April 16, 2013



The Ewing family had to figure out how to muddle through this season after the loss of its most illustrious and colorful member, and so did the TV show that created them all.  DALLAS survived the death of Larry Hagman, and the consequent passing of J.R. Ewing, with ratings that stayed fairly steady in the 0.8 neighborhood (overperforming with total viewers due to its older appeal), and that should easily be enough to earn a Season 3 renewal.  (It’s actually a bit puzzling that one hasn’t been announced yet, but that may be due to order pattern or license fee issues.)  Creatively, though, the season was shaky, and its 2-hour finale (Hour 1 written by Supervising Producer Taylor Hamra and directed by Jesse Bochco; Hour 2 written by Executive Producers Cynthia Cidre and Richard Rovner and directed by Steve Robin) didn’t end things on a high note.

It’s perhaps understandable that the “Who Shot J.R.?” part of the storyline was weak, since the show’s producers had to invent it on the fly after losing Hagman.  (Flashbacks were cobbled together from existing footage featuring the actor.)  Still, the ultimate solution of having J.R. die via suicide-by-best-friend–the designated shooter being Bum (Kevin Page)–in order to frame Cliff Barnes (Ken Kercheval) felt sloppy and unsatisfying.  A multiepisode arc that suggested the possible return of Victoria Principal’s Pam Ewing also turned out in the finale to have been nothing but a tease.  (She’s dead, or as dead as characters on shows like this ever get.)

But other elements that were introduced at the start of Season 2 were also uneven.  Emma (Emma Bell), the newly-introduced daughter of Bobby Ewing’s (Patrick Duffy) second wife Ann (Brenda Strong) and her former husband, the villainous Harris Ryland (Mitch Pileggi), bounced between being a troubled teen at her father and grandmother’s mercy and being a full-out femme fatale (she ended the season as the latter).  Ryland himself was sometimes a smooth corporate criminal and sometimes a psychopath, with a mommy complex (Judith Light was nicely operatic in the role, until she disappeared midway through the season) that made it seem like he should check in to Bates Motel.  It took almost the entire season to reveal just how Ryland earned his ill-gotten gains, and then it turned out he was importing knock-off designer shoes that were actually solid cocaine.  Meanwhile, the fact that there were only two central women on the show meant that Elena (Jordana Brewster) and Pam Barnes nee Rebecca Sutter (Julie Gonzalo) constantly had to find reason to shift from sympathetic to up to no good, and just as Season 1 ended with the revelation that Rebecca was Cliff Barnes’s daughter, this one ended with the implication that Elena will now work with Mexican druglords to bring down the Ewings.

If the plotlines on Dallas don’t hold up, there’s not much else to keep the show going.  Hagman’s loss is an irreplaceable one, because he was the figure who centered the show even when he could clearly only handle bits and pieces of dialogue–without him, it’s a cast of supporting players, not to mention a non-stop exhibition of the aging process, Hollywood style.  The show got lucky with Ken Kerchival, who still has some jauntiness in his evil stride, but Duffy is stalwart yet no more a leading man than he was back in the ’70s, while Linda Gray’s Sue Ellen always seems a little worried that she won’t make it to the end of her lines.  (In case that wasn’t enough representation from the older wing of SAG, other Dallas and Knots Landing veterans like Charlene Tilton, Ted Shackleford and Joan Van Ark showed up, as well as “newcomers” including Lee Majors.)  As for the younger generation, Jesse Metcalfe (as Bobby’s adopted–and Pam’s biological–son Christopher) and Josh Henderson (as J.R.’s son John Ross) are equally dull, even though the former is meant to be nicer than the latter, and only Gonzalo shows flashes of life among the women (hit with the season’s most dramatic storyline when her unborn children died in an explosion at what turned out to be her own father’s behest, she shone). The show’s production values aren’t notable, either–the finale had a sequence set in “Zurich” which featured a skyline outside a hotel window that was so clearly phony it might as well have been a oil painting.

Dallas, as noted, will probably be back next year, and with all its shortcomings, its second season was no worse than Revenge‘s (and far better than the newly-hatched Red Widow).  Perhaps with some time to ponder a J.R. Ewing-less Dallas universe, the producers will come up with something more absorbing and original than this year’s patchwork.  For now, the show could be mistaken for a TV museum exhibit if it didn’t happen to be in HD.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."