“Dallas’s” eighth season had its share of ups and downs. Here are the highs and lows.
Victoria Principal does her best work during “Dallas’s” eighth season, a.k.a. The Year Pam Gets Her Groove Back. The actress displays her old fire during Pam’s clashes with J.R., but nothing beats her performance during Bobby’s season-ending death. Principal took heat for campaigning for an Emmy after that episode, which seems unfair in retrospect. I bet most folks can’t remember a thing about the actresses who were nominated, but no one will ever forget Pam crawling to Bobby in the driveway.
You don’t need me to explain again why “Swan Song” is the best “Dallas” episode ever made, do you? There are several choices for worst episode, unfortunately, but I’ll go with “Trial and Error,” the nadir of the dreary Jenna-on-trial saga.
Bobby’s deathbed farewell in “Swan Song” is the best, of course, followed closely by the moment he pushes Pam out of the path of Katherine’s speeding car and his sweet, touching proposal to Pam earlier in the episode. Other runners-up: Sue Ellen visiting John Ross in the hospital, Pam confronting J.R. over his scheme to send her around the world searching for Mark, and Afton’s big goodbye. One scene I could do without: J.R. making fun of Jamie’s appearance. Now that’s just mean.
I appreciate what “Dallas” tries to achieve with the legal battle over Ewing Oil, which offers an inverse of J.R. and Bobby’s sixth-season contest for control of the company. Instead of the family fighting each other, the Ewings band together to defeat Cliff Barnes. Too bad this requires rewriting “Dallas” history by inventing a dead brother for Jock and a long-lost cousin for J.R. and Bobby. I ended up preferring Clayton’s difficulty adjusting to life at Southfork, a relatively minor subplot that’s poignant nonetheless, thanks to the reliable Howard Keel. I also like Lucy’s waitressing storyline, which allows Charlene Tilton’s character to finally grow up.
My choice for worst storyline? That’s easy: Jenna’s season-long odyssey from bride-to-be to kidnapping victim to murder trial defendant to jailbird to biggest loser in the Bobby Ewing love sweepstakes. Talk about a bad dream.
This category is usually reserved for actors who don’t appear in the opening credits, but I’m going to make an exception and honor Donna Reed. She’s sometimes stiff as Miss Ellie, but she also possesses grace and warmth, and she has a nice rapport with Keel. Above all, I give Reed credit for having the courage to replace Barbara Bel Geddes — an impossible task — and for being smart enough to not imitate her predecessor. Runner-up: Stephen Elliott as southern fried lawyer Scotty Demarest.
Behind the Scenes
Patrick Duffy isn’t just one of “Dallas’s” best actors — he’s also one of the show’s best directors. Duffy helmed three episodes this season, bringing an inventive touch to each production. My favorite: “The Brothers Ewing,” a dark, ominous hour that finds J.R., Bobby and Ray scheming to hide Ewing Oil assets from Cliff. When I interviewed Duffy earlier this year, he downplayed his storytelling skills, citing as an example “War of the Ewings,” the 1998 reunion movie he produced with Larry Hagman. Duffy is too modest. He’s a creative force in his own right, as his behind-the-scenes work this season demonstrates.
Season 8 brings us “Dallas’s” most famous costume designer: Travilla, who immediately cranks up the glam factor. His looks are often classy, such as the timeless white gown Priscilla Beaulieu Presley sports in “Deliverance” and “Swan Song.” Other Travilla creations are woefully wrong. Example: Linda Gray’s feathery “Deliverance” / “Swan Song” number. Yeah, it’s fun, but it’s also damn distracting. Instead of focusing on Sue Ellen’s meltdown, I keep wondering: How many pillows died to create this dress?
As much as I love Lucy’s memorable description of rival waitress Betty (“All she can do is sling hash and make love!”) and Sue Ellen’s famous defense of her drinking habits (“Joan or Arc would have been a drunk if she had been married to you”), this category will always belong to J.R. This season, he expressed his concern for an ex-sister-in-law (“I don’t give a damn about Pam”) and offered a helping hand to soaked strumpet Marilee (“You all right honey? Did it go up your nose?”), although my favorite line comes when Pam confronts J.R. over his wild-goose-chase scheme and he plays dumb: “I never liked you a hell of a lot, you know that, Pam? But I never thought you were stupid until now.”
The audience knows it’s an outright lie, but Hagman delivers it with such conviction, we almost believe him. That’s his genius, isn’t it?
What do you love and loathe about “Dallas’s” eighth season? Share your comments below and read more “Best & Worst” reviews.