Dallas

Season Fourteen

 

Dallas: Season 14

Created by David Jacobs

Written by David Jacobs & Leonard Katzman

Produced Leonard Katzman & Philip Capice

Directed by Leonard Katzman, Michael Preece & Irving Moore

1990-91

 

Cast:

Larry Hagman as J.R. Ewing

Patrick Duffy as Bobby Ewing

Ken Kercheval as Cliff Barnes

Sasha Mitchell as James Beaumont

Kimberly Foster as Michele Stevens

George Kennedy as Carter McKay

Barbara Stock as Liz Adams

Joshua Harris as Christopher Ewing

Omri Katz as John Ross  Ewing

Gayle Hunnicutt as Vanessa Beaumont

Deborah Tucker as Debra Lynn Beaumont

Susan Lucci as The Mystery Woman

Barbara Eden as Lee Ann De La Vega

Deirdre Imershein as Jory Taylor

Howard Keel as Clayton Farlow

Deborah Rennard as Sly Lovegren

Cathy Podewell as Cally Ewing

Sheree J. Wilson as April Stevens

Jeri Gaile as Rose McKay

Joel Grey as Adam

Linda Gray as Sue Ellen

Ted Shackelford as Gary

Mary Crosby as Kristin

Steve Kanaly as Ray

Joan Van Ark as Valene

 

Production:

Television: Lorimar Television

Video: Warner Home Video.

 

Video:

Aspect ratio: 1.30:1

Resolution: 480i

Codec: MPEG-2

Average Bit Rate: less than 4.0 Mbps

Runtime: approx 585 minutes (9.75 hours)

Episodes: 23

Chapters: 8 per episode

 

Audio:

English Dolby Digital 2.0

 

Subtitles:

English SDH and French

 

Extras: (none)


Presentation:

Amaray DVD Case w/ flip-pages: DVD x 5

Street Date: January 18, 2010



Product Description:

On August 24, 2004, Warner Home Video released the original miniseries and first complete season (since renamed “Seasons One and Two”) on DVD.  Here we are, a little over six years later, with the fourteenth and final season of one of the longest running, most influential and most popular primetime drama series of all time.


     

 

Season Fourteen: 6~7

(The Complete Series: 8)

I should say at the outset that I have long been an admirer of Dallas, this despite its many flaws, its status as a primetime soap opera, its tendency to repeat dramatic set-ups (viz., kidnappings, shootings, sex and booze), the occasional bad actor (the present season has two of them), and shoulder pads that by the the end of the series had become a caricature of themselves.


It’s unlikely that I’ll have a chance to comment on the entire series or their manifestation on DVD elsewhere, so please indulge the overview.


     


So why do I hold this series in such high esteem?  The answer is simple: Dallas offers one of the best dramatizations of American family dynamics on television, daytime or evening, then or now. Even while it indulges in a level of sexism that today’s audience would blush at, Dallas writers (the IMDB lists 27, with four: David Jacobs, Leonard Katzman, Arthur Lewis and David Paulsen accounting for about 2/3 of them) are psychologically insightful, socially astute and, for the most part, faithful to their characters.


By the fourteenth and final season, the cast of original Dallas regulars (J.R., Bobby, Pam, Sue Ellen, Jock, Miss Ellie, Lucy, Ray, and Cliff) had dwindled to three (J.R. Bobby and Cliff).  Early on, Jim Davis, who played Jock Ewing, the family patriarch, had died and was replaced, in a manner of speaking, by Howard Keel as Clayton Farlow, who became Miss Ellie’s love interest and eventual second husband.  This turned out to be a brilliant move, as Clayton not only gave Ellie (Barbara Bel Geddes), J.R. and Bobby some challenging dramatic opportunities they would not have had with Jock.


     


The original storyline was centered on the arrival at Southfork, the family ranch, of younger brother Bobby’s new bride, Pamela (Victoria Principal), the daughter of the Ewing’s most despised rival in all matters oil, Digger Barnes.  Pamela’s very existence at Southfork set loyalties, manners, and rivalries ablaze.  J.R., the older brother, and the one most interested in Ewing Oil (the Ewings were into both oil and ranching) wasted no time in declaring his dislike of Pamela and thereby put a huge strain on his relationship with his brother.  J.R.’s wife, Sue Ellen (Linda Gray), was already suffering the tortures of the damned by virtue of J.R.’’s non-stop womanizing and cheating, and she was to take to heavy drinking, a state of affairs that persisted on and off the wagon until well into the series.


     


There was a third brother, Gary, (Ted Shackelford) and his wife who were more or less run off the ranch by J.R.; they would pop up every now and then for the first few seasons.  But their most important contribution was their teenage daughter Lucy (Charlene Tilton) who was making it with Ray Krebbs (Steve Kanaly) the ranch foreman.  Sometime after Jock’s death it was learned that Ray was Jock’s son by an affair he had while stationed overseas.  Ray continued on as a bastard son trying, with the help of his eventual wife, Donna (Susan Howard), to sort out his identity for many seasons.  Lucy, meanwhile, had her own growing pains to deal with, constantly picking one man after another who just wanted to get into her pants and/or take advantage of her being a Ewing with all their wealth, real and potential.  When she finally meets a decent man, Mitch Cooper (Leigh McCloskey), they marry too young, and he finds he can’t deal with her celebrity.


     


The big themes are: the Ewing/Barnes feud, fueled by the on again off again successes and failures of Pam’s sister, Cliff Barnes (my favorite character and actor after J.R., played by Ken Kercheval); the problematic love story between Bobby and Pam, which, not satisfied by the undermining tactics of J.R., was besieged by the five-season-long presence of Bobby’s childhood sweetheart, Jenna Wade (Priscilla Presley); control of Ewing Oil, which finds itself in jeopardy from forces between the brothers and from outside sources, but most often as a result of J.R.’s shady business practices; J.R’s womanizing, which occasions some exceedingly lovely actresses from season to season (Deborah Shelton, Mary Crosby, Barbara Carrera, Lesley-Anne Down and Gayle Hunnicutt, to name a few); and not least, J.R.’s obsession with an heir, which also means the sidelining or elimination of potential rivals for same, including, oddly enough, his own wife.  His need to establish a dynasty that would emanate from him and not his brother and be a memorial to his father is also the reason why he would do most anything to make sure Pam doesn’t have a son.


       


One way or another, much of all this shakes itself out by the penultimate season, Pam is either dead or in hiding; Ray quits Southfork altogether and leaves the country; Miss Ellie, the family’s mainstay through the previous season has gradually removed herself from Southfork  altogether, no longer able to tolerate the emotional drain that the internecine family war has had on her.  Bobby becomes a death magnet for one love interest after another.  It’s amazing he can still stand up; and yet, by the middle of the final season, Bobby is offered a chance to redeem himself and his need for vengeance in one of the most sensitively written episodes of the entire series.


     


But the overriding theme of Dallas is Family.  Family is front and center from the beginning and continues to be so right up to the end.  It is quite clear as soon as the dust settles after the opening episodes of the last season that the Ewings are heading for some sort of resolution.  While other major characters (Cliff excepted) have sorted themselves out in this respect in their own ways, Bobby and J.R. are left at sea, and by mid-season the brothers are in crisis: without their wives, isolated from their children, and facing uncertain futures as to the fate of their heritage, Ewing Oil and Southfork.


     


Only one character, Michele Stevens, who figures prominently in the final season, is demoted to a cypher, underscoring plot points that the audience already knows or can surmise, and changing allegiances whenever it suits the writers, apparently only because they indulge any opportunity to be on camera - for good reason: she is very hot, with a knockout smile and a body that looks terrific in anything she has a mind to wear.  As it happens, Kimberly Foster relies entirely on her looks to keep her character alive.  We don’t ever believe a word she says.


While I’m singling out actors, I might mention another who becomes the most important after Bobby and J.R. in the final season. This would be James Beaumont, J.R.’s bastard son from a love affair he had long ago with the woman that maintains to the end is only woman he ever loved, Vanessa Beaumont (Gayle Hunnicutt).  James is played by Sasha Mitchell, one of the best looking men in the cast (along with Patrick Duffy and Howard Keel, I should say), but he’s not remotely as convincing as actor. He has a peculiar way of dropping one shoulder and then the next as walks that I suppose he thinks is sexy and looks better on a kickboxer, but looks to me all too simian.  His timing is off, responding before his face has had a chance to register reaction.


     


I mention Kimberly and Sasha because they are not representative of the series as a whole (though Deborah Shelton, easily their equal in respect to beauty, was not able to keep a proper barometer on her character either).  Everyone else of any importance and most of the supporting characters and guest stars (Christopher Atkins, the glaring exception, but his character was hopeless from birth) are excellent, some can move us to tears. 


Indeed, it is extraordinary that Ken Kercheval can keep Cliff Barnes interesting and sympathetic despite his constant failures and self-pity, which reaches a kind of ecstatic apotheosis in the final season.  Both Larry Hagman and Patrick Duffy somehow manage to find a way to gradually bring a sense of closure to characters who have been kind of one-track for twelve or thirteen seasons: J.R. in his relentless quest for approval from his long-dead father, and Bobby, his exhausting self-righteousness.


        


Also, a much-deserved tip of the hat to the boys: 14-year old Omri Katz as J.R.‘s boy, John Ross Ewing, and 12-year old Joshua Harris as Bobby’s adopted son, Christopher.  These kids, especially Joshua, have really grown up with this show, and now that they’re old enough to know what’s going on, Christopher gets some of the best laughs of the season as he and John Ross giggle every time the older folks torment each other in their presence.


Indeed, Dallas is famous for its sardonic humor, double-entendres and its ironies (of which the final season has some beauties).  Once again, Christopher sets up one of J.R.’s best lines as he trails after Michele commenting appreciatively, “She’s bitchin’” to which J.R. responds, “Something like that.”  There’s a sly moment when J.R. and Lee Ann De La Vega, played by Barbara Eden first cross paths - a knowing look that Le Ann gives him as if they have a history unbeknownst to him.  And of course they have: not only 20 years earlier when Le Ann was in college, but when the actors co-starred in “I Dream of Jeannie” five years before Dallas. J.R. has his share of quotable bon mots this season, my favorite being: “Contract were made to be broken, but a handshake is the law of God.”  On which note, I resign my review.


     

 

Image: 4/3

The good news is that Warner has finally given up the double-sided format for the much more user-friendly single-sided disc – but at a price, Ugarte.  The fourteenth and last season has some 23 fifty-minute episodes, about eight or nine fewer than previous seasons, presented on 5 DVDs, one less than previous.  The discs are dual-layered, but not progressive, with borderline bit rates that make for a slightly horizontally cropped image (1.30:1) lacking in the level of resolution, density and coherence that we can expect from the best DVD material (e.g. Seinfeld, Mary Tyler Moore, Buffy).  Since there are five discs, and with only three episodes on the last disc it is puzzling that Warner choose to squeeze five episodes on each of the other four.


     


Color and contrast is inconsistent from scene to scene, sometimes yielding oversaturated flesh tones. At its best, which is more often than not, color is quite good, sometimes surprisingly natural. If you viewing this on a display smaller than 50 inches you should find the image satisfactory, if not exactly satisfying.


I might add an operational note: Consistent in all Warners DVD sets for Dallas are its very sensible chapter marks at the end of “last time on Dallas,” opening credits, “next time on Dallas,” and closing credits.”  You might be surprised how often studios fail to do this.


     

 

Audio & Music: 7/9

For the fourteen years that Dallas find its way into our living rooms, the audio mix was never challenging.  After the initial 5-part miniseries that aired in 1978 and made considerable use of location shooting, the show soon would rely on sets and sound stages for much of its time.  This certainly made lighting and sound easier to manage.  Dialogue is always clear and correctly proportioned, and never gets lost in a thicket of effects.  But then its not the kind of show that should have problems in this area.  When the action moves to a noisy bar, for instance, the characters comment on how difficult is to hear each other and we accept the confusion as much or a s little as they do.


     


After a few seasons, Jerrold Immel’s signature theme underwent facelifting every so often, not always to good effect, to keep up with the times we assume, nor did the tune wear well with internal repeats as the cast got longer.  That said, the incidental music was always good; perhaps never better than in this last season.  Here credit goes to Lance Rubin, John Carl Parker and Richard Lewis Warren, who find fresh ways to support the drama and the setting without shining a spotlight on themselves.  In clean, crisp stereo, too.

 

Extras: 0

Extra Features have popped up now and again in earlier DVD seasons, but, alas, not here.  Surprising, considering it’s the final series.


     

 

Recommendation: 6

The Fourteenth and final season of Dallas is no stranger to its devices: there are three shootings (two of them cleverly bookending the season), a kidnapping, a courtroom procedural, a divorce and, unexpectedly and significantly for the series, two custody issues that are resolved outside of court.  Ewing Oil gets to play musical owners and Southfork gets a new owner.  A fitting, if contrived and sometimes a little silly epilogue in a kind of Don Giovanni meets It’s a Wonderful Life, puts a semicolon if not a period on 355 episodes.


     


Though no worse, really, than previous seasons of Dallas on DVD (and much more consistent than the first few seasons), the image quality still leaves much to be desired.  Resolution is wanting, even for DVD, and it seems that little attention has been paid to color timing.  The good news is that the price has been kept down, as was the case with previous seasons.  There’s a lot of drama for your dollar here.

 

Leonard Norwitz

© LensViews

January 18, 2011


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