Critique: TNT’s ‘Dallas’ Episode 8 – ‘No Good Deed’

Dallas, John Ross Ewing, Josh Henderson, No Good Deed, TNT

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In “No Good Deed,” John Ross is jailed for a murder he didn’t commit and then savagely beaten by a couple of inmates who are connected to the real killers. The Ewings respond to this crisis by rallying around their tarnished golden boy, making this the first time the characters on TNT’s “Dallas” begin to feel like a real family. Not coincidentally, it’s also the first time the new show begins to really feel like the old one.

The original “Dallas” is often described as a series about rich people behaving badly, but the deeper truth is that “Dallas,” at its heart, was a show about family. TNT seems to fully realize this in “No Good Deed.” This is an hour of big, dramatic moments that once again demonstrate an essential “Dallas” tenet: No matter how much the Ewings fight among themselves, when outside forces descend upon Southfork, they all pull together.

Several scenes in this episode give me chills. In the first, Bobby is in the den, railing to his lawyer about J.R. and the plot to steal Southfork, when Ann enters the room with a stricken look on her face. “It’s John Ross,” she says. The goose bumps return in the next scene, when we see Bobby, Ann, Elena and Christopher burst through the emergency room doors and circle a badly shaken Sue Ellen.

As good as these moments are, “No Good Deed” also benefits from its many scenes of quiet familial warmth: J.R. arrives at John Ross’s hospital bedside in the dark of night and gently strokes his sleeping son’s hair. Bobby visits Miss Ellie’s grave and vows to protect the family, finally recognizing the people who live on the ranch matter more than the land itself. John Ross and Christopher stand in the Southfork driveway, shake hands and acknowledge they’re not that different from one another after all. “We’re both just trying to make our fathers proud,” Christopher says.

Then there are “No Good Deed’s” small but meaningful details: When a trembling Sue Ellen fumbles with a coffee dispenser in the hospital waiting room, Ann takes the cup and pumps the coffee for her. During a family conference in the Southfork living room, Ann rubs the back of a worried Elena. John Ross calls Sue Ellen “mama” when she brings him home from the hospital.

The nice thing about Julia Cohen’s script is that it doesn’t just make the Ewings feel like a real family, it also makes them feel like real individuals. “No Good Deed” is centered around the theme of sacrifice – Bobby offers to lift the ban on drilling the ranch, Sue Ellen surrenders her integrity, Christopher forgoes a piece of his gas hydrate project – and by seeing what the Ewings are willing to give up, we discover who these characters really are. (Shades of “Ellie Saves the Day,” one of the greatest episodes from the original series.)

“No Good Deed’s” most heartbreaking moment belongs to Sue Ellen, who musters the courage to bribe the medical examiner, only to discover her ethical lapse was for nothing. I can’t help but feel sorry for her when she stands at John Ross’s bedside and proudly predicts Marta’s death will be ruled a suicide, only to learn the charges against her son have been dropped because new evidence has emerged clearing him. It’s tragic stuff, but isn’t it nice to see Ann provide Sue Ellen with so much support and comfort throughout her ordeal?

Of course, the character who provides “No Good Deed” with its heart is the young man who is at the center of it all: John Ross. Yes, we feel sympathetic toward him after that savage beating, but those cuts and bruises merely symbolize how he’s finally become a flesh-and-blood character.

John Ross seems genuinely ashamed of his role in the plot to steal Southfork, as evidenced by his willingness to stay in jail rather than reveal his relationship with Marta and risk losing Elena’s faith in him. He also refuses to blame J.R. for his misfortune, another sign this is no longer the petulant brat we met in “Changing of the Guard.” I’ve been a fan of Josh Henderson’s from the beginning, but “No Good Deed” finally makes me a fan of John Ross.

“No Good Deed” is also distinguished by Michael Katleman’s arty direction, including the moody opening scene, where Henderson and Jordana Brewster’s faces fill the screen, recalling the tight close-ups that were a signature of the old “Dallas.” And while TNT’s show has a style all its own, there are times I wish it more deliberately mimicked its predecessor. How cool would it have been to hear a few notes of Jerrold Immel’s “Dallas” theme music when J.R. received the call about John Ross’s beating, the way we did in the classic episode “Swan Song,” when J.R. got the call Bobby was dying?

Katleman also does a masterful job in “No Good Deed’s” final scene, when Tommy backs Rebecca against the wall, threatens her and then plants his mouth on hers, thus revealing the Sutters aren’t siblings after all. I suspect that creepy buss will have “Dallas” fans buzzing today, but I hope they don’t allow the shock value to obscure all the warm and wonderful moments to be found in “No Good Deed.”

The Sutters may not be family, but after this episode the Ewings finally are, and my goodness, isn’t that nice to see?

Grade: A

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Dallas, John Ross Ewing, Josh Henderson, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, No Good Deed, TNT

Touching

‘NO GOOD DEED’

Season 1, Episode 8

Telecast: July 25, 2012

Writer: Julia Cohen

Director: Michael Katleman

Audience: 5 million viewers (including 3.3 million viewers on July 25, ranking 24th in the weekly cable ratings)

Synopsis: When Cano’s thugs beat John Ross in jail, Sue Ellen bribes the medical examiner to rule Marta’s death a suicide so her son will be freed. Her sacrifice is for naught: Christopher gives Cano the South American rights to his gas hydrate project, which prompts Cano to release evidence that clears John Ross. Christopher makes amends with John Ross and reconciles with Rebecca, who is later confronted by Tommy, who isn’t really her brother.

Cast: Amir Arison (Varun Rasmussen), Carlos Bernard (Vicente Cano), Jordana Brewster (Elena Ramos), Damon Carney (Paul Jacob), Akai Draco (Sheriff Derrick), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Julie Gonzalo (Rebecca Ewing), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Callard Harris (Tommy Sutter), Josh Henderson (John Ross Ewing), Jesse Metcalfe (Christopher Ewing), Glenn Morshower (Lou), Kevin Page (Bum), Marisol Ramirez (Detective), Brenda Strong (Ann Ewing)

“No Good Deed” is available at DallasTNT.com, Amazon.com and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.

‘Dallas’s’ Grand Opening

Dallas, opening credits, three-way split, title

Three, three, three

Here’s how I know “Dallas’s” opening credits are special: My husband Andrew never fast-forwards through them.

Andrew watches “Dallas” on DVD, which is how he has consumed a lot of other classic television over the years. With those other shows, whether it’s “Star Trek” or “Sex and the City,” Andrew almost never sits through the opening credits. As he puts it, once you’ve heard Captain Kirk explain the Enterprise’s five-year mission or seen Carrie Bradshaw get splashed by that bus, you really don’t need to experience it again.

For Andrew, “Dallas” is different. He says the title sequence is an essential part of the viewing experience because it puts you in the right frame of mind for each episode.

I agree, of course. For my money, “Dallas” title sequence is television’s all-time best. Jerrold Immel’s driving theme music is a huge part of the credits’ appeal, but so is the iconic three-way split screen used during most of the show’s run.

The sequence was designed by Wayne Fitzgerald, whose other credits include the opening titles for series such as “Matlock” and “Quincy” and movies like “The Godfather, Part II” and “Chinatown.”

“Dallas” is his masterpiece.

The scenes Fitzgerald chose are perfect because they depict the real-life Dallas in all its contradictory glory. He shows us how the city is big enough to host a major-league football team, but raw enough that tractors still roam its countryside. It’s home to glass skyscrapers and long stretches of highway, but it also has herds of cattle and soggy oil fields.

The three-way split screen is also ideal for the cast shots because it signals how multi-faceted the characters are. The images often change from season to season, but we usually see Linda Gray smiling nicely in one screen, while looking pensive and sultry in the other two. For several seasons, Patrick Duffy is depicted as a shirtless grimacer, a cowboy-hatted yelper and a butterfly-collared worrier.

Larry Hagman is usually all smiles in his screens — which is entirely appropriate, since J.R. grins whether he’s savoring a sweet victory or knifing an enemy in the back — while Victoria Principal’s middle screen is almost always that same shot of her walking across a Southfork pasture wearing a plaid shirt and blue jeans.

“Dallas’s” titles carry other meanings too. I don’t think it’s a coincidence the shape of each actor’s middle screen suggests the sloped angles of an oil derrick. More obviously, the titles also let the audience know which actors and characters to invest in.

For example, we know it’s time to start paying closer attention to Sue Ellen and Ray when Linda Gray and Steve Kanaly are added to the credits at the beginning of the second season. Similarly, Ken Kercheval — like Gray and Kanaly, a regular from the beginning — finally gets the title-sequence treatment during the third season.

“Dallas” throws viewers for a loop toward the end of its run, when producers abandon the split-screen in favor of a single shots. Ho-hum. Producers also begin adding actors to the credits the moment they arrive on the show. It doesn’t feel like “Dallas.”

TNT apparently hasn’t decided how to handle the opening credits for its new “Dallas” series, which will debut in June. Jason Matheson, a Minneapolis TV and radio host and a huge “Dallas” fan, raised the question on Twitter last week, prompting a debate over whether TNT should revive the sliding split-screen or find a fresh design for the titles.

I’ll respect whatever decision TNT makes, but it would be a lot of fun to see a new version of those iconic titles.

After all, the classic “Dallas” had television’s grandest opening — and that’s not the kind of thing you close the door on lightly.

What’s your favorite part of “Dallas’s” opening credits? Share your comments below and read more features from Dallas Decoder.

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 2 – ‘Lessons’

Charlene Tilton, Dallas, Lessons, Lucy Ewing, Ray Krebbs, Steve Kanaly

Driving Miss Lucy

For a teenager on television in the 1970s, Lucy manages to find herself in an awful lot of sexual situations. “Dallas” is surprisingly cavalier about this.

In “Lessons,” Pam is the only Ewing who knows Lucy is sexually active, but when she takes it upon herself to straighten out her rebellious niece, Pam’s priority is addressing Lucy’s truancy, not interfering in her sex life. We never see Pam ask Lucy why she is having sex or whether she is protecting herself against the risk of pregnancy and disease.

“Lessons” is also pretty indifferent about Lucy and Ray’s age gap. She’s a high school student and he’s a silver-haired cowboy, but the only acknowledgment their relationship is immoral – if not illegal – comes when Ray tells Pam the Ewings would “kill” him if they discovered he is Lucy’s lover.

In retrospect, all this is pretty shocking.

“Dallas” debuted in an era when television shows routinely dropped moral messages into scripts involving sensitive subjects. Two months before “Lessons” was broadcast, the drama “James at 15” aired an episode in which its lead character, a 15-year-old boy, lost his virginity to a Swedish exchange student. Network censors insisted the boy and girl exhibit remorse after having sex, prompting the show’s head writer to quit in protest.

With “Lessons,” “Dallas” bucks the trend toward “responsible” television. The show renders no judgment on Lucy’s sexuality, trusting viewers to make their own decisions about her choices.

Not dwelling on the script’s provocative aspects allows the producers to concentrate on fleshing out their characters. For example, “Lessons” includes a conversation between J.R. and Bobby that establishes J.R.’s envy over his youngest brother, as well as a nice scene where Miss Ellie and Pam bond over coffee in the Southfork dining room.

But “Lessons’” most enlightening moment is the climactic sequence in the Braddock disco, where Bobby and Pam dance to an electronic version of Jerrold Immel’s “Dallas” theme music.

This is where we learn the biggest lesson of all: Not only is Victoria Principal a terrific actress when “Dallas” begins – she can dance, too!

Grade: B

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Charlene Tilton, Dallas, Lessons, Lucy Ewing

No class

‘LESSONS’

Season 1, Episode 2

Airdate: April 9, 1978

Audience: 11.1 million homes, ranking 50th in the weekly ratings

Writer: Virginia Aldridge

Director: Irving J. Moore

Synopsis: Pam learns Lucy is skipping class to be with Ray and makes her attend school. Lucy retaliates by making it look like her math teacher attacked her, but a classmate knows Lucy faked the attack and tries to blackmail her into sleeping with him. Bobby tells Ray to stay away from Lucy and persuades his niece to give Pam a chance.

Cast: Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Donna Bullock (Connie), Jeffrey Byron (Roger Hurley), Jim Davis (Jock Ewing), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Tina Louise (Julie Grey), Jo McDonnell (Maureen), Ryand Merkey (Mr. Daley), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Larry Tanner (Hal), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Paul Tulley (Mr. Miller)

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