With last night’s episode of the TV series Dallas on TNT, “The Furious and the Fast,” J.R. Ewing was shot while talking to his son on the telephone. Shot again, that is. And with the real-life passing of Larry Hagman eerily timed with this season’s wrap-up of J.R., there’s no bringing back J.R. this time around. Viewers who watched Hagman play J.R. and Major Anthony Nelson on I Dream of Jeannie among other series and movies, will say a final goodbye to both Hagman and J.R. with the funeral of J.R. in next Monday’s episode, “J.R.’s Masterpiece.” The mayor of the city of Dallas, in real life, has declared next Monday “Larry Hagman Day.”
The reboot of Dallas has brought back many original actors from the 1978-1991 series, the most interesting of which is spin-off Knot’s Landing star Ted Shackleford returning as brother Gary Ewing in last night’s episode. But along with Shackleford we’ve seen Patrick Duffy return as Bobby Ewing along with Linda Gray as Sue Ellen Ewing and Brenda Strong as Ann Ewing, all as series leads. Then they added the classic series’ antagonist Cliff Barnes, played by Ken Kercheval, as a major plot twist, and even Charlene Tilton returning as Lucy Ewing and Steve Kanaly as Ray Krebbs. What other series could you do something like this with and actually pull it off? Magnum, P.I.?
Naysayers who skipped over the new Dallas series, now in its second season, have just plain missed out on a series that is a nostalgic and refreshing blast with every episode and probably the quickest paced series on TV. In two episodes the series moved from a trial to a judgment to a jury verdict when in real life nothing happens so fast. In fact every new conflict seems to get resolved by the end of the next episode. In some TV series this would be annoying, but in this classic late night soap format it’s pitch perfect.
But from episode one, the series is about villainy, and about villains that you sometimes cheer for. There is a lot to be said for describing Dallas as a Shakespearean tragedy. Brother against brother, family legacies, loyalty and betrayal. The good guys never win. And the bad guys tend to be more interesting than the good guys. J.R.’s son John Ross Ewing is first and foremost a chip off the old block. At first we didn’t know what to think of the character, played by Josh Henderson. But we have learned John Ross is simply an opportunist in training. His character has grown and changed in the first season and a half–yet like the good guys, he never wins either. He loses the girl. He loses every gamble. The cocky son of Bobby Ewing and John Ross’s chief adversary on the series, Christopher Ewing, played by Jesse Metcalfe, is the guy who wins everything, so you can’t help cheer on John Ross the underdog, villain or not, at least some of the time. Add to that Cliff Barnes’ daughter, conwoman Pamela Barnes, played by Julie Gonzalo, and as of the past few episodes a conniving Sue Ellen, and you have an entire pantheon of villainy.
But none of these compare to Larry Hagman as J.R. Last year he stepped back into the role as the sharp-tongued oil tycoon and didn’t miss a beat. Every line of dialogue was poetry of the elegant, high-class bad guy variety. His antics and trademark sinister laugh puts J.R. on a short list of the best villains of fiction, up there with Inspector Javert, Darth Vader, Moriarty, The Joker, Snape, The Wicked Witch of the West, Mr. Potter, Captain Bligh, or even Satan himself from Paradise Lost. He’s the classic manipulator doing as much of his bidding behind the scenes as in full view, like Othello’s Iago. And those referenced villains are from movies and novels. Look at any list of “greatest television villains” and no other baddie even approaches J.R. Ewing. It’s a credit to the show writers for the seemless transition from 1991 to 2012 and a credit to Hagman for his acting.
So now that J.R. Ewing is dead again we get the remainder of the season, and likely a third season renewal, to discover who shot him… this time around. The only key member missing from the new series is Bobby’s first wife Pamela, played in the original series by Victoria Principal. Principal has said she will not return to the series, but recall that her character died in a fiery car crash. So why not bring her back anyway, played as a burn victim by another actress? Better yet, as the woman who killed J.R.? It would be more fun than bringing back the original J.R. shooter, Kristin, J.R.’s sister-in-law/mistress, played by Mary Crosby (although Kristin was found dead in the Southfork Ranch swimming pool so that’s probably not going to happen). We’re still holding out for an appearance by Alec Baldwin, killed off in the Dallas universe spin-off Knot’s Landing. He supposedly fell off a roof and died. Or did he?
Dallas continues next Monday, March 11, 2013, on TNT, with eight more episodes this season. Check out the series website for a cast that must have a lot of fun with their marketing campaigns.