Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 64 – ‘Executive Wife’

The bloom is off

The bloom is off

In “Executive Wife,” Pam feels hurt by her mother’s rejection and needs Bobby’s support, but he’s too busy running Ewing Oil to notice. For a moment, Pam allows herself to be tempted by another man: magazine publisher Alex Ward.

Sound familiar? It should. Pam and Bobby went through the same scenario in the third-season episode “Jenna’s Return,” except back then, the roles were reversed: Pam was the spouse who was preoccupied with work, which sent lonely Bobby into the arms of magazine editor Jenna Wade.

I appreciate “Executive Wife’s” attempt to depict the challenges facing dual-career couples, which were becoming more common in the 1980s, but it doesn’t change the fact this subplot is a rehash.

It isn’t “Executive Wife’s” only retread, either. Three episodes ago, in “The Fourth Son,” Bobby had to choose between keeping Jock’s commitment to Brady York and honoring a deal Bobby made himself. In “Executive Wife,” he has an opportunity to get back into business with the cartel, but he’s once again hamstrung by Ewing Oil’s commitment to Brady.

At least this time around, Bobby’s dilemma leads to one of “Dallas’s” all-time great scenes: Bobby and Jock’s showdown at the Cattleman’s Club, where the golden son confronts his beloved father over Jock’s decision to deplete Ewing Oil’s cash reserves without first checking with Bobby.

This is where Jim Davis ferociously delivers Jock’s famous line that “real power is something you take.” The dialogue perfectly encapsulates the Ewings’ approach to life, which explains why TNT’s “Dallas” had J.R. repeat the line to John Ross in its recent “The Price You Pay” episode.

“Executive Wife” also features the scene that inspired artist Ro Kim’s classic classic painting of Jock, which shows up after the character’s death during “Dallas’s” fifth season and becomes one of the show’s most enduring props.

In the scene, Jock stands in a Southfork pasture with Ray and vents his frustration with Bobby’s management of Ewing Oil. Davis wears the same straw hat, blue-and-white checked shirt and gold medallion he does in the painting, so watching him here is a bit like seeing the portrait spring to life.

If only that were really possible.

Grade: B

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Picture perfect

Picture perfect

‘EXECUTIVE WIFE’

Season 4, Episode 10

Airdate: January 9, 1981

Audience: 26.4 million homes, ranking 1st in the weekly ratings

Writer: Rena Down

Director: Leonard Katzman

Synopsis: Jock puts Bobby in a bind when he invests in his friend Punk Anderson’s plan to build a resort at Takapa Lake, depleting Ewing Oil’s cash reserves. Bobby is too busy with work to pay attention to Pam, who allows herself to be tempted by dashing magazine publisher Alex Ward. J.R. Lucy and Mitch decide to get married before he graduates from medical school.

Cast: Barbara Babcock (Liz Craig), Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Michael Bell (Les Crowley), Jim Davis (Jock Ewing), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Joel Fabiani (Alex Ward), Meg Gallagher (Louella), Ted Gehring (Brady York), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Jerry Haynes (Pat Powers), Susan Howard (Donna Culver), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Sherill Lynn Katzman (Jackie), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Leigh McCloskey (Mitch Cooper), Jeanna Michaels (Connie), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), William Smithers (Jeremy Wendell), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Morgan Woodward (Punk Anderson)

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

Linda Gray is Speaking Up — Just Like Sue Ellen Would

Dallas, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing, TNT

Still our girl

Atta girl, Linda Gray.

In a candid interview with Ultimate Dallas last week, the actress expressed her disappointment with the amount of screen time her character, the indomitable Sue Ellen Ewing, has received on TNT’s “Dallas” revival. The cable channel has telecast five hours so far, and Gray has been missing from two of them.

“I’m not happy not to be in an episode. I’m not a happy camper,” Gray told the fan site, adding viewers should “go and rattle cages” if they want to see more of Sue Ellen.

Let’s be clear: Gray doesn’t sound at all angry during the interview. In fact, she seems pretty enthusiastic about the show overall. (In addition to a transcript, Ultimate Dallas has posted an audio recording of its conversation with the actress.)

Still, I suspect it took more than a little courage for Gray to admit she’d like to be given more to do. We’ve all seen Hollywood sideline older actresses, and I’m sure there are plenty of people in the entertainment industry who will look at Gray and think she should be happy to have a steady gig, even if she isn’t getting as many scenes as she’d like.

That’s why I’m proud of the actress. Gray is demonstrating she’s learned a thing or two from her “Dallas” alter ego, who has always had to fight to make her own way in the world.

Think about it: Sue Ellen has been part of our popular culture since the Carter era, and in that time she’s gone from an alcoholic Stepford wife to a confident, independent woman. In the history of prime-time television, few characters have endured as long as Sue Ellen, and fewer still have changed as much.

‘Dallas’s’ Secret Weapon

Make no mistake: “Dallas” is Sue Ellen’s story as much as it is J.R. and Bobby’s – and Linda Gray has always been the show’s secret weapon.

Since I began re-watching the original series for Dallas Decoder, I’ve been struck by the quiet power of Gray’s performances. I marvel at her work in classic early episodes like “John Ewing III, Part 2,” when Sue Ellen confesses her affair with Cliff in a heartbreaking, four-and-a-half-minute monologue. Her work later in the series, particularly during the unfairly maligned “dream season,” blows me away too.

Most surprisingly, Gray dominates the famous “Who Shot J.R.?” episodes, more so than Larry Hagman. She is mesmerizing in “A House Divided,” the season-ending cliffhanger where J.R. is shot, and she absolutely owns “Who Done It?” the most-watched “Dallas” episode ever.

Gray still impresses me. She hasn’t been given much to do on TNT’s “Dallas,” but when she appears, she lights up the screen. With the exception of Hagman, no one on the new show is as charismatic as Gray.

Sue Ellen is Us

Of course, I’ve had a soft spot for Sue Ellen since I was a kid. I’ve come to see the character as an avatar for the gay rights movement, but the truth is, Sue Ellen serves as a stand-in for anyone who has ever had to stand up for themselves. In other words: Sue Ellen is us.

I think that’s why she’s always been a fan favorite. Remember, “Dallas” was prime-time television’s 26th most popular series until the 1989-90 season, when Gray left and it plunged to 43rd.

To be fair, because Sue Ellen is so beloved – and because she’s changed so much over the years –I would imagine the character is tough to write for. I wish TNT’s writers had made more of an effort during the new show’s early episodes, but as we head into the first season’s home stretch, Sue Ellen seems poised to get more screen time.

The character is featured in several pivotal scenes in “The Enemy of My Enemy,” the episode TNT will telecast tomorrow night. As audiences will see, some of Sue Ellen’s old habits endure, a revelation I welcome. I’m glad Sue Ellen has changed with the times, but it’s also good to see she’s still human.

And as much as I appreciate Gray’s suggestion that fans “rattle cages” and demand to see more Sue Ellen in the future, I don’t believe television scripts should be crowd-sourced. Cynthia Cidre, the creative force behind TNT’s “Dallas,” has a vision for the series, and she deserves an opportunity to fulfill it.

But let’s face it: Unless that vision includes Sue Ellen, it won’t really be “Dallas.”

Do you want to see more of Sue Ellen on “Dallas”? Share your comments below and read more opinions from Dallas Decoder.

Drill Bits: Another Ratings Win for TNT’s ‘Dallas’

Dallas, Josh Henderson, John Ross Ewing, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman

Viewers came back too

The real test for new TV shows isn’t the number of people who tune in for the premiere – it’s the number who come back during the second week. If a series holds onto enough of its audience during week two, it’s a good sign viewers like what they see and will keep coming back for more.

TNT’s “Dallas” didn’t just pass its second-week test – it aced it!

The series premiered June 13 with 6.9 million viewers, including 1.9 million adults between the ages of 18 to 49, the group advertisers prize above all others.

One week later, TNT’s June 20 “Dallas” episode, “The Price You Pay,” drew 4.8 million viewers, becoming the evening’s most-watched cable show. Here’s what’s really impressive: This audience included 1.7 million viewers between 18 and 49.

In other words: Almost all the 18-to-49-year-olds who watched “Dallas” during week one came back during week two.

This doesn’t guarantee “Dallas” another season, but it’s an encouraging sign. Hopefully TNT will renew the series soon.

More Numbers

While we’re on the subject of “Dallas’s” June 13 debut, it’s now official: The two-hour premiere was cable television’s most-watched telecast last week, boosting TNT to a first-place finish among all cable channels.

And when you include the number of viewers who watched “Dallas” on DVRs within three days of the original telecast, the show’s total viewership rises from 6.9 million viewers to 7.8 million viewers.

By the way: This is the first time “Dallas” has finished first in a weekly ratings race since “Swan Song,” the 1985 episode that ended with Bobby’s “death.”

Hagman’s Advice to Henderson

Dallas, John Ross Ewing, Josh Henderson

Enjoy the ride

In “The Price You Pay,” J.R. dispenses a lot of wisdom to John Ross, including Jock’s famous maxim that “real power is something you take.”

In real life, what advice has Larry Hagman offered advice Josh Henderson?

“You know, the first thing he ever said to me when we were on set was, ‘Enjoy the ride.’ He literally just said, ‘Have fun,’” Henderson told me and a group of other bloggers and critics during a conference call last month.

“I think what made the original [series] so special was that Larry, Linda, Patrick – the original cast – they truly had fun and they really like each other. And I think that when that happens, you can trust your coworker or the actor that you’re with in the scene more, meaning that you can go deeper with the characters to make a better TV show.”

Line of the Week

“Bullets don’t seem to have much an effect on me, darlin’.”

J.R.’s comment to Ann in “The Price You Pay’s” storage barn scene was a winking nod to his tendency to get shot on the original “Dallas.” Everyone knows J.R.’s sister-in-law/mistress/secretary Kristin pumped lead into him in 1980, but casual fans might have forgotten he also got plugged during a hunting trip (1979’s “The Dove Hunt”), by Sue Ellen (1988’s “The Fat Lady Singeth”) and by a crazed business rival (the 1998 reunion movie “War of the Ewings”).

Speaking of plugs: Dallas Decoder will critique the 1980 “Who Shot J.R.?” episodes, beginning next week. If you need a refresher on “Dallas’s” most famous storyline, be sure to check them out.

Power Trip

Are you playing “Rise to Power,” TNT’s online “Dallas” game?

Each week, fans are asked to align themselves with the character who has what it takes to “rise to power” during TNT’s next “Dallas” episode. Players earn points based on each character’s weekly “power ranking,” but additional points can be earned by touting the show on Facebook and Twitter.

The grand prize is a trip to Southfork. Weekly prizes include autographed posters, Ewing Oil hardhats and a collection of TNT’s “Dallas Quickies” tweets in book form.

That’s One Strong Drink

A reminder to check out the “Dallas Drinks” cocktail recipes from Cook In/Dine Out. This week’s drink is inspired by Ann Ewing, played by the awesome Brenda Strong. Make sure you serve it in a tall glass!

“Drill Bits,” a roundup of news about TNT’s “Dallas,” is published regularly. Share your comments below.

TNT’s Dallas Styles: J.R.’s Sweaters

Mr. Ewing’s Neighborhood

In “The Price You Pay,”J.R. comes home to Southfork, presumably for the first time in many years. The house has changed a bit and so has J.R. – or at least that’s what he wants Bobby to think.

The older brother tricks the younger into welcoming him back to the ranch by pretending to be down and out. What Bobby doesn’t know: J.R. is secretly scheming with John Ross to seize control of Southfork and its vast oil reserves.

J.R.’s wardrobe appears to be part of his charade. At the ranch, he wears cardigan sweaters in muted colors, including when Ann finds him in the storage barn looking at an old family photo album and when he shuffles around the Southfork kitchen making breakfast for the family.

The Mister Rogers-style cardigans make Larry Hagman look soft, even a little cuddly. They also evoke memories of the sweater J.R. wore in “Conundrum,” the old show’s final episode, when the character was drunk, depressed and suicidal.

J.R.’s cardigans are a far cry from the days when he telegraphed his predatory nature by donning safari shirts. But don’t worry. The Mister Nice Guy act doesn’t last long; it remains to be seen if the sweaters do.

The Art of TNT’s Dallas: ‘The Price You Pay’

Christopher (Jesse Metcalfe) is seen in this publicity shot from “The Price You Pay,” the third episode of TNT’s “Dallas.” Photo credit: Zade Rosenthal/TNT.

TNT’s Dallas Scene of the Day: ‘I Feared My Daddy’

Dallas, John Ross Ewing, Josh Henderson, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Price You Pay, TNT

It’s a cutthroat business, son

In “The Price You Pay,” a first-season “Dallas” episode, J.R. and John Ross (Larry Hagman, Josh Henderson) are each seated in barber chairs getting shaved. A towel covers John Ross’s eyes.

J.R.: Feels good, doesn’t it?

JOHN ROSS: Almost sinful.

J.R.: [Chuckles] Your granddaddy Jock took me here the day I closed my first big deal. That man taught me everything I know about business. [Rises from the chair, tips the barber, tells him to “get going,” walks toward John Ross] When I was 8 years old, I asked my daddy for a horse, and he says when I came up for the money, he’d sell me one. [Snaps at John Ross’s barber, who gives him his razor, takes J.R.’s money and leaves] So, all that summer, I worked in the oil fields, digging trenches and such, 12 hours a day. [Begins shaving John Ross] And true to his word, daddy sold me a horse. Now, I learned quick enough, that horse was blind. Now, I loved my daddy, and I respected my daddy, but most importantly, I feared my daddy. [J.R. pulls away the towel covering John Ross’s eyes; John Ross sees J.R. is now holding the straight blade to his neck] I went down to Mexico and talked to Mr. del Sol about the Southfork deal. I know Marta is not Marta. Were you going to cut your daddy out of 2 billion barrels worth of oil? Hmm?


Critique: TNT’s ‘Dallas’ Episode 3 – ‘The Price You Pay’

Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Price You Pay, TNT

Demon barber

“The Price You Pay” opens with TNT’s best “Dallas” scene yet: J.R. and John Ross’s encounter in the wood-paneled gentleman’s club, where father holds a straight razor to son’s neck and confronts him about his double-dealing in the plot to seize Southfork.

John Ross admits he was planning to betray J.R., and then J.R. offers a confession of his own. “I don’t blame you for trying to screw me,” he says. “I was never much of a father during your formative years. And I’d like to make up for that.” J.R. offers to teach John Ross about the oil business and extends a weathered hand toward the younger man, who hesitates before taking it. Father then pulls smiling son into a warm embrace.

This tense-then-tender moment, masterfully directed by Michael M. Robin, reveals the complexities that make “Dallas” great. Consider what’s happening here: J.R. and John Ross are essentially agreeing to work together to undermine Bobby, “Dallas’s” hero – yet Robin manages to turn it into a touching moment of father-son bonding. This is as good as any of the best scenes from the original “Dallas.”

The “shaving scene” establishes the theme of “The Price You Pay,” which shows how several Ewings are coming to grips with their pasts. Scriptwriter Bruce Rasmussen does a nice job reminding us of the internal forces that motivate J.R. and Bobby, while also fleshing out some of the younger characters.

The thematic approach helps conceal “The Price You Pay’s” flaws, which begin with Linda Gray’s absence. I don’t like the fact that Sue Ellen is missing from this episode, but I’m not altogether surprised, either. The show seems to be struggling to find a meaningful place for Sue Ellen in the narrative. This needs to change.

“The Price You Pay’s” other weak spot: The scene where John Ross threatens to expose Miss Ellie’s stay in a mental institution after Jock’s death. This never happened on the original “Dallas.” Yes, Ellie struggled to accept the loss of her husband, but she never sought professional help, which became an important part of her storyline. I suppose the producers of this new “Dallas” could argue Ellie was somehow institutionalized off-screen, but this really doesn’t fit with the beloved character’s history.

I’m not going to dwell on this point because the rest of “The Price You Pay” is quite good. The confronting-your-past theme works well, particularly in the scene where Ann finds J.R. in the storage barn, flipping through an old family photo album. I realize J.R. is only there to root for evidence in his scheme to seize Southfork, but I also believe old age has made him genuinely introspective.

Consider “The Price You Pay” scene where J.R. tells John Ross, “I spent most of your childhood chasing after women I didn’t love and making deals that didn’t really matter. I will get Southfork back, because you shouldn’t have to pay for my sins.” It’s a revealing line, demonstrating how after all these years, J.R. is still driven by his desire to protect his son’s legacy.

The moment J.R. comes face to face with old enemy Cliff Barnes is also poignant. Larry Hagman and Ken Kercheval still have great chemistry together, even if their sniping feels less like the epic confrontations of yore and more like something from “Grumpy Old Men.” Only on “Dallas” could J.R.’s threat to dance on Cliff’s grave come off as sweetly sentimental.

“The Price You Pay’s” most heartfelt moment of all comes at the end of the episode, when Ann climbs into bed with Bobby and shares her suspicion J.R. staged the fight with John Ross over Ellie’s journal. “Honey,” Bobby says wearily, “the fact that J.R. did it, and that he thinks he can make me believe he didn’t do it, that’s just who he is. And who he will always be.”

It’s another good line, reminding us how Bobby, ultimately, is a tragic character. Even though his hair is now silver and he brings reading glasses to bed, he’s still his brother’s keeper. It’s the role Bobby is doomed to play.

Interestingly, “The Price You Pay’s” thematic approach isn’t limited to the older characters: Christopher is reminded of the old Barnes-Ewing feud when Cliff offers to invest in his alternative energy project.

Even though I’m having a hard time squaring the notion Cliff, a notorious cheapskate on the old show, is now a high-stakes gambler, I like what Kercheval does with his redefined role in this scene. It’s a nicely subdued performance, and as a “Dallas” diehard, I appreciate how Cliff references his sister when he warns Christopher about the Ewings (“Don’t let them destroy you like they did Pam.”).

Christopher’s own ghosts surface when he finds out about Bobby’s cancer and, in a moment of weakness, kisses Elena. Ever his father’s son, Christopher goes home to Rebecca, confesses his indiscretion and vows to put his past behind him. “That’s over now,” he tells her.

Don’t believe it, Rebecca. This is “Dallas,” where history tends to repeat – and sometimes rewrite – itself.

Grade: B

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Bobby Ewing, Dallas, Patrick Duffy, Price You Pay, TNT

Still brother’s keeper

‘THE PRICE YOU PAY’

Season 1, Episode 3

Telecast: June 20, 2012

Writer: Bruce Rasmussen

Director: Michael M. Robin

Audience: 6.7 million viewers (including 4.8 million viewers on June 20, ranking 8th in the weekly cable ratings)

Synopsis: After J.R. confronts John Ross about his betrayal, they join forces and manipulate Bobby into finalizing Southfork’s sale. Christopher rejects his uncle Cliff Barnes’ offer to invest in his patent. Bobby tells Christopher about his cancer, briefly sending Christopher into Elena’s arms. Rebecca resists Tommy’s pressure to spy on Christopher. John Ross learns Rebecca sent the e-mail that broke up Christopher and Elena.

Cast: Carlos Bernard (Vicente Cano), Jordana Brewster (Elena Ramos), Brett Brock (Clyde Marshall), Sonny Carl Davis (Hirsch), Richard Dillard (Mitch Lobell), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Julie Gonzalo (Rebecca Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Josh Henderson (John Ross Ewing), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), John McIntosh (Dr. Bennett), Jesse Metcalfe (Christopher Ewing), Brenda Strong (Ann Ewing), Faran Tahir (Frank), Leonor Varela (Marta del Sol)

“The Price You Pay” is available at DallasTNT.com, Amazon.com and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.