Making History: Texas Monthly Tells the Story of ‘Dallas’

Barbara Bel Geddes, Charlene Tilton, Dallas, Jim Davis, Larry Hagman, Linda Gray, Patrick Duffy, Texas Monthly

Bigger than Texas

Texas Monthly marks “Dallas’s” 40th anniversary with a big, sweeping oral history of the series.

The article, written by Max Marshall, boasts a huge cast, including David Jacobs, Patrick Duffy, Linda Gray, David Paulsen, Kristina Hagman, TV critic Matt Zoller Seitz and virtually everyone else you can think of (even me!). There are also several rare behind-the-scenes photos and lots of fresh insight into the show, its role in shaping television and its place in Texas culture.

Read it for yourself at — and be sure to pick up a copy of the print version, which appears as the cover story in the magazine’s October issue.

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 185 — ‘The Verdict’

Bobby Ewing, Dallas, Jenna Wade, Patrick Duffy, Priscilla Beaulieu Presley, Verdict

Stand by your woman, man

Bobby Ewing fights to save Jenna in “The Verdict,” but the real man of the hour is Patrick Duffy. After an unusually long stretch of disappointing episodes, Duffy takes his 12th turn in the “Dallas” director’s chair and helps get the series back on track. His understanding of what the audience wants to see — combined with his ability to draw solid performances from his fellow actors and his knack for visual storytelling — make “The Verdict” the show’s strongest entry since “The Brothers Ewing.” I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Duffy helmed that episode too.

Interestingly, while “The Brothers Ewing” works because it allows several characters to play against type, “The Verdict” succeeds because it shows our favorites returning to form. This is true for Bobby, particularly in the scene where he goes to Los Angeles and delivers an impassioned speech to Ann McFadden, hoping to persuade her to come home with him to testify on Jenna’s behalf. Most importantly, though, “The Verdict” finds J.R. getting his groove back after spending most of the eighth season moping over his various business and romantic frustrations. During the course of this hour, J.R. springs a trap on hapless bureaucrat Nathan Billings, shares a passionate embrace with Mandy Winger and clashes with Sue Ellen, punctuating their argument with an especially menacing expression. Isn’t it nice to see Larry Hagman having fun again?

My favorite performance in “The Verdict,” though, belongs to Stephen Elliott as Jenna’s attorney Scotty Demarest, who is sly and drawl-y enough to out-Matlock Andy Griffith. How can you not love the scene where Scotty approaches Jenna on the witness stand, hands her the gun used to kill Naldo and asks her to unlock it? She has no idea where the safety lever is, making Scotty’s stunt “Dallas’s” version of O.J. Simpson trying on the bloody glove. David Paulsen’s script gives Elliott some hoot-worthy dialogue here, particularly when Scotty turns to the jury and says, “The prosecution wants you to believe that under the effects of chloroform, this little lady here can grab [a gun] away from a man bigger, stronger than she, find the safety, release it, shoot, before he could stop her?” The only thing missing is a Johnnie Cochrane-style refrain: If she can’t find the lever, you must free her!

I applaud Duffy, in his role as director, for giving Elliott so much latitude, but I admire Duffy’s sense of imagination even more. He’s always demonstrated a flair for interesting camera angles, going back to the shot of Bobby and Pam on the Southfork staircase in 1981’s “The New Mrs. Ewing,” the first “Dallas” episode he helmed. In one scene in “The Verdict,” Duffy puts the camera in the jury box, allowing us to see the action unfold in the courtroom the way the anonymous characters sitting in judgment of Jenna are seeing it. It’s a small but clever touch.

Duffy has also mastered the art of efficient storytelling. When the judge begins reading the jury their instructions, Miss Ellie rushes out of the courtroom, followed by Clayton, who comforts her in the corridor. This kills two birds with one stone: It gives Donna Reed and Howard Keel their only meaningful scene in the episode, but it also signals to the audience that the trial is winding down — without forcing us to sit through the judge’s speech. In an earlier scene, we hear Scotty urging Jenna to allow her daughter Charlie to testify, but instead of showing Elliott and Priscilla Beaulieu Presley, Duffy fixes his camera on Ellie and Clayton as they take their seats in the courtroom, and then he pans to Scotty and Jenna. It’s another small touch, but it’s a way of keeping Reed and Keel’s characters in the action.

Besides being entertaining, these visual flourishes distract us from “The Verdict’s” bonkers view of the criminal justice system. During his testimony, Bobby pulls out a letter from Veronica Robinson, a star witness who was murdered before she could clear Jenna in Naldo’s death, and proceeds to read it to the jury. On what planet would this be admissible evidence? Shouldn’t the prosecution want to authenticate the handwriting? Does no one want to hear from someone who witnessed Veronica write the note? Why does Bobby get to read it aloud? And while we’re on that subject, don’t jurors usually have assigned seating in courtrooms? The extras in “The Verdict” never seem to sit in the same seat twice. (By the way: Heidi Hagman, Larry’s daughter, plays the forewoman.)

“The Verdict” also knows when to give the audience more information than the characters, including a brief scene in which Bobby and Pam share a tender moment in Christopher’s Southfork bedroom, unaware that Jenna is lurking in the doorway. Just as importantly, this episode knows when to keep viewers in the dark. We go through the hour suspecting that J.R. is setting up Billings, but we don’t receive confirmation until the next-to-last scene, when we discover the delightfully named Rhonda Cummings — future “War of the Ewings” star Michelle Johnson — is using a hidden camera to film her tryst with Billings, undoubtedly so J.R. can use it against him later.

The twist isn’t unexpected, but the reveal is fun nonetheless. It’s also nice to know “Dallas” still has the ability to pull itself out of the doldrums, although as we reach the end of the eighth season, I’m only sorry these recoveries are so frequently necessary to begin with.

Grade: A


Dallas, Scotty Demarest, Stephen Elliott, Verdict

We, the jury


Season 8, Episode 24

Airdate: March 15, 1985

Audience: 19.3 million homes, ranking 5th in the weekly ratings

Writer: David Paulsen

Director: Patrick Duffy

Synopsis: Bobby obtains valuable evidence from Ann, but Jenna’s trial ends with a guilty verdict. After the Texas Energy Commission shuts down a Ewing Oil field, J.R. sets up the chairman, Nathan Billings, with a prostitute. Donna refuses to return to Ray, while Jamie resists Cliff’s romantic overtures. J.R. tells Mandy that he may not be with Sue Ellen much longer.

Cast: Victor Campos (Mendoza), Roseanna Christiansen (Teresa), Pat Colbert (Dora Mae), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Stephen Elliott (Scotty Demarest), Eric Farlow (Christopher Ewing), Rosemary Forsyth (Ann McFadden), Conroy Gedeon (Dr. Finch), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Heidi Hagman (Jury Forewoman), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Nanci Hammond (Secretary), Jenilee Harrison (Jamie Ewing), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Michelle Johnson (Rhonda Cummings), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Omri Katz (John Ross Ewing), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Virginia Kiser (Judge Roberta Fenerty), Allan Miller (Assistant District Attorney Frederick Hoskins), Bill Morey (Leo Wakefield), William Edward Phipps (Ewing Oil Foreman), Priscilla Beaulieu Presley (Jenna Wade), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Nicholas Pryor (Nathan Billings), Donna Reed (Miss Ellie Farlow), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Sherril Lynn Rettino (Jackie Dugan), Barbara Rhoades (Lila Cummings), Deborah Shelton (Mandy Winger), Wesley Thompson (Bailiff), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing)

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

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 181 — ‘The Brothers Ewing’

Bobby Ewing, Brothers Ewing, Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Patrick Duffy

The dark side

In “The Brothers Ewing,” J.R., Bobby and Ray join forces to protect the family business from the increasingly dangerous Cliff Barnes. You’d think by now we’d all be used to seeing the Ewings unite against their enemies, and yet it never seems to lose its punch, does it? Consider how the events of this episode allow the brothers to play against type. While Bobby is scheming with J.R. to illegally shield Ewing Oil assets from Cliff, Ray is defending J.R. to Clayton, Donna and whoever else will listen. How can you not love a “Dallas” episode that offers surprises like these?

Of course, even though the characters act unexpectedly in “The Brothers Ewing,” they’re not necessarily acting out of character. Take Bobby, for example. His devotion to his family is one of his primary motivations, and he’s usually able to take the high road to achieve his aims. But when virtue isn’t an option, Bobby is more than willing to break the rules. We saw this when he illegally adopted Christopher to save his marriage to Pam, and we saw it again when he fought J.R. during the contest for Ewing Oil. Likewise, Ray’s actions in this episode aren’t all that unusual. This character has always been plagued by feelings of inadequacy, and so when he’s presented with an opportunity to fight alongside his half-brothers, he takes it without hesitation. For Ray, this is like getting to sit with the cool kids at lunch.

Seeing the Ewing brothers working together also is entertaining because, well, it makes these Texas billionaires seem a little more relatable, doesn’t it? Growing up, my older brother never missed an opportunity to make fun of me — but if I got picked on by another kid in the neighborhood, Rick would be the first one to come to my defense. This is common in a lot of families, which is why it’s nice to be reminded that the Ewing boys always have each other’s backs, whether it’s J.R. threatening one of Bobby’s enemies in “Fallen Idol” or Ray sticking up for J.R. in “The Brothers Ewing.” For me — and, I suspect, a lot of “Dallas” fans — scenes like these feel comfortably familiar.

Speaking of Clayton: As much as I enjoy seeing the Ewing brothers go all-for-one-and-one-for-all in this episode, I’m glad David Paulsen’s script keeps their new stepfather on the outside looking in. Howard Keel makes an effective foil in the last scene, when Clayton refuses to aid their scheme to hide Ewing Oil assets because he feels it’s morally wrong. I also like him in the first scene, when the brothers return from their visit to Cliff and admit they blew their opportunity to squash his lawsuit. Clayton tears into the boys, saying, “If you’re all going to get involved in a fight as serious as this one, then you’d better start doing your homework!” J.R. gets defensive (“Well, wonderful. That’s all we need. A lecture from Clayton Farlow”), but ask yourself: Would Jock Ewing have treated his sons any differently at this moment?

Overall, I must admit these episodes about Cliff and Jamie Ewing’s lawsuit are better than I remembered. The storyline feels like a calculated attempt to recapture the glory of J.R. and Bobby’s sixth-season contest by offering an inverse: Instead of the Ewings fighting each other, they’re fighting outsiders. The family versus Cliff and Jamie isn’t as compelling as J.R. and Bobby versus each other, but I can’t blame the show for trying. I especially like how this narrative manages to involve almost all the characters, just like the contest did. In “The Brothers Ewing,” for example, Ray’s decision to team with J.R. and Bobby creates a rift in his marriage to Donna, which feels like a more organic storyline for Steve Kanaly and Susan Howard than the amateur detective subplot they were saddled with the previous season.

Indeed, one of the other highlights in “The Brothers Ewing” is the scene where Donna tells Miss Ellie how horrified she is to see her husband align himself with J.R. Ellie responds that if the Ewings lose the lawsuit, she’ll be glad that Ray and Bobby are with her oldest son because “we’ll have to rely on them to keep him straight.” It’s a poignant line, but it also shows how Donna Reed’s Ellie can be every bit as wise as Barbara Bel Geddes’ version. The scene has the added benefit of reminding us how Patrick Duffy always elicits strong performances from his co-stars when he takes a turn in the “Dallas” director’s chair. Duffy’s clever touch can also be felt in J.R. and Bobby’s scene on the shadowy patio, where the brothers hatch their plot against Cliff. Duffy stages the exchange by putting one of the Southfork columns between him and Larry Hagman — a symbol of the narrowing divide between the brothers.

Like all “Dallas” episodes from this era, “The Brothers Ewing” also contains its share of tributes to the past, including Sue Ellen’s run-in with Cliff, where the ex-lovers make awkward small talk. When she turns down his invitation to lunch, he declares he’s not trying to seduce her. “That thought never even entered my mind,” she says, which is funny, because it’s the first thought that entered mine. Other scenes are amusingly outdated, including one where J.R. calls the modeling agency, hoping to learn Mandy’s whereabouts by pretending to be her brother “Marvin Winger” (caller ID would give him away today), as well as Bobby and Jenna’s lunch with Scott Demarest, who shows them splashy headlines about her trial in the Laredo newspapers. This shocks the couple, although in a pre-Facebook era, how would they have known how the out-of-town press was covering her case?

I also get a kick out of seeing John Ross playing with his toy space shuttle — would today’s kids even know what that is? — although nothing charms me quite like the scene where Pam points to a globe and shows Christopher where Mommy will be traveling soon. When Victoria Principal says, “That’s Hong Kong,” Eric Farlow repeats the line back to her. It feels utterly spontaneous, prompting Principal to laugh uproariously and pull Farlow close. Like a similar scene between Pam and Christopher in the seventh-season cliffhanger “End Game,” this one demonstrates again that little Eric Farlow is more absorbed in his role than some of the grown-ups on this show. Can someone remind me again why they replaced this kid?

Grade: A


Brothers Ewing, Christopher Ewing, Dallas, Eric Farlow, Pam Ewing, Victoria Principal

Boy meets world


Season 8, Episode 20

Airdate: February 15, 1985

Audience: 21.2 million homes, ranking 2nd in the weekly ratings

Writer: David Paulsen

Director: Patrick Duffy

Synopsis: Clayton turns down his stepsons when they ask him to help them shield Ewing Oil assets from Cliff. Donna balks at Ray’s involvement with the fight for the company. Jamie has second thoughts about the lawsuit. Sue Ellen agrees to accompany Pam to Hong Kong to search for Mark. J.R. asks Mandy to give him another chance.

Cast: Mary Armstrong (Louise), John Carter (Carl Hardesty), Pat Colbért (Dora Mae), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Stephen Elliott (Scotty Demarest), Eric Farlow (Christopher Ewing), 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), 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), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Kathleen York (Betty)

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

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 176 — ‘Lockup in Laredo’

Dallas, Jenna Wade, Lockup in Laredo, Priscilla Beaulieu Presley

Caged beauty

Jenna Wade goes to jail in “Lockup in Laredo,” which is cause for celebration as far as I’m concerned. This is when Stephen Elliott arrives as Scotty Demarest, the high-dollar super lawyer who defended Jock Ewing against murder charges during “Dallas’s” third season and returns here to do the same for Priscilla Beaulieu Presley’s character. With his flamboyant style and thick drawl, Elliott makes Scotty a Texas version of Johnnie Cochrane. He’s a joy to watch and one of the best things about the Jenna-in-jeopardy storyline that dominates this era of the show.

Elliott shines every time he appears in “Lockup in Laredo,” although his best moment comes when Scotty questions Jenna in the jailhouse conference room. The scene begins with Jenna tired of rehashing the events that preceded her arrest and confident she didn’t fire the shots that killed her ex-husband, Naldo. But Scotty’s relentless questioning makes her re-consider everything she thinks she knows about the creep’s demise. Elliott, who honed his talent on the New York stage, forces Presley to keep up with him, bringing out the best in her performance. The contrast between his bulldog theatrics and her quiet, exhausted frustration makes their almost five-minute exchange a scene to remember. (Or “re-mem-buh,” as Scotty would say.)

“Lockup in Laredo” is the 10th “Dallas” episode helmed by Patrick Duffy, who once again demonstrates his knack for visual storytelling. In one scene, Bobby and Scotty examine the evidence found in Naldo’s car. This conversation could have been staged in a conference room too, but Duffy instead brings the characters to the impound lot, filming himself and Elliott inside the vehicle as they poke around the backseat and glove box. It helps the audience feel part of the action, and it’s always nice to see the actors in a new environment. In that spirit, I like the scene that shows Jackie relaxing at home when Cliff calls her, marking one of the few times we see a “Dallas” secretary in her own living space.

Duffy also does a nice job staging “Lockup in Laredo’s” pivotal final scene, which pulls together multiple narrative threads. We’ve been waiting several episodes for Sue Ellen to realize J.R. is getting bored in their marriage. We’ve also been waiting to see what Jamie will do with the legal document that could divide control of Ewing Oil among Jock, Jason and Digger’s heirs. Both storylines come to a head when J.R. arrives home and is confronted by Jamie, who spotted him cheating with Serena earlier in the day. When Sue Ellen overhears the conversation and questions her husband, he accuses Jamie of lying, prompting her to threaten to use her document against him. Sure, this is convoluted plotting, but you have to admire “Dallas’s” ability to advance two subplots in one swoop.

The other reason I like this scene is because it backs J.R. into a corner, which is where he’s always at his best (or worst, as the case may be). Let’s face it: As much as we all love Larry Hagman’s character, he’s gotten a little dull this season. David Paulsen’s script acknowledges as much when Miss Ellie and Clayton stand on the Southfork patio and discuss how troubled everyone at the ranch is these days — with the exception of J.R., who is being downright princely. “Isn’t it funny when everything else is going so badly, he’s the one bright spot in the family?” Ellie says. The moment these words pass her lips, you know she’s going to regret them.

I also enjoy seeing Ray and Donna take another turn as this show’s version of “McMillan and Wife,” this time combing through Sam Culver’s old legal papers to find evidence to refute Jamie’s claims about Ewing Oil’s ownership. This feels a little more organic than their investigation last year into Edgar Randolph’s past, although I’m always bewildered by this show’s inability to give Steve Kanaly and Susan Howard a storyline of their own. (By the way, what’s going on with the oil company Donna bought a few episodes ago?) Likewise, I have mixed feelings about Lucy’s storyline. I wish she had stuck with waitressing a little longer, although I’m intrigued by her foray into the real estate business in “Lockup in Laredo.” It’s not what I would have expected from her, but hey, at least she isn’t being kidnapped again.

Grade: B


Bobby Ewing, Dallas, Lockup in Laredo, Patrick Duffy, Scotty Demarest, Stephen Elliott

Backseat driver


Season 8, Episode 15

Airdate: January 4, 1985

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

Writer: David Paulsen

Director: Patrick Duffy

Synopsis: After Jenna is arrested for Naldo’s murder, Bobby hires Scotty Demarest to defend her. Jamie catches J.R. cheating with Serena and confronts him, unaware that Sue Ellen is eavesdropping. Mandy grows tired of Cliff. Ray and Donna find evidence that Jamie’s document is real. Pam finds no trace of Mark in Jamaica. Lucy suggests she and Eddie go into the real estate business.

Cast: Beau Billingslea (Dr. Miller), Stephanie Blackmore (Serena Wald), Roseanna Christiansen (Teresa), James Cromwell (Gerald Kane), Val De Vargas (Patrick Wolfe), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Stephen Elliott (Scotty Demarest), Eric Farlow (Christopher Ewing), 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), Priscilla Beaulieu Presley (Jenna Wade), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Donna Reed (Miss Ellie Farlow), Sherril Lynn Rettino (Jackie Dugan), Deborah Shelton (Mandy Winger), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing)

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

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 154 — ‘Fools Rush In’

Dallas, Fools Rush In, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman

With a twist

One reason Larry Hagman is so damn good is because he knows what the audience wants and how to give it to us. Take “Fools Rush In’s” most entertaining scene, when J.R. chews out Katherine for inadvertently making a Bobby/Pam reconciliation possible. It’s somewhat ridiculous to see a grown man so consumed with his brother’s love life, and so Hagman plays the scene accordingly, making J.R.’s bluster more amusing than anything else. The funniest moment comes when Katherine declares she has “no objection” to Pam’s pending marriage to Mark and J.R. mockingly snaps, “Oh, you have no objection to that, do you? Well, you just better keep pushing until that happens, honey!” Who doesn’t love to see Hagman deliver a line like that?

Of course, great acting involves more than indulging the audience. When “Fools Rush In” begins, J.R. has figured out Sue Ellen has been having an affair and he responds in typical J.R. style — by being extra nice to his wife while he secretly plots revenge. After attending Punk and Mavis Anderson’s anniversary party together, J.R. escorts Sue Ellen to her room and says how much he enjoyed spending the evening with her. Sue Ellen looks positively stricken while J.R. beams — until his back is turned and we see his face drop. Is he having reservations about the trap he’s about to spring? Does he fear he might end up pushing his fragile wife too far? There’s no way to know and it doesn’t really matter. What’s important is that we catch a glimpse of J.R.’s humanity. It’s an example of Hagman giving us what we need to see.

While Hagman deserves much credit for highlighting J.R.’s complexities in “Fools Rush In,” he gets an assist from scriptwriter David Paulsen. We don’t know the details of J.R.’s scheme against Sue Ellen and her lover Peter Richards, but we know he wants to bring the couple closer. Notice how J.R. uses John Ross to achieve this goal. First, he waits until the family is gathered around the breakfast table to suggest hiring Peter to spend time with the child, knowing how excited John Ross will be when he hears his camp counselor might be visiting him at Southfork on a regular basis. How could Sue Ellen say no? Likewise, when J.R. approaches Peter with the idea, he brings along his son, essentially daring Peter to turn him down and break the boy’s heart. Who knew John Ross would turn out to be one of Daddy’s best accomplices?

I also like how Paulsen and director Michael Preece treat the return of Dennia Patrick’s duplicitous banker Vaughn Leland, who makes his first “Dallas” appearance since the fifth season. “Fools Rush In”  begins with Cliff scrambling to raise the money he owes the government until — lo and behold! — Vaughn shows up on his doorstep and offers him a loan, which Cliff desperately accepts. At the end of the episode, we see J.R. in his office, fixing drinks for himself and an unseen guest. “Well, everything seems to be moving in the right direction,” he says. Preece’s camera follows him as he carries the drink across the room to — yep, you guessed it — Vaughn, who it turns out is in cahoots with J.R. It’s a nifty twist.

Speaking of Vaughn: I was a little puzzled when Afton reacted so coolly to seeing him in this episode, until I remembered J.R. put her up to sleeping with Vaughn during her early days on “Dallas.” I’m glad the writers didn’t forget about their past, even if I almost did. Other nice touches in “Fools Rush In” include the scene where J.R. hires a detective to snoop into the past of Lucy’s newest boyfriend, Peter. J.R. explains to the private eye why he cares about his niece: “She’s the daughter of my brother Gary, who I’m particularly fond of.” Another fun moment comes when Bobby tells Sue Ellen that Jenna accused him of being stubborn. “Well, you’re not the most flexible person in the world,” Sue Ellen says.

Not everything here works. I’m disappointed we don’t actually see the Andersons’ anniversary party, which the Ewings have been anticipating for several episodes. Not even Oil Baron’s Balls and Ewing Barbecues receive this much buildup. Also, as much as I get a kick out of seeing Ken Kercheval squirm in the scenes where Cliff struggles to raise the money he owes the government, I can’t help but think the feds must have been running one hell of a racket in the 1980s. They allow Cliff to bid tens of millions of dollars more than his competitors for the offshore oil leases, and then they show up unannounced at his office, demanding payment just days after the auction ended? Who says the Reagan administration was business friendly?

But nothing stretches credibility quite like the “Fools Rush In” scene where Pam asks Mark’s physician, Jerry Kenderson, to reveal her fiancée’s mysterious medical diagnosis — and with very little prodding, Kenderson blabs all. So much for doctor-patient confidentiality rules! Then again: Since everyone on “Dallas” is ethically challenged, why should we expect the doctors to be any different?

Grade: B


Cliff Barnes, Dallas, Fools Rush In, Ken Kercheval

Foolin’ around


Season 7, Episode 23

Airdate: March 9, 1984

Audience: 22.5 million homes, ranking 1st in the weekly ratings

Writer: David Paulsen

Director: Michael Preece

Synopsis: Cliff borrows money from banker Vaughn Leland to finance his offshore oil scheme, unaware that J.R. and Vaughn are in cahoots. J.R. warns Katherine to keep Bobby away from Pam, who learns Mark is dying but doesn’t know it. J.R. also springs a trap for Peter, hiring him to spend time with John Ross at Southfork. Bobby has second thoughts about breaking up with Jenna. Miss Ellie and Clayton set a wedding date.

Cast: Christopher Atkins (Peter Richards), John Beck (Mark Graison), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Gerald Berns (James Kenyon), Morgan Brittany (Katherine Wentworth), Barbara Cason (Iris Porter), Roseanna Christiansen (Teresa), Robert Donavan (Metcalf), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Eric Farlow (Christopher Ewing), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Barry Jenner (Dr. Jerry Kenderson), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Omri Katz (John Ross Ewing), Sherill Lynn Katzman (Jackie Dugan), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Audrey Landers (Afton Cooper), Shalane McCall (Charlie Wade), Dennis Patrick (Vaughn Leland), Priscilla Beaulieu Presley (Jenna Wade), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Peter White (Ellis Newton)

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

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 142 — ‘To Catch a Sly’

Dallas, Debbie Rennard, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Sly Lovegren, To Catch a Sly

Spy another day

One of the reasons J.R. Ewing is so entertaining is because he’s always a few steps ahead of the “Dallas” audience. We watch him plot and scheme, never knowing what trick he’s going to pull out of his sleeve next. That’s why the show’s seventh-season corporate espionage storyline is so unusual. From the beginning, viewers know Cliff Barnes is blackmailing J.R.’s secretary Sly into leaking Ewing Oil secrets, but J.R. is in the dark. Interestingly, this never makes Larry Hagman’s character seem weak or even vulnerable. In fact, it has almost the opposite effect, because we know once J.R. finds out who’s betraying him, there’s going to be hell to pay.

Indeed, that’s pretty much what happens in “To Catch a Sly.” When the episode begins, J.R. has just learned Cliff has a spy at Ewing Oil but he doesn’t know who it is, so he goes to work trying to root out the fink. He finally discovers Sly is the culprit in the fourth act, and in the closing moments, he confronts her. This scene begins with Sly at her desk at the end of a workday, getting ready to go home. J.R. appears in his office doorway and summons her inside. She swallows hard before entering the room, where J.R. makes small talk and begins opening a bottle of wine. “You know, you’ve been looking a little peaked lately, Sly,” he says. She tells him she’s been having “some personal problems,” adding that “it’s nothing serious.” J.R. turns toward her, hands her the glass of wine he just poured and says, “If it’s the problem I’m thinking of, it’s very serious indeed.” Uh-oh.

What follows is one of the great “Dallas” moments. Sly sits in one of J.R.’s guest chairs as he walks to his desk and retrieves a stack of photos that show her and Cliff during some of their secret meetings. The director, Michael Preece, keeps Debbie Rennard in the foreground as Hagman hovers in the distance, holding the pictures aloft. With this shot, Preece encapsulates the whole storyline: Here’s J.R., the businessman who’s been betrayed; Sly, the secretary who’s been forced to double-cross her boss; and Cliff, the smarmy enemy who’s stooped to a new low in his never-ending quest for vengeance. As soon as I saw how Preece framed this scene, I knew it would be the image that accompanied this critique.

As the sequence continues, J.R. slowly shuffles through the photos, showing them to Sly one by one. “You recognize anybody in these pictures?” he asks. She stares at the floor in silence. “Sure, you do,” he says. “This is you, and this is Cliff Barnes.” Hagman’s voice is calm, soft, almost melodic. It reminds me of Mister Rogers addressing an audience of children, although when J.R. speaks this way, it’s anything but reassuring. Preece, who has been focusing on the pictures in a tight close-up, pans upward and allows Hagman’s face to fill the frame. Finally, J.R. poses the question he’s been waiting to ask: “Sly, why did you betray me to that man?”

The line alleviates the tension because it suggests J.R. is going to stop torturing Sly with politeness and cut to the chase. He listens as she tearfully explains how Cliff pressured her to sneak him advanced information about J.R.’s business dealings by threatening to prevent her jailed brother from being paroled. In a clever touch, Rennard doesn’t make eye contact with Hagman until Sly says, “J.R., I love my brother. I couldn’t pass up a chance to help him.” Preece cuts to a reaction shot from J.R., whose face displays a flicker of recognition. He knows a thing or two about brotherly love, after all.

Indeed, this is the moment we know J.R. is going to show Sly mercy. He tells her that he’s pleased she didn’t try to “cover up” when he confronted her with the pictures, and then Hagman lifts the corners of his mouth, ever so slightly. You can practically see the wheels turning inside J.R.’s head. He suggests he’s going to turn Sly into a double agent, using her to feed Cliff bad information. “You’re going to set him up?” she asks. J.R. shakes his head no. “He set himself up,” he says. “What I’m going to do is bring him down — and bring him down very, very hard.”

The episode ends there, leaving us with plenty to ponder. For starters: How twisted is it that J.R. turns out to be pleased by this turn of events? He now has an excuse to go after Cliff with gusto, not that he needs one; batting around Cliff has always been J.R.’s favorite sport. For a moment, I also wondered if J.R.’s vow to “bring him down” reflected paternal feelings toward Sly. In other words: Does he want to avenge her honor after Cliff took advantage of her? Ultimately, I decided that’s not what’s happening here. I have no doubt J.R. has affection for Sly, but if he really cared about her, would he turn her into a double agent? Isn’t he treating her like a pawn, just like Cliff did?

Regardless, Rennard does a nice job conveying Sly’s shame and guilt, as well as the character’s paranoia in her earlier scenes in “To Catch a Sly,” when Sly realizes J.R. is closing in on her. This episode also reminds us how much Hagman’s performance has evolved over the years. Remember: This isn’t the first time one of J.R.’s secretaries has betrayed him. In “Spy in the House,” the show’s third episode, Julie Grey sneaks a copy of Ewing Oil’s notorious “red file” to Cliff. When J.R. discovers Julie double-crossed him, he looks devastated, but Hagman offers no hint that J.R. feels personally wounded by Sly’s treachery. At this point during “Dallas’s” run, the actor had long since honed J.R.’s killer instincts, and that’s what he gives the audience here.

David Paulsen’s sharp script gives us lots to consider besides this final scene. For example, when J.R. drops by Cliff’s office and plants the recording device in his phone, I wondered: Would Cliff really be foolish enough to allow J.R. to use his office when he isn’t there? I decided he would be. I’ve always believed Cliff doesn’t want to beat J.R. as much as he wants to be J.R. Cliff mimics his enemy as far back as the second-season episode “For Love or Money,” when he uses one of J.R.’s own lines to break up with Sue Ellen. Cliff also emulates him when he blackmails Sly, tossing around the word “baby” the way J.R. does “darlin’.” So in “To Catch a Sly,” when J.R. shows up on Cliff’s doorstep to congratulate him on his recent victories over Ewing Oil, I can buy that Cliff is so blinded by the idea that J.R. is impressed with him that he lets down his guard and leaves him alone in his office. Besides, just because Cliff is devious doesn’t mean he’s smart.

“Dallas’s” various romantic entanglements also take interesting twists in “To Catch a Sly.” The episode opens with the newly divorced Pam awakening after sleeping with Mark for the first time, while Bobby continues to resist bedding Jenna, even though she says she wants to have sex with him. Did you ever expect to see a Ewing man insist on taking things slowly with a woman? Meanwhile, Sue Ellen’s ongoing May/December flirtation with Peter Richards leaves me feeling a little cold, at least in this episode. Until now, I’ve been intrigued by Sue Ellen and Peter’s connection, but he seems a little bratty — not to mention stalkerish — when he follows her to her appointment with hairdresser Mr. David. (By the way: Mr. David has evidently moved to new digs since the exterior of his salon doesn’t match the building used in the previous season. And where’s the valet parking?)

Finally, a few words about the technology displayed in “To Catch a Sly.” This episode seems to offer more than the usual share of gadgets and gizmos that were considered cutting-edge in 1983 and now seem hopelessly dated. Examples: J.R. wears a pager on his belt when he visits Cliff’s office, and after he bugs his phone, he listens to the recorded conversations on what appears to be a Sony Walkman. (How, exactly, does the little device that J.R. drops into Cliff’s receiver yield audiocassette recordings of Cliff’s calls?) Later, when Katherine goes to the library to dig up dirt on Jenna, she looks up old newspaper articles on microfiche. Finally, when J.R. brings John Ross to the Ewing Oil offices, the little boy pounds on the keyboard attached to Sly’s computer, which has a monitor that seems to display graphics in two colors: white and blue.

Look closely and you’ll also see the logo of the company that made the machine: Texas Instruments. What else would you expect from the Ewings?

Grade: A


Dallas, Debbie Rennard, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Sly Lovegren, To Catch a Sly



Season 7, Episode 11

Airdate: December 9, 1983

Audience: 23 million homes, ranking 3rd in the weekly ratings

Writer: David Paulsen

Director: Michael Preece

Synopsis: J.R. discovers Sly is spying on him for Cliff and decides to turn her into a double agent. Bobby is bothered when he discovers Pam slept with Mark. Katherine noses around in Jenna’s past. Sue Ellen begins planning the annual Ewing Barbecue and feels envious when Lucy expresses interest in dating Peter.

Cast: Mary Armstrong (Louise), Christopher Atkins (Peter Richards), John Beck (Mark Graison), Morgan Brittany (Katherine Wentworth), James L. Brown (Detective Harry McSween), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Eric Farlow (Christopher Ewing), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Omri Katz (John Ross Ewing), Sherril Lynn Katzman (Jackie Dugan), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Lisa LeMole (Judy Baker), Edward Mallory (Stanger), Shalane McCall (Charlie Wade), Priscilla Beaulieu Presley (Jenna Wade), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Danone Simpson (Kendall), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Deborah Tranelli (Phyllis)

“To Catch a Sly” is available on DVD and at and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 140 — ‘Morning After’

Christopher Atkins, Dallas, Linda Gray, Morning After, Peter Richards, Sue Ellen Ewing

Special needs

The characters on “Dallas” usually have affairs when they fall in lust or in love, but neither scenario is true for Sue Ellen Ewing and Peter Richards. Their romance is based on their mutual neediness. Sue Ellen, having been betrayed by J.R. once too often, needs to be reminded of what life was like before it turned into one extended heartache. Peter, a bright young man who is eager for the world to take him seriously, needs to feel like a grownup. Put another way: She needs to feel younger, he needs to feel older. This doesn’t make their relationship right, but I can see why they’re drawn to each other.

In “Morning After,” Sue Ellen and Peter finally acknowledge what’s happening between them. It begins when Peter visits Southfork and overhears J.R. and Sue Ellen arguing. J.R. wants his wife to sleep with him; when she refuses, he suggests it’s because Peter is “getting” to her. Sue Ellen insists this isn’t true but wonders if J.R. is jealous. His response: “Jealous? Are you kidding? The one thing I don’t have to worry about is a schoolboy with a crush on my wife.” The next day, Peter persuades Sue Ellen to meet him at a quiet pier, where he says he doesn’t think he should continue working with John Ross because he’s developed feelings Sue Ellen. She tells Peter it’s “not so unusual” for a young man to be attracted to an older woman, comparing him to a student who develops a crush on a teacher. Sue Ellen urges him to not “give up” on John Ross, who adores Peter and would be sad to lose him as his counselor. “It’ll all work out. You’ll see,” she says.

Except this is “Dallas,” and so of course things won’t work themselves out. To begin with, Sue Ellen is also attracted to Peter, although she doesn’t want to admit it. Why? Scriptwriter David Paulsen never makes this clear, but it seems safe to assume the always ladylike Sue Ellen believes it would be wrong for a woman in her 40s to desire a college student like Peter. Regardless of the character’s motivation, Linda Gray does a nice job bringing Sue Ellen’s conflicted feelings to light. This is especially true in the scene where Sue Ellen shoots down Lucy’s suggestion that Peter has a crush on her. Gray delivers her lines with just enough defensiveness in her voice to let the audience know that Sue Ellen doesn’t believe a word of what she’s saying. Charlene Tilton’s skepticism in this scene is also pitch-perfect. When Sue Ellen insists Peter is nothing more than John Ross’s friend, Lucy snaps, “He’s John Ross’s friend? John Ross is 5 years old. Peter is in college.”

Sue Ellen’s denials bring to mind one of “Dallas’s” earlier May/December romances: Jock’s affair-of-the-heart with Julie Grey. Like Sue Ellen does with Peter, Jock initially denies anything is happening between him and Julie, although he eventually realizes their relationship is wrong and ends it. Also, like Sue Ellen and Peter’s romance, Jock and Julie’s affair is rooted in mutual neediness: He needs Julie to help reclaim his vitality after his heart attack, while she needs Jock to validate her self-worth. One difference between the two relationships: Julie fools herself into thinking it’s OK to pursue Jock, but Peter does no such thing when it comes to his feelings toward Sue Ellen. Even after Peter eavesdrops on J.R. and Sue Ellen’s spat and realizes they aren’t the happy couple they pretend to be in public, Peter tells Sue Ellen their friendship can’t continue. “You’re married. I just don’t think anything should happen between us,” he says.

Ultimately, this is why Sue Ellen is so attracted to Peter: Unlike the husband who has caused her so much pain, Peter is principled. He still has some growing up to do, though. The day after Sue Ellen’s conversation with Peter at the pier, she drops John Ross off at camp and discovers Peter hasn’t shown up for work. Sue Ellen returns to the pier, where she finds Peter sitting on the dock, looking like a sad little boy. She again reassures him that everything will work itself out, then holds his hand and walks him toward her car, where, in the episode’s final scene, he kisses her. The sentimental underscore lends this scene a “Summer of ’42” vibe, and Christopher Atkins is earnest enough to make Peter’s kiss seem gentle and sweet. But isn’t it also kind of childish? For all of Sue Ellen’s talk about how mature Peter is, he apparently isn’t grown up enough to control his impulses.

Sue Ellen and Peter’s relationship will take more twists and turns as “Dallas’s” seventh season progresses, but by the end of “Morning After,” it feels like their affair is already doomed. The qualities that attract these characters to each other are the same qualities that seem destined to tear them apart them. Sue Ellen is drawn to Peter’s youth and, having had her first taste of self-empowerment in the previous episode, she seems to enjoy being the dominant player in their relationship. Notice how she goes to the pier to retrieve him, and she takes his hand and walks him to her car. Peter’s attraction to Sue Ellen, in the meantime, is based on how she treats him like a man. As their relationship deepens and she asserts herself more, will he still feel the same way?

Peter isn’t the only character who comes clean in “Morning After.” In one of this episode’s most interesting scenes, Katherine finally tells Bobby she loves him and is surprised to see the revelation shocks him. I suspect a lot of “Dallas” fans probably share Katherine’s surprise, although Bobby’s explanation (“You’re Pam’s sister. I could never think of you in any other way.”) seems reasonable to me. Regardless, I feel sorry for Katherine. Yes, she did an awful thing by working with J.R. to orchestrate Bobby and Pam’s breakup, but Morgan Brittany imbues her character with such sad desperation that she becomes a sympathetic figure. I also have to admire how Katherine goes after what she wants, unlike so many of the other women on this show who never seem fully in control of their own lives.

Other notable moments in “Morning After” include the scene where Cliff invites Pam to join him for a business dinner with Ben Kesey, whose oil company Cliff wants to buy. Of course, smarmy Cliff arrives late because he knows Kesey will be attracted to his sister and wants them to have plenty of time alone together. This won’t be the first time Cliff will use a woman named Pam in this manner, is it? Fortunately, in “Morning After,” Victoria Principal’s Pam is smart enough to figure out what’s happening and calls Cliff on his manipulation. Too bad Donna doesn’t demonstrate the same gumption in her scene with Paul Morgan. After she thanks Morgan for defending Ray during his murder trial, Morgan flirts with Donna shamelessly, predicting she’ll “wake up one day and leave that guy.” Why doesn’t Donna slug him? On the other hand, Morgan isn’t wrong, is he?

The other great scene in “Morning After” showcases Larry Hagman’s wonderful chemistry with Tilton. It begins when J.R. arrives for breakfast on the Southfork patio, ranting about his brawl with Cliff at the Oil Baron’s Ball the previous night. When J.R. reveals Cliff bit him, Lucy snickers. Says J.R.: “It’s not a laughing matter, young lady. A human bite is a very serious thing. Don’t you worry. I’ll take care of Cliff Barnes.” Lucy’s response: “Are you going to bite him back?”


Grade: B


Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Morning After

Who bit J.R.?


Season 7, Episode 9

Airdate: November 25, 1983

Audience: 21.2 million homes, ranking 3rd in the weekly ratings

Writer: David Paulsen

Director: Michael Preece

Synopsis: After Cliff is named oil baron of the year, he gets into a fistfight with the Ewings. Katherine declares her love to Bobby, who says he considers her a friend. Peter confesses his crush to Sue Ellen and kisses her. Cliff uses information from Sly to steal another deal from J.R.

Cast: Christopher Atkins (Peter Richards), John Beck (Mark Graison), Morgan Brittany (Katherine Wentworth), Glenn Corbett (Paul Morgan), Joe Dorsey (Ben Kesey), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Omri Katz (John Ross Ewing), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Audrey Landers (Afton Cooper), Shalane McCall (Charlie Wade), Priscilla Beaulieu Presley (Jenna Wade), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Debi Sue Voorhees (Caroline), Tom Williams (Joe Clooney), Morgan Woodward (Punk Anderson)

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

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 137 — ‘Check and Mate’

Bobby Ewing, Check and Mate, Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Patrick Duffy


“Check and Mate” brings J.R. and Bobby’s contest for control of Ewing Oil to a satisfying but somewhat silly conclusion. In the final scene, the brothers learn J.R. boosted the company’s profits by $40 million, making him the clear-cut winner. With his victory clenched, J.R. announces he’s reneging on his earlier promise to split the company with Bobby, even if Bobby comes up short. Suddenly, Bobby receives some last-minute news: He just made a killing on his Canadian drilling deal, making him the contest’s winner. J.R. wants to go back to their original power-sharing deal — and of course Bobby agrees. Would we expect anything less from this show?

Indeed, this is another example of “Dallas’s” rather fanciful approach to big business. J.R. and Bobby receive the contest results while meeting with lawyer Harv Smithfield on the last day of the competition. Legally, shouldn’t this meeting have taken place the following day, when all the profits could have been counted? Also, in the previous episode, Bobby’s Canadian partner Thornton McLeish still hadn’t struck oil; now we learn Bobby and McLeish not only hit big, they managed to sell their shares to some bigger oil companies. Talk about a fast sale!

But even if this scene stretches credulity, it remains one of the best corporate showdowns from a series that practically invented them. Bobby’s 11th-hour victory is surprising and dramatic; I usually don’t like to see J.R. get beat, but when Bobby does it, I let it slide. Besides, Larry Hagman gets to show a lot of range here — unabashed smugness when J.R. thinks he’s won, muted humility when he realizes he’s lost — and that’s always fun to watch. (I also appreciate how the sequence includes one last letter from Jock, whose explanation that the true purpose of the contest was to bring his sons together makes the storyline feel like Jock’s version of J.R.’s master plan from the TNT series. Or maybe it’s the other way around.)

The lasting consequences of J.R. and Bobby’s fight yields mixed feelings too. There’s no doubt the battle has changed Bobby, who compromised his integrity in his quest for power and ended up losing his wife and son along the way. Bobby is now a damaged man, and Patrick Duffy does a nice job imbuing his character with a sad, soulful weariness. I wish we could say something similar about J.R. After the Southfork fire, J.R. had an attack of conscience and agreed to jointly run Ewing Oil with Bobby, regardless of which brother won the competition. He changed his mind pretty quickly and spent the episodes before “Check and Mate” secretly plotting to stab Bobby in the back when the final results were announced. No one wants to see J.R. turn into a good guy, but wouldn’t it have been more interesting to watch him wrestle with breaking his promise to Bobby? It would have revealed a new depth to J.R.’s character and made the yearlong battle for Ewing Oil, one of “Dallas’s” milestone moments, feel even more meaningful.

Even with these slight shortcomings, “Check and Mate” remains the seventh season’s strongest hour yet. With J.R. and Bobby’s war ending, the show shifts its attention to two supporting characters: Ray and Donna, whose marriage is rocked after Ray is arrested for Mickey’s mercy killing. (This makes Mickey one of the last casualties in the war for Ewing Oil, along with Rebecca Wentworth and Walt Driscoll.) Did Ray pull the plug? Or was it Lil, the only other person in the room at the time? Steve Kanaly is a portrait of quiet resolve as Ray goes through this episode refusing to discuss what happened in the moments before Mickey’s death. The silence is frustrating, but it’s also perfectly in keeping with the character of Ray, a laconic cowboy if ever there was one. Whether Ray pulled the plug himself or he’s simply taking the fall to protect Lil, we wouldn’t expect him to talk about it.

Even if Ray doesn’t have much to say, Kanaly still manages to give the audience a sense of Ray’s inner torment. In “Check and Mate’s” moving next-to-last scene, he sits at the patio table outside his home and asks the deeply depressed Lil for permission to bury Mickey at Southfork. Kanaly’s delivery breaks my heart, but as I watched this scene I remembered Ray and Jock’s memorable conversation at that very table in “The Fourth Son,” when the old man told Ray he was his son. It’s a subtle but poignant reminder of how Ray tried to take Mickey under his arm, the way Jock did with Ray, and how Ray’s efforts ultimately fell short. On the other hand, whether Ray killed his cousin himself or he’s just protecting Lil, is he not exhibiting a Jock-like sense of duty and honor?

Like Kanaly, Susan Howard also makes the most of her time in the spotlight. She has two terrific moments in “Check and Mate.” In the first act, Donna speaks to Ray in jail after his arrest; the glass partition separating the couple feels like a stand-in for the bigger barrier, which is Ray’s willingness to open up about the circumstances surrounding Mickey’s death. Donna seems to believe Ray disconnected Mickey’s life-support system, and Howard makes her character’s disappointment palpable. “Nobody has the right to play God,” she says with signature breathiness. Donna’s reaction makes sense, given the character’s strong moralistic bent. It’s another example of how well “Check and Mate” scriptwriter David Paulsen knows these characters.

Howard’s second great moment comes at the beginning of the third act, when Donna rides out to a Southfork pasture to confront Ray about his lack of willingness to defend himself. She reminds her husband that his only duty wasn’t to ease Mickey’s suffering; Ray also has an obligation to his marriage. Once again, Paulsen gives Howard a great line, and she delivers it beautifully: “You’re what I wanted all my life. You may not think your life is worth saving, but I sure as hell do.” With this single line, Paulsen manages to encapsulate Donna’s entire history with Ray, including her affair with him during her marriage to Sam Culver and when she rescued Ray from depression after Jock’s death.

The other great performance in “Check and Mate” comes from Charlene Tilton, who is moving and believable in the scene where Ray comes home from jail and is greeted by the Lucy, who in her grief-stricken rage beats on his chest and cries, “You murdered him!” It’s another example of how Tilton, when given good material, is a terrific actress. I also have to hand it once again to Howard, who allows the scene to end on a graceful note. “For God’s sake,” Donna says as she tries to comfort Lucy. “Don’t you know that it’s tearing him apart too?”

Like all great “Dallas” episodes, the details in “Check and Mate” are also worth paying attention to. Toward the end of the scene where Sue Ellen offers to throw a barbecue for Peter and his fellow camp counselors, Linda Gray touches Christopher Atkins’ shoulder; right at that moment, composer Bruce Broughton brings a few piano keys into the background score to ensure the audience doesn’t miss the significance of the gesture. Moments later, when Peter runs back into the building to retrieve John Ross, watch how Atkins bounds up the stairs. Peter is still a boy himself, isn’t he?

Elsewhere, director Leonard Katzman also gives us a great shot during the scene where Cliff approaches Sly as she leaves Ewing Oil for her lunch break. Debbie Rennard stands with her back to the building, facing Ken Kercheval, whose face is reflected in the façade. It’s a clever way to get both performers’ faces in the frame, but is it not also a symbol of how Cliff is increasingly reflecting the underhanded sensibilities of the enemy who works there?

Grade: A


Cliff Barnes, Dallas, Debbie Rennard, Ken Kercheval, Sly Lovegren



Season 7, Episode 6

Airdate: November 4, 1983

Audience: 22.5 million homes, ranking 1st in the weekly ratings

Writer: David Paulsen

Director: Leonard Katzman

Synopsis: The contest for Ewing Oil ends with Bobby the winner, but he agrees to share the company with J.R. When Ray is arrested in Mickey’s death, Donna hires Paul Morgan to represent him, while Lil slips into a deep depression. Pam goes to work with Cliff, who uses inside information from Sly to steal a big deal out from under J.R. Bobby tells Holly can never date her.

Cast: Dan Ammerman (Neil), Christopher Atkins (Peter Richards), John Beck (Mark Graison), Morgan Brittany (Katherine Wentworth), Lois Chiles (Holly Harwood), Roseanna Christiansen (Teresa), Jack Collins (Russell Slater), Glenn Corbett (Paul Morgan), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Eric Farlow (Christopher Ewing), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), John Hostetter (Gerber), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Omri Katz (John Ross Ewing), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Kenneth Kimmins (Thorton McLeish), Audrey Landers (Afton Cooper), George O. Petrie (Harv Smithfield), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Kate Reid (Lil Trotter), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Bill Thurman (Allen Murphy), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Morgan Woodward (Punk Anderson)

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

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 117 — ‘The Ewing Blues’

Dallas, Ewing Blues, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman

Don’t box him in

“The Ewing Blues” includes one of “Dallas’s” cleverest scenes. J.R. appears on a local TV talk show to tout his new chain of cut-rate gas stations, which is turning him into a hero in the eyes of the public. Cliff is watching the interview from the living room of his new townhouse, where a deliveryman arrives with the Chinese takeout he ordered. As Cliff reaches for his wallet, the man notices what’s playing on Cliff’s TV. “That’s J.R. Ewing, ain’t it?” he asks. “I tell ya, if he ran for president tomorrow, I’d vote for him! I would!” Cliff is left shaking his head and muttering, “So much for the intelligence of the average voter.”

With this scene, “Dallas” has a little fun with its audience. For years, viewers — present company included — had been treating J.R. like a hero. Now fictional fans like Cliff’s deliveryman were doing the same thing. The line about voting for J.R. even brings to mind the “J.R. for President” buttons and bumper stickers that cropped up during the summer of 1980, when “Who Shot J.R.?” hysteria was in full swing. (I also wonder if the dialogue reflects the era’s political realities. When “The Ewing Blues” debuted in January 1983, Ronald Reagan’s approval rating had sunk to an astonishing 35 percent, the lowest level of his presidency. In those months before Reagan’s popularity rebounded, perhaps Americans really would have voted to replace him with J.R.)

J.R.’s talk show appearance also offers another reminder of Larry Hagman’s genius. J.R. tells the host, Roy Ralston, that he’s cutting gas prices because he believes the oil industry has gouged consumers for too long. We know J.R. is lying because earlier in “The Ewing Blues,” he tells little John Ross that he has become the oil industry’s version of Robin Hood (“take from the poor and give to the rich”). Yet as J.R. talks to Ralston about how “the American public deserves a better hand than they’ve been dealt,” the sincerity in Hagman’s voice kind of makes us want to believe his character. How did Hagman do that?

More than anything, I love Hagman’s scenes with Linda Gray in “The Ewing Blues,” especially J.R. and Sue Ellen’s exchange in their bedroom. After Ray punches him during a Southfork cocktail hour, J.R. sits on the bed, holding an icepack to his swollen lip as Sue Ellen caresses his face. He tells her that he’s nervous about his talk show appearance in a few days and hints he’d like her to join him — and of course the onetime Miss Texas leaps at the opportunity to take another turn in the spotlight. This might be one of the sweetest gestures J.R. ever makes toward his wife. Think about it: J.R. never loses his confidence. He’s only pretending to be anxious so he’ll have an excuse to invite Sue Ellen on the show and involve her in his life. As he puts it, “We’re partners, aren’t we?”

David Paulsen, who wrote and directed “The Ewing Blues,” doesn’t just show us a softer side of J.R.; he also lets us see Bobby’s edge. To compete with J.R.’s cut-rate gas plan, Bobby wants to uncap the Wellington field, one of the Ewing Oil properties Bobby controls during the contest for the company. The problem: The cartel members are partners in the field, and they want it to remain capped. With help from lawyer Craig Gurney, Bobby tells Jordan and Marilee that he’s prepared to exercise a clause in their contract that requires them to either uncap the field or buy out Bobby at five times market value. “That’s armed robbery!” Jordan huffs. Gurney’s response: “No, that’s Paragraph 17A, Section F.” It’s one of my favorite exchanges during the episode.

The other great scene in “The Ewing Blues” comes at the end, when Ellie and Pam visit Brooks Oliver, the lawyer who agrees to help Ellie try to overturn Jock’s will. Ellie is quite timid at the beginning of the scene, clutching the letters that Jock wrote to her from South America. Oliver predicts their lawsuit will turn ugly and wind up in “the newspapers,” which prompts Pam to rebuke him for upsetting her. “She has to know exactly what she is getting into if she wants to go to court,” Oliver explains. This is when Ellie’s fighting spirit bursts forth. “Mr. Oliver, I don’t want to go to court. I don’t want to do any of this,” she says, slapping her hand on the desk. Besides Barbara Bel Geddes’ dramatic delivery, pay attention to the gentle strings that play in the background of this scene. The score, which helped composer Bruce Broughton win an Emmy in 1983, reminds me a little of the music Rob Cairns delivers on TNT’s “Dallas.”

Finally, some casting notes: Oliver is played by the wonderful character actor Donald Moffat, possessor of the fiercest eyebrows this side of Larry Hagman. Moffat is one of several familiar faces who pop up in “The Ewing Blues.” Gurney is played by Lane Davies, who would later star on the soap opera “Santa Barbara,” while another daytime television veteran, John Reilly (“As the World Turns,” “General Hospital”), plays Ralston, the talk show host. The most significant addition to the cast, though, is John Beck, who joins “Dallas” in this episode and begins a three-season run as Mark Graison. I had forgotten that Mark was introduced as an old Ewing family friend. In one scene, when he calls Southfork and Bobby answers the phone, the two characters chat like old chums. It’s surprising to witness, but I know the glad tidings won’t last long.

Grade: A


Barbara Bel Geddes, Dallas, Ewing Blues, Miss Ellie Ewing

Mama means business


Season 6, Episode 14

Airdate: January 7, 1983

Audience: 21.4 million homes, ranking 4th in the weekly ratings

Writer and Director: David Paulsen

Synopsis: J.R. appears on a TV talk show and is lauded for his efforts to cut gas prices. After J.R. threatens to ruin Harwood Oil if Holly doesn’t cancel her refinery contracts, she turns to Bobby for help. To get the cartel to uncap the Wellington property, Bobby threatens to exercise a legal loophole in Ewing Oil’s contract with the cartel members. Mark Graison gives Brooks, his family’s attorney, permission to take Miss Ellie’s case, and Mark grows smitten with Pam when he meets her. Cliff moves into his new townhouse, while Afton grows frustrated with the way he treats her.

Cast: Tyler Banks (John Ross Ewing), John Beck (Mark Graison), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Al Checco (deliveryman), Lois Chiles (Holly Harwood), Roseanna Christiansen (Teresa), Lane Davies (Craig Gurney), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Bobbie Ferguson (Terri), Fern Fitzgerald (Marilee Stone), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Audrey Landers (Afton Cooper), Donald Moffat (Brooks Oliver), Timothy Patrick Murphy (Mickey Trotter), Scott Palmer (Farley Criswell), Robert Pinkerton (Elliot), Priscilla Pointer (Rebecca Wentworth), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), John Reilly (Roy Ralston), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Danone Simpson (Kendall), Paul Sorensen (Andy Bradley), Don Starr (Jordan Lee), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Deborah Tranelli (Phyllis)

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

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 114 — ‘Post Nuptial’

Dallas, Linda Gray, Post Nuptial, Sue Ellen Ewing

December bride

“Post Nuptial” picks up where the previous “Dallas” episode left off, as the Ewings and their guests wait to see what will happen after Cliff stands up during the middle of J.R. and Sue Ellen’s wedding ceremony. The answer: Not much. After a few moments of cringe-worthy silence, Cliff walks to the bar and pours himself a drink while the minister completes the vows and announces that J.R. and Sue Ellen are once again husband and wife. If there’s a lesson here for “Dallas” fans, it might be this: Lackluster cliffhangers are bound to produce underwhelming resolutions.

Of course, Cliff hasn’t caused his last scene. At the reception, he refuses Pam and Afton’s pleas to leave, then asks Sue Ellen to dance. Sue Ellen looks rattled and reluctantly accepts Cliff’s offer, which stretches credibility a little too thinly for my taste. It was one thing for Sue Ellen to quietly renew her relationship with Cliff while she was a divorcee, but to dance with him on the day she remarries J.R.? That seems like a lot for the audience to swallow. Don’t forget: This is the man who once sued J.R. and Sue Ellen for custody of John Ross, claiming he was the child’s biological father.

More than anything, Cliff and Sue Ellen’s scene at the reception is a plot device to squeeze a fight scene into this episode. When J.R. spots his wife and his enemy on the dance floor, he approaches Cliff and punches him, which leads to a brawl that ends with almost every lead actor on the show falling or being pushed into the Southfork swimming pool. A confession: I’ve never loved these “dunkings” as much as other fans seem to. It’s always seemed a little silly to me, and by the end of the series, the pool fights had become pretty predictable. Since this is one of the first, though, I can appreciate how much fun it must have been in 1982 to see the tuxedo-clad Ewings and Cliff splashing around the pool. The best part is when Mickey Trotter joins the fracas, seemingly for the hell of it.

(You also have to enjoy J.R. and Mickey’s encounter earlier at the reception, when the young ranch hand makes the mistake of asking J.R. about Lucy’s whereabouts. Larry Hagman and Timothy Patrick Murphy both have charm to spare and good chemistry together; what a shame this is one of the few scenes their characters share during Murphy’s too-brief tenure on the show.)

The wedding scenes in “Post Nuptial” are limited to the first act, allowing scriptwriter David Paulsen to devote the remainder of the hour to advancing the season’s storylines. Naturally, J.R. remains the center of the action and keeps the audience guessing. He whisks Sue Ellen away on a quick honeymoon to a waterfront resort, where she tells him she wants “a total commitment” from him. “No other women, no games,” she says. This seems like the kind of conversation the couple should have had before they walked down the aisle, but no matter. J.R. assures Sue Ellen he’s not going to repeat the mistakes he made during their first go-round as husband and wife. “I promise you,” he says.

Does he mean it? I believe he does. After all, J.R. resisted the temptation to cheat with Holly in “The Ewing Touch,” one of the previous episodes. The audience is less sure of J.R.’s sincerity at the end of “Post Nuptial,” when Bobby — having snooped around into J.R.’s business dealings — confronts him with evidence that suggests J.R. is selling oil to countries on the government’s embargo list. “You’re talking about an illegal act, Bob. … I assure you, a thought like that never crossed my mind,” J.R. says. He sounds sincere, but since “Dallas” hasn’t revealed the reason he’s pumping so much extra oil, we can’t quite be sure if he’s telling the truth this time.

I also like the “Post Nuptial” scene where Afton vows to leave Cliff after the brouhaha he caused at the wedding. In a tense moment, she also comes close to confessing her recent indiscretion with Gil Thurman, only to chicken out at the last minute and collapse into Cliff’s arms. I’m a fan the Ken Kercheval/Audrey Landers pairing over the long haul, but this is one point in their relationship where I don’t understand why she sticks with him.

Thank goodness we have Sue Ellen around to cheer on. In addition to the scene where she demands that “total commitment” from J.R., we get to see her accompany him to the refinery he wants to buy. When the refinery owner informs the couple his business isn’t for sale, Sue Ellen pipes up with, “You haven’t even heard our offer yet.” It’s an early glimpse of the shrewd energy executive she’ll one day become. Too bad it takes a few decades for it to happen.

Grade: B


Bobby Ewing, Dallas, Patrick Duffy, Post Nuptial

Who do you trust?


Season 6, Episode 11

Airdate: December 10, 1982

Audience: 21.8 million homes, ranking 2nd in the weekly ratings

Writer: David Paulsen

Director: Michael Preece

Synopsis: After J.R. and Sue Ellen are married, Afton decides to leave Cliff but doesn’t follow through. Holly tells Bobby about her connection to J.R. Bobby fears J.R. may be illegally selling oil to countries on the State Department’s embargo list. Donna, now a member of the Texas Energy Commission, vows to rescind J.R.’s variance to pump excess oil. Lucy rejects the advances of her client, Bill Johnson.

Cast: E.J. André (Eugene Bullock), Parley Baer (minister), Tyler Banks (John Ross Ewing), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Ivan Bonar (Perkins), Lois Chiles (Holly Harwood), Jon Cypher (Jones), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Fern Fitzgerald (Marilee Stone), Tom Fuccello (Senator Dave Culver), Gerry Gibson (Jimmy Otis), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Nicholas Hammond (Bill Johnson), Alice Hirson (Mavis Anderson), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Audrey Landers (Afton Cooper), Timothy Patrick Murphy (Mickey Trotter), Priscilla Pointer (Rebecca Wentworth), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Paul Sorensen (Andy Bradley), Don Starr (Jordan Lee), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Deborah Tranelli (Phyllis), Morgan Woodward (Punk Anderson)

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