Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 180 — ‘Sins of the Fathers’

Dallas, Deborah Shelton, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Mandy Winger, Sins of the Fathers

Darkest before dawn

You know J.R. Ewing is having a bad week when he gets kneed in the groin and it’s the least of his problems. Such is our hero’s fate in “Sins of the Fathers.” The assault-by-patella occurs when J.R. tries to force himself upon Sue Ellen and she strikes back as only she can. He’s also rejected by Mandy, the gorgeous model who has proven immune to his charms, and then a judge freezes Ewing Oil’s assets after Cliff sues to snag a piece of the company. J.R.’s greatest indignity comes in the last scene, when his grand plan to use aging roughneck Alf Brindle to counter Cliff’s lawsuit backfires spectacularly.

Do all these misfortunes mean J.R. is losing his touch? Well, no, actually. We’ve merely arrived at the moment during a “Dallas” season when it looks like the character’s luck has finally run out. In previous years, this happened when J.R. got tossed into a Cuban jail cell, when he was forced to ask Cliff for an extension on a loan, when a state senate committee closed in on his illegal dealings overseas. In each instance, J.R. escaped harm and came out on top. There’s little doubt he’ll also recover from his setbacks in “Sins of the Fathers,” which might explain why his storyline this season feels so ho-hum. Even when this episode aired in 1985, audiences must have thought: We’ve seen this movie before. We know how it’s going to end.

Of course, “Sins of the Fathers” isn’t a rehash altogether. Consider J.R. and Sue Ellen’s fight scene, which begins with her leading him to believe she’s going to spend the night with Cliff. J.R. angrily pulls Sue Ellen into his bedroom, throws her onto the bed and begins kissing her. “I know what you like, darlin’,” he says. It’s reminiscent of two encounters from past episodes (“Black Market Baby,” “Rodeo”) — until Sue Ellen knees her husband, pushes him off of her and says, “And I know what you like — and I’m sure that wasn’t it.” I’m no fan of violence, but how can you not feel proud of Linda Gray’s character at this moment? After all these years, Sue Ellen has finally learned how to stop J.R. from taking advantage of her.

“Sins of the Fathers” scriptwriter Leonard Katzman and Larry Hagman, who directed the episode, find other ways to keep things fresh. When the Ewings track down Brindle in Galveston, J.R. and Ray go there together to speak to him. It’s the first time the half-brothers have paired up since their memorable trip to Waco during the first season. Later, the Ewings bring Brindle to Cliff’s condo to confront him, marking J.R.’s first visit there. And then there’s Jenna’s kitchen scene, which sheds new light on Priscilla Beaulieu Presley’s character. While kneading dough, Jenna recalls how she learned to bake from her father because her mother didn’t know how. “She never did teach me anything,” Jenna says, making me wonder what their relationship was like. (Perhaps this would have made a better storyline than Naldo’s yawn-inducing murder trial.)

Mostly, though, “Sins of the Fathers” is another eighth-season episode that celebrates “Dallas’s” history. During J.R. and Sue Ellen’s fight, she points out all the women he’s shared with Cliff (Julie Grey, Afton Cooper, herself). Mandy walks out on Cliff with a suitcase in her hand, just like Afton did in the season opener. To shield Ewing Oil assets from Cliff, J.R. turns again to Carl Hardesty, who helped him set up a series of dummy corporations during the sixth season. Bobby stumbles across a newspaper article about Lee Evans, the pilot who witnessed Jock’s helicopter crash during Season 5. (Since this scene never leads to a bigger storyline, I’m guessing it’s included here to promote “Who Killed Jock Ewing?”, a “Dallas” novel that was published in 1985 and features Evans as a character.)

I also appreciate “Sins of the Fathers’” attention to detail, a signature of both Katzman and Hagman. When Pam arrives at the Oil Baron’s Club for her lunch date with Bobby, notice how one of the extras cranes his neck to check out Victoria Principal as she breezes past him. Why do I get the feeling Hagman, in his role as director, instructed the extra to do this? Likewise, what are we to make of the scene where Harv shows up at the Ewing Oil offices with a piece of tissue stuck to his face and explains he was so rattled by J.R.’s call earlier that morning, he nicked himself shaving? Perhaps Katzman wrote this into the script, or maybe George O. Petrie actually cut himself on the day the episode was filmed. This also seems like the kind of thing Hagman might have come up with, just because he thought it would amuse the audience.

If that’s the case, he was right.

Grade: B


Dallas, Linda Gray, Sins of the Fathers, Sue Ellen Ewing

Don’t mess with Miss Texas


Season 8, Episode 19

Airdate: February 8, 1985

Audience: 21.2 million homes, ranking 4th in the weekly ratings

Writer: Leonard Katzman

Director: Larry Hagman

Synopsis: A judge freezes Ewing Oil’s assets but later reverses the decision. The Ewings track down Alf Brindle, a roughneck who worked for Jock, Jason and Digger, but the man accidentally offers evidence that supports and Cliff and Jamie’s claim. Mandy leaves Cliff but refuses to see J.R. Sue Ellen mends fences with Pam, who is given fresh reason to believe Mark is still alive. Jenna worries about her trial. Lucy and Eddie break ground on their construction project.

Cast: Beau Billingslea (Dr. Miller), John Carter (Carl Hardesty), Roseanna Christiansen (Teresa), Pat Colbért (Dora Mae), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Stephan Elliott (Scotty Demarest), Eddie Firestone (Alf Brindle), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Jenilee Harrison (Jamie Ewing), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Omri Katz (John Ross Ewing), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Fredric Lehne (Eddie Cronin), Shalane McCall (Charlie Wade), George O. Petrie (Harv Smithfield), Priscilla Beaulieu Presley (Jenna Wade), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Donna Reed (Miss Ellie Farlow), Sherril Lynn Rettino (Jackie Dugan), Dean Santoro (Raymond Furguson), Deborah Shelton (Mandy Winger), Danone Simpson (Kendall), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Harvey Vernon (Judge Harding), Kathleen York (Betty)

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

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 178 — ‘Bail Out’

Bail Out, Dallas, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing

Truth to power

Bobby springs Jenna from jail in “Bail Out,” while Sue Ellen liberates her own tongue. After discovering J.R. has cheated on her yet again, she stops playing the dutiful wife and begins speaking her mind, even if it means telling loved ones things they don’t want to hear. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen Sue Ellen assume the role of Southfork’s resident truth-teller, although when it’s happened in the past, it’s usually because she’s been drinking. Our heroine is sober in “Bail Out,” making this episode another early glimpse of the independent, wiser character she’ll become in “Dallas’s” later years.

In the first act, Sue Ellen wakes up — a metaphor, perhaps — and has coffee with Miss Ellie in the dining room. When the conversation turns to Jamie’s efforts to split up Ewing Oil, Ellie is surprised to hear Sue Ellen hopes Jamie succeeds. “We have to keep what is ours. That company means everything to this family,” Ellie says. Sue Ellen gently points out Ellie’s hypocrisy, reminding the Ewing matriarch she once tried to force the sale of the business to keep J.R. and Bobby from fighting over it. Ellie defends herself, saying this situation is different because her sons are no longer at each other’s throats. She also urges Sue Ellen to think of John Ross, who’s poised to run the company someday. Sue Ellen’s response: “I know. That used to matter to me very much. Maybe he’d be better off without it.”

Did you ever think you’d hear Sue Ellen Ewing say such a thing? After all, this is the woman who spent “Dallas’s” earliest episodes in a virtual race with Pam to bear the Ewings’ first grandson. Now she’s admitting what’s she’s known for some time: being a Ewing wife and mother isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Sue Ellen’s newly brutal honesty is also on display later in the episode, when she warns Jenna about the Ewings’ looming war with Jamie. Sue Ellen predicts the battle will cause Bobby to revert to the cutthroat tactics he used during the contest for Ewing Oil. “Wait and see,” she says. “The Ewing boys are alike in certain ways. I found it out, and so did Pam.”

You may not like everything Sue Ellen has to say in “Bail Out,” but you have to admire “Dallas’s” willingness to allow the character to change. You also have to admire Linda Gray’s ability to make Sue Ellen’s evolution so believable. In the scene with Donna Reed, Gray’s delivery is beautifully heartfelt. (It helps that the conversation takes place right after Sue Ellen awakens, so Gray gets to perform with little makeup and her hair a little messy. It’s Sue Ellen, unvarnished.) Gray also is impressive in her scene with Priscilla Beaulieu Presley. It would have been easy to bring an air of classic Sue Ellen bitchiness to this exchange, but Gray takes a different approach. She treats her character’s speech as a helpful warning, not a hurtful threat.

The other standout performer in “Bail Out” is Victoria Principal, who is fantastic in the episode-ending scene where pilot Gerald Kane visits Pam and confesses he lied about flying Mark Graison to the Caribbean to seek a cure for his disease. This tightly written, three-minute exchange requires Principal to exhibit a range of emotions — shock, anger, disgust — and she hits each one with precision. (Future Oscar winner James Cromwell is also quite good, making Kane’s guilt and shame palpable.) The best moment comes when Pam demands to know who paid Kane to lie to her. “No one has any reason to do something like that to me,” she says, but of course she must know in her heart who’s responsible. When Kane tells her the culprit is J.R. Ewing, Pam strikes him and repeats the name: “J.R. Ewing?!” It’s a testament to director Michael Preece that this doesn’t come off as a campy soap opera slap. Instead, it feels genuinely reflexive, as if Pam can’t help lashing out.

Speaking of J.R.: He finally seduces Mandy in this episode, luring her to a high-rise hotel suite under the ruse that she’s visiting something called “Club 1900.” When she arrives, she’s in no mood for his charms and angrily tosses a glassful of champagne in his face. He responds by grabbing and kissing her hard; she squirms for a few seconds but eventually melts in his arms. It’s not quite as unappetizing as the scene where J.R. forces himself on Sue Ellen in the second-season classic “Black Market Baby,” but it’s uncomfortable nonetheless. Other moments in “Bail Out” also evoke earlier storylines, including one where Ray encourages Lucy and Eddie to get soil samples before starting construction on their housing project. It’s a subtle nod to Ray’s disastrous foray into the real estate business during the fourth season. Sue Ellen and Ellie’s conversation about John Ross’s future also has echoes of Mama’s memorable speech (“Where will this all end?”) during the contest for Ewing Oil.

Homages like these have become a hallmark of “Dallas’s” eighth season. Each one feels like a treat for fans who absorb every last detail of the Ewings’ lives. You have to admire the show’s willingness to honor fans this way. Is it any wonder so many of us continue to reward “Dallas” with our loyalty?

Grade: B


Bail Out, Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman



Season 8, Episode 17

Airdate: January 25, 1985

Audience: 22.2 million homes, ranking 1st in the weekly ratings

Writer: David Paulsen

Director: Michael Preece

Synopsis: Bobby bails out Jenna and reunites her with Charlie. Sue Ellen warns Jenna about the looming battle for Ewing Oil. Cliff and Jamie gather evidence for their lawsuit. J.R. and Mandy have sex. Kane tells Pam that J.R. paid him to lead her on a wild goose chase.

Cast: Beau Billingslea (Dr. Miller), Burke Byrnes (Pete Adams), Roseanna Christiansen (Teresa), Pat Colbért (Dora Mae), James Cromwell (Gerald Kane), Val De Vargas (Patrick Wolfe), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Stephen Elliott (Scotty Demarest), 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), Clyde Kusatsu (Dr. Albert Matsuda), Fredric Lehne (Eddie Cronin), Shalane McCall (Charlie Wade), Joe Nesnow (Judge Lanley), George O. Petrie (Harve Smithfield), Priscilla Beaulieu Presley (Jenna Wade), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Donna Reed (Miss Ellie Farlow), Dean Santoro (Raymond Furguson), Deborah Shelton (Mandy Winger), Danone Simpson (Kendall), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Deborah Tranelli (Phyllis)

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

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 119 — ‘A Ewing is a Ewing’

A Ewing is a Ewing, Dallas, Holly Harwood, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Lois Chiles

It’s complicated

The most unsettling moment in “A Ewing is a Ewing”: Holly Harwood arrives for an after-hours meeting at J.R.’s office, where he chastises her for telling one of Harwood Oil’s top customers that J.R. has become a silent partner in the company. Holly expresses regret — not for letting the cat out of the bag, but for going into business with J.R. in the first place. She turns her back to him. J.R. approaches from behind, reaches around and slowly begins to unbutton her jacket. “No, J.R. I don’t want this,” she says. He pulls the jacket off her shoulders. “You won’t enjoy it,” she continues. His reply: “You better make damn sure I do.”

The scene ends here, but there’s no doubt intercourse occurs. (Later in “A Ewing is a Ewing,” Holly pulls a gun on J.R. and tells him what transpired in his office will never happen again.) The question is: Is this rape? I can’t decide. On the one hand, Holly tells J.R. “no,” but he has sex with her anyway. How can that be anything but assault? On the other hand, I wonder why Holly makes no attempt to run away or to fight J.R. when he begins disrobing her. This woman is no shrinking violet, as the gun scene later in the episode demonstrates.

Given the ambiguity, perhaps a better question is: What did the people who made “Dallas” want the audience to think when this scene was broadcast 30 years ago? It seems shocking to think that a network television show would allow its lead character to rape a woman (this was CBS in the 1980s, not AMC today), so I wonder if the producers and writers merely saw this as another example of J.R. running roughshod over one of his enemies? Could it be the people behind the scenes didn’t grasp that this might be construed as an act of sexual violence? To be fair, society has a greater understanding of rape today than it did three decades ago, but it’s not like nothing was known about these kinds of crimes back then. Perhaps these two facts are telling: None of the producers listed in the “Dallas” credits during the 1982-83 season are women, and of the 28 episodes produced that year, all but one were written by men. (Linda Elstad wrote “Requiem,” which aired three weeks after “A Ewing is a Ewing.”).

Regardless of what this scene is supposed to depict, I dislike it. I’m usually willing to forgive J.R. his sins, even when my conscience tries to tug me in the other direction. I’m an unapologetic J.R. apologist. J.R. is cheating in a business deal? I say: He’s just trying to make his daddy proud, and who can’t sympathize with that? J.R. is cheating on Sue Ellen? In my mind, he’s merely revealing his foibles. But even I can’t justify my hero’s behavior in this scene. Make no mistake: This is not one of J.R.’s sly seductions. I hate how he how he stands in the doorway of his office and beckons Holly into the room by saying, “Come on, hon. Come on.” He treats her like a child or worse, a pet.

The scene invites comparisons to another disturbing “Dallas” sequence — this one from the 10th episode, “Black Market Baby” — when J.R. angrily pins Sue Ellen to their bed and forces himself on her, despite her repeatedly saying, “I don’t want you.” I don’t like that scene any more than the one with Holly, but keep in mind: It was filmed in 1978, before Larry Hagman had perfected the smiling warrior routine that made him so endearing to fans like me. Other soap opera icons have similar skeletons in their closet — Luke raped Laura before they became a couple on “General Hospital,” while Blake forced himself on Krystle during an early episode of “Dynasty” — but once Luke and Blake were redeemed, their shows were loathe to remind audiences of the characters’ past sins. Why would “Dallas” want to risk the affection that fans had for J.R., unless the show was feeling long in the tooth and trying to recapture some of its earlier edge?

Of course, no matter how distressing I find J.R. and Holly’s scene, I still appreciate how good Hagman and Lois Chiles are in it. Hagman, who also directed “A Ewing is a Ewing,” wisely avoids any hint of mischief, choosing instead to play J.R. as purely menacing. Chiles, in the meantime, makes us feel Holly’s sense of trepidation when she arrives for their meeting, as well as the disgust that grips her when J.R. begins unbuttoning her jacket. Hagman and Chiles are also terrific in the scene where Holly pulls the gun on J.R. I like how he snickers when she produces the weapon, only to breathe a private sigh of relief the moment he exits the room. Frankly, it’s cathartic to see J.R. scared.

I think it’s also worth considering how J.R. treats Sue Ellen in “A Ewing is a Ewing.” At the beginning of the second act, he “confides” in Sue Ellen that he needs someone to refine his crude and suggests she could ask Clayton Farlow to do it on his behalf. Sue Ellen resists this idea, so J.R. exploits her Achilles heel: He suggests that without Clayton’s help, he might lose the contest for Ewing Oil, thus robbing John Ross of his birthright. “It’s funny, isn’t it?” J.R. says. “The one thing I need to beat Bobby, to secure our future — the future of our little boy — is in the hands of a man that despises me.”

This is the second time in recent episodes that J.R. has used Sue Ellen as a pawn in the battle for Ewing Oil: In “Fringe Benefits,” he asks her to host a dinner party for Gil Thurman, even though he knows the lecherous Thurman will make a pass at her. That scheme ends disastrously, and Sue Ellen’s appeal to Clayton in “A Ewing is a Ewing” doesn’t turn out much better. Clayton feels she’s taking advantage of their friendship by asking him to help J.R. and storms away. It makes me wonder: Was this J.R.’s goal all along, to drive a wedge between his wife and Clayton?

Like J.R., Bobby shows he’s also willing to use people to get what he wants in “A Ewing is a Ewing.” (No doubt Bobby’s emulation of his brother inspired this episode’s title.) When Bobby discovers J.R. is in cahoots with energy commissioner George Hicks, Bobby hires Wendy, one of Carl Daggett’s prostitutes, to begin dating Hicks so she can dig up dirt on him. (The seeds for this subplot were planted in “Where There’s a Will,” which introduced the terrific character actor Charles Napier as Daggett, an old friend of Bobby’s.) In “A Ewing is a Ewing’s” memorable final scene, Pam arrives for dinner with Bobby at an out-of-the-way restaurant, but she’s unaware the only reason he asked her out for the evening is so he can spy on Wendy and Hicks, who are drinking on the other side of the room. Bobby isn’t just using Wendy; he’s using his wife too.

I suppose I should be disappointed in Bobby, but I’m not. It’s rather satisfying to see him shed his good-guy veneer, at least for a little while. Or maybe it’s just that after everything else that goes down in this episode, seeing Bobby dabble in prostitution and blackmail doesn’t seem so bad.

Grade: B


A Ewing is a Ewing, Bobby Ewing, Dallas, Patrick Duffy

Yep, he’s a Ewing


Season 6, Episode 16

Airdate: January 28, 1983

Audience: 22.3 million homes, ranking 3rd in the weekly ratings

Writer: Frank Furino

Director: Larry Hagman

Synopsis: After J.R. pressures Holly into having sex with him, she pulls a gun on him and declares their relationship is now strictly business. Bobby discovers J.R. is in cahoots with George Hicks, a member of the Texas Energy Commission, and hires a prostitute to set up Hicks. Clayton reacts angrily when Sue Ellen asks him to refine J.R.’s crude and leaves for Galveston, where he spends time with the vacationing Miss Ellie. The cartel buys out Bobby’s share of the Wellington property. Cliff urges his party to recruit J.R. as a candidate for office. Mark continues to pursue Pam.

Cast: John Beck (Mark Graison), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Ion Berger (detective), Robert Burleigh (Harry), Lois Chiles (Holly Harwood), April Clough (Wendy), Roseanna Christiansen (Teresa), John Dennis (Ned), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Fern Fitzgerald (Marilee Stone), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Audrey Landers (Afton Cooper), Paul Mantee (General Cochran), Timothy Patrick Murphy (Mickey Trotter), Charles Napier (Carl Daggett), Priscilla Pointer (Rebecca Wentworth), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Arlen Dean Snyder (George Hicks), Don Starr (Jordan Lee), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Deborah Tranelli (Phyllis)

“A Ewing is a Ewing” is available on DVD and at and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 98 – ‘The Prodigal’

Welcome back

Welcome back

“The Prodigal” marks the triumphant return of Pam Ewing. What’s that you say? You didn’t realize she had gone away? Well, consider this: The Pam who emerges during “Dallas’s” third season – the one who cries a lot and obsesses over having children – doesn’t bear much resemblance to the strong-willed, independent-minded heroine we meet when the show begins. That’s the Pam we see again in “The Prodigal.” It’s nice to have her back.

Pam’s “return” comes toward the end of the episode, when a frightened Lucy tells her that Roger has become obsessed with her. (Lucy leaves out the detail about having sex with Roger after discovering the shrine he’s built to her.) Pam springs into action and asks for the location of Roger’s studio. “Don’t you think you should wait for Bobby?” Lucy asks. Pam ignores the question. “Lucy, what’s the address?”

The next time we see Pam, she’s entering Roger’s studio, where she introduces herself as Lucy’s aunt and explains she’s there to deliver “a warning.” Roger smirks. “A warning? You’re too pretty to give warnings,” he says. Pam tells him to “cut out the phony charm” and orders him to stay away from Lucy. He responds by asking if she plans to “sic the Ewing family” on him if he fails to obey. “Maybe, but I don’t think I’ll have to,” Pam says. “I can take care of people like you myself.”

See what I mean? This is the Pam I fell in love with during early “Dallas” episodes like “Lessons,” when she rescues Lucy from her high school blackmailer, and “Black Market Baby,” when she stands up to Bobby’s chauvinism. Victoria Principal always delivers great performances – even when Pam is weepy and preoccupied with children – but the actress is at her best during moments like these. In this scene, Pam is calm and direct, which makes her seem genuinely intimidating. Principal makes me believe Pam is a woman you don’t want to mess with.

Pam and Roger’s encounter is one of several great confrontations in “The Prodigal.” I also love when Katherine and Cliff get in a screaming match over his management of her father’s company (Katherine: “You disgusting little man!” Cliff: “I might be a disgusting little man, but I am president of Wentworth Tool and Die now!”), as well as Afton’s visit to Sue Ellen’s townhouse, where they exchange deliciously bitchy barbs (Afton: “We both do seem to have the same taste in men.” Sue Ellen: “The fact that you were sleeping with my ex-husband doesn’t mean we have the same taste in anything.”).

I also like the scene where Clayton visits Afton in her dressing room to learn more about Cliff, his rival for Sue Ellen’s affections. Howard Keel and Audrey Landers are two of my favorite “Dallas” performers, and it’s nice to see them share screen time. But I also can’t help but think: Since these two have such gorgeous singing voices, wouldn’t it have been nice if this scene had been set to music?

Grade: A


Just duet

Just duet


Season 5, Episode 21

Airdate: March 5, 1982

Audience: 28.4 million homes, ranking 2nd in the weekly ratings

Writer: David Paulsen

Director: Michael Preece

Synopsis: J.R. uncovers evidence Christopher is his son. Bobby threatens Farraday when he returns to Dallas and demands hush money. Pam warns Roger to stay away from Lucy. While researching her new book, Donna learns Jock and Sam once staged a land grab that resulted in another man’s suicide. Afton tells Sue Ellen that Clayton is in love with her. Katherine clashes with Cliff and cozies up to J.R.

Cast: Lewis Arquette (Dr. Kensington) Tyler Banks (John Ross Ewing), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Peter Brandon (Lowell Greer), Morgan Brittany (Katherine Wentworth), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Bill Erwin (Abel Greeley), Tom Fuccello (Senator Dave Culver), Fern Fitzgerald (Marilee Stone), Phyllis Flax (Mrs. Chambers), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Art Hindle (Jeff Farraday), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Audrey Landers (Afton Cooper), Gary Pagett (Murphy), Priscilla Pointer (Rebecca Wentworth), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Dennis Redfield (Roger Larson), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Cooper), Deborah Tranelli (Phyllis), Ray Wise (Blair Sullivan)

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

The Best & Worst of Dallas: Season 2

“Dallas” was still figuring itself out during its second season, which means there was plenty to hail and heckle.


Barbara Bel Geddes, Dallas, Miss Ellie Ewing

Don’t mess with Mama

Although every member of the ensemble has great moments this season, no one is as consistently wonderful as Barbara Bel Geddes. Miss Ellie becomes a somewhat frustrating character as “Dallas” progresses – she too often casts a blind eye to J.R.’s shenanigans, in my view – but Season 2 is the year you do not want to mess with Mama. We see her demand J.R. clean up his act, order Julie to stay away from Jock and urge Pam to fight for her marriage. (There’s also Ellie’s encounter with the poor sap who makes the mistake of sneaking onto Southfork; see “Scenes” below.) In just about every second-season episode, Bel Geddes demonstrates how lucky “Dallas” is to have her.


“Black Market Baby” is the most intriguing, “For Love or Money” is the saddest and “Royal Marriage” is a sentimental favorite, but “John Ewing III, Part 2” gets my vote for the season’s all-around best episode. Linda Gray is mesmerizing in the scene where Sue Ellen tearfully confesses her sins to Bobby, but Larry Hagman, Ken Kercheval and Victoria Principal all have terrific moments too.

Hands down, the season’s weakest hour is “Runaway,” the first – and so far only – “Dallas” episode to receive a “D” grade from me. Run away, indeed.


Ten words of dialogue are all you need to describe Season 2’s best scene: “Ray, get me the shotgun out of the hall closet.”

The worst scene? The “Call Girl” sequence where Leeann Rees (Veronica Hamel) lures drunken Ben Maxwell (Fred Beir) into Pam’s bed while J.R.’s sleazy photographer furiously snaps pictures outside the window. What a farce. I half expect Mr. and Mrs. Roper to come charging into the room, wondering what all the commotion is all about.

Supporting Players

Dallas, Joan Van Ark, Valene Ewing


I don’t care how many times I watch it, Joan Van Ark’s performance at the end of “Reunion, Part 2” always knocks me out. In the blink of an eye, Valene goes from anguished when she bids Gary adieu to enraged when she confronts J.R. for driving away his middle brother. With the exception of Linda Gray, no actress in “Dallas” history has better chemistry with Larry Hagman than Van Ark. What a shame she didn’t spend more time at Southfork.

My least-favorite guest stars: the three actors who portray the bad guys in “Kidnapped.” What’s the bigger crime here: holding Bobby hostage or the witless Edward G. Robinson imitations these villains-of-the-week deliver? Then again, what do you expect when performers are given lines like, “We may have the wrong goose – but he can still lay the golden egg!”


Cliff Barnes, Dallas, Ken Kercheval, Pam Ewing, Victoria Principal


I loved the striped hoodie, green pants and knee-high tan boots Pam wears during the “Election” scene where Cliff persuades her to organize a fashion show fundraiser for his state senate campaign. You could put this outfit on Jordana Brewster on TNT’s “Dallas” and she’d look just as stylish as Victoria Principal does in 1978.

Pam also gets my vote for worst outfit: the weird “pants dress” she sports in “Black Market Baby.”


Season 1 gives us Jerrold Immel’s classic “Dallas” theme music, but Season 2 brings us many of John Parker’s magical background tunes, including “The Only Lovers,” Bobby and Pam’s theme; “The Adulteress,” Sue Ellen’s bluesy signature; and “The Loyal Foreman,” Ray’s anthem. (If you don’t own it already, do yourself a favor and purchase Parker’s classic “Dallas” soundtrack today.)


Best: “Bobby, come on. Women marry homosexuals all the time. It seems to suit a lot of them.” – J.R.’s response in “Royal Marriage” after Bobby questions his insistence Lucy marry the closeted oil-and-cattle heir Kit Mainwaring.

Worst: In “Fallen Idol,” J.R. expresses his annoyance with Guzzler Bennett’s name-dropping thusly: “The next thing you know, the name of that actress is gonna be Farrah Fawcett-Guzzler.” Oh, J.R.! Leave the pop culture references to Sue Ellen.

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

TNT’s Dallas Styles: Bobby’s Pajamas

Dead men don’t wear plaid. Right?

In “Family Business,” TNT continues an old “Dallas” tradition: using the Ewings’ sleepwear to telegraph their vulnerabilities.

The practice can be traced to “Spy in the House,” the original show’s third episode, when a sexually neglected Sue Ellen buys a negligee, hoping to arouse J.R.’s interest. Her plan doesn’t work: J.R. calls the nightie “cheap” and storms out of the room, leaving his wife in tears.

In the second-season episode “Survival,” a bathrobe-clad Jock weeps when he learns a plane carrying J.R. and Bobby has crashed. Later, in the third-season episode “Ellie Saves the Day,” Jock and Miss Ellie are both wearing robes when they learn J.R.’s latest oil deal has brought the Ewing empire to the brink of collapse.

And when we encounter a deeply depressed J.R. at the beginning of “Changing of the Guard,” TNT’s first “Dallas” episode, what’s he wearing? You guessed it: a robe and pajamas.

In “Family Business,” Patrick Duffy sports plaid pajamas and what appears to be a dark green robe after Bobby is diagnosed with a life-threatening cerebral aneurysm. The PJs, like the reading glasses perched on Bobby’s nose, remind us our silver-haired hero is entering the twilight of his life – a point Bobby himself makes when he poignantly reminds J.R., “Nobody lives forever.”

But the sleepwear lets us know something else too: Even in pajamas, Patrick Duffy is still dashing.

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 59 – ‘Taste of Success’

Bobby Ewing, Dallas, Patrick Duffy, Taste of Success

His day has come

“Dallas” ties up the “Who Shot J.R.?” saga’s loose ends within the first 10 minutes of “Taste of Success.” Kristin confesses her crime to the Ewings, J.R. and Sue Ellen send her packing, and Miss Ellie breathes a big sigh of relief at the Southfork breakfast table. “Well, it’s over,” she says. Indeed, it is.

“Dallas” deserves praise for concluding things so elegantly. Having J.R.’s shooter turn out to be Kristin – and making her pregnant with his child – is genius because it allows “Dallas” to avoid a trial, even if courtroom scenes on this show tend to be entertaining. I also give “Dallas” credit for not trying to top itself with another sweeping storyline. The show knows it’s time to get back to normal, and in “Taste of Success,” that’s pretty much what happens.

Of all the post-“Who Shot J.R.?” plots, Bobby’s is the most interesting. His efforts to buy the Redfield refinery are surprisingly compelling, primarily because the storyline allows the character to step out of J.R.’s shadow. For once, Bobby is in charge and not merely reacting to J.R.’s schemes. It’s a nice change of pace.

“Taste of Success” also casts a new light on Lucy, who cooks dinner for Mitch, albeit with disastrous results. Besides being charming, Lucy’s efforts to woo the medical student make sense for her character. Now that this upstanding fellow has entered her life, of course she’s going to go after him with gusto.

The only Ewing who doesn’t seem to be changing is Sue Ellen. Following her triumphant confrontation with Kristin at the end of “Who Done It?” Sue Ellen reverts back to J.R.’s dutiful wife in this installment, even allowing him to “seduce” her in a scene that recalls the disturbing quasi-marital-rape sequence in “Black Market Baby.”

Sue Ellen also lets J.R. make up for his misdeeds by buying her a new car, giving the scene where he sends her out for a test drive more than a hint of irony. Her foot might be on the accelerator, but in this episode at least, Sue Ellen isn’t moving forward.

Grade: B


Charlene Tilton, Dallas, Leigh McCloskey, Lucy Ewing, Mitch Cooper, Taste of Success

Doesn’t taste successful


Season 4, Episode 5

Airdate: November 28, 1980

Audience: 26.5 million homes, ranking 1st in the weekly ratings

Writer: Robert J. Shaw

Director: Irving J. Moore

Synopsis: J.R. sends Kristin to California with the promise of monthly checks when their child is born. Sue Ellen is furious at J.R. but her anger turns to passion and they reconcile. Bobby buys a refinery, arousing J.R.’s envy. Pam, who fears Bobby is on a power trip, returns to work. Cliff pursues Donna, while Lucy continues courting medical student Mitch Cooper.

Cast: Robert Ackerman (Wade Luce), Barbara Babcock (Liz Craig), Tyler Banks (John Ross Ewing), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Michael Bell (Les Crowley), David J. Bowman (Tom Selby), Jeff Cooper (Dr. Simon Elby), Mary Crosby (Kristin Shepard), Jim Davis (Jock Ewing), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Tom Fuccello (Dave Culver), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Laurence Haddon (Franklin Horner), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Susan Howard (Donna Culver), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Leigh McCloskey (Mitch Cooper), Jeanna Michaels (Connie), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Paul Sorensen (Andy Bradley), Don Starr (Jordan Lee), Tom Taylor (Assistant District Attorney Martin Purcell), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Warren Vanders (Harry Owens), Gregory Walcott (Jim Redfield)

“Taste of Success” is available on DVD and at and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 44 – ‘Love and Marriage’

Bobby Ewing, Dallas, Love and Marriage, Pam Ewing, Victoria Principal

The louse and his spouse

In “Dallas’s” second-season episode “Black Market Baby,” Pam gets upset when Bobby declares he doesn’t want her to get a job. She memorably tells him, “Sometimes you show a lot of your daddy’s cussedness – and this is one of those days.”

This is another.

Throughout “Love and Marriage,” Bobby fights with Pam because he believes she’s thrown herself into her work at The Store to avoid dealing with their fertility problems. He has a point, but he sure comes off like a jerk while making it.

The couple’s biggest argument erupts when Pam arrives home late after another long day at the office and tells Bobby she’s been offered a big promotion. “That job is four times the work and six times the travel,” Bobby says, adding he can’t believe Pam would “even consider taking it.”

There’s no doubt Pam’s new position would be demanding, but at least she waits to discuss the opportunity with Bobby before accepting it. Earlier in “Love and Marriage,” when Jock asks Bobby to return to Ewing Oil, he accepts the assignment on the spot.

Bobby’s “cussedness” is also on display in the scene where he unexpectedly pops into Pam’s office with a bouquet of roses and offers to whisk her away to dinner and a movie. She’s busy and suggests they spend the next evening together instead. This seems like a reasonable request to me, but it ignites Bobby’s temper. “How do you suppose this company got along without you before you came to work?” he sniffs.

Maybe Bobby doesn’t understand how the real world works – unlike him, Pam isn’t her own boss, so she can’t come and go as she pleases – or maybe he simply doesn’t value her career. Neither scenario makes him seem very appealing.

Of course, Bobby and Pam aren’t the only couple in turmoil in “Love and Marriage.”

Jock struggles to connect with Miss Ellie, who is suddenly distant again (didn’t they put their problems behind them in “Mastectomy, Part 2”?), while J.R. and Sue Ellen remain at war with each other.

“Love and Marriage” also brings newly widowed Donna back into Ray’s life. They reunite and she agrees to marry him, but only after waiting six months out of respect for her deceased husband’s memory.

I’m happy for Ray and Donna, but I wonder if they’ve thought this through. I mean, they see how miserable the other married couples at Southfork are, right?

Grade: B


Dallas, Donna Culver, Love and Marriage, Ray Krebbs, Steve Kanaly, Susan Howard



Season 3, Episode 15

Airdate: December 21, 1979

Audience: 20.2 million homes, ranking 3rd in the weekly ratings

Writer: Leonard Katzman

Director: Alexander Singer

Synopsis: To keep Jock out of the office, J.R. has him bring Bobby back into Ewing Oil. To drive Bobby and Pam apart, J.R. arranges for her to get a big promotion. Ray reunites with the newly widowed Donna, who agrees to marry him in six months.

Cast: Barbara Babcock (Liz Craig), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Jeff Cooper (Dr. Simon Elby), Barry Corbin (Sheriff Fenton Washburn), Mary Crosby (Kristin Shepard), Jim Davis (Jock Ewing), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Mel Ferrer (Harrison Page), Tom Fuccello (Senator Dave Culver), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Susan Howard (Donna Culver), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Jeanna Michaels (Connie), George O. Petrie (Harv Smithfield), Randolph Powell (Alan Beam), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing)

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

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 37 – ‘Rodeo’

Dallas, Dusty Farlow, Jared Martin, Rodeo

Those eyes

Rodeos pit man against beast and on “Dallas,” no one is more beastly than J.R. In “Rodeo,” Sue Ellen, having failed to tame her savage husband, considers climbing in the saddle with a man who seems far less brutish: Dusty Farlow.

Sue Ellen meets the dashing cowboy when she enters a Braddock café with an armful of packages and accidentally bumps into him. Dusty’s first words – “Let me help you, ma’am” – are prophetic, letting us know he’s a different creature than J.R. The attraction between Sue Ellen and Dusty is instant.

Their brief conversation at the café continues the next day at the Ewings’ annual rodeo, where Dusty is the star competitor. Sue Ellen tells him about her loneliness; he tells her about his nomadic life on the rodeo circuit. They realize they have more in common than either might have guessed.

Linda Gray and Jared Martin have an undeniable chemistry, although let’s be honest: It would be hard for any actress to not have chemistry with him. With his lean frame, passionate delivery and come-hither eyes, Martin exudes sensuality.

Together, Gray and Martin make “Rodeo” a third-season highlight and one of my favorite “Dallas” episodes. I also like Leonard Katzman’s direction, which captures the rhythms of a real-life rodeo. Katzman constantly ducks and dives, cutting between the action in the arena and the drama unfolding in the crowd.

Toward the end of the episode, Dusty tells Sue Ellen he doesn’t need the prize money he’s poised to take home but wants it anyway. “The competition,” he says, “that’s not the important thing – it’s winning.”

The line evokes memories of the second-season episode “For Love or Money,” when Cliff compares his affair with Sue Ellen to a game. We remember how Sue Ellen was hurt the last time she sought love with another man.

In “Rodeo’s” closing moments, J.R., fed up with Sue Ellen’s public flirtation with Dusty, yanks her into their bedroom. She slaps him and he throws her onto the bed – and we’re reminded of another second-season scene: the disturbing climax in “Black Market Baby,” when J.R. forces himself on his unhappy wife.

In that episode, Sue Ellen submits to J.R. This time, she bucks him off.

“I’ve wasted more than enough time on you,” J.R. sneers before leaving.

In “Rodeo’s” final shot, Katzman freezes the frame on Sue Ellen, lying on her bed, while Jock’s voice is heard over the loudspeaker outside, announcing Dusty has won the award for best all-around cowboy.

But is he the best man for Sue Ellen?

Grade: A


Dallas, Rodeo

Eight-second ride


Season 3, Episode 8

Airdate: November 9, 1979

Audience: 17 million homes, ranking 15th in the weekly ratings

Writer: Camille Marchetta

Director: Leonard Katzman

Synopsis: The Ewings host their annual rodeo at Southfork, where Sue Ellen arouses J.R. jealousies by flirting with cowboy Dusty Farlow. Meanwhile, J.R. stages a fight with Alan, who impresses Lucy; Digger drops by to see Jock and Miss Ellie’s grandson; and Ray learns Donna’s husband is dying.

Cast: Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Jim Davis (Jock Ewing), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Sherril Lynn Katzman (Jackie), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Jared Martin (Dusty Farlow), Randolph Powell (Alan Beam), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Keenan Wynn (Digger Barnes)

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

Dallas Styles: Sue Ellen’s Pins

‘Black Market Baby’

Sue Ellen sports some interesting accessories during “Dallas’s” second season, particularly during her scenes with Cliff.

She meets him in “Black Market Baby,” when she has a big fabric rose pinned to the lapel of her burgundy jacket. The fake flower is an ideal symbol for the beginning of Sue Ellen and Cliff’s relationship, when they pretend to like each other. In fact, their mutual disdain for J.R. is really the only thing they have in common.


In “Election,”Sue Ellen runs into Cliff again when the Daughters of the Alamo sponsors a debate between him and Martin Cole, his opponent in the state senate race. This time, she wears a pin that resembles a bird’s wing – several feathers, fastened together at what appears to be an amethyst base.

It might seem like Sue Ellen is telegraphing her eagerness to spread her wings, leave J.R. and find happiness with someone else. But remember: she’s wearing only one wing – and that’s not going to get her very far.

Neither is her relationship with Cliff.