Dallas on TNT: My Second Season Critique

Ken Kerchevel, Steve Kanaly, Deborah Shelton, Linda Gray, Patrick Duffy, Cathy Podewell, Charlene Tilton and Ted Shackelford reunite to bid Larry Hagman farewell as J.R.

Ken Kerchevel, Steve Kanaly, Deborah Shelton, Linda Gray, Patrick Duffy, Cathy Podewell, Charlene Tilton and Ted Shackelford reunite to bid Larry Hagman farewell as J.R.

Now that Dallas has completed its second season and we fans are going through withdrawal it’s time to take a look at how the show stacks up to its maiden voyage last summer. The show certainly had a rockier ride in its winter run, pulling lower ratings throughout the 15-episode run, but overall I think it has made progress. On April 30, TNT confirmed the show will return in early 2014 for a third season. For now, here’s my take on what worked on the show and what didn’t along with a few bits of unsolicited advice for next season. In other words, here’s the good, the bad and the ugly of Dallas: Season Two.

The Good.

The bigger scale. Moving the action to Ewing Energies helped bring the dramatic stakes to a new level that echoes the corporate intrigue of the original series. There’s still no sign of a junior cartel, but it’s still early in the game.

John Ross and Sue Ellen

Sue Ellen emerged as a power player in season two.

Sue Ellen’s more prominent role. I’m an unabashed Linda Gray fan so I’ll freely admit that I enjoyed seeing Sue Ellen front and center in the storyline pitting her and John Ross against Bobby and Christopher in the struggle to control Ewing Energies. She gave as good as she got, especially when the Ewings united to take on Cliff and his crafty cohorts Harris and Governor MacConaghey.

The expansion of the Ramos family. Giving Elena a troublesome brother was a good move that fleshed out her storyline, which I felt was thin in season one. The chaos stirred up by Drew sets the stage for an interesting new direction for Elena, who seems destined to take Pamela’s place as the show’s resident vengeful vixen.

Lee Majors as Ken Richards

Lee Majors as Ken Richards

Guest shots by TV stars from the past. It was fun to see Lee Majors, star of the ‘70s TV hit “The Six Million Dollar Man,” and Steven Weber of “Wings” get enmeshed in the never-ending feud between Cliff Barnes and the Ewings as Ken Richards and slimy Governor McConaghey. Who’s next? Matthew Perry?

Audrey Landers as Afton Cooper

Audrey Landers as Afton Cooper

The appearances by original Dallas stars. The occasion of J.R.’s death set the stage for a slew of visits by old Dallas characters who attended his memorial. It was like a high-school reunion – for those who enjoy such things – to see J.R.’s former loves Mandy Winger and Cally Harper, brothers Ray Krebbs and Gary Ewing and fan favorite Lucy. Subsequent episodes continued the retro theme with visits from Lucy’s Knots Landing mom Val and Pamela Rebecca’s mother Afton Cooper.

The Bad.

Joan Van Ark as a ghostly Valene

Joan Van Ark as a ghostly Valene

The appearances by original Dallas stars. As nice as it was to see the familiar faces pop up, the brevity of their screen time practically reduced them to being figures in a wax museum. Whereas Audrey Landers got a fair amount of screen time roaring through her scenes at Pamela’s hospital bedside and Ted Shackelford had a three-episode arc, Joan Van Ark’s blink-and-you-missed-it blip was a huge letdown. The fact that nobody mentioned Cally’s child by J.R. during the memorial episode is a travesty. I get that the show is about the new generation but there’s no point in bringing back vintage characters if they’re going to be treated like glorified extras.

Emma the Enema. I don’t know whether the character of Emma Brown is supposed to be annoying or the actress playing her is grating but I can’t warm up to her. I see her as a 21st Century version of Lucy Ewing, who was pretty spoiled when the original Dallas premiered but eventually matured into a fan favorite. Emma has serious rebellion issues that promise to cause big-time headaches for her parents next season. Time will tell whether she’s destined to become a Dallas villainess we love to hate or one we just hate.

Dallas fans' wish to see the two Pamelas side by side were dashed.

Dallas fans’ wish to see the two Pamelas side by side were dashed.

The Ugly.

The resolution to the original Pamela Ewing’s fate.

I give Cynthia Cidre credit for confronting the fans’ speculation about Victoria Principal returning to Dallas head-on. The “will-she-or-won’t-she” debate was good for stoking online buzz for a while but eventually the question had to be resolved. I’m just not sure Dallas made the right choice in confirming that Pam died, picking up the storyline from 1988 that had Pam terminally ill and pretending to be in love with her physician. The Dallas writers took the plot further and made the good doctor the last man Pam would share her life with until succumbing to cancer. The Ewings brushed off the news in the season finale in a manner that appeared to be a swipe at Principal for sticking to her guns and refusing to join the show. I for one would have preferred that Pam be recast (not with Jaclyn Smith, however, as had been rumored) and that she return to Dallas with vengeance on her mind. I think this would have been an exciting storyline with juicy possibilities for high drama among the characters, both old and new. This culmination in Pam’s story, plus the continued absence of classic villainess Katherine Wentworth, indicates that Cynthia Cidre has firmly planted Dallas in the present despite the nostalgic wishes of original Dallas fans. I can appreciate her position but when the show returns it will need to establish a compelling antagonist now that Larry Hagman is no longer with us. Aside from Bobby, Sue Ellen and Harris, the show lacks gravitas. The new actors are nice to look at and do a good job with the material but I can’t shake the feeling I’m watching Dallas-lite. Where are the rugged oil tycoons and classic vamps the show used to serve up? Hopefully Joaquin Ramos will be the kind of man who will stir things up and give Elena a chance to sharpen her claws as she determines to avenge J.R.’s swindling of her father as Cliff Barnes revealed in the finale. I want Dallas to return for season three as a war zone.