THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (2012)
Studio: Warner Brothers for TNT
Original Airing Year: 2012
Length: 7 hrs 18 mins total (10 eps)
Genre: Soap Opera/Texas/Oil/Fun With J.R. Ewing
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio: English 5.1 Dolby Digital (@384 kbps)
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish (for episodes only)
Film Rating: Unrated (TV-safe language, Innuendo, Suggestive Situations)
Release Date: January 8, 2012
Starring: Josh Henderson, Jesse Metcalfe, Jordana Brewster, Julie Gonzalo, Brenda Strong and Callard Harris, with Patrick Duffy, Linda Gray and Larry Hagman (special appearances by Steve Kanaly, Charlene Tilton, Mitch Pileggi and Ken Kercheval)
Original Series Created by David Jacobs
TNT Series Developed by Cynthia Cidre
Written and Directed by: Various
Dallas returns to television some 20 years after the end of the original series. I’ll give the short view here for casual viewers: The series is a refreshingly old-fashioned soap opera, centered on the conflicts within and without the wealthy Ewing family in Dallas, Texas. These conflicts cover both the family’s extensive oil empire and the family’s giant ranch, Southfork. Plotlines cover multliple episodes and usually involve someone in the family trying to double cross someone else, over the oil, the land, a girl, or something in between. The new series picks up the story as a direct continuation of the original, although it does bypass the two reunion TV movies from the 1990s. New viewers to the series will see the show as a building conflict between the two young guns of the family, John Ross (Josh Henderson) and Christopher (Jesse Metcalfe) as they symbolically fight for the Ewing soul. This of course just picks up from the conflict of the original series as shown by their fathers, J.R. (Larry Hagman) and Bobby (Patrick Duffy). It’s not as simple as that, and everyone in the show seems to have their own agenda, but the core of the show tends to be J.R. or John Ross doing something dastardly, followed by Bobby and Christopher doing what they can to make it right before things go too far. Things are not quite as juicy as the original series, as we’ll discuss below, but Cynthia Cidre’s plotting has at least given this show its own backbone so that unlike the reunion movies (where it felt that the characters and cast were just happy to be back in action), this one is playing out its own story and the audience is falling in with them all over again. To be sure, this isn’t the heights of The West Wing or The Sopranos when it comes to high-end storytelling. It’s more of a deliberately guilty pleasure where the audience has fun watching some characters be REALLY bad. And if the new show proves anything, it’s that Dallas continues to be fun to watch, even in the 21st century. It is possible to watch this season without having ever seen the original series, particularly given the introductions provided in the first episode. On the other hand, it’s nice to have some idea of the backstory – and for that reason, I’ll provide a tour of the ranch over the next few paragraphs.
SOME SPOILERS HERE, FOR READERS WHO DON’T KNOW EITHER VERSION OF THE SHOW: The original series of Dallas began in 1978 with a brief series of episodes that established the most successful and popular prime time soap opera of all time. The primary characters were the Ewings, an oil and cattle family with all the wealth and power you could imagine. The family was headed by oil baron Jock (Jim Davis) and his wife Miss Ellie (Barbara Bel Geddes), and primarily represented by brothers J.R. (Hagman) and Bobby (Duffy) as the various shenanigans would unfold. The first conflict of the series came up in the opening seconds as Bobby returned to the family’s Southfork Ranch with his new bride Pamela Barnes (Victoria Principal). Pamela was a lovely and decent woman, totally unused to the grandeur of the Ewing empire. (And series creator David Jacobs originally intended her to be the stand-in for the audience) Of course, there was also the complication that Pam was the daughter of Jock’s old business rival Digger Barnes, from whom Jock had taken both the empire and his wife. So marrying a Barnes and bringing her into the family home was a surefire way for Bobby to set off both J.R. and his father. And that was only the start. There was also Pam’s brother Cliff (Ken Kercheval), who was always scheming against the Ewings as a way to regain the glory taken from his father. And there was J.R.’s wife Sue Ellen (Linda Gray), a former Miss Texas whose unhappy marriage drove her to alcoholism. And we won’t even get into the wild affair going on between niece Lucy (Charlene Tilton) and ranch manager Ray Krebbs (Steve Kanaly)…
MORE SPOILERS: This template proved to be great fun for the audience, although not quite in the way that the producers ]originally had planned. Where the idea had been to play the situation through the eyes of Bobby and Pam, the two most decent characters aside from Miss Ellie, the show developed into following what new backstabbing plot J.R. Ewing would come up with next. And it wasn’t just that J.R. was double crossing his business partners or having affair after affair – it was that he was obviously having so much fun doing it. Larry Hagman’s lusty performance in the role was notable in that he could end these scenes with a grin that, as Linda Gray commented later, “made you just want to smack him!” Once the producers realized what they had, the fun really began. Stories would regularly come up that would pit J.R. against Bobby, or would have J.R. manipulating a situation to pit Bobby against Jock or just find a new humiliation for Cliff. A major bone of contention came up in the idea of who would have the first son, and thus beget the heir of the whole empire. In the early episodes, it was shown that Pam was pregnant. Which led to the show’s first hint of a cliffhanger, where J.R. chased her off of a hayloft and caused her to miscarry. Things continued along these lines for the next two season, during which time the series became so popular that CBS began asking for more and more episodes. A planned arc to end the third season in 1980 with Jock going on trial for murder wound up being disrupted when CBS ordered four additional episodes, leaving the producers scrambling to find a new cliffhanger. It’s now common knowledge that, faced with little time to come up with anything, they threw up their hands and said “Why don’t we just shoot the S.O.B.?” And so “Who Shot J.R.?” was born. The plots of all of the remaining episodes of the third season were adjusted to make sure that J.R. would manage to infuriate practically everybody in the state of Texas, leading up to the infamous season ending wherein an unseen attacker came to J.R.’s office at night and shot him multiple times. The frenzy over this idea built over the months before the show returned for the following season, time that was exacerbated by the 1980 SAG strike, so that the episode where the shooter was revealed in an off-camera line wound up being the highest rated episode of television in history. (This record was only topped by the finale of M*A*S*H a couple of years later, and both shows top the list to this day.)
MORE SPOILERS: The original series continued on in this vein for the next decade, as various members of the cast came and went. Some situations were natural causes for conflict. In one situation, Pam and Bobby, unable to have children of their own, adopted little Christopher, who turned out to be the baby of the woman who had shot J.R. back in 1980. In another situation, Jock Ewing was killed in a crash, leading to the Ewing brothers actually working together to try to find him. (It should be noted that the backbone of the series was that the brothers would fight with each other, but would come together if an outside force threatened the family.) And of course, Jock’s will turned out to have a competition clause – so that Ewing Oil would be given to whichever brother could run it better, thus guaranteeing all sorts of fun and games for the next season or two. Part of the fun was watching scrupulously honest Bobby being forced to not tell the truth at various times, while watching J.R. almost never tell the truth if he could help it. At the same time, the show’s cliffhangers became more and more outrageous over time, including, let’s see, a situation where J.R. and Ray got into a brutal fight in the Southfork house while it was burning down, a second “Who Shot J.R.?” only with Bobby unexpectedly falling out of J.R.’s chair, and even the killing of Bobby when Patrick Duffy decided to move on from the show in 1985. The single most outrageous idea, and the one that probably marked the show jumping the shark, came when the producers realized they needed to bring Duffy back to the show, even though they’d killed his character a year earlier. So the 1986 cliffhanger had newly-remarried Pam waking up in the morning, walking to her bathroom and opening the shower door to find…Bobby! When viewers tuned in for the season premiere that September, they were given the stunning explanation that the entire prior year from 1985 to 1986 had been A DREAM!
MORE SPOILERS: Following that bombshell, the series still managed to continue for another few seasons, finally ending in 1991 with an episode that found J.R. having lost everything and contemplating suicide. He was shown a kind of “It’s a Wonderful Life” variation where he could see what would have happened to many of the show’s characters had he never existed, and the end of the series was marked by an offscreen gunshot and Bobby’s stunned reaction of “Oh my God!” A few years later, a pair of TV reunion movies were produced, featuring many of the series regulars (and explaining that J.R. didn’t in fact shoot himself), but they were not considered to be particularly strong stories. In the past decade, a potential feature film was discussed several times, including the thought of John Travolta coming in to play J.R. on the big screen, but this never came to pass. Instead, in 2011, Cynthia Cidre was tasked by TNT with coming up with a new Dallas television series, to see if it could be revived. Cidre decided to pick up in the present day, under the idea that it was just 20 years after that last episode of the original series with the gunshot. The new series would feature the grown characters of John Ross (Henderson) and Christopher (Metcalfe) replaying the old conflicts of their parents, and would include participation by Bobby, Sue Ellen, and especially J.R.. With the original actors interested and willing, production began in Dallas. Where the original series was mostly filmed in Los Angeles, with occasional visits to Dallas for an exterior of the ranch, the new series is entirely shot in Dallas, thus allowing the show to regularly feature the ranch and the city as its backdrop.
FINAL SPOILERS: The new series works best when it plays off the established history but moves it in a new direction. The best example of this comes in the teaser for the third episode, in which J.R. has realized John Ross is double crossing him on a deal to fraudulently take Southfork away from Bobby. The scene takes place in an exclusive barber suite and shows both men being shaved by the staff. Except that while John Ross’ eyes are covered, J.R. shoos the attendants out of the room and picks up the razor for his son himself. Holding the razor near his son’s throat, he removes the cloth over his son’s eyes and just asks if his son was really trying to cut him out of a billion dollar oil deal. That’s classic Dallas, right there. And there are several moments that play out in this manner. Much of the season is taken up with John Ross’ scheme to drill for oil at Southfork, and how this puts other scenarios into motion. Another major plot is Christopher’s marriage to Rebecca, who turns out to be someone completely different than he thought – and in a twist ending for the season finale, is revealed to be the latest salvo in the Ewing-Barnes feud. Another story involves Sue Ellen’s race to be Governor of Texas, something one would think might be a bit far-fetched given her past issues. Another story centers on Bobby and his third wife, as they struggle through his cancer treatments and issues that climb up from her past. All of this is fairly solid material for Dallas, giving the characters plenty of room to fight with each other and then to come together when the chips are down. Older fans of the series will likely want to focus on the stories involving the original characters and actors, but it should be kept in mind that they are all 30 years older than the last time we saw them. They’re really in the position of Jock and Miss Ellie at this point, and it’s best to remember that in the new show’s context. As an unfortunate parallel to Jock, the real-life death of Larry Hagman last month, will wind up playing out on the new season of the show. As it is, Hagman’s appearances in the final episodes of Season One clearly show the effects of the real cancer treatments he was undergoing at the time. The J.R. of 2012 is no longer the man with an armful of mistresses – if anything, he’s just become older and meaner. And the young John Ross is still nowhere near the juggernaut that his father was in his prime. I have to admit not being as impressed with the younger cast members. They’re all attractive, and both Jordana Brewster and Julie Gonzalo have good moments, but it’s initially difficult to figure out between Henderson and Metcalfe who is playing who. Neither of the men demonstrate a lot of depth at this point. But it’s possible that the new season may give them a bit more room to grow into their roles. As it is, there is a fair amount of potential with the show, some of which is being used well on screen. The material here is certainly a few steps above the scenarios of the last few seasons of the original show, and it’s still a kick to be able to go back to Southfork in a new context. We’ll have to see if the new show blossoms the way the old one did. The jury is still out. AND THAT IS THE END OF THE SPOILERS FOR TODAY…
Just in time for the show’s 2nd season premiere this month, fans are being offered this 3-disc season set. Included here are all 10 episodes of the first season. The first episode has an optional commentary track with Cynthia Cidre and producer/director Michael Robin. Most of the episodes have a few minutes of deleted scenes thrown on the discs for good measure. The third disc includes a series of featurettes, with a group of very short ones clearly coming from the show’s website. The packaging includes an episode and disc guide.
VIDEO QUALITY 3/5
Dallas: The Complete First Season is presented in a 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer that feels like an accurate representation of the intended look of the show. The high definition cameras used to shoot the series reveal a fair amount of detail in the sets and locations, not to mention on the faces of the cast
AUDIO QUALITY 3/5
Dallas: The Complete First Season is presented in an English Digital 5.1 Dolby Digital Mix which mostly lives in the front channels but which gets some punch from the music in the surrounds, particularly during the show’s iconic opening titles. The dialogue is clear and easy to understand.
As I have done with earlier TV season sets, I’ll break down the ingredients on a disc by disc basis. Most episodes run approximately 42 minutes long. The only exception here is the first episode.
The Changing of the Guard (55:27) – The new series begins with a slightly longer episode than normal. The show quickly re-establishes the characters, placing most of them in varying states of conflict at the moment we first see them. Things get going right away with John Ross and Elena (Brewster) striking oil on Southfork. Bobby is immediately told by his doctor of his cancer. And we find out where J.R. has spent the past 20 years following the bottoming out of the final episode of the first series. (Steve Kanaly and Charlene Tilton are briefly glimpsed walking through a party scene) This episode can be viewed with an optional, scene-specific commentary by Cynthia Cidre and producer/director Michael Robin. Several deleted scenes (6:54) are available for separate viewing.
Hedging Your Bets – The second episode finds J.R. taking a more active role in John Ross’ plot to get control over Southfork. As is normal for Dallas, of course, all is not what it seems. Several deleted scenes (6:14), are available as well.
The Price You Pay – With the third episode, J.R. plans to move back onto Southfork. Ken Kercheval makes a guest appearance as the wealthy and powerful Cliff Barnes. One deleted scene (1:41) is available for viewing.
The Last Hurrah – Several deleted scenes (5:16) are included on the disc with the episode.
Truth and Consequences – The truth about Elena starts to come out in the middle of everyone else’s schemes.
The Enemy of My Enemy – A deleted scene (0:47) is included here for viewing.
Collateral Damage – Charlene Tilton guests in this episode, in which John Ross tries to get her to take his side in the continuing conflict over Southfork’s land. A deleted scene (2:45) is included for viewing.
No Good Deed – John Ross faces jail time and worse.
Family Business – The family comes together when John Ross is attacked in jail, but one medical problem unfortunately leads to another. A deleted scene (1:52) is included for viewing.
Revelations – The first season finale is presented here, bringing everyone together to deal with the issues around both Bobby and John Ross. A familiar face from the original series reveals the truth about a major plot from this season and the next. A pair of deleted scenes (3:10) are also included for viewing.
The third disc also includes the following special features:
Southfork Legacy: Making Dallas Season One (20:29, Anamorphic) – This featurette goes through the usual motions to examine the resurrection of the franchise. All major cast members offer quick soundbites about working together again, while Cynthia Cidre talks about the challenge of starting the show up after 20 years. Michael Robin and the production team discuss their approach to shooting the series, incorporating the traditional close coverage with big crane shots and location vistas in Texas.
Oil and Water: A Family Tradition (10:14, Anamorphic) – More clips and soundbites are presented from the cast and producers about the nature of the characters and storytelling on Dallas.
Back in Production (1:33, Anamorphic) – A quick website promo is included here, showing the briefest of glimpses of the set and the cast.
Dressing Dallas (3:04, Anamorphic) – Another quick website promo is presented, this one focusing on the wardrobe.
Who Shot J.R.? (3:05, Anamorphic) – Another quick website promo appears, this one taking a moment to discuss the infamous cliffhanger from 1980. The really hard part of this one is the realization that most of the younger cast of the show WASN’T EVEN BORN when that cliffhanger aired!
Ewing Family Love Oak (1:18, Anamorphic) – The last website promo focuses on a new location idea for the series – a tree on the Southfork property where various couples over the history of the show came to carve their initials. (There is no confirmation that an upcoming storyline will involve a tree activist confronting the family over this attack on the trunk and bark of the tree, or that Bobby will be forced into a period of self-examination after stopping John Ross from chopping down the tree…)
Subtitles are available in English, Spanish and French for the episodes. Each episode can be viewed separately or via a “Play All” function. The episodes have internal chapters but there is no menu for them. Also, the deleted scenes can be viewed on their own per episode or via a “Play All” function as well.
The packaging includes a guide with summaries of every episode and pertinent information on an insert booklet.
IN THE END...
Dallas makes a welcome return to television with this initial season set for its run on TNT. This isn’t exactly high drama or deep material, but it’s always fun to watch. Thankfully, the emphasis here has been on storytelling with multiple plots, thus keeping the scenarios fun to watch as they unfold over ten episodes in this first outing. As discussed, it’s entirely possible to watch this show without knowing the history of the series at all. Which means there will be fans of the original series being joined by completely new fans as this show goes along. The DVD set provides all ten episodes in fine video and audio quality. The opening episode commentary provides a little more background, as do the two longer featurettes on the third disc. Fans who missed the first season or even part of it have a chance to catch up with this set.
January 13, 2013
Equipment now in use in this Home Theater:
Panasonic 65” VT30 Plasma 3D HDTV – set at “ISF- NIGHT” picture mode
HDTV Calibrated in June 2012 by Avical
Denon AVR-3311Cl Receiver
Oppo BDP-93 Blu-ray Player
PS3 Player (used for calculation of bitrates for picture and sound)
5 Mirage Speakers (Front Left/Center/Right, Surround Back Left/Right)
2 Sony Speakers (Surround Left/Right – middle of room)
Martin Logan Dynamo 700 Subwoofer
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