Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 172 — ‘Barbecue Five’

Barbecue Five, Dallas, Fern Fitzgerald, Jamie Ewing, Jenilee Harrison, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Marilee Stone

The middle

“Barbecue Five” ranks among “Dallas’s” best barbecue episodes because it delivers almost everything we expect from a Ewing hoedown. There’s a fight, a dunking in the Southfork swimming pool and a dramatic revelation, along with crowds of people dancing, drinking and sweltering under the Texas sun. The only thing missing is a scene of two characters sneaking off to the barn for a romantic interlude, although we do get to see Jeremy Wendell wearing a cowboy hat. That alone is worth the price of admission, as far as I’m concerned.

This episode is probably best remembered for the clash between Jamie Ewing and Marilee Stone. “Dallas” doesn’t do a lot of catfights, so when these scenes occur, they almost always feel justified. (The best examples: Pam striking Katherine and Donna socking Bonnie, the barfly who slept with Ray.) In this instance, Jamie spots Marilee pawing J.R. and confronts her. Insults are exchanged, and then Marilee slaps Jamie, who retaliates by pushing Marilee into the pool. This is the first time I find myself cheering for Jenilee Harrison, whose character I’ve found hard to embrace, although I also admire how Fern Fitzgerald plays the obnoxious, overbearing Marilee to the hilt. Of course, both actresses end up being upstaged by Larry Hagman, who delivers one of the immortal “Dallas” lines when J.R. reaches into the pool to retrieve Marilee and asks, “You all right honey? Did it go up your nose?” Why do I get the feeling Hagman is ad-libbing here?

It’s also fun to see how smoothly each scene flows into the next. An example: Lucy and Eddie are dancing, and as they move out of camera range, J.R. and Sue Ellen enter the frame. We listen to their conversation for a few moments, and then J.R. nods to Bobby and Jenna, and the focus shifts to them. It’s all seamless, with one exception: a shot of Ray and Donna kissing becomes a scene in which Sue Ellen, J.R. and Jeremy talk shop while strolling through the crowd — except when Steve Kanaly and Susan Howard lock lips, you can see Hagman, Linda Gray and William Smithers in the distance, waiting for their cue to begin walking and talking. This is a minor oversight, of course, and I don’t mind it in the least because it makes me appreciate how artfully director Gwen Arner orchestrates all the other transitions.

Like other barbecue episodes, “Barbecue Five” was filmed in the summer, which means the actors are forced to sweat through uncomfortable looking western-flavored costumes. Most of the women wear long dresses and cowgirl boots, while Hagman and Howard Keel each don sport coats and scarves. Also, notice how the back of Fredric Lehne’s shirt is soaked with perspiration when Eddie spins Lucy on the dance floor. Another tradition honored here: the dramatic, episode-ending revelation. Past barbecues have concluded with the news that Jock’s helicopter crashed and that Miss Ellie and Clayton have become engaged, while “Barbecue Five” ends with Jamie’s announcement that she’s entitled to a share of Ewing Oil. This signals the birth of one of “Dallas’s” most tiresome tropes during its later years, when the focus of the business storylines shifts from making deals to a never-ending game of musical owners.

“Barbecue Five” also gives us the memorable scene where J.R. and Mandy continue their cat-and-mouse flirtation while dining in a private box at Texas Stadium. Both characters are spying on each other — J.R. wants dirt on Cliff, while Mandy wants intelligence that she can report back to him — but their ulterior motives are slowly being overtaken by their mutual attraction to each other. We also learn a lot about Mandy here. She tells J.R., “I’ve always known I was beautiful,” yet the line makes the character seem more confident than conceited. A lot of that has to do with Deborah Shelton, who is so stunning, there’s no point in having her character pretend otherwise.

Other “Barbecue Five” highlights include Jeremy’s annoyance when Cliff crashes his private lunch (Ken Kercheval’s scenes with Smithers are almost as golden as the Hagman/Kercheval pairings), as well as Naldo’s dinner with Jenna and Charlie. Any appearance by Naldo usually elicits an eye roll from me, but I’ll be darned if I don’t find him kind of charming as he tells Charlie about idolizing Tom Mix during his boyhood in Italy. Meanwhile, with her exotic white-streaked hair, character actress Ronnie Claire Edwards is perfectly cast as Lydia, the psychic Pam consults in her quest to find Mark. I also like how Lydia tells Pam that a “tall,” “athletic” and “handsome” man will be coming back into her life. Gee, I wonder who she’s describing? Something tells me it isn’t Mr. Graison.

I also love “Barbecue Five’s” opening, when Sue Ellen brings Jamie to Ewing Oil for her first day of work as the receptionist. It’s routine now, but everything about this scene — Kendall teaching Jamie how to use the switchboard, Sue Ellen promising to return in the afternoon to take Jamie to lunch — seemed so glamorous when I watched this episode as a kid. How I wished I could work alongside J.R. and Bobby at Ewing Oil too!

Truth be told, I still do.

Grade: A

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Barbecue Five, Dallas, Jeremy Wendell, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing, William Smithers

Walk to remember

‘BARBECUE FIVE’

Season 8, Episode 11

Airdate: December 7, 1984

Audience: 21 million homes, ranking 3rd in the weekly ratings

Writer: Arthur Bernard Lewis

Director: Gwen Arner

Synopsis: J.R. woos Mandy. Naldo charms Charlie. Pam visits a psychic, hoping for clues about Mark’s death. Miss Ellie is upset when Clayton decides to continue commuting to Houston. Jamie begins working as a receptionist at Ewing Oil, and after J.R. angers her at the Ewing Barbecue, she shows the family a document that claims her father owned a piece of the company.

Cast: Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Ronnie Claire Edwards (Lydia), Eric Farlow (Christopher Ewing), Fern Fitzgerald (Marilee Stone), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Jenilee Harrison (Jamie Ewing), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Barry Jenner (Dr. Jerry Kenderson), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Omri Katz (John Ross Ewing), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Fredric Lehne (Eddie Cronin), Shalane McCall (Charlie Wade), Daniel Pilon (Renaldo Marchetta), Priscilla Beaulieu Presley (Jenna Wade), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Donna Reed (Miss Ellie Farlow), Marina Rice (Angela), Deborah Shelton (Mandy Winger), Danone Simpson (Kendall), William Smithers (Jeremy Wendell), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Deborah Tranelli (Phyllis)

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

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 166 — ‘Family’

Bobby Ewing, Dallas, Family, Jenna Wade, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Patrick Duffy, Priscilla Beaulieu Presley, Ray Krebbs, Steve Kanaly

Welcome to the family

I want to like Jamie Ewing. Really, I do. She arrives at Southfork at the end of the eighth-season episode “Jamie,” but we don’t get to know her until the following installment, “Family.” The character has a lot of potential: She’s a fresh face when the show badly needs one, and the fact that she’s a long-lost Ewing cousin from the wrong side of the tracks makes her a natural adversary for J.R., something this show can never have enough of. Nevertheless, Jamie’s debut falls flat. It’s another example of how middling “Dallas’s” middle years can be.

With Jamie, the producers seem to be trying to recapture the J.R.-vs.-Pam dynamic from the show’s earliest seasons. “Family” even includes a scene where J.R. offers Jamie a bribe to leave Southfork, just like he did with Pam in “Digger’s Daughter.” But unlike Pam, who felt like a real threat to J.R., Jamie comes off more like a nuisance. Much of this has to do with Jenilee Harrison, who is a fine actress but who lacks Victoria Principal’s spark. Consider the “Family” dinner scene where J.R. tests Jamie’s self-proclaimed knowledge of the oil industry. Sure, she aces his quiz, but there’s no joy in Harrison’s performance. Imagine how much fun this scene would have been if it had been about Pam outsmarting J.R.

I’m also no fan of how “Dallas” brings Jamie into the fold by making her the daughter of Jock’s dead brother Jason. So Jock Ewing has an estranged sibling, huh? You’d think this fact might have come up when Jock was alive and trying to get his sons to get along. On the other hand, I like how Sue Ellen immediately embraces Jamie — not to annoy J.R., but because the newcomer fills a void in Sue Ellen’s life. The instant friendship between the two women demonstrates how much Linda Gray’s character has grown since “Dallas’s” early days, when Sue Ellen went out of her way to make Pam feel unwelcomed. By the end of “Family,” Sue Ellen has even taken Jamie out and bought her a new wardrobe. I only wish the shopping spree occurred on camera.

This episode is a mixed bag for the other “Dallas” characters too. I continue to be charmed by Mandy Winger, who seems much savvier when paired with Cliff than she does later with J.R. In this episode’s best twist, Jeremy Wendell — making a welcome return to “Dallas” after three-season absence — runs into Mandy, who gets him to open up about what he really thinks of Cliff. Uh-oh, is Mandy pumping Jeremy for information so she can betray Cliff? Nah. After Jeremy leaves, Cliff steps out of the shadows to congratulate Mandy on playing Jeremy like a fiddle. It’s another example of how much smarter Cliff has become, although if you prefer the self-absorbed, self-destructive Cliff, don’t worry, he’s still around. Witness the “Family” scene where he meets Sly outside the Ewing Oil building and asks her to spy on J.R. again. Cliff never really learns his lesson, does he? (By the way: I love how director Leonard Katzman shoots Debbie Rennard on a dramatic angle as she exits the building for this scene.)

Elsewhere, Lucy waits on a rowdy table at the diner — and of course handsome construction worker Eddie Cronin comes to her rescue. Wouldn’t it have been nice to see her resolve this problem on her own? Likewise, I’m tempted to deride Jeremy’s sexism when he orders for Pam at lunch, except the point of the scene is to show how Jeremy must control every situation in which he finds himself. If he were dining with Cliff instead of Pam, he probably would have ordered for him too. This scene also allows Principal to show off her on-camera eating skills. Notice how effortlessly she slides that forkful of Crab Louie into her mouth, in contrast to William Smithers, who seems to struggle with his bite before the camera cuts away.

The other reason I’m relieved to see Jeremy show up is because it means he’ll soon be at war with J.R., who hasn’t had enough to do in recent episodes. Think about it: Here we are in the eighth season’s fifth hour, and the biggest deal we’ve seen is Donna’s purchase of a small oil company. I have to wonder: Where’s the wheeling? Where’s the dealing? This is “Dallas,” right?

Grade: B

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Dallas, Debbie Rennard, Deborah Rennard, Family, Sly Lovegren

Street smarts

‘FAMILY’

Season 8, Episode 5

Airdate: October 26, 1984

Audience: 20.9 million homes, ranking 2nd in the weekly ratings

Writer and Director: Leonard Katzman

Synopsis: Sue Ellen insists Jamie stay at Southfork and buys her a new wardrobe, but J.R. refuses to make her feel welcomed. Cliff is suspicious when Jeremy offers to buy Barnes-Wentworth and offers him a seat on Westar’s board of directors. Cliff asks Sly if J.R. and Wendell are working together. Lucy’s co-worker Betty warns her to stay away from her boyfriend, construction worker Eddie Cronin. Pam is rattled when she spots someone driving Mark’s car.

Cast: Roseanna Christiansen (Teresa), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Shanette Eckols (Lydia), Eric Farlow (Christopher Ewing), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Jenilee Harrison (Jamie Ewing), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Omri Katz (John Ross Ewing), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Fredric Lehne (Eddie Cronin), Shalane McCall (Charlie Wade), George O. Petrie (Harv Smithfield), Priscilla Beaulieu Presley (Jenna Wade), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Sherril Lynn Rettino (Jackie Dugan), Deborah Shelton (Mandy Winger), William Smithers (Jeremy Wendell), Christopher Stone (Dave Stratton), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Kathleen York (Betty)

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

#DallasChat Daily: Who Deserved to Be in ‘Dallas’s’ Credits?

Dallas, Deborah Shelton, Dusty Farlow, Jared Martin, Jeremy Wendell, John Beck, Katherine Wentworth, Kristin Shepard, Mandy Winger, Mark Graison, Mary Crosby, Morgan Brittany, William Smithers

As much as we all love “Dallas’s” opening credits, they aren’t without their quirks.

Linda Gray and Steve Kanaly weren’t added to the title sequence until the second season, while poor Ken Kercheval had to wait until Season 3 to get star billing. By the time the show was winding down, the credits had become a free-for-all: Lesley-Anne Down was added to the opening titles the moment she joined the show, even though hardly anyone remembers her character, Stephanie Rogers.

Meanwhile, actors who made lasting contributions to “Dallas” — including John Beck (Mark), Morgan Brittany (Katherine), Mary Crosby (Kristin), Jared Martin (Dusty), Deborah Shelton (Mandy) and William Smithers (Jeremy) — were never promoted to the title sequence. (This is just a sampling, of course. Feel free to name additional actors in your response.)

Your #DallasChat Daily question: Which “Dallas” actors deserved a spot in the opening credits?

Share your comments below and join other #DallasChat Daily discussions.

#DallasChat Daily: Who Stayed Too Long or Left Too Soon?

April Stevens Ewing, Charlene Tilton, Dallas, Donna Krebbs, Holly Harwood, Jenna Wade, Jeremy Wendell, Kristin Shepard, Lucy Ewing, Lois Chiles, Mary Crosby, Mickey Trotter, Priscilla Beaulieu Presley, Ray Krebbs, Sheree J. Wilson, Steve Kanaly, Susan Howard, Timothy Patrick Murphy, William Smithers

Let’s face it: “Dallas” didn’t always know when to say goodbye. Some characters hung around long after their storyline possibilities were exhausted, while other favorites still had lots of untapped potential when they were written out.

Consider the group pictured here: Lucy, Ray, Donna, Jenna, Kristin, Jeremy, Mickey, Holly and April. (I’ll let you decide which character belongs in which category.) This is just a sampling; you’re welcome to name other characters too.

Your #DallasChat Daily questions: Which “Dallas” characters stayed too long? Which characters left too soon?

Share your comments below and join other #DallasChat Daily discussions.

#DallasChat Daily: Who Was J.R.’s Greatest Business Rival?

Carter McKay, Cliff Barnes, Dallas, George Kennedy, Jeremy Wendell, J.R. Ewing, Ken Kercheval, Larry Hagman, William Smithers

J.R. Ewing won more business deals than he lost, but sometimes his rivals got the better of him. Carter McKay undermined J.R.’s attempt to become chairman of Westar and Jeremy Wendell forced the sale of Ewing Oil, while Cliff Barnes wound up owning the company. Other rivals included Rebecca Wentworth, who waged corporate warfare against the Ewings, and Clayton Farlow, who squashed J.R.’s attempt to shut down the Farlow refineries.

Your #DallasChat Daily question: Which one of J.R.’s competitors posed the greatest threat?

Share your thoughts in the comments section below. Have a great discussion!

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.