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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Dallas: The Complete Twelfth Season
Dallas: The Complete Twelfth Season
Warner Bros. // Unrated // January 19, 2010
List Price: $39.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Paul Mavis | posted January 14, 2010 | E-mail the Author
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"Mr. Ewing, this is wrong and it's cruel."
"You have just uttered my two favorite words."

Starting out like some hyperventilating, perverted Tex Avery Looney Tunes cartoon, with J.R. beset by murderous hillbillies and a buxom child bride (one of Dallas' funniest characters: the deliciously sweet-natured, innocently carnal Cally Harper Ewing, played to perfection by Cathy Podewell), the 12th season of Dallas actually showed some promise of delivering the goods after years and years of artistic (and ratings) decline. But then, as usual with these later seasons of the venerable, long-running nighttime soap, things got...hazy, subplots fell apart, and characters did stupid, stupid things they would never have done during the glory days of the once-mighty ratings' behemoth. Warner Bros. has released Dallas - The Complete Twelfth Season in a typically crappy 3 flipper disc collection of the 1988-1989 season's 26 episodes. No extras as well as seriously subpar transfers indicate Warners is just throwing these seasons out without any thought, merely to avoid bad press from the hard-core fans...who might not even be interested in the tired, tired series by this point.

I've written extensively about Dallas (you can click on Season Five, Season Six, Season Seven, Season Eight, Season Nine, Season Ten, and Season Eleven to read my earlier reviews), and I make no bones about being fascinated with its unabashed preoccupation with, and celebration of, American wealth and American sex and American power...and the greater the size and vulgarity of those elements, the crazy-better. Featuring the single greatest villain ever created for television (in the guise of utter rat bastard, J.R. Ewing, played brilliantly by Larry Hagman), Dallas, minute for minute, was the best drama on TV in the late 70s and early-to-mid 80s, creating a world of "haves" and "have-mores" who screwed each other over with utter, madcap abandon; an upside-down Dickensonian world where it was always "the best of times" at least financially, while the participants rutted and backstabbed in a morally suspect universe more akin to Dreiser. It makes for endlessly amusing TV, with a solid dramatic core that keeps you coming back for more.

MAJOR PLOT SPOILERS!

That is, until the rapidly dwindling audiences said, "Enough is enough! I've had it with the endlessly recycled conflicts, the introduced-then-dropped subplots, and characters that don't act like the characters I loved and hated from seasons past!" (this was the last season Dallas would break the Nielsen Top Thirty...at a paltry 30th for the year. The last two years of the series would be even worse). Prior to watching Dallas - The Complete Twelfth Season, I tried to think back on this particular 1988-1989 season, but only Hagman's outrageously-plotted hillbilly romp, the delectable Podewell, and some vague memories of George Kennedy (a childhood favorite from all those Airport movies) as Carter McKay came to mind. And that's not surprising, considering the half-hearted efforts here by the producers to remind us of Dallas' past glories (what's with all those pointless flashbacks to better scenes from earlier, better seasons?). The season hits the ground running - which was a shock in itself, considering the rapidly diminishing returns of the previous few seasons (by this point, even many loyal fans thought that the only interesting aspect left to Dallas was that it was still somehow on the air). Sue Ellen, having drilled J.R. with three shots to the body after her husband pushed her lover Nicholas Pearce off the window ledge in the last season's cliffhanger, is stunned that he survived her murderous attack (Linda Gray, always spot-on, gets all the best one-liners this season, beginning with her incredulous, "I don't believe this! You mean that bastard is still alive?"). And that sets up the humorous beginnings of J.R. slowly worming his way back into Ewing Oil, by first pretending to be mortally wounded - a scam that doesn't fool the laughing Bobby (Patrick Duffy) for an instant, nor impress his other disinterested relatives like Clayton (Howard Keel) and Miss Ellie (Barbara Bel Geddes). The fact that three bullet holes don't seem to affect J.R. in the slightest is just part of the illogical fun.

Reconnecting with Bobby after the shooting, and momentarily touched by Bobby's willingness to let him back in the company - as long as J.R. stays the hell out of the oil end of their operations - J.R.'s invitation for Bobby and their boys Christopher (Joshua Harris) and John Ross (Omri Katz) to go on a hunting trip to Hayleyville, Arkansas, sets up certainly one of the most bizarre subplots ever to hit Dallas. J.R., horny as a goat in a pepper patch, catches sight of bucolic waitress Cally Harper (Cathy Podewell), and it's lust at first sight. Of course, J.R. has to sweet talk the criminally innocent Cally to get her into bed, but her murderous brothers don't take too kindly to a rich city slicker like J.R. using their sister for immoral purposes. A trumped-up rape charge leads to the city jail, where Cally breaks him out...temporarily, before he's sent to the county chain gang with a hefty ten spot for his troubles. When that's not punishment enough, the Harper brothers organize his escape so they can keep him prisoner on their farm with the intent of working him to death before they decide to kill him. All of this plays like an energetic combination of Deliverance, that old pool hall joke about the farmer's daughter, and Cool Hand Luke, and Hagman clearly is having a ball mugging it up. It's ridiculous, to be sure, and it has nothing to do with the normal conventions of Dallas, but it's a hoot, plain and simple, and more importantly, it moves.

Better yet, this storyline introduces us to the Cally character. I'm not sure where she stands with other loyal Dallas fans, but I found her a total delight this season. Podewell, a beautiful girl with a soft, naturally funny delivery, has perfect chemistry with Hagman (who apparently picked her specifically for the role). Once J.R. escapes from prison, and returns home to Southfork, putting the whole matter out of his mind - including the fact that he did marry Cally to avoid getting killed by her brothers - the writers change things up by having Cally follow him there. One might assume this is a prelude to molding a "new" Sue Ellen character for J.R. to abuse and humiliate, but in a delightful turn of events, just the opposite occurs: Cally, so sweet and sexy, eventually breaks down J.R.'s reserves and he comes to be charmed by her. Of course, this being Dallas, Cally has to engage in a little duplicity, including listening to Sue Ellen's tips on sexually teasing J.R. (I loved her sexy little nylon trick, telling J.R. about her pretty legs, and assuring him that if he doesn't marry her, she'll date other men: "But don't worry. I wouldn't do nothin'...'cept fool around some...."). And she does lie about being pregnant, to get him to marry her. But strangely, it comes off as an essentially innocent ploy, because she states she only did it because she loved him so much she couldn't bear to lose him...and you believe it (a credit to Podewell's funny, believable turn here). Even better, J.R. loves that she lied to him, and says she'll make a good Ewing wife, after all. Throughout the rest of the season, the writers keep Cally adorable and kind (she saves John Ross from drowning at the celebrated Southfork pool...but nobody gives us a bikini shot of knockout Podewell? That goes against everything Dallas used to stand for....), even giving her some surprisingly solid dramatic scenes in Europe where she says she loves and trusts J.R. - a heartfelt, honest statement that moves J.R. enough to stop him from cheating on her. Of course, we know this isn't going to last - J.R.'s DNA is programmed to cheat - but Cally's sweet, sexy nature, and J.R.'s obvious delight in her, only increases the anticipatory fireworks when he does eventually wrong her.

As well, I enjoyed - at least at first - the other major story arc this season: the Ewing war with Carter McKay and Westar. The Jeremy Wendell character (memorably turned out by the cold, precise William Smithers), a terrific foil for the passionate J.R., is given a good twist here when we discover that the true brains behind him and Westar has been Carter McKay, well played by George Kennedy. I'm not sure the whole phony "range war" decoy set up by McKay works; after all, why didn't Miss Ellie just buy departing Ray Krebbs' spread in the first place? After all, it had originally been a part of Southfork, given away by Jock to illegitimate son Ray. Wouldn't she want it back in the family? Still, the storyline is effectively vague on McKay's motives (Kennedy, giving the series another shot of big-screen allure with his assured performance here, is excellent at leaving something mysterious about the reasons for McKay's actions), and it provides some excitement, particularly when Bobby "Black Ops" Ewing, clad in James Bondian black, helicopter jumps into the enemy camp and starts knocking people around.

Where the McKay/Westar angle ultimately fails is in the depiction of McKay's clich├ęd, uninteresting family, specifically the relationship between Bobby and McKay's long-lost daughter, pool hustler (?) Tracey (Beth Toussaint, in an annoying, one-note performance), and coke freak Tommy (J. Eddie Peck, seriously overdoing it here), who literally hastens the devaluation of the once-feisty April Stevens (Sheree J. Wilson) character into a punching bag. As superficial as those two romances are, the McKay/Westar subplot drags the season down even further when Bobby and J.R. head off for a "May sweeps" location shoot to Germany and Austria, where they become involved in a not-so-complicated plot by OPEC to buy all of America's oil (the producers' idea of subtlety? They rip off the music from North By Northwest to give a bit of espionage atmosphere to the proceedings). It's a ridiculous exercise in late 80s phony glasnost, and although I love the sentiment of the Ewings brothers sticking up for America remaining "American," the sight of J.R. Ewing hugging a Commie Russkie is just too much to bear. The location work is excellent; the women look fantastic (Podewell especially looks polished and tres chic in her stripped sable coat), but it's all a dead end, with the final insult being the "war" between McKay and Ewings ending in an even-steven tie. How thrilling is that.

Unfortunately, dropped or fumbled subplots abound in this twelfth season of Dallas. I was dreading the worst when Pam (Margaret Michaels) showed up for a cameo, but apparently, the writers let her get a terminal disease and one would assume, considering the internal timing of the episodes within this season, that her three months were up before the end of the European trip. Somewhere here, Lucy (Charlene Tilton) is yapping about divorcing Mitch (Leigh McCloskey), but seriously, who cares by this point (not even a bikini shot helped here)? At one point, Sue Ellen discusses using Cliff Barnes (Ken Kercheval) sexually to get back at J.R., but it's immediately dropped. Cliff becomes involved with Afton (Audrey Landers) again, but you can tell they're going to drop that subplot, as well. And why wouldn't Sue Ellen have J.R. whacked by the mobster father of her murdered lover? She lets him off? Why? And how about Clayton contracting the single most popular TV ailment in the history of the medium: amnesia. What was the point of that episode? I'll tell you: Bel Geddes and Keel have almost nothing to do this season - and when they are given something, it's usually improbable, like Miss Ellie asking Bobby to take Cliff into Ewing Oil. Were the writers high when someone suggested that ridiculous plot development?

The most criminal waste of a potentially good subplot, though, has to be the romance between Sue Ellen and screenwriter Don Lockwood (Ian McShane, terrific in so many things, including my favorite, Lovejoy). Despite a shaky, suspect set-up - Sue Ellen is going to film a biopic of J.R. to humiliate him - we're given quite a few well-written scenes with McShane and the wonderful Gray as they fall warily fall in love. Gray and McShane have an unusually good chemistry together, and their scenes have an agreeable heft to them; Don's not only writing and filming this movie for Sue Ellen, he's helping her to grow and evolve in her romantic confidence. And the romance works, thanks to believable scripting and the stars' charm. But just as the movie is finished, and we anticipate the fall-out from its release, and all the evil possibilities inherent in J.R.'s response to this drawn-out subplot (it's a complicated set-up, covering many episodes)...the producers drop it. In perhaps the series' worst non-cliffhanger "cliffhanger" season ending, Sue Ellen shows the film to J.R., and then tells him she might release the film. End of episode. End of season. After watching that, I started looking around for a lost disc. I couldn't believe that wet fizzle was the end of that particular storyline as well as the season (no wonder I don't remember too much of this season, from way back in '89). Was the episode order for the season unexpectedly cut (or was it that disastrous writers' strike in '88)? Or did someone really think that puny threat would hold viewers over the long summer months, whetting their appetite for the resolution come fall? J.R.'s entire life had already been splashed all over the papers and TV, from season one. What didn't he do that didn't make the evening news? So how could this dumb movie possibly be a threat to him? It's a silly premise from the beginning, but at least follow it through. Alas, that's the main drawback of so many of these later season efforts: increasingly unbelievable storylines, and not enough Texas gumption to finish them.

,/p>

Here are the 26 episodes of the three flipper-disc box set, Dallas - The Complete Twelfth Season, as described on the insert:

DISC ONE: SIDE A

Carousel
Is it adios, J.R., or is he too ornery to die? And there's another big man in Big D: Carter McKay comes to town.

No Greater Love
Moving in and moving on, J.R. returns home, Sue Ellen and John Ross leave Southfork and Cliff quits the oil business.

The Call of the Wild
On a hunting trip to the deep piney woods, J.R. stalks his prey: a backwoods belle named Cally.

Out of the Frying Pan
...and into the pen. Even J.R.'s promise to marry the gal he seduced won't save him from 10 years working the chain gang.

Road Work
Cliff mulls Bobby's unexpected offer, a Southfork river runs dry and J.R. prefers bribery to busting his back on the road.

DISC ONE: SIDE B

War and Love and The Whole Damned Thing
While J.R. caves to Cally, Miss Ellie stands her ground: she blows McKay's dam to kingdom come.

Showdown at the Ewing Corral
O promise me: J.R. promises his new bride just about anything if she'll help him get home to Southfork.

Deception
As the Ewing-McKay standoff heightens, Bobby learns some surprising facts about Tracy's past.

Counter Attack
Blood on the prairie. The range war hits close to home when Christopher falls victim to gunplay.

The Sting
Here comes Texas-sized trouble: Cally, the Haleyville sheriff and McKay's wayward son.

DISC TWO: SIDE A

The Two Mrs. Ewings
Take my wife, please. Remember how J.R. kept trying to get rid of Sue Ellen? Now it's Cally's turn.

The Switch
Sue Ellen gives Cally advice on the care and handling of snakes - at least the ones named J.R..

He-e-ere's Papa!
Cally wants a wedding at Southfork; Nicholas Pearce's mob-connected dad wants to know how his son died.

Comings and Goings
Revenge, Hollywood style. Sue Ellen's tell-all movie will expose J.R.'s despicable wheeling and dealing.

Country Girl
Cally makes peace with John Ross just before she announces that he'll soon be a big brother.

DISC TWO: SIDE B

Wedding Bell Blues
A real tornado is no match for Ewing emotional storms: a wedding, a confession and a passel of dark warnings.

The Way We Were
After learning how Cally tricked him, J.R. decides his devious down-home bride may be just the helpmate he's always wanted.

The Serpent's Tooth
In deep with drug lords, Tommy McKay sells info on his father's oil business to a scheming J.R..

Three Hundred
A stalled elevator is J.R.'s ride back into Ewing Oil. And April regrets dating a guy who really needs $100 grand.

April Showers
Cliff fusses and fumes about J.R.'s return, until he learns his longtime rival is bringing a major deal with him.

DISC THREE: SIDE A

And Away We Go!
J.R. and Cally pull off a flawless sting on Helstrom, then head off to Europe with Bobby.

Yellow Brick Road
The Ewings plot in Salzburg, Cliff cuddles up with Afton in Dallas, Sue Ellen's movie is set to shoot in Hollywood.

The Sound of Money
All roads lead to Salzburg: J.R.'s old flame visits the Austrian city just as the brothers' new deal heats up.

DISC THREE: SIDE B

The Great Texas Waltz
Recruits in the war between men and women: J.R. and Vanessa, Bobby and April, Cliff and Afton, and Sue Ellen and Don.

Mission to Moscow
Moscowboys: J.R. and Bobby learn a thing or two about the international oil business from their comrade counterparts.

The Reel Life
For the first time, Sue Ellen has the upper hand in her relationship with J.R.: a little ol' movie that carries a big threat.

The DVD:

The Video:
Yet again, Dallas - The Complete Twelfth Season comes crammed onto three flipper discs, as opposed to previous seasons' five-disc offerings. An additional episode has been added to each side, making for some obvious compression problems, including some shimmering and smearing (interfacing was also a problem). Even on a smaller monitor, these transfers look more akin to VHS copies than digital. As well, as with all the Dallas DVDs I've reviewed, the source materials look quite beat up, with scratches, dirt and some nasty splices here and there. Colors are all over the place, as well. Episodes are hit-and-miss (the European sojourn looked pink and dark), but I suspect Dallas fans understand by now that Warners isn't going to shell out for restorations for these episodes.

The Audio:
The Dolby Digital English mono audio track accurately reflects the original network broadcast presentation. All dialogue is heard cleanly, although hiss is audible (it's minor, though). Subtitles and close-captions are available.

The Extras:
No extras for Dallas - The Complete Twelfth Season, but they have inserted the "Last time on Dallas..." and "Next time on Dallas..." bumpers. However, the run times are still the same (around 47-48 minutes) as previous sets that didn't have these...so, are other scenes cut? Or time compressed? I'll let the Dallas experts shoot me an email on that one.

Final Thoughts:
Lush Cathy Podewell is a real find here as the sweet, sexy, kindly Cally Harper Ewing (where's this talented actress now?), and she breathes new life into the tired rehash of plots and characterizations in this twelfth go-around of the long-running nighttime soap. Podewell certainly has a way with Larry Hagman (he looks delighted with her company), and their scenes together have an authentic comedic zip. But too much of the rest of Dallas - The Complete Twelfth Season promises much more than it can deliver. George Kennedy and Ian McShane are also terrific additions to the cast, but their subplots are fustily assembled, petering out into irrelevancy by the end of the season. This twelfth season could have been a welcome return to form for the former ratings' giant.... A solid purchase for Dallas fans.


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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