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DALLAS: COMPLETE FIRST AND SECOND SEASONS

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Barbara Bel Geddes, Jim Davis, Patrick Duffy, Linda Gray, Larry Hagman, Steve Kanaly, Ken Kercheval, Victoria Principal, Charlene Tilton
Creator:  David Jacobs
Audio:  Dolby Digital Mono
Video:  Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio:  Warner Bros.
Features:  Commentaries, Cast Reunion
Length:  1397 Minutes
Release Date:  August 24, 2004

“That's Digger Barnes' DAUGHTER!!”

Shows ***1/2

One of my fondest memories of growing up was the fact that on Friday nights, I was allowed to stay up and watch Dallas with my parents.  In fact, I can still remember as plain as yesterday the night that changed television history…the night that left a television season hanging in the balance and an entire country asking the question, “Who shot J.R.?”

If you're one of those rare few who doesn't know the answer to that question…well, you'll have to wait a little bit longer, because that was the climax of Season Three.  But in the meantime, you should bring yourself up to speed with the new five disc DVD set of Dallas: The Complete First and Second Seasons.  You won't see J.R. Ewing (Hagman) shot, but you'll start to learn why so many people were wanting to pull the trigger on the bastard!

Dallas began inconspicuously in April of 1978 as a mid-season replacement series for CBS.  Conceived as a Romeo and Juliet type story using Texas oil millionaire families, it started with Bobby Ewing (Duffy) bringing home his new bride, Pamela (Principal), much to the shock and dismay of the rest of the Ewing clan.  He had married the daughter of Digger Barnes, the patriarch of the family entrenched in a bitter feud against the Ewings and his one-time partner Jock (the legendary Davis)!

The shockwaves allowed us to meet the rest of the family…the kindly mother Miss Ellie (Bel Geddes), the charming but villainous J.R., his longsuffering bride Sue Ellen (Gray), the niece Lucy (Tilton), and the faithful ranch hand Ray Krebbs (Kanaly).  They lived on a beautiful ranch called Southfork paid for by Jock's company Ewing Oil, currently helmed by the ambitious and ruthless J.R.  Bobby was the reckless son who didn't want to follow in the family business, and his new nuptial arrangement did little to settle that!

Upon airing, the critics were immediately as merciless as J.R. himself.  Hurling every synonym for “sleaze” in the thesaurus was just one of the show's obstacles.  Another was the reaction of the real citizens of Dallas, who felt their fair city had never quite recovered from the Kennedy assassination tragedy, and believe their good name was about to be dragged through the mud once again.

The original five episodes might have been the beginning and the end for the show, but something happened…word of mouth heated up and more and more fans started tuning in.  By the finale of the first ‘season' “The Barbecue”, CBS recognized it might have something good on its hands.  They would cautiously call for more episodes, eventually leading to a full second season, and, after bouncing it around a couple of weekend time slots, it finally settled into its faithful home on Friday nights.

The show would also begin to swing from a self contained episode format to that of a prime time soap opera, where the storylines would continue from week to week.  It was a great move, because it got more and more people hooked as the scripts got better and the characters got more well defined.  By the third season, Dallas had become something of a national pastime, and when J.R. finally got shot, the episode set a new all time ratings record that would remain unchallenged until the final season of M*A*S*H.

Audiences didn't care about the critical panning…imagine that.  They liked the show's running themes of revenge, decadent living, and handsome young men and lovely young women living in all kinds of sin.  Larry Hagman, who had achieved fame years earlier on I Dream of Jeanie, became an even bigger star by becoming the bad guy America loved to hate.  Patrick Duffy went from The Man From Atlantis into the role of the brother everybody loved.  Victoria Principal…well, she re-defined prime time beauty for me when my beloved Wonder Woman was no more. 

As the turbulent 70s gave way to the prosperous 80s, Dallas became the first weekly foray into the lifestyles of the rich and famous.  Who knows how many young entrepreneurs were born in those years wanting to be just like the Ewings?  Heck, Larry Hagman even once partly attributed the fall of the Soviet Union to the far reaching popularity of the show.  Former Soviets told him they used to watch smuggled tapes of Dallas and marvel that people in America actually lived like that!

These first two seasons laid a lot of groundwork that would anchor the show for its amazing 14 year run:  J.R.'s infidelities, Sue Ellen's alcoholism, the continual bitter conflict between J.R. and Cliff Barnes (Kercheval), who would keep the family feud alive, and even the wayward OTHER Ewing son, Gary, who would of course later be a primary character in the one Dallas spin-off show, Knots Landing. 

The show would continue to grow throughout the 80s, getting better and more popular…until, at last, like all good things, the time came to ring the curtain down.  By the time that happened, Dallas has secured a place in television history.  Reunion movies would follow, reruns would continue to attract new audiences on cable, and now, a new generation of fans can discover the decadent fun that ruled television prime time for a decade.  Dated?  A bit…but it still works.  I only wish I still had my “I Shot J.R.” T-shirt.

BONUS TRIVIA:  Take note of the snow in “Winds of Vengeance”…it was the last time viewers ever saw it at Southfork Ranch!

Video ***

Not all classic TV shows have held up well, but Dallas seems fairly well cared for in its old age.  These episodes showcase mostly good coloring and detail with only a bit of grain evident here and there to belie how long ago these shows were made…that and the youthful appearance of most of the cast members!

Audio **

For mono soundtracks from a late 70s run of TV shows, the audio is perfectly adequate…neither more nor less than what you would expect.

Features **1/2

Two big “Ewing Extras” are included, starting with some episode commentaries with creator David Jacobs and stars Larry Hagman and Charlene Tilton.  Also featured is Soapnet's November 23, 2003 cast reunion special with Patrick Duffy, Larry Hagman, Linda Gray and Charlene Tilton.

Summary:

The not-so-humble beginnings of the Ewing clan are now preserved on disc for all time with the emergence of the first two seasons of Dallas.  Original fans are going to love revisiting this classic prime time soap, and new fans will get to see what they missed out on if they were born too late.

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