Critique: TNT’s ‘Dallas’ Episode 40 — ‘Brave New World’

Brave New World, Dallas, John Ross Ewing, Josh Henderson, TNT, Which Ewing Dies?

Going down

Throughout “Dallas’s” third season, John Ross strives to honor J.R. without becoming him. He wears Daddy’s wristwatch and belt buckle and embarks on one ambitious scheme after another, hoping to emulate J.R.’s business successes without repeating his personal failures. Nothing goes according to plan, of course, and by the end of the season’s final hour, “Brave New World,” John Ross has lost his company, his wife and his family’s goodwill. In a climactic scene, the young man who was so eager to be a better man than J.R. — the son who previously slammed his hand on Sue Ellen’s kitchen counter and insisted he wasn’t his father — stands before her and Uncle Bobby and repeats this assertion, this time with a caveat. “I’m not just like my father,” John Ross says. “I’m worse.”

Chilling? Yes, but also poignant. The truth is, John Ross isn’t worse than J.R. Not by a long shot. John Ross is more heroic than his father, as we see at the beginning of “Brave New World,” when he defeats the drug cartel and tries to avenge Emma’s rape by nearly killing Luis. John Ross is also much more emotional than J.R., which we witness during this episode’s elevator scene, when — having lost it all — he collapses in tears and listens to an old voice mail in which J.R. says he’s proud of him. How could anyone this sensitive be worse than J.R.? Maybe the setbacks John Ross experienced this season will harden him and make him as cruel and as calculating as his father, but he’s not there yet.

Regardless of how bad John Ross becomes, there’s no denying how good Josh Henderson is at articulating his character’s complexities. Henderson allows us to feel John Ross’s vein-popping rage in “Brave New World’s” opening scene, when John Ross slams Luis to the floor, digs a gun barrel into his face and screams, “You regret what you did to her now? Huh?” Henderson offers a different kind of anger in the scene with Bobby and Sue Ellen, when he doesn’t deliver the “I’m worse” line as much as he growls it. At the other end of the spectrum, there’s the elevator scene, which is moving not just because we hear Larry Hagman’s voice, but also because we see Henderson’s tears. (By the way: J.R.’s voice mail comes from a phone conversation between him and John Ross in the first-season episode “The Price You Pay,” and the song that plays when John Ross begins weeping was written and performed by Henderson. Is there anything he can’t do?)

If John Ross’s elevator breakdown supplies “Brave New World” with its emotional high point, what is there to say about Christopher’s death at the end of the episode? Even though TNT’s promos warned us a Ewing would die, this is still a shocking moment. Much of the credit goes to Jordana Brewster, whose anguish is palpable when Elena sees Christopher’s car blow up with him inside. (And yes, that is supposed to be Christopher, even though we don’t actually see Jesse Metcalfe get behind the wheel.) Nevertheless, this doesn’t feel like the blaze-of-glory exit the heroic Christopher deserves. Is the audience supposed to admire him for dying while helping Elena? Sorry, but I can’t fathom why he remains so devoted to her after all the terrible choices she’s made. I recognize killing off Metcalfe opens lots of new storytelling avenues for this series, but I can’t help but wish Elena had been the one to blow up instead.

Christopher’s death puts a grisly punctuation mark on this season’s better-than-expected drug cartel storyline. There’s also a nifty musical montage in which the braided henchman Jacobo kills Luis and El Pozolero in their jail cell before a cane-wielding Nicolas is revealed as the mastermind behind the murders. (The cool song that powers this sequence: Eric Church’s “Devil, Devil.”) Other highlights include Mitch Pileggi’s beautiful performance when Harris professes his love for Ann, as well as Elena and Nicolas’s dramatic showdown, although I wish she hadn’t shot him. Now virtually every leading lady on this show has plugged someone. Likewise, I could do without Judith Light’s mugging when John Ross tells Bobby and Sue Ellen he’s worse than J.R. — a scene that should’ve been reserved for Ewings only. (And isn’t it funny how the elevator doors open and reveal Judith at the precise moment John Ross announces she’s the new railroad commissioner?)

Criticisms aside, “Brave New World,” which comes from scriptwriter Robert Rovner and director Steve Robin, brings the third season to a satisfying conclusion and resets the table for “Dallas’s” fourth year — and TNT willing, there’ll be one. The scene where Bobby and Sue Ellen foil Pamela’s plan to reclaim Ewing Global is heartening because it suggests the Barnes/Ewing feud isn’t over, despite what Pamela told Cliff a few episodes ago. I especially like how Pamela accuses her in-laws of screwing her over like Jock cheated Digger. (Is she wrong?) The other promising development: the addition of Tracey McKay to the Bobby/Ann/Harris triangle — especially if it means Tracey and Harris will join forces against the newly reconciled couple.

“Dallas’s” most intriguing new storyline, of course, is John Ross’s discovery that J.R. has a secret daughter. Like all “Dallas” fans, I have lots of questions about this one, beginning with the obvious: Who’s the mama? I figured the young woman would turn out to be the product of J.R.’s marriage to Cally, although executive producer Cynthia Cidre tells Dallas Decoder the daughter’s mother is dead. (Cally is still alive in this “Dallas” universe, or at least she was when she showed up at J.R.’s funeral last season.) Will the mother turn out to be J.R.’s longtime secretary Sly, who slept with him shortly before he fired her at the end of the original series? What if Kristin Shepard didn’t suffer a miscarriage after J.R. impregnated her in 1980? Could the daughter be the product of J.R.’s romp with Katherine Wentworth, who may or may not be lurking around somewhere? The mind reels.

More questions: How is John Ross going to use the existence of a half-sister to his advantage? You might think someone like him wouldn’t want other siblings hanging around, especially if there’s a possibility they could stake a claim on his inheritance. On the other hand, he must have something up his sleeve. How else to explain his toast to J.R. and his “Thank you, Daddy” line in the final shot? (Is this a nod to the classic scene where J.R. gazes at the heavens and thanks Jock after sneaking a peek at his will?) There’s also the question of where John Ross’s sister will fit into “Dallas’s” romantic sphere. If she likes guys, she doesn’t have a lot of options among the show’s main cast members, does she? If, however, she likes gals, there are a few tantalizing possibilities. This could be fertile new storytelling terrain for “Dallas,” although I’m not sure the show would want to go that route after the uproar over John Ross, Pamela and Emma’s threesome this year.

Then again, maybe that’s all the more reason to do it.

Grade: B

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Brave New World, Christopher Ewing, Dallas, Jesse Metcalfe, TNT, Which Ewing Dies?

Hot wheel

‘BRAVE NEW WORLD’

Season 3, Episode 15

Telecast: September 22, 2014

Audience: 1.72 million viewers on September 22

Writer: Robert Rovner

Director: Steve Robin

Synopsis: John Ross’s commandos rescue him and the Mexican police arrest El Pozolero and Luis, who are later murdered in their jail cells by Nicolas’s henchman. When the government seizes the cartel’s Ewing Global assets, Pamela plans to buy them back, but Bobby and Sue Ellen beat her to the punch, infuriating both John Ross and Pamela. Bobby and Ann reconcile, but she becomes alarmed when she finds him comforting a grieving Tracey. Elena realizes Nicolas is responsible for Drew’s death and shoots Nicolas in a fit of anger, but he escapes. John Ross walks in on Pamela and Nasir in bed and later forms an alliance with Judith, who returns Candace’s blue dress to him, replaces Bobby on the railroad commission, and gets her hands on Harris’s tape of her drug deals. Emma gives one of Harris’s secret files to John Ross, who discovers J.R. has a daughter and tells Bum to find her. Elena learns she’s pregnant and is getting ready to leave a gas station when a car bomb planted by another one of Nicolas’s henchmen goes off, killing Christopher.

Cast: Emma Bell (Emma Ryland), Jordana Brewster (Elena Ramos), Melinda Clarke (Tracey McKay), Juan Pablo Di Pace (Nicolas Treviño), Akari Draco (Sheriff Derrick), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Julie Gonzalo (Pamela Ewing), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Josh Henderson (John Ross Ewing), Antonio Jaramillo (Luis), Judith Light (Judith Ryland), Jesse Metcalfe (Christopher Ewing), Kevin Page (Bum), Pete Partida (Jacobo), Gino Anthony Pesi (George Tatangelo), Mitch Pileggi (Harris Ryland), Carlos Sandoval (El Pozolero), Brenda Strong (Ann Ewing), Mikal Vega (Walter)

“Brave New World” is available at DallasTNT.com, Amazon and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.

The Dallas Decoder Interview: Cynthia Cidre

Cynthia Cidre, Dallas, TNT, Which Ewing Dies?

Cynthia Cidre

Spoiler alert! “Dallas” fans are still reeling from this week’s season finale, in which Christopher (Jesse Metcalfe) was killed when his car blew up and John Ross (Josh Henderson) learned J.R. has a secret daughter. I spoke with executive producer Cynthia Cidre about the cliffhangers — and what fans will see if “Dallas” returns next year.

Is Christopher really dead?

Yes. Believe me, we thought about teasing that: Did he die? Did he not die? And then, because I knew he was going to be dead for sure, I just felt dirty about doing that. It didn’t feel honest. So I thought the explosion was pretty big, and pretty definite — although I’m told all the blogs are saying he’s not really dead.

Yeah, the readers on my site are filling up the comments section with all kinds of theories.

That’s fun. I’ve got to read that.

But why kill a Ewing?

Well, we aim to surprise everybody — always. We like doing what you don’t see coming at the end of every season. I thought we did that well in Season 1, when we found out Rebecca was Pamela Barnes, and then we had Season 2 end with Elena finding out J.R. cheated her father. We always want to do the unexpected. And what would people expect less than if you actually killed off one of your main characters?

Christopher Ewing, Dallas, Endgame, Jesse Metcalfe, TNT, Which Ewing Dies?

Swan song

Why Christopher?

If you really think about it, there were really only two options. I couldn’t kill Sue Ellen or Bobby because somebody might kill me. I couldn’t kill John Ross because the show is really on Josh’s shoulders since Larry [Hagman] died. That left Ann and Christopher. Whose death would have the bigger impact? It would be Christopher’s.

Was there a lot of debate in the writers’ room?

We pitched it back and forth for months and months: “Are we doing it? Can we do it? Are we insane? This will drive the fan nuts. They’ll want to watch the next season to see what happens. No, we can’t do it. Yes, we can. No, we can’t.” And by the way, it costs a lot of money, so we had to get permission from the studio and the network. Finally, when the money came through, Mike [Robin, a “Dallas” executive producer and director] and I looked at each other and said, “Oh, my God. I guess we’re really doing it.”

When was the scene filmed?

Only about three weeks ago. That we kept it secret is more incredible. At a certain point, only the writers and Mike knew, and then it became the studio, and then it became the network. Every time it went to someone else, I would freak and think, “How are you going to keep this secret?” Then we had to budget it and schedule it, and that involved a whole other film crew because our crew was not working. So we used the crew for “Major Crimes.”

You kept it in the TNT family.

They didn’t know what they were shooting. They knew there was going to be an explosion, but they had no idea what show, what character. And then when Jordana [Brewster] showed up on set, they realized, “Oh my God, we’re shooting the finale for ‘Dallas.’” We talked to them afterwards and said, “Guys, you’re so great to do this. You showed up on a Saturday. Thank you for your time. Please, please, please keep this to yourselves.”

Jesse Metcalfe gave a nice statement to Entertainment Weekly. What was Jordana’s reaction to the news?

I only told her the night before we shot it. She was shocked. At first she thought we were killing her because we wouldn’t tell her what we were shooting. So I finally told her, “Just rest easy. We’re not killing you, okay?”

It was a big twist, which is why I’m sorry it aired on such a tough night. What’s your reaction to the ratings?

Well, we held our own, which is insane since seven other shows premiered that day. There was “The Blacklist,” there was “The Voice,” there was “Monday Night Football.” Literally, I’m stunned. But we’re a DVR darling. Every episode this summer has gone up [significantly in viewers through DVR playback]. All I can do is make a show we’re proud of and hope the diehard fans show up.

Dallas, Bobby Ewing, Brave New World, Linda Gray, Patrick Duffy, Sue Ellen Ewing, TNT, Which Ewing Dies?

Brave new world

You’re still waiting to hear whether you’ll be renewed for a fourth year, but as you said the other day, you’ve already started writing next season’s storylines. So how’s Bobby going to cope with his son’s death?

I just finished the first [episode] outline and it’s all about him. How’s he dealing with this? He has a pretty good idea who did it, even though there’s absolutely no proof. And Nicolas is in Mexico, so he can’t get to him. So you’re going to see a slightly different Bobby than you’ve seen before. He’s extraordinarily angry and vengeful, he’s extraordinarily hurt — and he’s refusing to express his hurt.

What about the rest of the family?

It affects everybody. Elena’s guilt goes without saying. She feels like her hands are dirty. There’s going to be a tortured relationship between her and Bobby. Believe me, this will be the emotional core of the show. The other thing that will be at the core of it is John Ross’s sister.

Yes, let’s talk about her. What can you say?

I can tell you that although J.R. has many spawns around town — if not around the world — this girl is different and special, and there’s a reason for that. That’s going to be the surprise that I hope will make your head spin.

You’re killing me here.

We had originally filmed the scene of John Ross finding her as an alternate ending because we didn’t know if we were going to get the money to blow up the car. But because we hadn’t cast the actress, all you were going to see was [the character’s] hand, and it was a great hand. It had bitten cuticles and some chipped nails and a bunch of bracelets. It was in a very exotic location. And we shot it, and it worked, but we thought because we’re going to move forward six months [when the new season opens], it would be better if John Ross finds her then. Because what the heck is he doing with her for six months?

So who’s this character’s mother?

It was a woman. [Laughs]

That’s good to know!

She’s passed away, so we’re not going to meet her. If I tell you that, then I would be spoiling something that I think would be a lot of fun — which, by the way, has been a pitch in our writers’ room for three years. We have something called the “duck pond,” where we throw up crazy ideas. And finally, that one looked good to us this year, so we’re employing it.

Will we see more old favorites from the original show?

Yes. There will be one who is a very, very, very popular old character. We’re excited to bring him or her back.

Wait, what? You’re not going to tell me if it’s a him or a her?

[Laughs] Okay, it’s a her. We’re looking forward to that storyline. It’ll be a lot of fun.

What about Cliff Barnes? Will Ken Kercheval be back?

Maybe. We’ve used him extensively for three seasons, but he’s in jail. We decided to leave him in jail, and so that kind of hurt us a little bit. There’s not a lot he can do from there. But there are some pitches about that also.

What about this business of adding a wing onto Southfork?

We’re doing it!

Really?

It burned! We have to add a wing. [Laughs] It’s a two-bedroom house with 15 people living in it.

But what about fans like me who consider Southfork sacred ground?

That’s why we’re going to put [the addition] in the back of the house. You won’t get to see it from the front, so the silhouette of the house will remain the same. We did not want to upset anybody. But we’ve made fun of [Southfork’s size] from the beginning.

I think that’s part of the show’s charm.

Yeah, definitely. We talk about it all the time. I mean, if you’ve ever visited that house, it’s probably 2,000 square feet, but somehow there are eight bedrooms. [Laughs]

Speaking of fans: Do you pay attention to the fan sites?

Not that much because I hate to get sucked into it. I mean, I want to hear all the good ones, and I want to hear the bad ones too. Mike Robin always leads with the good news. I lead with the bad news. That’s how I want notes from the studio. That’s how I want notes from the network. Just give me the bad news and I’ll fix it.

Brave New World, Dallas, John Ross Ewing, Josh Henderson, TNT, Which Ewing Dies?

Listen up

Fans talk a lot about the show on social media. Do you do that?

No.

Why is that?

I don’t know. I feel like it’s passed me by — like I didn’t catch on at the beginning — and now my brain is so overloaded, unless I dump some “Gilligan’s Island” from my hard drive, I can’t learn anything new. But I know it’s very important, and thank goodness, all of our actors do it. They’re really into it, and they have a lot of followers. I also know the younger members of our writing staff do it. I just haven’t. Every time somebody tries to introduce me to it, I’m like, “No, I have so many emails I have to answer!”

But you hear what fans say. Is it hard to balance giving them what they want with pursuing your own creative vision for the show?

Maybe, because I’m not sure I always give the fans what they want. Maybe they’d like it to be more soapier than it is. I come from very dark writing. I wrote violent movies for Michael Mann and many other dark directors. That’s a place where I’m comfortable, and so I’ll often go to that place. Sometimes it works, and sometimes I have to remind myself that it’s probably not the best choice.

Can you give an example?

I just did it in something we were [discussing] for Season 4 about Pamela. I said, “How about she does this and this and this,” and then Robert Rovner [a “Dallas” executive producer and writer] said, “But that’s not empowering for her.” And I said, “You know what? You’re absolutely right.” I was going to a dark place for her. But I just want to work to the best of my ability, and I do want to make it delicious, and so I try never to steal that from the show.

You mentioned the “duck pond” in the writers’ room. Do I dare ask what other ideas are up there?

Most of them are goofy — and then one day they’re not goofy any more.

What I’d give to be a fly on the wall when you guys are discussing this stuff.

You have no idea. There are four comedy writers [on staff] and the things that get said inside that room — you can’t repeat them on the outside. Seriously, it’s insane. Every other day, I’m crying. We have fun. And at the end of the day, somehow the work gets done.

Share your comments below and read more interviews from Dallas Decoder.

Critique: TNT’s ‘Dallas’ Episode 33 — ‘Where There’s Smoke’

Dallas, Julie Gonzalo, Pamela Rebecca Barnes Ewing, TNT, Where There's Smoke

What’s she thinking?

Southfork catches fire again in “Where There’s Smoke,” although much of the heat in this episode comes from Pamela’s ménage a trois with John Ross and Emma. It’s shocking to see her make out with her husband and his mistress, although Pamela’s sudden seizure at the end of the scene proves an even bigger surprise. When I watched this cliffhanger for the first time the other night, I was left with a slew of questions: Is this an accident, or does the pill bottle in Pamela’s pocket mean she intentionally overdosed? Is she trying to kill herself, or does she merely want to scare John Ross and Emma? Could she be faking it?

It turns out we don’t have to wait until August, when “Dallas’s” third season will resume, for the answers to most of these questions: Yesterday, showrunner Cynthia Cidre told TV Line that Pamela was out to “punish” John Ross and Emma. “She wanted them to never be able to have sex again without thinking of her vomiting on them,” Cidre said. Well, OK then.

This still leaves open the question of whether or not Pamela is like Sue Ellen, which is probably the most interesting point to debate anyway. Earlier in the episode, Pamela puts down her mother-in-law, telling her she isn’t “weak” and “sniveling” like her. (Linda Gray’s reaction shots in this scene are heartbreaking.) By taking revenge against John Ross and Emma instead of hitting the bottle like Sue Ellen, Pamela seems to prove her point. On the other hand, if vengeance involves swallowing pills, is Pamela really all that different from Sue Ellen? Perhaps this storyline is meant to fit with one of this season’s broader themes, which is how “Dallas’s” younger generation is doomed to repeat the old guard’s mistakes.

But no matter how this cliffhanger is resolved, there’s no doubt the big sex scene has raised a ruckus among “Dallas” fans. Some say the series went too far by showing a three-way; others love the unexpected twist. I’m in the latter camp. Without question, the show is going out of its way to be provocative, but let’s face it: Sex has always been part of “Dallas’s” DNA. Isn’t this is the show that began with a teenage girl rolling around in the hay with a silver-haired cowboy? Besides, I don’t find John Ross, Pamela and Emma kissing and fondling each other as distasteful as seeing J.R. force Holly Harwood to have sex with him against her will, which is what happened in a 1983 episode. Now that was disturbing.

To me, the threesome feels like a fitting climax to a storyline that’s been building since the end of the previous season, when John Ross and Emma first cavorted in an Omni hotel room. I especially like how Cidre and Robert Rovner, who co-wrote this episode, bring everything full circle by bringing back Pamela and Emma’s green corsets. You also have to hand it to the actors: Josh Henderson does a nice job conveying John Ross’s hesitation about joining Pamela and Emma in bed — you can feel the character’s bewilderment — while Emma Bell always makes her character seem like she’s up for anything. Of course, the standout is Julie Gonzalo. Pamela hasn’t had much to do lately except gaze adoringly at John Ross, but “Where There’s Smoke” makes up for it. During the course of a single day, Pamela goes from feeling stunned to hurt to angry to aroused, and Gonzalo nails every scene. She’s become one of “Dallas’s” most reliable performers.

Surprisingly, I find the Pamela/John Ross/Emma cliffhanger more compelling than the Southfork fire, which lacks suspense. Is there any doubt Sue Ellen, Bobby and Christopher will all survive? A bigger problem: This fire seems like it comes from out of nowhere, unlike the 1983 version, when the inferno felt like the perfect way to end a season in which everything went to hell for the Ewings. Nevertheless, the “Where There’s Smoke” fire is a technical marvel. The special effects are superb, and whether or not it’s intentional, director Michael M. Robin and cinematographer Rodney Charters mimic some of the shots from the original fire. (You can see a side-by-side comparison on my Facebook page.)

More “Where There’s Smoke” highlights: Patrick Duffy is terrific in the scene where Bobby blows up at Ann, although as one Dallas Decoder reader pointed out on Twitter, Bobby is being a bit of a hypocrite. Yes, Ann probably should’ve told her husband about John Ross and Emma’s affair, but has Bobby gotten around to telling his wife that he framed Cliff for J.R.’s “murder?” Meanwhile, Ann and Harris’s kiss is surprisingly moving. This scene works not just because Brenda Strong and Mitch Pileggi are so good in their roles, but also because the show has taken its time telling their story, slowly revealing Ann’s vulnerability and Harris’s humanity.

I also like seeing Christopher and Heather grow closer — the ever-expanding McCabe clan is quickly surpassing the Ramoses as the show’s most believably down-to-earth family — and I’m glad this episode keeps the Mexican cartel and brothel business to a merciful minimum. It’s also good to see Elena acknowledge that J.R. — not Christopher — hurt her father; isn’t this what fans have been screaming at their TVs all season? The next scene, where Nicolas pokes holes in Elena’s diaphragm, is puzzling: By impregnating her, does he hope to control her? On the other hand, if this is the reason the Doors’ “Break On Through (To the Other Side)” was chosen for the episode-ending montage, I’m all for it.

Finally, like a lot of fans, I’m not sure what to make of the fact “North By Northwest” is playing on Sue Ellen’s TV when she gets drunk before the fire starts. In the movie, Cary Grant plays a man who unwittingly falls into a spy game but ultimately turns the tables on his enemies and takes control of the situation. Could this be a signal that Gray’s character is about to get back on track? Or is the film’s appearance nothing more than a sly plug for Turner Classic Movies, one of TNT’s sister channels?

I hope it’s the former. I’ve been patient while “Dallas” allows Sue Ellen’s relapse to play out, but now that she’s back where her fall from the wagon began — in the bedroom where J.R. once slept — it feels like this storyline has come full circle too. Is this where our beloved heroine begins the road back to sobriety? That’s the real cliffhanger, isn’t it?

Grade: B

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Dallas, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing, TNT, Where There's Smoke

Full circle?

‘WHERE THERE’S SMOKE’

Season 3, Episode 8

Telecast: April 14, 2014

Audience: 2.1 million viewers on April 14

Writers: Cynthia Cidre and Robert Rovner

Director: Michael M. Robin

Synopsis: Pamela sees the video of John Ross and Emma and lashes out at Sue Ellen and Ann when she realizes they knew about the affair. Bobby becomes angry at Ann for keeping the secret from him, which prompts her to turn to Harris, who kisses her. John Ross figures out Harris has been trying to frame him and tells Judith to call off her son, while Judith urges Emma to turn on John Ross. Drew tells Nicolas he wants to settle the feud with the Ewings “with blood,” while Nicolas sabotages Elena’s birth control when she begins getting cold feet about their revenge scheme. Pamela finds John Ross and Emma in a hotel room and has a threesome with them, only to begin convulsing after an apparent overdose. Bobby and Christopher learn Bo blames the Ewings for his troubles and come home to Southfork to find the house in flames with Sue Ellen passed out inside.

Cast: Kuno Becker (Drew Ramos), Emma Bell (Emma Ryland), Donny Boaz (Bo McCabe), Jordana Brewster (Elena Ramos), Dallas Clark (Michael McCabe), Jude Demorest (Candace), Juan Pablo Di Pace (Nicolas Treviño), Akai Draco (Sheriff Derrick), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Julie Gonzalo (Pamela Ewing), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Josh Henderson (John Ross Ewing), Antonio Jaramillo (Luis), Judith Light (Judith Ryland), AnnaLynne McCord (Heather McCabe), Jesse Metcalfe (Christopher Ewing), Kevin Page (Bum), Mitch Pileggi (Harris Ryland), Brenda Strong (Ann Ewing), Steven Walters (Reece)

“Where There’s Smoke” is available at DallasTNT.com, Amazon.com and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.

Critique: TNT’s ‘Dallas’ Episode 26 – ‘The Return’

Dallas, John Ross Ewing, Josh Henderson, Return, TNT

That smile

Now that “Dallas” fans know who killed J.R., we can turn our attention to a much trickier question: Who’ll be J.R.? We all realize Larry Hagman is irreplaceable, but we also understand TNT’s sequel series needs a character who can keep the plots — and on this show, that means the plottin’ and the schemin’ — moving forward the way J.R. did. Last year, the producers seemed to toy with several possible successors — even white-knight father/son duo Bobby and Christopher got in touch with their inner J.R.s — but in “The Return,” John Ross emerges as Daddy’s true heir. It’s the obvious choice. It’s also the smart one.

I’ve been a fan of Josh Henderson’s sly performance from the beginning, even comparing him to “Dallas’s” most famous alum, Brad Pitt, in my first review of the TNT series. Most of what I wrote then remains true: Henderson still has an effortless, seductive charm, and even when John Ross is up to no good, you still find him alluring. But it’s no longer accurate to call Henderson or his character “boyish,” as I did two years ago. Maybe it’s the fact that John Ross is now married and a big-shot oilman in his own right — or maybe it’s the fact that Henderson’s pecs have seemingly grown three cup sizes, as Entertainment Weekly cheekily pointed out last week — but John Ross is now much more man than boy.

Wisely, “The Return” wastes no time establishing him as “Dallas’s” new J.R., who turns out be a lot like the old one. John Ross frolics with his mistress in a hotel room, comes home and lies to his wife about his whereabouts (he says he was in Houston, buying her a “proper” engagement ring), sweet talks his mama when she frets about his ambition, clashes with Bobby over Southfork’s future (To remodel or not to remodel? To drill or not to drill?) and wheels and deals in the boardroom, where he enthusiastically declares Ewing Global is going to be “bigger than Exxon and BP combined.” (Shades of J.R.’s oft-repeated vow to make Ewing Oil the “biggest independent oil company in the state of Texas.”) John Ross even sports J.R.’s wristwatch and belt buckle, and even though the latter looks kind of big on him, is that so bad? I see it as a symbol of how carrying J.R.’s legacy will always be a burden for John Ross, no matter how muscular he gets.

What impresses me most about Henderson — in this episode and others — is how he evokes Hagman’s spirit without ever resorting to imitating the actor. Like Hagman, Henderson possesses one of the great smiles in television, but he uses it differently than the way Hagman used his. Whereas J.R.’s smile often concealed his intentions, John Ross’s lets us know what’s going on inside his head. In “The Return,” Henderson arches his eyebrow and smirks when he’s sparring with Patrick Duffy, but when John Ross is on bended knee proposing to Pamela, watch how the actor’s whole face lights up. This is a smile to melt your heart, reminding us that there’s a sensitive soul beneath all that bravado.

Of course, even though Henderson has become the new face of this franchise, “Dallas” remains a group effort, as “The Return” makes clear. This episode gives almost every member of the ensemble a nice moment or two, although special mention goes to Jordana Brewster, who is such a good actress, she makes Elena’s overnight transformation — literally — into a Ewing enemy seem believable, if not altogether reasonable. (Is Elena unaware of Cliff’s role in blackmailing Drew into blowing up the rig last season?) Brewster’s character has become the latest in a long line of “Dallas” heroines to do Cliff’s dirty work, and I love how the actress holds her own against Ken Kercheval, who is as electric as ever in Cliff’s jailhouse scenes.

I also applaud the introduction of Juan Pablo Di Pace, who makes one of the all-time great “Dallas” debuts when the oh-so-suave Nicolas Treviño sweeps into the Ewing Global boardroom and upsets the family’s apple cart. Treviño has the potential to become an altogether different kind of “Dallas” villain: richer than Jeremy Wendell and Carter McKay and every bit as calculating, but also a heck of a lot hotter. (No offense, William Smithers and George Kennedy.) I’ll never understand how the Ewings lack the “supermajority” they need to sell a division in their own company — just like the whole matter about the Southfork surface rights seems like a bunch of hooey — but let’s face it: “Dallas” has always existed in a universe where the legal realities bear little resemblance to our own.

Besides, I’d rather focus on the other ways in which “The Return” lives up to its title. This episode marks a return to many of the “Dallas” hallmarks that so many of us love, beginning with the revival of the classic three-way split-screen title sequence, which has received widespread acclaim from fans. Under Steve Robin’s direction, “The Return’s” pacing also feels a little more deliberate; there are more old-school, quiet scenes like the one where the women of Southfork sit around the patio and plan Pamela’s wedding; and there are more sequences set outdoors on the ranch, which cinematographer Rodney Charters always showcases in all of its high-definition, green-grass/blue-sky glory. No matter where the characters go on Southfork — whether it’s to the wood-chopping pile or to the “shale formation” where the cattle graze — Charters makes us feel like we’re right there with them.

I also appreciate how this episode’s script, written by co-executive producers Cynthia Cidre and Robert Rovner, is sprinkled with dialogue that pays homage to classic “Dallas” themes. One example: The tension between moving forward and clinging to old traditions has always been central to the “Dallas” mythology, which we see in Bobby and John Ross’s argument over remodeling Southfork. “It’s about time you learn to respect the past, boy,” Bobby says. John Ross’s cutting response: “The past is what holds us back, Uncle Bobby.” If I heard that line a season or two ago, I might worry it signaled this franchise was going to abandon its history, except the people in charge have long since demonstrated their commitment to preserving “Dallas’s” heritage, even if they sometimes play a little loose with the continuity.

Nothing demonstrates this better than all the references to J.R. in “The Return.” I counted at least 13 instances where he’s mentioned by name, and that doesn’t include lines like the one where Sue Ellen catches John Ross sneaking out of Emma’s bedroom and says, “What’s the matter, Mama? You look like you just seen a ghost.” There are also plenty of visual reminders: the wristwatch, the belt buckle, the gravestone and most importantly, the much-improved portrait hanging in the background at Ewing Global, which makes it seem like J.R. is always peering over someone’s shoulder.

Indeed, as tempting as it is to think of “Dallas’s” third season as the beginning of the post-Hagman era, is such a thing even possible? “The Return” keeps our hero’s memory alive, not that it was in any danger of fading in the first place.

Grade: B

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Dallas, Elena Ramos, Jordana Brewster, Return, TNT

Look who’s lurking

‘THE RETURN’

Season 3, Episode 1

Telecast: February 24, 2014

Audience: 2.7 million viewers on February 24

Writers: Cynthia Cidre and Robert Rovner

Director: Steve Robin

Synopsis: Elena forms a secret alliance with Cliff, takes a job at the newly renamed Ewing Global and recruits Nicolas Treviño, a childhood friend who is now a billionaire, to serve as Cliff’s proxy. Emma, Ryland Transport’s new chief executive, gives John Ross control of the company’s drilling and cargo ships so Ewing Global can tap oil and methane reserves in the Arctic. When Nicolas tries to scuttle the Arctic deal, John Ross suggests drilling on Southfork to finance the project, but Bobby disagrees. The Mendez-Ochoa cartel bribes a judge to get Harris out of jail and threatens to kill Emma if Harris doesn’t resume his drug shipments. Christopher meets Heather, a spirited ranch hand.

Cast: Amber Bartlett (Jill), Emma Bell (Emma Ryland), Donny Boaz (Bo McCabe), Jordana Brewster (Elena Ramos), Juan Pablo Di Pace (Nicolas Treviño), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Marlene Forte (Carmen Ramos), Julie Gonzalo (Pamela Ewing), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Josh Henderson (John Ross Ewing), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), AnnaLynne McCord (Heather), Jesse Metcalfe (Christopher Ewing), Kevin Page (Bum), Mitch Pileggi (Harris Ryland), Brenda Strong (Ann Ewing)

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

In Season 3, ‘Dallas’ Resets the Chessboard, J.R. Style

Dallas, John Ross Ewing, Josh Henderson, Linda Gray, Return, Sue Ellen Ewing, TNT

Welcome back, darlins

Who misses J.R.? We all do, but the third season of TNT’s “Dallas” still manages to be fun, freewheeling television — even if our beloved Larry Hagman is no longer there to breathe life into his most famous character. Watching next week’s season premiere is a little like attending a family reunion after the loss of a favorite uncle. You can’t help but wish the old guy was still around, but isn’t it nice to see everyone else again?

Besides, it’s not like J.R. is gone altogether. His memory looms large in Season 3’s first two episodes. Some examples: John Ross inherits his daddy’s Southfork-sized belt buckle and hires contractors to renovate the house using blueprints J.R. commissioned before his death. Bobby, once again at odds with his ambitious nephew, growls that John Ross isn’t “half the man” J.R. was. Bum, the Ewings’ go-to private eye who now doubles as John Ross’s conscience, urges him to “grow into your father’s greatness, not his weakness.” There’s even a much-improved painting of J.R. hanging in the Ewing offices, allowing Hagman’s visage to peer over the shoulders of the other actors as they move around the set.

With so many verbal and visual references to J.R., isn’t the show just reminding us that this franchise has lost its marquee player? Yes, but since most of us can’t tune into “Dallas” without thinking about Hagman anyway, the producers might as well acknowledge the ghost in the room. Besides, when your franchise is built on a character as endlessly fascinating as J.R. Ewing, why not use him to pull everyone’s strings from the great beyond?

That’s why “The Return,” the third-season premiere, resets the “Dallas” chessboard, J.R.-style. The episode — penned by Cynthia Cidre and Robert Rovner and directed by Steve Robin — picks up 12 hours after last year’s finale, when we learned J.R. was dying of cancer and masterminded his own “murder” so archenemy Cliff Barnes could be framed for the crime, thus ending the Barnes/Ewing feud. (Ha!) The finale also positioned John Ross as J.R.’s heir in every way, and so at the beginning of “The Return,” we learn why the young newlywed went to that hotel room to cheat with Emma, who appears to have traded her pill habit for an addiction to risky encounters with John Ross.

We’ll also hear how John Ross justifies the fling to Kevin Page’s Bum; his excuse will sound familiar to longtime “Dallas” fans who remember how J.R. used to rationalize his cheating on Sue Ellen. This storyline has upset a lot of fans of the John Ross/Pamela pairing, but it allows Josh Henderson to display the sly charisma that makes him almost as much fun to watch as Hagman was in his heyday. And even though John Ross is a cheat, we can’t help but feel charmed by his relationship with Julie Gonzalo’s Pamela, whose smoldering gaze makes her the ideal match for the oh-so-suave Henderson. Let’s acknowledge something else too: As much as we despise Emma, there’s no denying that Emma Bell is terrific in this role. Not since Mary Crosby’s Kristin have “Dallas” viewers had a vixen who’s so much fun to hate.

During last year’s execution of the Ewings’ “master plan” against Cliff, almost all of the characters got in touch with their inner J.R., but Season 3 finds the good guys returning to familiar terrain. Patrick Duffy’s Bobby slides back into his role as the heroic guardian of Southfork traditions, while Jesse Metcalfe’s Christopher gets a refreshingly angst-free romance with Heather, a new ranch hand. This role is played with equal parts spunk and sex appeal by AnnaLynne McCord, who was the best part of the CW’s “90210” and makes a welcome addition to “Dallas,” a far better revival.

(Oh, and even though “The Return” begins 12 hours after Season 2 ended, Christopher now sports a face full of scruff. How did he grow a thick beard in a half-day? It’s probably better not to ask. Let’s consider it this era’s version of Sue Ellen’s hair, which magically shortened itself between seasons in the early 1980s, even though mere minutes had passed on screen.)

“The Return” also recasts Elena, once this show’s romantic heroine, into a shrewd schemer out for revenge — or as she calls it, “justice” — after Cliff revealed J.R. once stole oil-rich land from her father, just like Jock supposedly cheated Digger out of half the Ewing fortune. This might seem like a thin premise to extend the Barnes/Ewing feud, but it gives the underappreciated Jordana Brewster something to do besides moon over Henderson and Metcalfe’s characters. Cliff and Elena’s unlikely alliance also includes Nicolas Treviño, a dashing young billionaire played by Juan Pablo Di Pace, another strong addition to this ensemble.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: What about Sue Ellen? It’s no secret Linda Gray’s character is once again headed for rock bottom this season, although she goes nowhere near a drop of booze in “The Return.” Some fans hate to see Sue Ellen drinking again; I’m not wild about the idea either, but I have no doubt Gray will deliver another knockout performance, just like she did last year. She’s Hagman’s truest heir in a lot of ways, including this one: Like him, Gray can say more with an arched eyebrow or a wry smile than most actors can with a script full of dialogue. She exudes Old Hollywood star power, and whether Sue Ellen is drunk or sober, Gray always delivers riveting television.

“Dallas” fans also want to know about a couple of other favorites, including Brenda Strong’s Ann and her dastardly ex-husband Harris, played to menacing perfection by Mitch Pileggi. Regarding them, I’ll only say this: Just because you haven’t read much about their characters in “Dallas’s” pre-premiere publicity doesn’t mean they have nothing to do in the first two episodes. I also don’t want to give anything away about Judith Light’s character Judith Ryland, except to say her return in the season’s second hour, “Trust Me,” is a hoot.

That episode, written by Bruce Rasmussen and directed by Millicent Shelton, features a Ewing family gathering that showcases the brilliance of costume designer Rachel Sage Kunin, who never fails to impress, and hairdresser Charles Yusko, whose contributions to the success of this series shouldn’t be overlooked. You’ll also want to watch “Trust Me” to see the long-awaited reunion between two characters who had a charming scene last year, along with one of the most audacious moments I’ve ever seen on “Dallas” — or any other show, for that matter.

Most importantly, the episode ends with a shock that rocks two characters and will make you reconsider everything you think you know about a third. It’s a twist you’ll never see coming — and another reason this show remains so much fun, even without the man who got the party started.

“Dallas’s” third season begins Monday, February 24, at 9 p.m. Eastern on TNT. Are you excited? Share your comments below and read more opinions from Dallas Decoder.

The Best & Worst of TNT’s Dallas: Season 2

The second season of TNT’s “Dallas” was even better than the first. Here are my laurels, along with a few darts.

Performances

Woman of the year

Wonder woman

She spent Season 1 on the sidelines, but Linda Gray became “Dallas’s” star player this year. After losing the election, Sue Ellen maneuvered her way into Ewing Energies, then fought tooth and manicured nail to save the company. Her determination took many forms: She flirted with Gary and later Ken, proving a woman in her 70s could still be playful and alluring, and blackmailed Governor McConaughey with a smile, demonstrating just how much she learned from her ex-husband. Speaking of J.R.: Gray shined brightest at his funeral, where Sue Ellen took a heartbreaking tumble off the wagon, then delivered a mesmerizing eulogy for the man she called “the love of my life.” It was a magnificent, unforgettable performance – and if there’s any justice in the world, Gray’s next big speech will be at the Emmys.

Storylines

The “Who Killed J.R.?” mystery was terrific because it allowed viewers to slide into J.R.’s boots and try to piece together the puzzle he left behind. The gun! That letter! Those cocaine shoes! How were the clues connected? This was “Dallas” at its most fun – and as an added bonus, it finally resolved Pam’s storyline and gave the character the redemption she deserved. (Pam may be dead, but please let Katherine live.) The season’s least satisfying storyline: Vicente Cano’s ambush on Southfork and the hostage crisis that ensued. This storyline did little to advance the season’s main narrative – the fight for Ewing Energies – nor did it give us much new insight into the characters. On the other hand: at least nobody made Sue Ellen sing.

Episodes

Tears of the son

Tears of the son

The beautiful, elegiac “J.R.’s Masterpiece” is landmark television. From the mournful version of the “Dallas” theme music that played under the special opening titles through the moving gravesite eulogies, scriptwriter Cynthia Cidre and director Michael M. Robin made J.R.’s death feel achingly real. This is their masterpiece. At the other end of the spectrum: “Ewings Unite!,” an uneven hour marred by J.R.’s silly will reading and Gary and Val’s drive-by reunion.

Scenes

Almost two months after watching “J.R.’s Masterpiece,” I’m still haunted by the memory of Sue Ellen getting drunk in her ex-husband’s bedroom on the night before his funeral. As Tara Holloway’s soulful rendition of “The Bottom” played, we watched Sue Ellen move around J.R.’s bed, caress a framed photo from their wedding and finally drown her sorrows with glass after glass of his bourbon. This was two-and-a-half minutes of exquisite agony. (Among the season’s other great scenes: Ann’s spellbinding testimony at her trial, Harris and Emma’s parking garage encounter, Harris’s Komodo dragon speech and the moment lusty John Ross storms off the elevator and into Pamela’s arms.)

Twists

Raw deal

Raw deal

The police discover Tommy’s body and murder weapon. John Ross warns Pamela, who frantically begins preparing to skip town as the police arrive with guns drawn. But wait! They’re not coming to arrest Pamela; they’re after Frank, who has been framed by Cliff. It was a classic “Dallas” fake-out and the season’s most surprising twist. The silliest: At J.R.’s will reading, Miss Ellie somehow takes half of Southfork from Bobby and gives it to John Ross. Howzat, Mama?

Traditions

Season 2 gave us a Southfork swimming pool scene, the return of the old Ewing Oil building and even a reference to Westar, but where were the barbecue and Oil Baron’s Ball (er, “Cattle Baron’s Ball”) episodes? On the other hand, we did get “The Furious and the Fast,” the fantastic racetrack-set episode that marked the “Dallas” directorial debut of Rodney Charters, the show’s ace cinematographer. Perhaps racecars will become a new “Dallas” tradition? I’m ready for another spin.

Villains

Evil dad

Evil dad

Steven Weber played McConaughey to smirking perfection and Mitch Pileggi and Judith Light were delicious as the evil Rylands, but Ken Kercheval scared the bejesus out of me as Cliff. The scene where he orders the destruction of the methane rig is chilling. Yet somehow, the brilliant Kercheval made sure we never lost sight of Cliff’s humanity, especially when he was arrested for J.R.’s murder. Make no mistake: Season 2 was the performance of Kercheval’s career.

Returning Favorites

Audrey Landers’ return as Afton in “Guilt and Innocence” was a hoot. Robert Rovner’s script gave Landers plenty to do, and she made the most of it: During the course of the hour, we got to see Afton badmouth Cliff (“He’s a mean drunk, that man”), flirt with John Ross, shoot daggers at Christopher and sweetly serenade Pamela with her favorite childhood lullaby. I also liked Ted Shackelford and Joan Van Ark’s return as Gary and Valene (even if Van Ark didn’t get enough to do), as well as the familiar faces who showed up in “J.R.’s Masterpiece,” especially Mandy and Cally (Deborah Shelton, Cathy Podewell), whose reminiscing about their romances with J.R. proved surprisingly poignant.

Newcomers

Welcome to Southfork

Welcome to Southfork

Each episode of “Dallas” clocks in at 42 minutes sans commercials, making screen time a commodity. It’s tempting to knock the producers for expanding the cast in Season 2 – except the newcomers are all so good! I was especially charmed by magnetic Kuno Becker, who was both smoldering and sweet as ne’er-do-well Drew, while Emma Bell knocked me out as Emma, who shifted effortlessly from sheltered princess to a pill-popping sexpot. Is there anything this actress can’t do?

Supporting Players

Like the original “Dallas,” the new show is beginning to feel like its own world, thanks to its growing population of reliable recurring characters. My favorites include steadfast Sheriff Derrick (Akai Draco), dutiful lawyer Lou Bergen (Glenn Morshower) and of course loyal private eye Bum (Kevin Page), who charmed me in his scene with Sue Ellen and moved me when he confessed his role in J.R.’s master plan. Season 2 also introduced two promising additions to the Ewing Energies secretarial pool: perky, sneaky Jill (Amber Bartlett) and statuesque Stacy (Natalie Quintanilla). The other great addition: lusty city transportation chief Alison Jones (Annie Wersching). Could she become this generation’s Marilee Stone?

Costumes

Man of style

Man of style

“Dallas” doesn’t just have TV’s best-dressed cast; the actors are also smartly dressed. Everyone’s “look” fits their character perfectly. Case in point: J.R., whose western jackets, dark suits and Butch Dorer hats made him Season 2’s most dashing figure. My favorite outfit: the classic pinstripes he sported in “Venomous Creatures” when he blackmailed the smarmy prosecutor. A tip of the hat to costume designer Rachel Sage Kunin. Thanks to her, our hero went out in style.

Music

The music on “Dallas” is a mix of familiar tunes like Merle Haggard’s “My Favorite Memory,” which played during J.R.’s memorial service, and oh-my-gosh-what-is-the-name-of-that-song-I-must-own-it selections like “Liar,” an unreleased number from the Unknown that was heard in “False Confessions” and “Legacies.” My favorite: “My Time Has Come,” the driving rock anthem from the Bowery Riots that played when Bobby did that cool slow-motion walk away from Cliff at the end of “Love and Family.” It was the ideal song to showcase Bobby at his badass best.

Props

Ugly truth

Ugly truth

I’m tempted to choose Christopher’s Miller Lite bottle or all those Microsoft Surface tablets as best props, but instead I’ll go with J.R.’s handsome bourbon decanter, which the three people he loved most – Bobby, Sue Ellen and Christopher – all drank from after his death. Worst prop? That’s easy: The awful painting of J.R. unveiled at the end of “Legacies.” Where’s J.R.’s nose? What happened to his right shoulder? My plea to the producers: Fix this before Season 3 starts.

Hashtags

Since so much of my “Dallas” viewing experience now takes place in the Twitterverse, it seems appropriate to honor the hashtags of Season 2: #BubbaNotEarl #ByeByeCloudDrive #Clonazepam #ContinuedLegalSubterfuge #EminentDomain #FentonWashburnEsquire #HighImpactPressureMoldedCocaine #HighVelocityBloodSplatter #HornedFrogsVsMustangs #HotelColon #JudgeRhonda #KomodoDragons #MoralsClause #NuevoLaredo #PatriciaBarrett #RickyRudd #RIPKatherine?

Quips

This category is always the toughest and Season 2 is no different. What to choose? Sue Ellen’s putdown of Afton (“She’s drama, John Ross.”)? Val’s greeting to Sue Ellen (“Once a bitch, always a bitch.”)? Vicente’s observation after realizing the Ewing cousins have traded romantic partners (“You Ewing boys share after all! I love it!”)? John Ross’s not-fit-for-print philosophy on romance (“Love is for [kitty cats]”)? In the end, I’ll go with the master. J.R.’s encounter with Pamela: “You’re not the first Pam to fox her way into the henhouse.” Oh, J.R. We’ll never stop missing you.

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

Critique: TNT’s ‘Dallas’ Episode 25 – ‘Legacies’

Bobby Ewing, Dallas, Legacies, Patrick Duffy, TNT

Brother’s keeper

Will it surprise you to learn that I like “Legacies”? Probably not, judging by some of the comments I’ve received on this website and others lately. Some of you seem to think I’m too generous to the new “Dallas.” If I am, it’s only because I genuinely love the show. I’m also the first to admit it isn’t perfect, as “Legacies” demonstrates. This isn’t the finest hour in “Dallas” history, but it does a nice job resolving the “Who Killed J.R.” mystery and giving his death meaning. Ultimately, isn’t that what all of us want when we lose a loved one?

The episode’s best scene takes place in the Southfork graveyard, where John Ross and Christopher listen as Bobby finally reads aloud the letter J.R. left him. We learn J.R. was dying of cancer and put his master plan in motion because he wanted to end the Barnes/Ewing feud. The plan itself: J.R. had Bum shoot him so Cliff could be framed for J.R.’s “murder.” Outlandish? Sure, but there’s also something profound about the idea that J.R., the ultimate warrior, died wanting to make peace. It’s not out of character either. This is who J.R. was at the end of his life: a kinder, gentler scoundrel who wanted to protect his family, especially when it gave him an excuse to dig into his old bag of tricks.

The letter to Bobby is the centerpiece of Cynthia Cidre and Robert Rovner’s script. Even though Patrick Duffy and Jesse Metcalfe take turns reading the words, Larry Hagman’s voice is the one I hear. In my favorite passage, J.R. acknowledges the “terrible, hurtful” things he did to Bobby over the years, then adds: “I hope in the quiet place in your heart, where the truth lives, that my jealousy, as powerful as it was, was nothing compared to my love for you.” This isn’t the first time we’ve heard J.R. declare his love for his youngest brother, but it might be the first time Bobby has heard it. (In the past, Bobby was “dead” or unconscious when J.R. poured out his heart to him.) Anyone who has loved and lost a brother will find meaning in this moment.

The gravesite scene also gives us two unforgettable performances. The first comes from Duffy, whose tears move me like nothing else I’ve seen on “Dallas” this season. Bobby is usually such a pillar of strength; to see him lose his composure is touching. I’m also impressed with Kevin Page, who chokes up when Bum tells John Ross that he was the one who ended J.R.’s life. If you buy the premise that J.R. arranged his own death and that Bum pulled the trigger, it’s probably because Page is so convincing in this scene. Did you ever imagine you’d want to give Bum a hug?

“Legacies’” other big revelation comes at the top of the hour, when Christopher learns: a) his mother died of pancreatic cancer, and b) Cliff paid her doctor to create the illusion she was alive so Christopher couldn’t inherit her shares of Barnes Global. I wanted Victoria Principal to return to “Dallas” as much as anyone, but I also appreciate how this twist honors “Dallas” continuity. We last saw Pam in 1988, when we learned she had months to live. Now we find out she died in 1989. The math works. Much more importantly, this scenario redeems Pam. It always seemed out of character for her to abandon her family, so Cidre and Rovner’s script reveals Pam was undergoing experimental treatments so she could reunite with them. If nothing else, the new “Dallas” deserves credit for making sense of Pam’s absence, which was always one of the old show’s biggest blunders.

“Legacies” offers no such redemption for Cliff. To make the J.R.-killed-J.R. twist work, “Dallas” had to turn Cliff into a monster; otherwise, there was no chance the audience would accept the idea of the Ewings framing him for J.R.’s murder. A lot of fans are having a hard time believing Bobby would go along with this. I understand their incredulity, as well as their frustration with the historical rewriting that went into Cliff’s transformation. (His scheme to defraud Christopher must have started toward the end of the original show, when Cliff had become a pretty good guy.) Still, given the severity of Cliff’s crimes, is there any doubt he belongs in jail?

Even if you don’t like what happened to Cliff, you can’t deny Ken Kercheval gave the performance of his career this season. In “Legacies,” Kercheval makes you feel Cliff’s desperation and anger when the police drag him away in handcuffs (“I did not kill J.R.! I did not kill J.R.!”). There’s also something poignant about the scene where Bobby visits Cliff in that dingy Mexican jail. Here’s a son of Jock, giving the son of Digger one last chance to make peace. Confess to your real crimes, Bobby says, and I’ll help you beat this murder rap. But Cliff is defiant to the bitter end: “I have never done anything that the Ewings asked me to do, and I’m not going to start today.”

As far as I’m concerned, Cliff has to stay in jail for the duration of “Dallas.” If he gets out, J.R.’s master plan will fail and our hero’s final “victory” will be nullified. Of course, this doesn’t mean Kercheval can’t continue to appear in jailhouse scenes like the one we get at the end of “Legacies,” when Cliff anoints Elena (of all people!) as the Ewings’ latest antagonist by revealing J.R. cheated her father out of oil-rich land. This is an interesting twist, although the scene ends with a silly sound effect: After Kercheval delivers the last line (“Make the Ewings pay for the sins against your family”), listen closely and you’ll hear Hagman’s cackle mixed into the background music. (While we’re on the subject of poorly executed J.R. tributes, the painting of him revealed at the end of this episode is atrocious.)

“Legacies” director Steve Robin also gives us two memorable musical montages, one of the new show’s best signatures. The first sequence depicts the daughters of “Dallas” betraying their daddies: While Pamela plants the gun in Cliff’s trunk, Emma spikes Harris’s pancake batter, knocking him out long enough to sneak into his safe and swipe the evidence of his drug trafficking. These scenes play out to a reprise of “Liar,” the bluesy number from the Unknown that was previously heard in “False Confessions” when the police arrest Frank for Tommy’s murder.

The second “Legacies” montage, set to the Mavericks’ “Come Unto Me,” shows Elena visiting the heavily guarded compound of Joaquin, a mysterious friend from her childhood. Meanwhile, John Ross visits Emma, who gives him the rest of the papers she stole from Harris. I wasn’t crazy about the idea of John Ross cheating on Pamela, but once I saw the Hagman-esque glint in Josh Henderson’s eye and heard him deliver the scene’s kicker – “Just don’t tell my wife” – I was sold. (On a related note: Is that J.R.’s watch on John Ross’s wrist?)

Does “Legacies” have plot holes? You bet. It appears the police exhume J.R.’s body, pull the slugs out of the chest cavity (shouldn’t this have been done before the burial, by the way?) and match the bullets to Cliff’s gun, all in the time it takes Cliff and Pamela to fly from Dallas to Mexico and check into their hotel. That’s mighty swift police work, even by TV standards. Also, if the police decide to check out Cliff’s claims that he was framed, they could start by talking to the people who work at the bank where John Ross and Pamela planted the belt buckle in Cliff’s safe deposit box.

I suppose finding flubs like these is its own kind of joy, but I got a much bigger kick out of playing detective and trying to solve the “Who Killed J.R.” mystery. Don’t forget: This storyline was created on the fly by people who were working under tight pressure while simultaneously mourning the biggest star “Dallas” will ever know. All things considered, I think Cidre and company did a hell of a job. This was the most fun I had watching television in a long time. Isn’t that the point?

Grade: A

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Cliff Barnes, Dallas, Ken Kercheval, Legacies, TNT

The bitter end

‘LEGACIES’

Season 2, Episode 15

Telecast: April 15, 2013

Writers: Cynthia Cidre and Robert Rovner

Director: Steve Robin

Audience: 2.9 million viewers on April 15

Synopsis: Christopher learns Pam died in 1989 and that Cliff has been paying her doctor to create the illusion she’s alive to prevent Christopher from inheriting her third of Barnes Global. Vickers is killed on Cliff’s orders. After John Ross and Pamela plant evidence to lead the police to Cliff, he’s arrested for J.R.’s murder. John Ross and Christopher persuade Bobby to read J.R.’s letter, which reveals he was dying of cancer and had Bum shoot him so Cliff could be framed. Harris is arrested after Emma exposes his role in the drug trafficking. Cliff sends Elena documents that prove J.R. stole oil-rich land from her father, prompting her to visit someone from her past named Joaquin. John Ross cheats with Emma, who brings him documents from Harris’s safe.

Cast: Sam Anderson (Dr. David Gordon), Emma Bell (Emma Brown), Karen Borta (reporter), Jordana Brewster (Elena Ramos), Cody Daniel (deliveryman), Akai Draco (Sheriff Derrick), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Alex Fernandez (Roy Vickers), Marlene Forte (Carmen Ramos), Julie Gonzalo (Pamela Barnes), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Josh Henderson (John Ross Ewing), Annalee Jefferies (Carina), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Marcus M. Mauldin (Detective Bota), Benito Martinez (policeman), Jesse Metcalfe (Christopher Ewing), Kevin Page (Bum), Mitch Pileggi (Harris Ryland), Brenda Strong (Ann Ewing)

“Legacies” is available at DallasTNT.com, Amazon.com and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.

Critique: TNT’s ‘Dallas’ Episode 20 – ‘Guilt and Innocence’

Christopher Ewing, Dallas, Guilt and Innocence, Jesse Metcalfe, TNT

Man of the hour

“Dallas’s” second-season plotlines don’t advance much in “Guilt and Innocence,” which is disappointing to those of who are desperate for more clues in the “Who Killed J.R.?” mystery. On the other hand, this episode offers a nice showcase for the “Dallas” cast, which has become one of television’s most reliable ensembles. The most impressive performances come from Jesse Metcalfe, who is especially moving in the scene where the guilt-ridden Christopher weeps inside the hospital chapel, and Julie Gonzalo, who breaks my heart as Pamela suffers through the final hours of her doomed pregnancy.

The last scene in “Guilt and Innocence” is the most memorable. John Ross and Christopher rush into Pamela’s hospital room as her doctor and nurses scramble to save the lives of her unborn twins. Afton is there too, clutching her daughter’s hand. How many people are present altogether? I couldn’t tell you. Director Jesse Bochco unfurls the action in a series of quick cuts, making it feel chaotic and real. We catch glimpses of Pamela writhing in agony, John Ross and Christopher watching with worried expressions, the doctor barking orders. Someone yells, “Heart rate’s dropping on Baby A!” And then: “Heart rate’s dropping on Baby B!” The motion slows. The machinery buzzes. Soon there are no other sounds, except for a faint piano score. The final shot is the monitor as the two heart rates flatline, one by one.

Another dramatic highlight comes at the beginning, when a frantic Bobby races through the emergency room, calling the missing Ann’s name. Their reunion a few moments later, when Bobby forgives his wife for keeping so many secrets from him during their marriage, makes me realize how invested I’ve become in them as a couple. Robert Rovner’s script also gives us a handful of typically intense scenes with the schizoid Rylands, all three of whom grow a little weirder with each episode, as well as several lighter moments. The best of these: Linda Gray’s breezy exchange with Lee Majors, who proves as charismatic as ever; the moment John Ross calls Pamela “darlin’;” and Sue Ellen’s pot-calling-the-kettle-black description of Afton: “She’s drama.”

With Pamela and wild-haired Judith Ryland both laid up, almost all of the action in “Guilt and Innocence” takes place in the hospital. This makes the episode reminiscent of “Trial and Error,” an earlier second-season episode that unfolded almost entirely in the courthouse during Ann’s trial. In that installment, the legal proceedings ended up being less about Ann shooting Harris than her failings as a wife and mother. Similarly, Pamela’s pregnancy crisis becomes a vehicle for introspection. Christopher wonders if he took too many risks in his quest to build Ewing Energies, while Pamela questions her past schemes. In a poignant moment, she stares at the fetal heart monitor and asks John Ross, “Do you think this is karma … for all the bad that I’ve done?”

I wish “Guilt and Innocence” had taken this idea a little further. When Afton arrives at Pamela’s bedside, she refers to “all the bad choices” her daughter made in an attempt to “forge a relationship” with Cliff, but nothing more is said about Pamela’s deceptions, which aren’t trivial. This is a young woman who spent two years lying about her identity – then married Christopher – in order to infiltrate the Ewings. It makes Afton’s anger toward Christopher feel a little unfair. I understand that she blames him for Pamela’s accident, but shouldn’t she have a little sympathy for the man her daughter conned? (For that matter: Christopher and Pamela are still married? I thought their annulment occurred several episodes ago.)

Along these lines, while Sue Ellen’s lingering bitterness toward Afton is understandable, I’m a bit baffled by Bobby’s hostility toward her (“Pull in your claws, Afton”). Afton once saved his life; you’d think he’d be a little nicer. On the other hand: I like how “Guilt and Innocence” restores a little bit of the edge Afton displayed when she arrived on “Dallas” in the early ’80s. Bochco’s shot of Audrey Landers lurking around the hospital corner is inspired, recalling the way Afton used to slink around Southfork. I also applaud the scene where Afton serenades Pamela with her favorite childhood lullaby, a charming tribute to Afton’s roots as “Dallas’s” resident songstress. (I wonder if Josh Henderson, no slouch in the singing department himself, wanted to join in?)

The only thing that would’ve made Afton’s homecoming complete is having Cliff around. More than anything, I want to know how he feels about himself after endangering Pamela’s life. (I hope we get more than Harris’s one-sided conversation with Cliff in “Guilt and Innocence,” when he apparently expresses no regret for his actions.) I also believe the show could use Afton to shed a little light on what turned Cliff so dark, so hopefully “Dallas” will bring Landers and Ken Kercheval together in a later episode. Just please don’t make it a Gary-and-Valene-style drive-by reunion.

The other item on my “Dallas” wish list: More “Who Killed J.R.?” As much as I appreciate the tantalizing clue dropped at the end of “Guilt and Innocence” (Pam was alive in 1989!), I hope the show’s next episode will put the mystery surrounding J.R.’s death front and center. I realize the people who make “Dallas” are crafting this storyline on the fly, weaving it into scripts that were originally written to include Larry Hagman. But I can also feel the storyline losing momentum. The audience needs to see the Ewings get serious about finding the person responsible for the death of our hero. If it doesn’t happen soon, the question won’t be who killed J.R., but why doesn’t “Dallas” seem to care?

Grade: B

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Afton Cooper, Audrey Landers, Dallas, Guilt and Innocence, TNT

Drama mama

‘GUILT AND INNOCENCE’

Season 2, Episode 10

Telecast: March 25, 2013

Writer: Robert Rovner

Director: Jesse Bochco

Audience: 2.6 million viewers on March 25

Synopsis: After the rig explosion, Pamela is rushed to the hospital. Afton arrives to comfort her daughter, who loses her unborn twins after emergency surgery. Bobby forgives Ann. Sue Ellen turns to old flame Ken Richards, chairman of the regulatory board investigating the explosion, who divulges the rig might have been sabotaged. John Ross and Christopher figure out Cliff is trying to devalue Ewing Energies, while guilt-ridden Drew threatens Vickers if he tries to expose Drew’s role in the bombing. While recovering from her fall, Judith tries to turn Emma against Harris, who responds by having Judith drugged and shipped to a rehabilitation center.

Cast: Kuno Becker (Drew Ramos), Emma Bell (Emma Brown), Jordana Brewster (Elena Ramos), Laura Kai Chen (Dr. Chang), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Alex Fernandez (Roy Vickers), Marlene Forte (Carmen Ramos), Julie Gonzalo (Pamela Barnes), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Josh Henderson (John Ross Ewing), Shane Jacobsen (Zach McGuire), Audrey Landers (Afton), Judith Light (Judith Ryland), Lee Majors (Ken Richards), Jesse Metcalfe (Christopher Ewing), Mitch Pileggi (Harris Ryland), Brenda Strong (Ann Ewing), Annie Wersching (Alison Jones)

“Guilt & Innocence” is available at DallasTNT.com, Amazon.com and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.

Critique: TNT’s ‘Dallas’ Episode 11 – ‘Battle Lines’

Battle Lines, Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, TNT

The last hurrah

“Battle Lines” is the first hour of the new “Dallas’s” second season and the beginning of Larry Hagman’s last hurrah as J.R. Ewing. The actor filmed this episode about two months before his death last fall, but you wouldn’t know he was nearing the end of his life by watching him here. Hagman looks thin and sounds a little raspy, but the light in his eyes hasn’t dimmed. Not one bit.

J.R. appears four times in “Battle Lines.” Predictably, they are the best scenes in the episode. In the first, John Ross strides through the reception area at Ewing Energies and is greeted by his assistant, who apologizes for the unexpected visitor waiting for him in his office. “Don’t worry about it. I know how slippery snakes can be,” John Ross says, and as he enters the room, we find J.R. with his boots propped up on junior’s desk. “Is that any way to talk about your father?” the old man asks with a smirk.

The first time I watched “Battle Lines” and saw Hagman sitting there, I almost got teary. But as the scene played out, with J.R. and John Ross plotting against Bobby and Christopher, I saw how much fun Hagman seemed to be having, and pretty soon, I was enjoying the ride. J.R.’s dialogue is a little corny (“Just remember my boy, vengeance is a dish best served cold”), but that’s OK. What J.R. says has never mattered as much as how Hagman says it, and his delivery here is flawless. Every line drips with equal parts honey and venom.

Hagman also supplies “Battle Lines” with its most poignant moment, when J.R. hangs his head in sorrow after watching the TV news report about Sue Ellen’s Election Day scandal. The actor also gets two scenes with Patrick Duffy, and both sequences cast J.R. as the impolitic octogenarian and Bobby as his eye-rolling straight man. Here’s J.R. explaining the reason for his visit to Ewing Energies: “I came over to deliver some muffins to the pretty little secretaries. Who could’ve guessed so many would turn out to be men?” And here he is offering his prescription for dealing with Cliff Barnes: “We should hire some roughnecks, take him for a long ride.” Cue Bobby’s exasperated reaction, and then J.R.’s kicker: “I’m just putting it on the table, Bobby.”

But even though Hagman is the best thing about “Battle Lines,” he isn’t the only good thing. Josh Henderson looks like he’s having as much fun as his on-screen daddy, although if the younger actor feels any temptation to imitate Hagman, he’s wisely resisting it. Hagman swaggers, but Henderson struts. J.R. is confident, but John Ross is cocky. Both actors have charm to spare, but Henderson is giving John Ross his own brand of cool. He gives me hope for the post-J.R. era of “Dallas.”

The other actor to watch in “Battle Lines” is Julie Gonzalo, who transforms desperate Rebecca into driven Pamela. Gonzalo gets an assist from costume designer Rachel Sage Kunin, who has skillfully traded Rebecca’s cheery dresses for Pamela’s dark suits, but the wardrobe change isn’t the only reason this metamorphosis succeeds. Gonzalo now carries herself with unflinching resolve, although she offers enough of a hint of vulnerability to suggest Pamela’s quest for revenge has more to do with her own broken heart than her daddy’s vendetta against the Ewings. It’s a clever performance.

I also appreciate the classic “Dallas” shorthand that Cynthia Cidre and Robert Rovner drop into their “Battle Lines” script, including Pamela’s references to her namesake aunt and mother Afton, as well as the mention of Westar during Elena’s business meeting. (And is that the old Oil Baron’s Club building I spot through the office window in that scene?) The other “Battle Lines” highlights are Christopher and Elena’s sexy romp in the Southfork swimming pool (turns out the new show’s first pool scene was worth the wait), and the introduction of Christopher’s racecar subplot, which is an intriguing way to continue last season’s alternative fuels saga. I also like this story because it gives the underappreciated Jesse Metcalfe something to do besides reacting to Henderson. Metcalfe looks like he’s having a lot of fun in those racetrack scenes. Isn’t it nice to see Christopher smile for a change?

Not everything in “Battle Lines” works. Director Michael M. Robin does a nice job bringing the sleek Ewing Energies set to life, but the CGI skyline outside the windows looks, well, like CGI. (I’m not buying that logo on the outside of the Barnes Global building either.) More bothersome: the plot holes in Brenda Strong’s storyline. I’m glad we now know Ann’s secret – when she was married to Harris, they had a daughter who was snatched from her stroller at the Texas State Fair – although I’m not sure why Ann kept this from Bobby, or why Bobby wouldn’t know in the first place. Don’t the Ewings ever check out the people they marry?

The revelation of Sue Ellen’s blackmail scheme doesn’t ring true either. She learns the medical examiner has ratted her out while watching a TV news report that includes a sound bite from her gubernatorial opponent’s camp. Shouldn’t the reporter have contacted Sue Ellen for comment too? And while we’re on this subject: I had hoped Sue Ellen’s campaign would become a metaphor for the character’s redemption after her scandalous behavior on the old show. Imagine if the car accident that led to Mickey Trotter’s death had become Sue Ellen’s Chappaquiddick, or if the new series had used her past affairs to say something about the double standard that so many women politicians encounter in real life. Think about what Linda Gray could have done with material like that.

Or maybe don’t think about it. Season premieres are about moving forward, and that’s what “Battle Lines” does. This episode feels like the work of storytellers who are more confident than they were at the outset of last season. They seem to have a better understanding of what they want “Dallas” to be, and also what diehards like me want to see. More and more, those things don’t seem mutually exclusive.

Grade: B

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Battle Lines, Dallas, John Ross Ewing, Josh Henderson, TNT

Revelations

‘BATTLE LINES’

Season 2, Episode 1

Telecast: January 28, 2013

Writers: Cynthia Cidre and Robert Rovner

Director: Michael M. Robin

Audience: 2.9 million viewers on January 28

Synopsis: Rebecca reveals she is Pamela Rebecca Barnes, Cliff and Afton’s daughter, and tells Christopher she wants partial ownership of Ewing Energies. Christopher brings Tommy’s sister Becky to Dallas to testify at his annulment hearing, but she secretly aligns with John Ross, who wants to use Pamela and Becky to maneuver Christopher out of the company. Ann tells Bobby she and Harris have a daughter, Emma, who was kidnapped as a child, but when Ann tracks down the young woman, Emma rejects her. Sue Ellen’s blackmail scheme is exposed on Election Day.

Cast: Amir Arison (Dr. Varun Rasmussen), Emma Bell (Emma), Jordana Brewster (Elena Ramos), Brett Brock (Clyde Marshall), Caitlin Custer (Brandee Cartwell), Jason Douglas (Erik Allen), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Marlene Forte (Carmen Ramos), Julie Gonzalo (Pamela Barnes), Eddie Gossage (himself), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Josh Henderson (John Ross Ewing), Sean Hennigan (Robert Cartwell), Jesse Metcalfe (Christopher Ewing), Alex McKenna (Becky Sutter), Glenn Morshower (Lou Bergen), Tammy Nguyen (Charlotte), Marco Perella (Mark), Mitch Pileggi (Harris Ryland), Natalie Quintanilla (John Ross’s secretary), Ricky Rudd (himself), Brenda Strong (Ann Ewing), Faran Tahir (Frank Ashkani)

“Battle Lines” is available at DallasTNT.com, Amazon.com and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.

The Dallas Decoder Interview: Aaron Allen

Aaron Allen

Aaron Allen

Aaron Allen wrote “Collateral Damage,” one of the standout episodes from the new “Dallas’s” first season, as well as “Venomous Creatures,” the second half of the two-hour season premiere, airing Monday, January 28 on TNT. I spoke to him last week about what we can expect from the Ewings this year.

“Dallas’s” second season is almost here. How is this year going to compare to Season 1?

In broad terms, the first season was about the battle for Southfork. The second season is going to be more about the battle for Ewing Energies. Thematically, the first season was about the characters finding out who they were. Like Christopher, because he’s adopted, felt like he had to prove himself to be a Ewing. And John Ross was kind of conflicted: “Should I be the person my father expects me to be? Or should I be my own person?” And then by the end of the first season, both characters were kind of crystallized into what they were going to be. John Ross had his heart broken by Elena and embraced his bad side, while Christopher felt like he had proven himself. So in the second season, now that these people know who they are, we’re going to see they’ve embraced their destinies and they’re using that to their advantage.

When you look back on Season 1, what do you think worked well? What, if anything, are the writers doing differently?

Some of the later episodes in the first season really worked because you saw all the Ewings banding together to fight one foe. There’s just something energizing about that. So we’ve taken that into consideration, and I think we’ve got a lot more scenes where it’s the family kind of working together toward something. But once they’ve fought off the bad guys, they’re just going to be cannibalizing each other once again.

Dallas Decoder Interview - Aaron Allen 2

J.R. in “Venomous Creatures” (Skip Bolen/TNT)

What about Larry Hagman’s death? I know you can’t give away plot details, but generally speaking, how is the show dealing with this loss?

Larry was an incredible guy and we’ll all miss him very much. Not only was he an incredible human being, but he was an incredible character to write for. When he passed, we knew we had a responsibility to the fans to pay tribute to him and to respect his character, and I believe we have. But even though he’s gone, he’s still very much part of the story. We have some really fun, delicious storylines that are going to come out of this.

Something tells me Hagman would appreciate that. Did you get to work with him very closely?

I didn’t have a ton of direct contact with him. He wasn’t in my first episode from Season 1 very much because he was going through a lot of his treatment at that time. But my first episode in Season 2 is actually a very heavy Larry episode, so I got to see him work quite a bit. And he was just a joy to work with. Everybody loved him. He joked around with everybody. He was a delight.

Well, J.R. has never been more fascinating. Everyone always refers to him as the villain of “Dallas,” but to me he’s the hero, and I think we see that on the new show.

It’s a balance because J.R. loves his family, and he’ll do whatever it takes to protect them. But sometimes that means doing terrible things to other people. That’s my favorite kind of bad guy, the one who has sympathetic qualities. I think J.R. was a very sympathetic character.

Do you have other favorite characters to write for?

Well, speaking of villains, I love writing for Harris Ryland. I mean, he’s a villain, plain and simple. When it comes down to the Ewings versus the world, it’s helpful to have him around. He’s really a devil.

And in “Venomous Creatures,” we’re going to meet his mother, played by Judith Light.

She’s a hoot. Her character chews the scenery. Judith’s a terrific actress to work with. Just watching her swing for the fences with her character was a lot of fun. I think fans will love her.

Her casting raised some eyebrows because she’s only a few years older than Mitch Pileggi. What do you make of that?

[Laughter] I don’t think it really matters in the end. An example would be Harrison Ford and Sean Connery in “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.” I think there was only a 12-year age difference between those two. People bought that. I think people will definitely buy this too. We wanted there to be something a little strange about Harris and Judith’s relationship, so I think the casting plays in our favor there.

Switching gears for a moment, can you talk a little bit about how the writing process on “Dallas” works?

On our show and most others, you have a staff of writers starting with the executive producers at the top. On our staff we have eight writers. Cynthia Cidre, who developed and runs the show, guides the writing process, along with Robert Rovner, the other writing EP. For the first few weeks of the season, we all sit around a big table and talk about the storylines, the characters and generally where we’re going. And then we start breaking down each episode individually, and that takes a couple of weeks. And then one writer is assigned to write the script for each episode, and as that writer is working on his or her script, the other writers are talking about the next episode.

Once a script is written, how long does it take to produce it?

Well, then you go into pre-production, which takes about a week. You’re meeting with the director, you’re going through the script, you go and scout locations. And then you start production, which lasts about seven or eight days.

It sounds relentless.

It all happens pretty fast. One of the thrilling things about working in TV is that you write something and then a month later it’s filmed, whereas in feature films it can take years to get things done.

Getting back to the show itself, were you a fan of the original “Dallas”?

I’m 31, so when the original show was on, I was too young to be among the target audience. But I’ve always a big fan of the brand of the show – the big family soap opera. I loved “Six Feet Under.” I loved “Big Love.” And I was always conscious of “Dallas.” It was such a phenomenon. I knew it was a huge part of pop culture, like when “The Simpsons” did “Who Shot Mr. Burns?” So I always understood where that came from. But it wasn’t really until I got the job on the new show that I went back and watched a bunch of episodes of the old one. And the whole “Who Shot J.R.?” thing was great. I also liked the storyline when John Ross was kidnapped from the hospital, and when Pam wanted to be a mother to little John Ross and Bobby had to gently remind her it wasn’t her baby. I love the emotional stories.  The business stories can sometimes make my head hurt!

You mentioned “Big Love,” which you wrote for before joining “Dallas.” I’ve always thought there were parallels between those shows. Both are about big western families with lots of secrets.

Yeah, absolutely. I think the Henricksons and the Ewings would definitely respect one another because of the value they place on family. It’s that us-versus-them mentality. When the Henricksons were under attack, they would set aside all their bickering and it was them against the people trying to persecute them. The Ewings are the same way.

And I think J.R. might’ve appreciated having more than one wife at a time.

[Laughter] Yeah, I think he could have flourished in that environment.

Share your comments below and read more interviews from Dallas Decoder.