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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Dallas - The Complete Ninth Season
Dallas - The Complete Ninth Season
Warner Bros. // Unrated // July 15, 2008
List Price: $39.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Paul Mavis | posted July 15, 2008 | E-mail the Author
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I mean, cripes. Is there really any need to even watch Dallas: The Complete Ninth Season? Because, in one of the most desperate, ill-conceived, flat-out stupidest "cheats" in the history of network TV, Season Nine of Dallas will be magically swept away on the fluffy, floating clouds of Pam Ewing's (Victoria Principal) rather remarkable imagination when it's revealed at the beginning of Season Ten that all that proceeded it was just a dream. Everything from this 1985-1986 season, evidently, stems from the surprisingly fevered, fertile subconscious of that deceptively dim-witted Pam's one-night dream. Bobby (Patrick Duffy) didn't die in the car accident, because he was never hit by Pam's crazed sister (and one hellava stunt driver) Katherine Wentworth (Morgan Brittany). Jenna Wade (Priscilla Presley) doesn't really go loco over Bobby's demise; J.R. (Larry Hagman) doesn't hook up with sinister European temptress (and obvious Dynasty clone) Angelica Nero (the luscious Barbara Carrera), and Donna and Ray (Susan Howard and Steve Kanaly) don't go through all the boring tribulations that are de rigueur for Dallas' most prosaic couple. It's all a scam. A cheat. A lie. It's pointless and silly and more than a little bit insulting. And loyal fans of the show shook their heads sadly and began to move off in a pathetic search for quality serial drama among the wasteland of network schedules that would allow abominations like Who's the Boss?, Night Court, Kate & Allie, You Again, and 227 to not only survive, but actually thrive. Damn you, Patrick Duffy, for leaving Dallas after Season Eight. And damn the producers and writers for thinking they could take the best drama on 1980s network TV and bend it like a pretzel to accommodate Duffy's return.

I rant to make a point, but actually, you can't really blame Duffy or anybody else for looking for an exit after eight years of Dallas; there were small, ominous signs that the series was starting to slip, anyway. What with the obvious "Dynasty creep" settling in, and the simple fact that eventually, there wasn't much more that could be done with Bobby and J.R. fighting over Ewing Oil without the writers repeating themselves, the handwriting was on the wall for Dallas' inevitable decline. Duffy's departure from the series created an enormous amount of ink speculating (mostly negatively) on his absence, and what it would mean for the powerhouse drama, and for once, the "TV critics" (ugh) got it right: Duffy leaving Dallas sounded the death-knell for the most popular show of the late 70s and early-to-mid 80s.

As I've written before about the series, the absolute center, the core of Dallas evolved into the elemental, primal battle between forces J.R. and Bobby Ewing. Forget that Bobby started off as his Daddy's pimp, and forget that J.R., more often than not, was at first portrayed as something more akin to a weakling jackal, ready to cringe when not attacking someone weaker. After the first bumpy half-season, J.R. and Bobby's epic feud for Ewing Oil morphed into an almost Roman tragedy of conflicting titans battling each other in the arena of the equally mythical Texas city-state of Dallas. Theirs was a clash of Light versus Darkness, of essential goodness and morality over corrupted, diseased ego and power - with neither side, appropriately, achieving absolute dominion over the other. The struggle was eternal. Unending.

But without Bobby in the picture, J.R. had...nothing to push against, nothing to get his blood up. Nothing, really, to justify his existence. Without "good," there can be no "evil." And Dallas: The Complete Ninth Season is a perfect example of a series that has no internal, focused reason for continued existence. J.R., let loose among the lesser, mere mortals of the Ewing family, the various incompetent oil cartel magnates, and, for this season, international villains of dubious threat, shoots flies with an elephant gun. He's an Under Lord without a balancing, counteractive Angel, and he smotes his enemies with distressing ease. Weakling Cliff Barnes (Ken Kercheval) tries one or two desultory, side-line tangles with J.R., amounting to a sad approximation of their previous juicy fracases. With deceased Bobby's 30% of Ewing Oil willed to young Christopher (Joshua Harris), Pam now controls the stock, and yet her scuffles with J.R. are anemic when they should be cataclysmic. And as for the arrival of scheming Angelica, the parallels with Dynasty's Alexis Colby (and Cruella da Ville, for that matter), are more than uncomfortable. Various other petty annoyances swarm around J.R. - Dusty (Jared Martin) shows up again, wholly interchangeable Mark Graison (John Beck) and Matt Cantrell (Marc Singer) sniff around Pam and sock J.R. - but he swats them away with a depressing perfunctoriness. J.R., the irresistible force without Bobby's immoveable object, careens dejectedly out into the void.

Worse still, the further "feminization" of J.R. takes a decidedly ugly turn this season, with J.R. actually reuniting with drunken souse Sue Ellen (Linda Gray) for (gulp) all the right reasons. I mean, he actually learns to care about her. He's sensitive to her feelings (jesus christ), and when given the chance to cheat on her with the incomparably 80s Mandy Winger (Deborah Shelton), who honest to god doesn't care what little crumbs of affection J.R. throws her way, he...doesn't, and wimps on back home to wifey. I mean, what the hell? This is what the writers (an increasing number of them women) did to that magnificent animal J.R., in the hopes of scoring with the dopey broads that were vegging out watching Dynasty? While I always like it when J.R. reconnects with his son John Ross (Omri Katz) - that continues the theme of J.R. and his deceased father, Jock Ewing - he's constantly on the verge of tears with the boy this season, spending more time hugging him than screwing somebody over on an oil deal. Even more disheartening (as well as being totally illogical) are J.R.'s weird bouts of "humanity" that have nothing to do with the character. For instance, when Pam is kidnapped in the jungles of Columbia (don't even ask), J.R. shows up and says he's never going to "forgive" himself if she's harmed due to his phony emerald plot with Matt. Wha??? Pam Ewing, one of J.R.'s most annoying enemies? In a previous scene he was joking about her never coming back. Now he's never going to forgive himself? Not only have the writers for Season Nine misread the J.R. character completely, they must have misplaced their notes from episode to episode, as well.

All kinds of touchy-feeling crap is ladled all over Dallas: The Complete Ninth Season, to the point where I thought I might be watching any various hour of Lifetime, rather than the misadventures of the two-fisted, half-crocked, double-dealing, sex-obsessed Ewings. Linda Gray admittedly has a tour de force, Camp-O-Rama turn in the opening episodes, taking tipsy Sue Ellen to the absolute bottom-of-the-bottle, staggering among the winos hidden between the Dallas skyscrapers, screaming incoherently in the drunk tank, and clawing most energetically at her various DT-induced hallucinations in the county hospital (there's a hilarious line when a hooker, seeing Sue Ellen stumbling among the flotsam of Dallas, says, "It's Nancy goddamn Reagan!"). It's a great moment in the series for Gray (an underrated actress), but soon, the writers have her falling right back into the same ridiculous behavior patterns they always shove Sue Ellen into, having her turn from strong to soppy within in 31 episodes. Miss Ellie (Barbara Bel Geddes, back in the saddle but quick after seeing what Donna Reed did to the character) mourns Bobby, and worries about Clayton's (Howard Keel) feelings...and Jenna's and Sue Ellen's and Donna's and Charlie's (Shalane McCall) and Pam's and maybe even the cook's feelings for all I know, what with all the hand-wringing going on. Pam, effortlessly dim-witted in almost every capacity of her daily functioning, dithers about Mark, and dangles about Matt, in such a perpetual haze of lightheadedness, that the viewer eventually feels the need to tether her like an errant blimp. Non-starters like Jack Ewing (Dack Rambo) and Jamie Ewing Barnes (Jenilee Harrison) kvetch all over the place to no dramatic avail. However, the winner of the "1985-1986 Dallas Head-Holding Emotional Crisis/Totally Un-Involving Subplot Histrionics Award" goes to, hands-down, Ray and Donna, whose ridiculously mundane efforts to deal with adopting a special needs child play like a bad After School Special (Ray's character has been de-balled to the point of hilarity by this point - did everybody choose to forget Ray's previous hell-raisin' drinking and horndoggin' around? He even slept with his niece Lucy, for chrissakes).

Of course, all of that lavender-soaked blarney has been forgotten now in the shadow of network TV's biggest snow job of all time: Bobby's "it was all a dream, Pam," justification.

Click here to see Patrick Duffy showering from behind, and from the front, in the most famous shower sequence since Porky's! Now, it's important to remember that 1986 viewers did not know it was "all a dream" when, in the final cliffhanger episode, Patrick Duffy made his rather shocking appearance in Pam's shower the morning after her wedding to Mark. In the final credits, the producers were careful to list Duffy thusly: "Starring Patrick Duffy as...nothing." It's blank for his character's name; he's not listed as "Bobby." And I remember thinking, when I first saw the episode way back when, that maybe they were trying to pull some kind of switcheroo. The old "evil twin" bit. Or the "look-a-like" dodge. Maybe even something supernatural. Who knows? Dark Shadows got away with that kind of crap for years. So technically speaking, the disappointment of the "it's all a dream, Pam" fiddle comes with the first episode of the Tenth Season - not here.

But knowing what we know now, this addle-patted deus ex machina "Hail Mary" pass to save Dallas's hide renders the Ninth Season utterly superfluous And while increasingly there are those around who defend the producers' decision to utilize this frankly loony, lame plot crutch (including the people interviewed on this season's bonus documentary), most fans of the series recognized it then and now for what it really was: a crass, desperate attempt to get Duffy back into the fold while expending the least amount of creative energy to make his return make logical sense. The dramatic equivalent of a kid on the playground yelling, "Do over!" the "dream" defense flies right in the face of Dallas' strongest suit: its plotting and writing. Dallas became a powerhouse in the ratings because people got hooked on the stories. They made sense (in an admittedly over-heated, melodramatic way); there was a grit to them, a hard-edged reality that made you pay attention to various subplots about oil deals and backstabbings that covered multiple seasons. But with the "dream" defense, all of that was thrown away. The show was instantly trivialized as junk when the producers found themselves backed into a dramatic corner. Throwing up their hands and saying, "Let's just start over," instantly disconnected the audience from their suspension of disbelief, and deflated the show's "realism." Regardless of its supporters today, the "dream" defense did the exact opposite of the producers' intent: audiences declined. Believing that putting Duffy back into the mix would invariably help the show, the producers' disregard of the fans' respect for the series' integrity did nothing to staunch the bleeding ratings. This Ninth Season may have finished up a very respectful sixth in the year-end Nielsen's (down from second the previous season), but once audiences got a whiff of the "dream" defense, they immediately began to jump ship. Dallas would freefall in the ratings, and all because no one could figure out a better excuse for Patrick Duffy's shower.

Here are the 31, one-hour episodes of the five-disc box set Dallas: The Complete Ninth Season, as described on their slimcases:

DISC ONE: SIDE A

The Family Ewing
Bobby's funeral brings Gary to Southfork, Sue Ellen to the nearest bar and J.R. to a profound realization.

Rock Bottom
Down and out in Dallas. Sue Ellen's two new friends are a bag lady and her bottle of wine. Bobby's will may benefit Cliff.

Those Eyes
J.R. wants Sue Ellen institutionalized. And he wants Pam's Ewing Oil stock. One out of two ain't bad, J.R..

Resurrection
New starts: Sue Ellen finds the strength to turn down a drink, Pam finds another chance for love.

DISC ONE: SIDE B

Saving Grace
J.R.'s sins come back to haunt him when Mark vows revenge just as the Westar honchos close in on Ewing Oil.

Mothers
What's a mother to do? Not much. Miss Ellie tells Sue Ellen's mother that their children have to solve their own problems.

The Wind of Change
Pam holds the future of Ewing Oil in her hands - and doesn't that put a burr under J.R.'s saddle?

Quandry
Wealthy new-hottie-in-town Angelica Nero is fascinated by oilmen, including J.R..

DISC TWO: SIDE A

Close Encounters
Ridin' ropin' and romance. When Southfork hosts a rodeo, there's plenty of action in - and out of - the arena.

Suffer the Little Children
"We have to talk about what happens now." Ray and Donna try to pick up the pieces of their lives after the rodeo accident.

The Prize
Trouble at work: J.R. has Angelica investigated. Trouble at home: John Ross runs away before the judge determines custody.

En Passant
What happened to the detective J.R. hired to snoop on Angelica? And where's the letter he mailed before he disappeared?

DISC TWO: SIDE B

Goodbye, Farewell and Amen
Come home, darlin'! J.R. has a change of heart about Sue Ellen. But wait - that would mean J.R. has a heart.

Curiosity Killed the Cat
Surprise: a package meant for Bobby contains a huge emerald. Surprise: Mandy sees J.R. leave Angelica's hotel in the wee small hours.

The Missing Link
Women in charge. Pam goes into the emerald-mining business. Sue Ellen takes a job. Mandy plays J.R. for a sap.

Twenty-Four Hours
With Jamie near death and in need of a compatible blood donor, folks start hunting for her missing brother.

DISC THREE: SIDE A

The Deadly Game
Blood will out: when blood analysis confirms that Jack is Jamie's sister, J.R. realizes Angelic lied to him. But why?

Blame it on Bogata
You know, Pam, your emerald mine sounds like a great deal. Which means J.R. must have a plan to turn it into a disaster.

Shadow Games
Pam treks into the Columbian wilds. Back home, J.R. finds the newly competent Sue Ellen alluring.

Missing
It's a jungle out there: Matt discovers the campsite in flames and Pam and her party missing.

DISC THREE: SIDE B

Dire Straits
In Columbia, Mark and Cliff trust Matt with the money to ransom Pam. That may be a bad move, guys.

Overture
J.R. woos Sue Ellen with the offer of an exotic trip. When she balks, J.R. sets his detective on Sue Ellen's new beau.

Sitting Ducks
J.R. and Angelica finally clue Jack in on the Marinos scam. But maybe it's J.R. who needs the clues.

Masquerade
A secret meeting at a costume ball, spies in the shadows, lovers at odds - then the real fireworks begin.

DISC FOUR: SIDE A

Just Desserts
Goodbye, girls: Angelica disappears after the shooting, and Jenna decides to leave Southfork with Charlie.

Nothing's Ever Perfect
J.R. sitting in the catbird seat as undisputed boss of Ewing Oil. Life's perfect - except Sue Ellen's dating another man.

J.R. Rising
Back in the USA: Angelica, seeking vengeance. Back in business: Matt, with a fistful of emeralds.

Serendipity
It's feudin' and fussin' time for Mark, Cliff, Sue Ellen and J.R.. But here comes real trouble: Angelica.

DISC FOUR: SIDE B

Thrice in a Lifetime
J.R. and Sue Ellen snuggle up; Pam and Mark prepare to wed; Angelica buys a briefcase with a surprise inside.

Hello, Goodbye, Hello
Is this the end? J.R. faces financial ruin - and the business end of a gun.

Blast from the Past
On the morning after she marries mark, Pam wakes up and walks into the shower scene that still gets TV fans in a lather.

The DVD:

The Video:
As with previous releases of Dallas, the full-screen, 1.33:1 transfers look marginal, at best. Some episodes look close to original broadcast quality, while others are soft, grainy, or scratched all to hell. It's a shame this once-great series has received such a slipshod, shabby DVD treatment.

The Audio:
The Dolby Digital English mono audio track accurately reflects the original network broadcast presentation, but wouldn't it be great to hear that theme in 5.1? Subtitles and close-captions are available.

The Extras:
Seasons of Change, running 14:42, looks at the return of Barbara Bel Geddes in the role of Miss Ellie, as well as the infamous "it's all a dream" defense - with everyone involved in the doc agreeing it was best possible solution (hilarious). Some mighty big (and questionable) generalizations are made about not only the show but the society watching the show back in 1985, so be careful quoting anything from this bit of fluff (Dr. Eddie Clift says that we have to remember that back in 1985, it was "the pre-Internet, pre-pharmaceutical era. People had to work out their social dramas with talk." Uh........yeah).

Final Thoughts:
Jesus Christ. Bobby's dead and then he's not, the old Miss Ellie is back and the new Miss Ellie is gone, Dynasty meets One Hundred and One Dalmatians, Donna and Ray get their very own After School Special, and J.R. is crying at the drop of a Stetson hat. A disaster of a season, made even more ridiculous by its utter negation next season when we're told it was all a dream. A rental, maybe, if you're fascinated by train wrecks. Goodbye, Dallas.


Paul Mavis is an internationally published film and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.

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