and tells him off. Victoria Principal is great in that scene, although I love Larry Hagman’s dialogue too. (“I never liked you a hell of a lot, you know that, Pam? But I never thought you were stupid until now.”) I’m looking forward to reviewing that episode!

  7. Always enjoy reading your reviews.

    While I understand Shalane McCall is very young she’s unbearably screechy. I don’t expect Meryl Streep, just for my ears not to bleed. I for one was rooting for Daruis to trample her to death.

    Poor Donna Reed was so wrong for Miss Ellie. A shame because she was a talented actress in a no-win situation. I wish they had cast her as Ellie’s snooty cousin or something. It would have been great to see Bel Geddes and Reed as rivals on the show.

    The Lucy/Clayton scene is just plain weird and kind of creepy. Especially on a series that establishes all these young woman with chubby old guys. Not for money, oh no, it was because they loved and lusted for them. Oh Lenny…

  8. Tony Ewing says:

    When Gerald Kane told Pam that it had all been a hoax the underscore and her emotion was brilliant. However, even though she was in a rage she had time to change her clothes before going to see JR. I would have been straight over there and not waited a minute incase the anger subsided!

    Reading your comments about the children I think the new Christopher did brilliantly when his biological aunt tried to get custody of him. Some of those scenes were very touching as he had lost his mother and now a stranger wanted to take him from Bobby.

  9. Dan in WI says:

    Okay, Charlie was a whiner. But I’m the same age as McCall so all I ever noticed was the crush I had on her at the time.

  10. Watching 8 now. Anyone know what Naldo says after Jenna & Bobby accuse him of taking Charlie?
    Grazie! (that’s the extent of my Italian)

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