Kristy Watches Dallas: Part I

I have vague memories of the original Dallas, but they’re mostly limited to the opening credits (it was a tradition in my family to sing the theme song every time we drove into Dallas, just to annoy the menfolk in the family) and what I’ve seen in retrospectives. Imagine my delight at realizing my mother had the first and second season on DVD!

We start off with a nice hook. Bobby Ewing and Pamela Barnes have just gotten married (presumably an elopement) without telling their families. This becomes a nice way to weave in plenty of exposition. We learn quickly that the Barnes and the Ewings have a long standing family feud. We know that Jock Ewing is a big oil baron, and his wife Miss Ellie is from an old cattle family. Work in an old gunfighter and a dark eyed señorita somewhere and you’ve kind of got all your Texas essentials rolled up in one family.

Older brother JR has apparently been taking over the family oil business while Bobby’s been out doing the wheeling and dealing to cover their butts politically. There was a good-for-nothing middle brother in there somewhere, but he ran off, leaving behind a good-for-nothing daughter (more on this later). JR is a little resentful when Bobby announces now that he’s married he wants to settle down and move into the office with his big brother. And you kind of feel for him (even though JR is an underhanded snake); he’s worked hard for years to get where he is and his brother just walks in and wants to be in the same place. (In episode 2 we also learn that Bobby was a football star in his younger days. As the younger sister of a teen model I can imagine how much it must suck to be the older brother of a football star in Texas).

Bobby’s new wife Pamela is a nice girl. You can tell because she wears such demure dresses and has soft brown hair and a soft voice to match. We don’t know much about JR’s wife Sue Ellen other than from a few comments she makes to Pamela we can gather she’s a snob. Miss Ellie is sweet and loving like matriarchs often are in soap families where they have a patriarch to do the dirty work. She’s a good southern woman who is always nice to people’s faces, though you gather she’d have no problems doing a little smack talk behind someone’s back.

Then there’s Lucy. Jock and Ellie’s aforementioned good-for-nothing granddaughter. She’s our resident slut. You can tell because she wears lots of red. She’s also, perhaps not coincidentally the only blonde on the show. Lucy serves as a constant reminder that the show started in the 1970s and that the 70s were a dark, dark time for fashion. In her first scene she’s scrumping Ray Krebbs, foreman on the Ewing ranch. By the way, Ray used to date Pamela, and is more than a bit of a slimebag, but not a terribly smart one.

Lucy warns Pamela she’s not tough enough to survive the Ewing family. Pamela responds by showing Lucy how tough she is: she makes her start going to school, spoils her plans to get a teacher fired with a bogus attempted rape charge, and exposes her affair with Ray. Lucy does not enjoy any of this, but is moved by the realization that Pamela actually cares for her. Aw!

I’m not totally sure what I think about Pamela. Pamela’s such a good girl she wears a white turtleneck to a disco and puts her hair in a Gibson girl style bun. But she’s a little too street smart for a nice girl. And a little too comfortable using blackmail. I’m not complaining though. These are the things which will allow her to survive in this family. Speaking of survival skills—I have to admit that I love the way Lucy smirks every time a fight breaks out in the house.

In Episode 3 we learn that JR could have married his redheaded, deviously loyal secretary and that his marriage to Sue Ellen is not exactly happy. Their honeymoon is definitely over. We’re not real clear on why he married Sue Ellen at all, but my best guess is she had family connections and he liked the status of a former beauty queen for a wife. When Sue Ellen buys a lacy black nightie to wear for JR he dismissively declares it’s not her and instructs her to take it back. I’m starting to worry about JR—what kind of good Texas boy turns down sex for work? I can’t blame him for running out when she starts crying about them not making love anymore though. There’s no way to use “make love” in a sentence and not have it sound awkward.

I can blame him a little for leaving to go scrump his secretary (who is begging him the whole time to stop the bootie calls so she can move on.) He dismisses secretary’s urging to stay the night and leaves her with a $100 bill to buy herself something “real nice.” Oh… JR. That’s no way to treat a lady who knows all your dirty secrets. And has Cliff Barnes’s phone number.

So far… I’m enjoying it. I’m not exactly loving it. Like I know I should be rooting for Jim and Pam and their love to triumph over all. But really I’m just itching for more scandalous, soapy goodness. Maybe that’s what this type of show is really all about though. I’m diverted enough to keep watching.

Attempting to Like GCB

You would think that with my having suffered the horrors of dwelling in North Dallas for 3 years, the ABC series GCB, which lampoons that very same microcosm, would be right up my alley.

Oddly, I think it’s the familiarity that makes it difficult for me to watch.

On the one hand there are things that they get oh-so-very right.  The plethoras of money, the mock version of Highland Park United Methodist Church (where you go to rub shoulders with the wealthy more than for any real religious reason–though the service shown seems way too casual to be like the HPUMC main service…and not casual enough to be like the contemporary service), women with bizarre names like Bookie and Cricket, mentions of places like Turtle Creek, proper homage to the roll of Nieman Marcus in the shopping pantheon….

But then you have things like people offering over hand-gun laden purses to their daughters.  I’m not saying a hand-gun laden Gucci bag is abnormal in North Dallas, I’m just saying that every woman there would be damn good and well aware of the concealed carry rules (having gone through the process herself…except for the ones married to slightly more fringe husbands who cling to the belief that the concealed carry law will only give the government a list of names to collect from when the Second Amendment is destroyed–but that’s a whole ‘nother kettle of fish) and know better than to arm her recently-imported-from-California daughter.

And the pet peeve that actually arises in every show which tries to set itself in Texas (or, honestly, much of anywhere in the U.S.):  putting a definite article before a numerical freeway designation.  I-20 is just that “I-20” or “20” not “THE I-20.”  The minute I hear that I’m reminded that this whole thing is clearly being shot in L.A. (first ep WAS in Dallas at least as far as the exteriors were concerned–I’ve driven past more than one of the places shown).

The emphasis on ranches and cowboys is also losing me.  You see way less of that in Dallas than in other Texas cities like San Antonio or Ft. Worth.  Oh, sure, you see it in Dallas, probably more now than in the past few decades, but it’s mostly a costume put on to distinguish themselves from wealthy folks in, say, Atlanta.  It’s not because anyone’s spent any time on the family ranch.  After all, Dallas is all about “bidness” not farming and ranching.  Men in Dallas are more likely to be in Armani than Wrangler and I honestly can’t say I have EVER seen a woman from North Dallas over the age of 23 in a cowboy hat or boots.

Now that we’re on week two, I have to question the whole pork thing.  Really?  REALLY?  Pulled pork?  Oh, hell no.  This is Texas.  It’s all about the beef.  Even John Ford got that much in Rio Grande (“Ain’t no one told Uncle Sam we grow beef in these parts?”).  Also, if you drive 80 miles from Dallas, you won’t get to anything looking like the landscape shown around the locale of the pork incident*.

The thing of it is, the necessary fodder for TV is there in reality.  North Dallas and the Park Cities (Highland Park, University Park) are twisted little worlds.  Saint Molly of Ivins captured some of that in her article “Hello from Boosterville” (included in her book Molly Ivins Can’t Say That, Can She?).  While I was in law school there was still a gas station down in Snyder plaza where you could get full service.  No joke.  And I saw many a Grande Dame ol’ gal with that particular style of North Dallas Helmet-Hair sitting primly behind her wheel while a guy in coveralls filled the tank of her Mercedes and cleaned her windshield.  I’ve seen a fleet of Mercs, Jags, Audis, etc. parked in the firelane outside of my dorm because if you’re late to HPUMC on Sunday, you wind  up having to park over in one of the garages and that’s just not acceptable.  It’s worth it to pay the ticket left on your windshield after one a disgruntled law student in one of the dorms calls campus police….

I may give it another week, but I just don’t think I’m going to be able to overcome what I know of the real comedy of North Dallas enough to enjoy this fake version.


*Update: August 2012:  Oddly enough, the location of the pork incident does look a lot like the location in a scene from the Mexican telenovela, Por Ella…Soy Eva.

Cliffhanger Sunday!

Today marks the 30th Anniversary of perhaps the most notorious cliffhanger in television history:  On Dallas J.R. Ewing was shot by an unknown assailant and “Who shot J.R.?” became entered into the colloquial lexicon forever.  I don’t remember That episode–if I watched it it would have had to have been in a past life.  But I do love me a good cliffhanger.  And by love I mean hate with a passion.  And enjoy every second of.  Because I’m a horrible masochist.

*Warning, the rest of this blog entry will contain spoilers for episodes of various series that aired some time ago.  If you’re one of those who is still slowly working your way though Star Trek: The Next Generation or some other series, trying your darndest not to find out what will happen in the end, I apologize.  If you watch your shows within a year of their broadcast, you should be fine.* (later blog entry to come on expiration dates for spoilers)

So what are your favorite cliffhangers?

A friend of mine once declared the end of The Two Towers (the book, not the movie) to be the greatest cliffhanger in history.  It didn’t do it for me.  If memory serves (my copy of TTT is at the parents house) the novel ends with Frodo being carried off by the orcs.  A good cliffhanger, I’ll grant you, but I’ve read too many epics and epic like tales to have believed for a second Frodo wouldn’t be found.  Only way he was going to die before the end would be if it was a heroic act of self sacrifice.  But it helped that Return of the King was on the bookshelf and I only had to walk across the room to find out what happened.

This makes me wonder, does there have to be genuine fear or uncertainty of the outcome for a cliffhanger to be effective?  I’m not sure there does.

One of my favorite cliffhangers is the end of season 1 of Farscape.  Crais takes off with Talyn, Moya starbursts away, John and D’argo are stranded out in open space, D’argo’s unconscious and Aeryn can’t get to them.  Damn!  (For added info on the impact of this cliffhanger on my psyche, I got hooked on Farscape in Peru where they were about a season behind us.  This cliffhanger was the last episode I saw there, then I came home to find the US in the middle of season 2.  I knew things had worked out, but it was a long while before I found out how.)  Now I didn’t think for a second they were going to kill off half the cast, but I didn’t know but what they might kill one or two.  And I was on the edge of my seat in the wrong hemisphere.

The final episode of Farscape would have made an excellent cliffhanger if the show hadn’t been canceled, turning it instead into the Worst Show Ending Ever.  (I realize it was eventually resolved by the less than stellar Peacekeeper Wars, but that doesn’t kill the sting)

I enjoyed the season 1 “Who’s at the door?” cliffhanger on Veronica Mars even if it was a little silly.

Whatever season of the X-Files it was that ended with Mulder disappearing and Scully being knocked-up was kind of fun in a fangirl “Squee”y kind of way.

Battlestar Galactica had an interesting take on cliffhangers.  They ended Season 2, for example, by jumping forward a year.  All of a sudden Apollo was fat, Starbuck had bad hair, and the cylons were invading.  We were left wondering not only, “What the hell is going to happen?” but also “What the hell happened?”  Double cliffhanger.  Nice.

There are a group of cliffhangers I wish I could have been a part of.  Star Trek:  The Next Generation in “Best of Both Worlds: Part 1” I wish I could have been there for that moment when we saw Borg!Picard.  (I’ve seen this moment, but only years down the road, knowing what was going to happen)  Back in 1990 I can only imagine the thrill of the “WTF?” the audience was feeling.

So yeah, cliffhangers, the evil thing that the television gods do to us and we thank them for it.