Swellin' for Sue Ellen
Editor's note: TV critic Elaine Liner wrote this last May, when it was confirmed Dallas would return to TNT for another season. With the premiere coming up Monday, February 24, we thought it would be fun to revisit her suggestions for season three success.
TNT's Dallas will be back for a third season. The cable network has ordered 15 more episodes of the series reboot, which so far has been shot entirely on location in North Texas. Filming is expected to start here again this fall, with the show returning to TV in early 2014.
Ratings dipped in season two, with an unexpected boost in viewership after the sudden death of Larry Hagman last Thanksgiving. His character, J.R. Ewing, was finally laid to rest in a March episode that drew the most viewers – 3.6 million – of any this season.
So what can writer-producer Cynthia Cidre (who wrote the great send-off for J.R.) and producers Michael M. Robin and Robert Rovner do to make season three a ratings gusher? Here are some ideas:
More Sue Ellen!
The best thing about the new Dallas is Linda Gray. Now in her early 70s, she’s still smokin’ hot, and her acting has matured in all the right ways. Gray’s performance as Sue Ellen Ewing delivering a bittersweet eulogy over J.R.’s grave was Emmy-worthy, the best moment on this show this year.
Plotwise, her character should keep swinging between heroine and villainess. Sue Ellen did learn some good moves from J.R. during their marriage, and she should use what she knows as she takes control of Ewing Energies and Barnes Global. Also, keeping Sue Ellen’s struggle with alcoholism in the storyline not only gives Gray great scenes to play, but it’s something many viewers can relate to.
Lighten up Josh Henderson
J.R.’s heir, son John Ross, played by the flinty Josh Henderson, was all over the map this season. He had too many girlfriends, too many of the same arguments with do-gooder cousin Christopher Ewing (Bobby’s adopted son), and too few moments of any real dramatic heft.
Hagman’s J.R. was fun to watch because he always had a mischievous glint in his eye, a little hint of a smile beneath the evildoing. So far, John Ross is an angry cipher. That’s boring. Giving him some lighter, flirty moments would humanize the character and let the actor show more range. (We assume he has some.)
Cut the oil talk
If Dallas is really going to get into subjects like fracking and alternative fuels, then it should go big. Rattle Southfork with an earthquake, for instance. But just having Christopher (Jesse Metcalf) spout jargon in yet another Ewing Energies conference room is to TV what a salt dome is to oil drilling — an obstacle to success.
Bring back Judith Light
As the Violet Venable-like matriarch, Judith Ryland, Light snarled like a rabid ferret. She was wonderful! Then a few episodes before the end of season two, son Harris (Mitch Pileggi), pushed his mommy down the stairs and — voom — Judith was shuttled to a rehab facility and never seen again.
Light has just opened on Broadway in the well-reviewed play The Assembled Parties, so maybe they had to write her off. But whatever it takes, get her back to Dallas and a much-wished-for throwdown with Linda Gray’s Sue Ellen. Like, at a party. In a fountain.
Dig up more of those old Dallas veterans for some really gritty storylines
Charlene Tilton, Deborah Shelton, Ted Shackelford and Steve Kanaly got drive-by cameos for J.R.’s funeral, but wouldn’t it be fun to work them in for longer stints as the Ewings continue to battle the Barnes family? It would please longtime Dallas fans and help bridge some pretty deep plot holes that the writers dug for themselves this season. The whole “Is Pamela Barnes Ewing (Victoria Principal) still alive?” deal was a dud.
Let Brenda Strong dry her tears and get it on with Bobby (or somebody)
All Strong’s character, the Second Mrs. Bobby Ewing, did this season was weep. She was one-woman drought relief. With her character’s long-lost daughter Emma (Emma Bell) returning as a slutty, pill-popping teen, Strong was forced to boohoo in scene after scene.
She’s gorgeous and a good actress, so why not give her and Patrick Duffy’s Bobby some middle-aged bedroom smooch-fu occasionally? Dallas in the 1980s had a lot more of the sessy-sessy than the current version. And now it’s on cable!
Jesse Metcalf’s chest is begging for screen time! (He worked out at the Oak Lawn Equinox. Hello.) Less of the tech talk and more of the down and dirty would surely help ratings.
Find a role for Ted McGinley
Hey, if Mad Men could redeem TV’s designated “show killer” with a guest shot, why couldn't Dallas?
If you need to catch up on season two of Dallas, TNT offers quickie video recaps of each episode.