The Best & Worst of Dallas: Season 8

“Dallas’s” eighth season had its share of ups and downs. Here are the highs and lows.

Performances

Dallas, Pam Ewing, Victoria Principal

Principal player

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.

Episodes

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.

Scenes

Bobby Ewing, Dallas, Patrick Duffy, Swan Song

Bye bye, Bobby

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.

Storylines

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.

Supporting Players

Dallas, Donna Reed, Miss Ellie Ewing Farlow

Other mother

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.

Costumes

Dallas, Jenna Wade, Linda Gray, Priscilla Beaulieu Presley, Sue Ellen Ewing

Pillow talk

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?

Quips

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.

Comments

  1. As you say Chris a mixed bag of a season – I was glad when it ( and your reviews) reached the final episode, but what an episode that was! Just a few other observations in no particular order:-

    Probably the glossiest and biggest budget Dallas season – but not quite as beautiful to look at as the sublime early episodes of season 7.

    Pam became a stronger character – but spent too much of her time on wild goosechases.

    We lost Afton but gained Mandy Winger.

    I’m glad BBG returns in season 9 but Donna Reed deserves credit for her thankless task ( and Dallas still very much needed Miss Ellie’s character at this point ).

    The dreaded Soap Opera plot device of the long lost relatives who’ve never been mentioned before suddenly turning up out of the woodwork.

    Katherine Wentworth channeling Wily Coyote to Bobby’s Roadrunner – never quite succeeding but never giving up trying either.

    “You all right honey? Did it go up your nose?”
    Not a particularly funny line but somehow delivered by Larry Hagman it never ceases to make me laugh!

    Roll on Season 9 – the longest dream in T.V. history!

    • Thank you, Paul. I love your thoughts. Good observation about this being “Dallas’s” glossiest season — although as you say, not as sublime as the beginning of Season 7.

  2. Earlier seasons benefited from Jocks death. As sad as Jim Davis’ passing was, Jock’s passing was gold for years to come in terms of story lines. This season’s fight for Ewing Oil felt like a second grade rehash compared to the ‘original’ fight. I’d blame the producer for not coming up with something better.
    Some story lines felt out of place to me. Lucy’s waiting job story line was one of them. The writing actually made it a point that it had nothing to do with the rest of the Ewing saga. To me it made it feel disjointed and a distraction from the real stories on Southfork. Pam’s goose chase was border line in this regard. Since it was about finding Mark Grayson (whom I like and was glad he came back for a year); it was decidedly not about the Ewings. At least they wrote a very thin thread that connected it a bit to the Ewing fight.

    Most ruined character: Yeah, clearly Jenna Wade. She was written so carelessly and never recovered.

    Most overlooked character: I think cousin Jamie deserves some re-consideration in hindsight: In my eyes she was the way Pam could have been. She had her own head, didn’t take sh** from anyone and managed not just being a tool for Cliff or J.R. I liked her. In my opinion the character suffered from the fact that she was merely a cousin and would never be acknowledged as first grade Ewing, and that the actress had the backfill stigma from her sitcom past.

  3. Great choice of a picture for Donna Reed: I think, if she had appeared with this hairdo from the start, the audience would have accepted her more easily; as far as I’m concerned, there was nothing wrong with her acting…
    I am less certain when it comes to your comment on Sue Ellen’s dress with half the ostrich on her shoulder: To me it looks like she is trying VERY HARD to look classy while underneath she’s losing it – like some desperate Hollywood has-been. So I would argue it goes with her character at that point. Or maybe I just love ostrich feathers!

    • Thank you, Stephan! It’s funny you mention that picture of Donna Reed. When I was searching through the episodes for a good image to go with this article, that one really stood out. When I see her standing there, I understand why the producers thought she would be a good candidate to play Miss Ellie.

      I like your observations on Sue Ellen’s dress. I’ll confess: I love ostrich feathers too.

      Thanks again,
      CB

  4. In my opinion, the best scene of Dallas eighth season is the moment Bobby saves Pam. And the worst scenes, really boring, are those with Jeena wade.

  5. the_lost_son says:

    Hi Chris,
    as usual a pleasure reading. Thanks for your tremendous effort making your site dallas’ fan page no. 1.
    It’s such a treat reading new things about a season I thought I knew everything about.

    I’m really looking forward reading your reviews about the dream season. I read Barbara Curran’s book and the ultimate Dallas forum for years but if one can dig up something new it must be you.

    I’d love to hear more about alternative solutions discussed than the dream, the turmoil behind the scenes between capice and hagman and I would love to know when exactly katzman got back in power. I always wondered why he didn’t make any changes at least in the last episode. Maybe you can find out which storylines where planned for the following season. There are so many rumors going around.

    Thanks again for your dedication and your willingness to share your passion for free. If your ever published something Dallas-related I’d buy it for sure.

    Kind regards

    • This is very nice. Thank you. I also have lots of questions about this era of “Dallas.” I’d love to find the answers some day!

      I have some fun stuff planned for the ninth season. Stay tuned!

      Thank you again,
      Chris

  6. Yes this Season had it highs and lows, but still good. VP, PD, LG and LH get my vote for best performances. Worst storylines were the Jenna debacle and the ridiculous search for an unimportant character – Mark. It also had it share of editing mistakes, but I still loved it and will always be one of my favorite seasons!!

  7. Sue Ellen’s black and white ostrich feather dress is iconic! In fact, it’s on public display at the Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills.

    I’ll send you a picture.

  8. Chris, I won’t bore you with British politics but let’s just say an extraordinary and almost unbelievable election result has just happened (imagine Bernie Sanders becoming the Democratic candidate for President and you might get some idea of what I mean) and today the losing side have been comparing it to the (bad) dream of Dallas with comments like “I keep hoping for Bobby Ewing to step out of the shower.”
    After all these years it is still a popular culture reference in the UK and just happens to coincide with your reviews of that infamous season – just thought you’d like to know!

    • I wasn’t aware Bobby Ewing was part of the political conversation in the United Kingdom. That’s very cool — and as you suggest, it says a lot about “Dallas’s” endurance.

      And trust me: I don’t find British politics boring at all.

      Thank you Paul!

  9. I enjoyed this series even though the dream idea was regrettable. I thought Mark Graison was excellent as a new love interest for Pam who was completely devoted to her and it was sad that he had to be written out at the conclusion. I liked the detour to the emerald mine in Colombia which was fun. If Pam had married Mark, her life would have been 100 immeasurably easier than returning to the warring Ewing clan. An interesting idea would have been for Pam to marry Mark and Bobby Jenna as planned, and then after a year or so Bobby and Pam realising their mistake and getting back together. But the best series surely has to be 6 with the titanic struggle between JR and Bobby for Ewing Oil – with series 5 and 7 an equal close second.

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