When it was originally on: 1978-1991
Original network: CBS
Where you can stream it now: IMDb TV (free with ads)
Had I seen it before: No.
What IMDb says: J.R. Ewing, a Texas oil baron, uses manipulation and blackmail to achieve his ambitions, both business and personal. He often comes into conflict with his brother Bobby, his arch-enemy Cliff Barnes and his long-suffering wife Sue Ellen.
Why I picked it: As I was finalizing The List, it struck me that a lot of my “vintage” shows (which I defined as pretty much any show that ended in the 20th century) were comedies, and I wanted a drama to balance things out. The first show to pop into my head was Dallas. A pioneer of the primetime soap genre that would become popular in the ’80s, this one had a whomping 14 seasons, plus a 3-season revival in 2012. It also spawned the spinoff Knots Landing that got 14 seasons of its own.
And long before there was Jon Snow lying on the ground with people unsure if he was actually dead or not, there was “who shot J.R.?” I’m honestly not sure if there was any show prior to Dallas that got the whole world talking about its cliffhangers this way, but please comment if you know of any earlier examples. We take these serialized story arcs and cliffhangers for granted today, but Dallas was one of the first shows to prove the potential of such storytelling.
What I liked: I love how this pilot created a good balance of characters I love and characters I love to hate. Bobby and Pamela are likable enough. Just young people in love and each willing to stand up to their respective families in order to follow their hearts. Unlike most of the other characters, these two get that there are more important things in life beyond business and wealth. Lucy also seems like the kind of person who’s going to start shit for the hell of it just to keep herself entertained, and that’s a life choice I can get behind.
Then you still have people like J.R., Jock, and Digger (yeah, I don’t know why those are their names either) who place their business and family loyalty above all else. From what I’m told, J.R. is the main villain of this show and he’s certainly the main villain of this pilot. But yet I don’t NOT see where J.R. is coming from either. I can see why he doesn’t like Bobbie’s choice to marry Pam. Does he do some crazy things to try to destroy their marriage? Of course! But so many good villains are written this way: with motives you understand but then they take it to extremes most humans would not.
And then you have Ray, the hired help. I can see how Ray might evolve into one of the show’s most interesting characters. Since he’s not in either of the two main families that are feuding, there’s tons of potential for him to switch allegiances over and over again as many times as he needs to in order to keep the show interesting. In this pilot alone he is already a) working for Jock Ewing b) sleeping with Jock Ewing’s underage granddaughter and c) used to date Pamela, Bobbie Ewing’s new bride and he potentially still has feelings for her. Ray is exactly the kind of wild card that makes a show even more complicated than a simple good guys v. bad guys conflict would be.
What I didn’t like: I was a little confused as to the root cause of the bad blood between the Ewings and Barnes’s. There’s some kind of trial happening where Cliff Barnes is trying to get some kind of legislation passed that would be bad for the Ewings. At least… I think that’s what’s happening? I wish there were more concrete stakes for what will happen to the Ewings’ oil business if Cliff Barnes is successful in whatever his scheme is. I wish there was a more concrete motive for why Cliff is doing this scheme in the first place. I wish I knew what this scheme even was.
Do I want to watch Ep. 2: Yes! It was a fun watch and I can already see so much potential for fun twists and turns in the future.