Dallas: The Complete First and Second Seasons
is an American equivalent to those British mini-series about historical chapters in that country's royal monarchy. Full of family in-fighting, political intrigue crossed with personal triumph or disappointment, and plenty of sensational infidelities and betrayals, Dallas
is a captivating story of a wealthy oil family's power and travails. It is also uniquely fun and daringly absurd, albeit with a straight face; this hugely successful, primetime soap opera began in the late 1970s and ran 14 seasons in all, built on a handful of primary relationships that stretch credulity but never descend into self-parody.
Not unexpectedly, Dallas begins with a Romeo and Juliet tale that instantly exposes an old feud between two families and strips the civilized veneer from several major characters. Bobby Ewing (Patrick Duffy), youngest of three sons of independent oilman Jock Ewing (Jim Davis), arrives at the Ewing clan's Southfork ranch just outside Dallas, Texas, with a new wife, Pam Barnes Ewing (Victoria Principal). Pam is the daughter of Digger Barnes (David Wayne), an old business rival of Jock's and one-time suitor of the Ewing matriarch, Eleanor (or "Miss Ellie", played by Barbara Bel Geddes). Pam's also the sister of a state senator, Cliff Barnes (Ken Kercheval), whose vendetta against the Ewings is played out in the legislature, imposing costly regulations on their business and holding committee investigations into questionable practices of company president J.R. Ewing (Larry Hagman). Pam's status as the newest Ewing causes an uproar in the family (besides being a Barnes, she also dated the Ewings' genial but lonely foreman, Ray Krebbs, played by Steve Kanaly) and prompts Dallas' charming villain, J.R., to make many Iago-like attempts, over the first two seasons, to drive her from Bobby's arms. Pam has a different set of problems with the other, jealous Ewing women, including J.R.'s possibly barren and alcoholic wife, Sue Ellen (Linda Gray), and teenage Lucy (Charlene Tilton), daughter of exiled Ewing son Gary (Ted Shackleford). With new and old resentments flying and everyone deeply suspicious of everyone else's motives (even the ailing Jock doesn't trust J.R.), there's plenty of drama to chew on. Still, storylines are often larger than the sum of these parts, with lots of kidnappings, marital affairs, plane crashes, and shootings ratcheting up suspense. Dallas is pure pleasure, a little guilty, perhaps, but not a sin. --Tom Keogh