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.


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.


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.


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.


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.)


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?


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.


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.


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?


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.


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.


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.


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?


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


Cliff Barnes, Dallas, Ken Kercheval, Legacies, TNT

The bitter end


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, and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.

Drill Bits: ‘Dallas’ Ends the Season with Bigger Ratings

Dallas, Guilt by Association, John Ross Ewing, Josh Henderson, Julie Gonzalo, Pamela Rebecca Barnes, TNT

Compounding interest

“Dallas” got a nice ratings boost on April 15 with a season-ending double feature that revealed what happened to Pam and who killed J.R.

“Guilt by Association” the first of the evening’s two episodes, was seen by 2.82 million viewers, including 1 million adults between ages 18 and 49, an important demographic in TV ad sales.

“Legacies,” the second hour, drew 2.99 million viewers, including 1.1 million in the 18-to-49 demo. This makes “Legacies” the season’s second most-watched “Dallas” telecast after the landmark “J.R.’s Masterpiece” funeral episode, which drew 3.6 million viewers on March 11.

“Dallas” averaged 2.7 million viewers on Monday nights this year, although DVR users who record the show and watch it later in the week have boosted its weekly average to 3.4 million viewers. “Dallas” averaged 4.2 million viewers on Wednesdays last summer, when there is much less competition on other channels.

TNT has not announced whether it will order a third season, but this week the Hollywood news site Deadline suggested “Dallas” is “a slam dunk for renewal.” Although ratings fell this season, the well-known “Dallas” brand generated strong international sales for the studio that produces the show, Deadline reported.

Name that Tune!

Dallas, Faran Tahir, Julie Gonzalo, Pamela Rebecca Barnes, TNT, Venomous Creatures


Forget “Who Killed J.R.?” Here’s the question “Dallas” fans really want answered: What’s the name of the song that kept popping up on the show this season?

You know the song I’m talking about. It was first heard in “False Confessions” when the police arrested Frank Ashkani (Faran Tahir) for Tommy’s murder. The song played again in “Legacies” when Pamela (Julie Gonzalo) planted the gun in Cliff’s trunk.

Here’s the answer: The song is called “Liar” and it comes from a band called The Unknown, a TNT spokeswoman told us yesterday.

The bad news: This appears to be an unreleased track. I can’t find it on iTunes or anyplace else. So if you want to keep hearing it, just do what I do and watch those scenes over and over.

Speaking of “Dallas” music: The song that played at the end of “Legacies,” when John Ross (Josh Henderson) proved again he’s his daddy’s son from tip to tail, is “Come Unto Me” by the The Mavericks. Meanwhile, the terrific tune that appeared at the end of “Love and Family,” when Bobby (Patrick Duffy) took that slow-mo stroll out of Ewing Energies, is “My Time Has Come” by The Bowery Riots.

Cidre Speaks

In case you missed it: “Dallas” producer Cynthia Cidre gives TV Guide the post-mortem on the second season, including her reaction to Victoria Principal’s statement-hear-round-the-world, whether Katherine Wentworth is really dead and those cocaine shoes. Earlier this week, Cidre spoke to Yahoo! about what we might see during a third “Dallas” season, including the possibility that – gasp! – John Ross might build his own house on Southfork.

Divas II

Sue Ellen (Linda Gray) had a good week: Not only did she track down Ken (Lee Majors), turn the tables on McConaughey (Steven Weber) and announce Cliff’s arrest, she also defeated sister Kristin (Mary Crosby) in Dallas Divas Derby’s second brackets competition. Get it, girl.

Killing J.R.

Last December, not long after Larry Hagman’s death, I asked three writers and a director from the original “Dallas” how they think J.R. should die. Now that the character has been laid to rest once and for all, it’s interesting to go back and read their ideas, which aren’t far off base from what ended up happening.

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