Dallas: The Complete First Four Seasons Movie Review

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If you really have the time and inclination to go back and watch 77 episodes of Dallas, well God love ya, but is there really nothing better you could be doing with your time? True, in J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman created one of television's most durable and memorable bad guys, always keeping that sinister smile on his face as stuffed himself into his three-piece suit, donned his Stetson, and headed off for another lunch of drinks and scheming at the Oil Baron's Club. TV will probably never come up with another character who people loved to hate with such ardor.

And true, in Dallas's early seasons J.R. is in full flower, doing enough shady dealing and backstabbing to keep his large family in a constant case of chaos and to keep the entire oil industry unstable. His lovely wife, the former beauty queen Sue Ellen (Linda Gray), deals with him by drinking and by matching his affairs tit for tat.

But what you'll notice as you go back to Dallas is how stunningly slow-paced and downright boring it is by today's short-attention-span standards. With the exception of the wildly popular and admittedly entertaining "Who Shot J.R.?" story arc that had the entire nation in a tizzy in 1980 (remember, there were only three networks and almost no cable; tens of millions of people basically had no choice but to watch), the series is an endless slog through G-rated adulterous interludes with leggy secretaries who wear disco-era satin sheaths; boardroom battles for controlling interests in oil cartels; and sibling rivalry that, while mildly entertaining, is hardly psychologically profound.

The sibling, of course, is J.R.'s younger brother Bobby (Patrick Duffy), the "good" son who would just as soon live an easy life with his newlywed wife Pam (Victoria Principal) than get involved in the ugliness of Ewing Oil. But just when he thinks he's out, they pull him back in, and soon he's in a decade-long battle with J.R. for control of the family fortune, a battle that only intensifies when patriarch Jock Ewing (Jim Davis) kicks the bucket. Now it's up to his widow, the soft-spoken (and suspiciously soft-focused) Miss Ellie (Barbara Bel Geddes) to voice her disapproval of the family shenanigans every night as the clan gathers for cocktails before dinner. Why they don't all get separate homes is one of those only-on-TV mysteries that will never be solved.

J.R.'s biggest enemy happens to be Pam's brother Cliff Barnes (Ken Kercheval), a ferret-faced striver who adds comic relief with his withering putdowns of J.R. and his many manic business plots. Throw in a bastard son (Steve Kanaly) and a horny younger cousin (Charlene Tilton), and there's fodder not just for four seasons but for a total of 13 seasons that bookend the Reagan years and all their cowboy trappings with fearful symmetry.

Dallas is supposed to be campy fun, but you have to sit through a lot of phone calls, dictation, board meetings, and family conferences to get to the good stuff. Writers of blatant Dallas ripoff Dynasty saw this and upped their camp factor from the get-go. With Joan Collins and her shoulder pads under contract, how could they go wrong?

Dallas's historical legacy is as one of the last TV dramas that could inspire water-cooler conversations that cut across all demographics, and the early episodes in this collection are the best. As the years wore on, characters got fat, got divorced, got old, or died, and the storylines didn't maintain the same buzz. Only when Bobby/Duffy "died," skipped a season, and then came back to declare that the entire previous season had been a dream did Dallas ever generate headlines again, and those headlines weren't kind. Imagine investing your time in 22 episodes that never actually happened. Sheesh!

So if you have to watch Dallas reruns, these 77 episodes are the ones to watch, but consider watching them on fast-forward with the subtitles turned on. You'll save lots of time.

Who shot me?

Cast & Crew

Director : Barry Crane, Linda Day, , Lawrence Dobkin, Dennis Donnelly, , Victor French, , , Harry Harris, Nick Havinga, Gunnar Hellström, Michael A. Hoey, Jerry Jameson, , Leonard Katzman, , Leslie H. Martinson, Russ Mayberry, Don McDougall, Vincent McEveety, Irving J. Moore, Michael Preece, Alexander Singer, , Dwight Adair

Producer : Leonard Katzman

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Dallas: The Complete First Four Seasons Rating

" Grim "

Rating: NR, 1978


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