The Blog Formerly Known as Rebel Prince

Cult TV, Gen Y rants, and endless opera.

Dallas: The First Season Review

Posted by therebelprince on July 13, 2009

DALLAS: THE FIRST SEASON REVIEW
And so it begins. With the final seasons of the great ’80s series “Dallas” coming out on DVD this year, I’ve decided it’s
time to go back and review the series from the beginning. I’ll be doing the series in staggered reviews featuring groups of
episodes (thirds or quarters of seasons, more than likely). After its second season, the show became entirely arc-based, so
it would be a ridiculous task to individually review all 357 episodes (plus the three TV movies). Anyway, on with the show:
(A note: I’ll be using the DVD numbering system, in which this is the first season and there are 14 in total. In the original
count (which many still stand by), this season is considered “the pilot miniseries”, with 13 seasons following.)

And so it begins. With the final seasons of the great ’80s series Dallas coming out on DVD in the next year, I’ve decided it’s time to go back and review the series from the beginning. I’ll be doing the series in staggered reviews featuring groups of episodes (thirds or quarters of seasons, more than likely). After its second season, the show became entirely arc-based, so it would be a ridiculous task to individually review all 357 episodes (plus the three TV movies). Anyway, on with the show:

(A note: I’ll be using the DVD numbering system, in which this is the first season and there are 14 in total. In the original count, which many still stand by, this season is considered “the pilot miniseries” with 13 seasons following.)

The family

(Above: the original Ewing clan. From left: Lucy, Miss Ellie, JR, Sue Ellen, Jock, Bobby and Pamela)

In the first season, attractive young things Bobby Ewing (Patrick Duffy) and Pamela Barnes (Victoria Principal) elope, and then return home to Dallas, Texas, pulling into the Ewing family ranch, Southfork. Unfortunately, the marriage is not good news to any of their respective families: the Ewings and the Barnes’ have been at war for four decades. Years ago, Jock Ewing (Jim Davis) and Willard “Digger” Barnes (David Wayne)  were partners hunting for oil in the South. After a business deal went wrong, Jock built up an oil empire, and won the girl whose heart they both sought: Eleanor “Miss Ellie” Southworth (Barbara Bel Geddes). Southfork, her father’s ranch, was saved because she married Jock. Digger, meanwhile, married and had two children, but ended up alone and constantly drunk.

Pam and Bobby move back in with Bobby’s parents – as the Ewings are apparently wont to do. Also living on the ranch are Bobby’s eldest brother J.R. (Larry Hagman) and his former Miss Texas wife Sue Ellen (Linda Gray), Ewing granddaughter Lucy (Charlene Tilton) – the daughter of the third Ewing brother, absent Gary – and Southfork ranch-hand Ray Krebbs (Steve Kanaly), a former lover of Pam and currently seeing Lucy in secret.

It’s a well-constructed set-up for an interesting season. At home, Pam struggles to fit in amongst the tight-knit Ewing women, while Bobby reconnects with his past on the land. At Ewing Oil, JR waits like a pouncing tiger to take any part of his “daddy’s” company he can, while hiding his devious exploits from Jock – the one man whose opinion he respects. Meanwhile, Pam has to announce the news to her father and her brother Cliff (Ken Kercheval), a small-time lawyer who hates the Ewings but lacks the power to bring them down.

In the first season, attractive young things Bobby Ewing (Patrick Duffy) and Pamela Barnes (Victoria Principal) elope, and
then return home to Dallas, Texas, pulling into the Ewing family ranch, Southfork. Unfortunately, the marriage is not good
news to any of their respective families: the Ewings and the Barnes’ have been at war for four decades. Years ago, Jock Ewing
(Jim Davis) and Willard “Digger” Barnes (David Wayne)  were partners hunting for oil in the South. After a business deal went
wrong, Jock built up an oil empire, and won the girl whose heart they both sought: Eleanor “Miss Ellie” Southworth (Barbara
Bel Geddes). Southfork, her father’s ranch, was saved because she married Jock. Digger, meanwhile, married and had two
children, but ended up alone and constantly drunk.
Pam and Bobby move back in with Bobby’s parents – as the Ewings are apparently wont to do. Also living on the ranch are
Bobby’s eldest brother J.R. (Larry Hagman) and his former Miss Texas wife Sue Ellen (Linda Gray), Ewing granddaughter Lucy
(Charlene Tilton) – the daughter of the third Ewing brother, absent Gary – and Southfork ranch-hand Ray Krebbs (Steve
Kanaly), a former lover of Pam and currently seeing Lucy in secret.
It’s a well-constructed set-up for an interesting season. At home, Pam struggles to fit in amongst the tight-knit Ewing
women, while Bobby reconnects with his past on the land. At Ewing Oil, JR waits like a pouncing tiger to take any part of his
“daddy’s” company he can, while hiding his devious exploits from Jock – the one man whose opinion he respects. Meanwhile, Pam
has to announce the news to her father and her brother Cliff (Ken Kercheval), a small-time lawyer who hates the Ewings but
lacks the power to bring them down.

The family 2

(Above) Drinks in the living room… the greatest Ewing tradition that would remain for the rest of the series.

The first season is actually very enjoyable as a miniseries, featuring some very good performances particularly from Bel Geddes and Davis (with 200 movies and thousands of hours of theatre experience between them). Victoria Principal turns in a solid performance as Pam – the catalyst and protagonist of the first season – while Larry Hagman takes a back seat, although it is clear that JR is the most fascinating character even here. Linda Gray – who had an audition with a total of four lines – shines through her miniscule role as Sue Ellen, and it’s no wonder she became the breakout star of the series.

The season begins with The Pilot, and has a formulaic second installment in “Lessons“, in which Pam seeks to gel with the family by enforcing Lucy’s school regimen and discovering all about Lucy’s daily life, to which the rest of the Ewings remain oblivious. Things pick up somewhat in “Spy in the House“, where we get to see the first real exploration of business at Ewing Oil, and the tension against Pam comes to an unexpectedly early climax.

It is in the season’s final two episodes, though, that the show proves its worth. “Winds of Vengeance” – featuring the women of Southfork trapped in the ranch where a cuckolded psycho (Brian Dennehy) takes his revenge on JR by putting them through psychological torture. Linda Gray is phenomenal, and the atmosphere of the entire episode is chilling. In the finale, “Barbecue“, we get plenty of exposition as to the origins of the Ewing/Barnes feud, and a great confrontation between newly pregnant Pam and JR in a hayloft where Pam takes a fall, and JR proves his duplicity.

The first season is actually very enjoyable as a miniseries, featuring some very good performances particularly from Bel
Geddes and Davis (with 200 movies and thousands of hours of theatre experience between them). Victoria Principal turns in a
solid performance as Pam – the catalyst and protagonist of the first season – while Larry Hagman takes a back seat primarily,
although it is clear that JR is the most fascinating character even here. Linda Gray – who had an audition with a total of
four lines – shines through her miniscule role as Sue Ellen, and it’s no wonder she became the breakout star of the series.
The season begins with The Pilot, and has a formulaic second installment in “Lessons”, in which Pam seeks to gel with the
family by enforcing Lucy’s school regimen and discovering all about Lucy’s daily life, to which the rest of the Ewings remain
oblivious. Things pick up somewhat in “Spy in the House”, where we get to see the first real exploration of business at Ewing
Oil, and the tension against Pam comes to an unexpectedly early climax.
It is in the season’s final two episodes, though, that the show proves its worth. “Winds of Vengeance” – featuring the women
of Southfork trapped in the ranch while a cuckolded psycho (Brian Dennehy) takes his revenge on JR. Linda Gray is phenomenal,
and the atmosphere of the entire episode is moving. In the finale, “Barbecue”, we get plenty of exposition as to the origins
of the Ewing/Barnes feud, and a great confrontation between newly pregnant Pam and JR in a hayloft, where Pam takes a fall,
and JR proves his duplicity.

Julie

(Above) Tina Louise as Jock’s loyal (too loyal?) secretary Julie Grey.

Aside from the core cast, the only significant recurring character here is Jock’s loyal secretary Julie Grey (Tina Louise), who finally leaves Ewing Oil disgraced, but still with a place in Jock’s heart. We also get quite a wealth of the core crew members of the series. Producer Leonard Katzman and network executive Phil Capice would go on to infamously feud over the show for several years. Core writers David Jacobs, Arthur Bernard Lewis and Camille Marchetta are all here, joined by prolific Dallas director Irving J. Moore.

It’s interesting to see what was planned and what wasn’t. Originally conceived by David Jacobs to placate the network while he perfected his own idea for a soap – the more down-to-earth Knot’s Landing – he saw Pamela as a “terribly good-looking trashy lady” who moves into the world of wealth. Here, Pam is  the protagonist while Bobby – who was originally going to die in the season’s final episode – is just one of the family. Cliff Barnes plays a very minimal role here (as do the entire Barnes clan) which is surprising, but also indicative of the writers’ long-term story arc plotting, which would come into play from the third season.

Dallas replaced Kojak on Sunday nights, debuting in an era of episodic television: sitcoms (prime among them M*A*S*H*), science fiction shows and detective series filled the television landscape. The show took ratings in the high 30s (peaking at a 39 share for “Barbecue“). At the time these were great ratings (As there were only three broadcast networks). A myth later developed that Dallas grew from nothing, but in fact it debuted at #44 and would jump straight to the Top 20 in the second season.

Although the first season is completely episodic, and the character relationships are still far from completed (Ray’s bond with J.R. will disappear out the window faster than J.R. would find a mistress after every time he promises Sue Ellen he’ll be faithful), this holds a lot of the core strengths that would see Dallas rise to the top of the ratings in just two years.

Aside from the core cast, the only significant recurring character here is Jock’s loyal secretary Julie (Tina Louise). We
also get quite a wealth of the core crew members of the series. Producer Leonard Katzman and network executive Phil Capice
would go on to infamously feud over the show for several years. Core writers David Jacobs, Arthur Bernard Lewis and Camille
Marchetta are joined by prolific “Dallas” director Irving J. Moore.
It’s interesting to see what was planned and what wasn’t. Originally conceived by David Jacobs to placate the network while
he pimped out his own idea for a soap, the more down-to-earth “Knot’s Landing”, he saw Pam as a “terribly good-looking trashy
lady” who moves into the world of wealth. Here, Pam is seen as the protagonist while Bobby – who was originally going to die
in the season’s final episode – is just one of the family. Cliff Barnes plays a very minimal role here (as do the entire
Barnes clan) which is interesting to see.
“Dallas” replaced Kojak on Sunday nights, debuting in an era of episodic television: sitcoms (prime among them “M*A*S*H*),
science fiction shows and detective series filled the television landscape. The show took ratings in the high 30s (peaking at
a 39 share for “Barbecue”). At the time these were great ratings (As there were only three broadcast networks). A myth later
developed that “Dallas” grew from nothing, but in fact it debuted at #44 and would jump straight to the Top 20 in the second
season.
Although the first season is completely episodic, and the character relationships are still far from completed (Ray’s bond
with J.R. will disappear out the window sooner rather than later), this holds a lot of the core strengths that would see
“Dallas” rise to the top of the ratings in just two years.

JR

(Above) That “magnificant bastard”, J.R. Ewing

Diverse observations:
* Among other firsts, we get Jerold Immel’s iconic theme tune. Although he didn’t sign on as the show’s regular composer, the
theme would be reworked by Immel at the start of each season to keep up with the times.
* We meet Ewing Oil secretary Connie, although she is played first by Donna Bullock and then Lisa LeMole.
* We also meet Pam’s cousin Jimmy Monahan (referred to somewhat erroneously as Jimmy Barnes), played here by James Canning.
While his mother Maggie will play a relatively important role in future episodes, Jimmy wasn’t conceived as a recurring
character.
* The series was filmed on location in Dallas (the only time the entire show was filmed there) in what was, coincidentally,
the coldest winter on record. As a result, freak snowstorms gave an odd feel to the Texas look of the show, and somewhat
devestated the actors who had not prepared for such cold conditions.
* Interestingly, reviews for the show were poor at best. “Dull and contrived” was how Variety described the series. Perhaps
it isn’t a surprise, as the show would ride the rollercoaster of public opinion but never quite achieve that same critical
love.
Next time: Season 2, Episodes 1 – 8. We meet the third Ewing brother and Jenna Wade; Pam gets a job; Sue Ellen attempts to
beat her sister-in-law to a Ewing grandson; and Cliff Barnes steps up to the plate.

Diverse observations:

* Among other firsts, we get Jerold Immel’s iconic theme tune. Although he didn’t sign on as the show’s regular composer, the theme would be reworked by Immel at the start of each season to keep up with the times.

* We meet Ewing Oil secretary Connie, although she is played first by Donna Bullock and then Lisa LeMole.

* We also meet Pam’s cousin Jimmy Monahan (referred to somewhat erroneously as Jimmy Barnes), played here by James Canning. While his mother Maggie will play a relatively important role in future episodes, Jimmy wasn’t conceived as a recurring character.

* It’s nice to see the painting of Aaron Southworth in the Ewing living room. In future years, this will be replaced by the painting of the next Ewing patriarch.

* The series was filmed on location in Dallas (the only time the entire show was filmed there) in what was, coincidentally, the coldest winter on record. As a result, freak snowstorms gave an odd feel to the Texas look of the show, and somewhat devestated the actors who had not prepared for such cold conditions.

* Interestingly, reviews for the show were poor at best. “Dull and contrived” was how Variety described the series. Perhaps it isn’t a surprise, as the show would ride the rollercoaster of public opinion but never quite achieve that same critical love.


Next time: Season 2, Episodes 1 – 8. We meet the third Ewing brother and Jenna Wade; Pam gets a job; Sue Ellen attempts to beat her sister-in-law to a Ewing grandson; and Cliff Barnes steps up to the plate.
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2 Responses to “Dallas: The First Season Review”

  1. […] the original post: Dallas: The First Season Review Tags: barnes, bobby, core, dallas, entire, ewing, ewings, family, father, house, linda-gray, […]

  2. Dan said

    Fabulous movie! I liked alot!
    Too bad that time pass … 😦

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