Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 113 — ‘The Wedding’

Dallas, Cliff Barnes, J.R. Ewing, Ken Kercheval, Larry Hagman, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing, Wedding

What is she thinking?

“The Wedding” is a strong episode with a silly ending. In the final scene, J.R. and Sue Ellen stand under a big tent in the Southfork driveway, where a minister is conducting their second marriage ceremony. He asks “if there be any man” who can say why the couple shouldn’t be remarried. Cliff, who is seated in the audience, suddenly springs to his feet. The camera zooms in on Ken Kercheval, the music swells and Philip Capice’s closing credit flashes onto the screen. That’s it.

This is less of a cliffhanger than a pause. Since there was no doubt in 1982 that J.R. and Sue Ellen were indeed going to be remarried, I wonder: What about this scene was supposed to be suspenseful? How big of a jackass Cliff would make of himself when the story resumed the following week? Indeed, most of what everyone remembers about J.R. and Sue Ellen’s second trip to the altar — her dance with Cliff, J.R. and Cliff’s fistfight, the scene where half the actors wind up in the Southfork swimming pool — happens in the follow-up segment, “Post Nuptial.” Couldn’t the “Dallas” producers have put some of that good stuff in “The Wedding”?

Of course, even if the final scene is underwhelming, you have to appreciate the lavishness of J.R. and Sue Ellen’s ceremony. At this point during “Dallas’s” run, Southfork had hosted only one other wedding: Lucy and Mitch’s, which was shot on the show’s Hollywood soundstage. J.R. and Sue Ellen’s nuptials were filmed at the “real” ranch. This makes their event look and feel like an honest-to-goodness outdoor affair, with real blue skies and actual wind blowing through the actors’ hair. When it comes to Southfork, there’s no substitution for the real thing.

“The Wedding” also reminds us how much TV weddings have changed over the years. Director Leonard Katzman shows us every step of Sue Ellen’s walk down the aisle and allows us to hear all the vows recited by the minister (who, by the way, is played by Parley Baer, the veteran character actor who portrayed the hard-of-hearing man J.R. encounters in the “Knots Landing” episode “A Family Matter”). Three decades later, when Christopher and Pamela Rebecca were married in the first episode of TNT’s “Dallas,” their ceremony was depicted in a musical montage set to an Adele song. There was no need to hear the wedding march or the vows because at this point, TV audiences have been “trained” to understand how weddings work.

Besides the ending, my only other gripe with “The Wedding” is the lack of attention paid to Sue Ellen. Here’s a woman who is about to remarry a man who has caused her tremendous pain, yet we never see her question if she’s doing the right thing or reflect on what she learned during the season-and-a-half she spent away from him. Don’t get me wrong: “Dallas” makes a smart decision by reuniting these characters, who are always more entertaining together than they are apart. I just wish Will Lorin’s script had given us a clearer understanding of what’s going on inside Sue Ellen’s head. Then again, maybe she isn’t sure either.

Besides, Miss Ellie and Clayton are the real star attraction of “The Wedding.” He comes to Southfork to escort Sue Ellen down the aisle but winds up spending most of his time with Ellie. Their scenes together showcase the warm rapport between Barbara Bel Geddes and Howard Keel and make it clear to the audience how well-suited their characters are for each other: Clayton laments never having a large family, while Ellie confides her fear that J.R. and Bobby’s contest will tear the Ewings apart. The only moment that rings false occurs when Ellie tells Clayton how much he reminds her of Jock. If you ask me, Keel was an ideal replacement for Jim Davis because their characters were so different. Whereas Jock was rough around the edges, Clayton was a refined gentleman. And yet isn’t it impressive how easily Clayton slides into Jock’s place? By the end of the hour, Clayton is stepping between J.R. and Bobby to keep them from scuffling during a rowdy Southfork cocktail hour and standing at Ellie’s side as she greets the wedding guests. These are things Jock once did, but Clayton handles them well.

Other highlights of “The Wedding” include Lucy’s encounter in the Southfork kitchen with Mickey, where the ranch’s resident rebels take an instant dislike to each other. (Except not really. Like Ellie and Clayton, it’s pretty clear Lucy and Mickey are destined for romance.) I also like J.R.’s visit to Holly, where he recommends she sell one of her company’s divisions to Petro State. Notice that Lorin doesn’t feel obligated to remind us what Petro State is; the “Dallas” producers trust the audience to remember J.R. set up this dummy corporation a few episodes ago. And even though Cliff’s big move at the end of “The Wedding” isn’t all that dramatic, I can’t help but enjoy the scene where J.R. invites his nemesis to the ceremony. Yes, it’s a cruel thing for J.R. to do, but how can you not love seeing the delicious smile Larry Hagman flashes when he encourages Cliff to come watch him marry the woman who dumped him?

The other actor to watch in “The Wedding:” the bearded extra who pops up throughout this episode. He first appears as a patron in the restaurant where Punk summons J.R. for a drink. Later, when Bobby, Pam, Ray and Donna head to the nightclub, we see the bearded man boogeying on the dance floor. Finally, he plays one of the guests at J.R. and Sue Ellen’s wedding. (In the image above, you can see the man’s face behind Sue Ellen’s right shoulder.) Forget whether or not Cliff is going to disrupt the wedding; the real cliffhanger is: Who is this bearded man, and why is he stalking the Ewings?

Grade: A


Barbara Bel Geddes, Clayton Farlow, Dallas, Miss Ellie Ewing, Wedding

Golden couple


Season 6, Episode 10

Airdate: December 3, 1982

Audience: 23.6 million homes, ranking 1st in the weekly ratings

Writer: Will Lorin

Director: Leonard Katzman

Synopsis: Clayton visits Southfork and spends time with Miss Ellie, which hurts Rebecca. At J.R.’s behest, Holly prepares to sell part of her company, unaware the buyer is J.R.’s dummy corporation. Dave persuades Donna to join the new Texas Energy Commission. Lucy and Mickey meet and instantly dislike each other. At J.R. and Sue Ellen’s wedding, when the minister asks for objections, Cliff rises.

Cast: Parley Baer (minister), Tyler Banks (John Ross Ewing), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Lois Chiles (Holly Harwood), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Tom Fuccello (Senator Dave Culver), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Alice Hirson (Mavis Anderson), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Audrey Landers (Afton Cooper), Doug McGrath (Gentry), Timothy Patrick Murphy (Mickey Trotter), Priscilla Pointer (Rebecca Wentworth), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Danone Simpson (Kendall), Don Starr (Jordan Lee), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Deborah Tranelli (Phyllis), Ray Wise (Blair Sullivan), Morgan Woodward (Punk Anderson)

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

Critique: ‘Knots Landing’ Episode 55 — ‘Daniel’

Daniel, Knots Landing, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman


J.R. Ewing is sitting across from Abby Cunningham in his hotel room, where he’s invited her to join him for a seafood lunch. Of course, J.R. wants more from Abby than her company. She promised to sneak him a copy of Val’s soon-to-be-published novel about the Ewings, but Abby sent only a handful of chapters. When J.R. tells her he wants to see the whole manuscript, Abby says she can arrange it — if J.R. lets her know what Gary’s going to inherit in Jock’s will. J.R. tries to charm his way out of giving up this information, but Abby won’t hear it. She fixes a steely gaze upon J.R., picks up a crab leg and — crunch! — cracks it in two. Our hero has met his match.

This is one of several terrific scenes in the “Knots Landing” episode “Daniel,” although my favorite moment comes later, when Abby returns to J.R.’s hotel room with the missing chapters from Val’s book. J.R. keeps up his end of the bargain too, telling her that Gary will soon come into “big money” courtesy of Jock’s will. J.R. then launches into a story about how a teenaged Gary spent one summer working at Southfork to earn the motorcycle he desperately wanted. That September, Jock took him to the showroom, where Gary picked out his bike, revved it up — and drove it through the dealership’s plate-glass window. The purpose of J.R.’s tale: He wants Abby to keep Gary out of his showroom. “Your showroom?” she asks. “Keep him out of Dallas,” J.R. responds.

The metaphor isn’t all that elegant, but no matter. I love watching Larry Hagman in this scene. He delivers every word of J.R.’s speech with a downhome, folksy charm. In J.R. speak, the word “motorcycle” becomes “motor-sickle.” Next to the parable about the blind horse that J.R. shares with John Ross during an early episode of TNT’s “Dallas,” this might be Hagman’s most memorable monologue. It makes me wish he had taken this act to the stage. Imagine: a one-man show where Larry Hagman tells stories, in character as J.R., about growing up on Southfork. It could’ve been this generation’s “Mark Twain Tonight.”

Donna Mills doesn’t have much to do in this scene, but she holds her own against Hagman nonetheless. In J.R.’s previous visits to “Knots Landing,” when Abby was still a new character, the writers tried to elevate her to his level by having him fawn over her (J.R. to Abby in “A Family Matter,” a second-season “Knots Landing” episode: “You know, you are the most delicious conniver it’s been my pleasure to encounter.”). In “Daniel,” with Abby’s bona fides established, we see her and J.R. try to outmaneuver each other, which proves much more entertaining. I especially like when J.R. tells Abby she wants to be “queen” of the Ewing family. “No. I’ll settle for princess,” she purrs. J.R.’s response: “You’ve got it. You get the ermine and the jewels. But the crown stays in Dallas. Because the crown is mine.”

“Daniel” also includes a terrific scene where J.R. shows up unexpectedly on Val’s doorstep. Hagman and Joan Van Ark are always electric, especially when J.R. is pretending to be nice to Val. His “compliment” on her recent redecorating (“I just love what y’all have done with this room. It’s … it’s really you.”) is sublime. As an added bonus, this scene also features a brief encounter between J.R. and Lilimae, which reunited Hagman with Julie Harris, his co-star in the 1959 Broadway production of “The Warm Peninsula.” The best exchange, though, comes when J.R. is introduced to Val’s book editor Joe Cooper, played by Stephen Macht:

J.R.: Her editor? Oh, well it is true, then. You know, there’s been rumors flying all around Dallas about a book called “Corn Crude” or “Crude Porn” or “Corn Pone.”

Joe: “Capricorn Crude.”

J.R.: Yeah, that’s it!

“Daniel” was written by John Pleshette, the great actor who played Richard Avery on “Knots Landing.” Besides J.R.’s appearance, the episode is probably best remembered as the segment where Richard wrecks his car while driving pregnant wife Laura to the hospital, forcing him to deliver their child in the backseat. I watched it with my mom on the night it first aired, but the only thing I remembered were the credits rolling over a shot of Laura holding the child, whom she and Richard name “Daniel.” Seeing the episode again recently (it isn’t available on DVD, but you can find recordings online), I was gripped by the childbirth sequence. The baby isn’t breathing when he’s born, so Richard must force air into his lungs. It’s a touching performance and a reminder that on “Knots Landing,” even jerks like Richard can occasionally be heroes.

Grade: A


Constance McCashin, Daniel, Knots Landing

Special delivery


“Knots Landing” Season 4, Episode 2

Airdate: October 7, 1982

Audience: 14 million homes, ranking 28th in the weekly ratings

Writer: John Pleshette

Director: Joseph B. Wallenstein

Synopsis: J.R. visits Knots Landing and wishes Val success on her novel, then secretly buys the company that published the book. After J.R. tips Abby off to Gary’s inheritance, she sneaks him an advance copy of Val’s manuscript.

Cast: Tonya Crowe (Olivia Cunningham), Kevin Dobson (Mack MacKenzie), Hank Garrett (Frank), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Julie Harris (Lilimae Clements), Lisa Hartman (Ciji Dunne), James Houghton (Kenny Ward), Robert Jayne (Brian Cunningham), Kim Lankford (Ginger Ward), Michele Lee (Karen Fairgate), Claudia Lonow (Diana Fairgate), Stephen Macht (Joe Cooper), Constance McCashin (Laura Avery), Richard McMurray (Glen Needham), Donna Mills (Abby Cunningham), Harry Northrup (Wayne Harkness), Pat Petersen (Michael Fairgate), John Pleshette (Richard Avery), Danny Ponce (Jason Avery), Marcia Solomon (Masha), Ted Shackelford (Gary Ewing), Joan Van Ark (Valene Ewing), Lesley Woods (Martha Needham)

Share your comments about “Daniel” below.

Critique: ‘Knots Landing’ Episode 30 – ‘Designs’

Stick it to him

Stick it to him

In “Designs,” J.R. once again visits “Knots Landing” and once again, the results are disappointing. These crossover episodes are almost never as good as they should be.

On paper, occasionally sending “Dallas” characters to Seaview Circle makes perfect sense. “Dallas” was television’s most-watched series in the early 1980s, when “Knots Landing” was still struggling to find an audience. CBS, the network that aired both shows, probably encouraged the “Knots Landing” producers to make room for “Dallas” characters a few times each season to goose the spinoff’s ratings.

Since Bobby and Lucy are on friendly terms with “Knots Landing’s” Gary and Valene, it was plausible to have them show up in the cul-de-sac from time to time. But J.R. despises his Southern California relatives, which meant the “Knots Landing” writers had to keep coming up with excuses to bring him to town.

In “Designs,” J.R. offers to patent the cleaner car engine Sid Fairgate has been developing in his spare time. Yes, J.R. does business with part-time garage inventors. This surprises you?

To be fair, Diana Gould and Robert W. Gilmer’s script has J.R. tell Sid’s wife Karen he’s interested in the engine because “money is money. I don’t care whether it comes from burning oil or saving it.” It seems more likely J.R. wants to seize Sid’s project so he can kill it, but this is never made clear. I don’t mind a little ambiguity now and then, but since car engines are so far outside J.R.’s realm, it would be nice to have a better idea of what he’s up to.

The script also requires J.R. to spend almost all his time with the Fairgates, whom he barely knows and who aren’t exactly his kind of people to begin with. “Designs” also offers several scenes between J.R. and Sid’s scheming sister Abby, and like J.R. and Abby’s scenes in “A Family Matter,” their “Designs” alliance isn’t as much fun as you might expect. Donna Mills and Larry Hagman make a fine couple, but I’d still rather see J.R. fight with Val than fawn over Abby. Unfortunately, Hagman and Joan Van Ark share no scenes in this episode. Talk about your missed opportunities.

Given how much I love Hagman’s “Knots Landing” debut in the first-season episode “Community Spirit,” I’m as surprised as anyone to find his subsequent visits so lacking. For J.R., maybe one trip out west was enough.

Grade: C


Backseat affair

Backseat affair


“Knots Landing” Season 2, Episode 17

Airdate: March 26, 1981

Audience: 16.3 million homes, ranking 18th in the weekly ratings

Writers: Diana Gould and Robert W. Gilmer

Director: Nicholas Sgarro

Synopsis: Sid rejects J.R.’s offer to patent his design for a cleaner car engine. Abby sneaks a copy of the design to J.R., but she makes him sign a contract that protects her brother’s interest in the project. J.R. and Abby consummate their deal by having sex.

Cast: Tonya Crowe (Olivia Cunningham), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing) James Houghton (Kenny Ward), Bobby Jacoby (Brian Cunningham), Barry Jenner (Jeff Cunningham), Kim Lankford (Ginger Ward), Michele Lee (Karen Fairgate), Claudia Lonow (Diana Fairgate), Constance McCashin (Laura Avery), Donna Mills (Abby Cunningham), Don Murray (Sid Fairgate), John Pleshette (Richard Avery), Arthur Rosenberg (Dr. Harper), Ted Shackelford (Gary Ewing), Steve Shaw (Eric Fairgate), Joan Van Ark (Valene Ewing), John Volstad (bellhop)

Watch “Designs” on DVD and share your comments below.

Knots Landing Scene of the Day: ‘… But You’re a Royal Pain’

Battle royale

Battle royale

In “Knots Landing’s” second-season episode “A Family Matter,” Valene (Joan Van Ark) visits J.R. (Larry Hagman) in his hotel room.

J.R.: Well, it’s quite an honor.

VAL: I need to talk to you, J.R.

J.R.: All right. Shall I order up some drinks or some yogurt or something like that?

VAL: I wanna talk to you about Gary.

J.R.: What’s the matter with Gary?

VAL: He promised me last night that he wouldn’t make any deals with you.

J.R.: Oh, I see. And you came up here to see that he keeps his promise.

VAL: I wanna know what you’re getting my husband into.

J.R.: I’m not getting your husband into anything. The closest I’ve gotten to a Ewing since I left Dallas is right here with you.

VAL: Don’t do anything to him now, J.R. Now that things are finally going so right for him.

J.R.: You are a lovely lady, Valene. But you’re a royal pain. Gary’s never amounted to much in his life, and I think that’s because of you.

VAL: What?

J.R.: You think small, Valene. Real small. Gary’s got a noose around his neck, and you’re hanging onto the other end, dragging him down.

VAL: You are a vile, evil man.

J.R.: All right, all right, all right. The conversation’s over. I don’t wanna talk anymore. I’m kind of busy now. [Walks to the door, opens it]

VAL: [Begins leaving, stops and turns to him] I don’t blame whoever it was that shot you. I just wish I’d done it myself.

He shuts the door and sighs.

J.R.: I don’t need this.

Critique: ‘Knots Landing’ Episode 22 – ‘A Family Matter’

Look who's lurking

Look who’s lurking

The “Knots Landing” episode “A Family Matter” brings J.R. to Los Angeles, where he meets Abby Cunningham, his Southern California counterpart. This inaugural matchup between two of television’s greatest villains has its moments, but overall, it’s not as much fun as you might expect.

The problem: J.R. and Abby are too much alike. These characters are at their best when they’re clashing with principled do-gooders like Bobby or Karen Fairgate, not fawning over each other, which is what happens throughout “A Family Matter.” In one scene, J.R. tells Abby she is “wickedly clever.” In another, he calls her “the most delicious conniver it’s been my pleasure to encounter.” The love-fest gets boring pretty quickly.

J.R. previously visited Seaview Circle in “Community Spirit,” a first-season “Knots Landing” episode that found Gary and Karen rallying their neighbors to stop Ewing Oil from drilling near the local beach. That episode was a hoot because it took J.R. out of “Dallas’s” glamorous surroundings and plopped him into suburbia, where he was exposed to such foreign concepts as tuna fish sandwiches and housewives who pick up their husbands’ dry-cleaning.

J.R. is out of his element again in “A Family Matter,” but somehow, these scenes aren’t as much fun. A lot of this has to do with the context. In this episode, Abby is hoping to sink her claws into Gary, so she persuades J.R. to bail out his brother, who has gotten embroiled in a stolen-parts ring and needs $50,000 to pay off some underworld goons. It’s not quite as noble as stopping offshore oil drilling.

Maybe this is why my two favorite moments in “A Family Matter” don’t have much to do with the main storyline. In the first of these scenes, J.R. sits at Abby’s dinner party and boasts about how he’s going to bring Lucy’s fiancée Mitch “up to our standards,” which sends Valene off the rails. “How dare you meddle in my daughter’s life!” she fumes.

Later, Val, who doesn’t know about Gary’s underhanded dealings, visits J.R. and pleads with him to leave her and Gary alone. The insults soon start flying. J.R. declares Val is “a royal pain;” she calls him “a vile, evil man.”

Aside from showcasing the terrific chemistry between Larry Hagman and Joan Van Ark, these scenes remind us: Watching J.R. fight is much more fun than watching him fawn.

Grade: B


When worlds collide

When worlds collide


“Knots Landing” Season 2, Episode 9

Airdate: January 22, 1981

Audience: 15.4 million homes, ranking 26th in the weekly ratings

Writer: David Paulsen

Director: Edward Parone

Synopsis: When J.R. comes to Los Angeles for a convention, Gary and Val’s neighbor Abby Cunningham asks J.R. to give Gary $50,000 so he can pay off a debt to two shady characters. Gary reluctantly takes the money, but J.R. hints he wants Gary to help him squelch Sid’s plan to build an energy-efficient car engine.

Cast: Parley Baer (old man), William Boyett (Frank Kolbert), Tonya Crowe (Olivia Cunningham), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Steven Hirsch (Roy Lance), James Houghton (Kenny Ward), Bobby Jacoby (Brian Cunningham), Kim Lankford (Ginger Ward), Michele Lee (Karen Fairgate), Claudia Lonow (Diana Fairgate), Constance McCashin (Laura Avery), Donna Mills (Abby Cunningham), Don Murray (Sid Fairgate), Pat Petersen (Michael Fairgate), John Pleshette (Richard Avery), Ted Shackelford (Gary Ewing), Louise Vallance (Sylvie), Joan Van Ark (Valene Ewing)

“A Family Matter” is available on DVD. Watch the episode and share your comments below.