I was born nine months after Dallas premiered on 2 April 1978. Whether that's a mathematical coincidence, I can't say but it would certainly befit the legacy of the show to have been responsible for a rash of babies. I grew up a child of the Reagan Eighties and Dallas, and if there was any TV show that better captured the zeitgeist of that decade, I'm unaware of what it may be. My fascination with Dallas runs much deeper than curiosity about society, though. I've said for ages now that there were two things that helped me understand my childhood. One was Randy Travis's Storms of Life album and the other was Dallas.
|J.R. & Bobby toast under the watchful eye of their father, Jock.|
So too did my cousins, who came running toward the car. I can still vividly picture one of my cousins actually managing to pound on the car door as my mom's friend reversed out of the driveway. I have never asked, but I can't imagine they were much clearer on what was happening than I had been. It all happened so suddenly that there couldn't have been much chance for them to even know who had just grabbed me and thrown me in the car. Despite the fact that I much preferred to be with my mother, I have always appreciated the efforts of my cousins on that occasion. I can't imagine much else they could have done had it been a sinister abduction, rather than the benign sort that it was.
Dallas was the one show both my parents watched. It was on Friday nights on CBS. No matter which parent had us for the weekend, I could expect to keep up with the show. During one story arc a little while after all the dust had finally settled from our own divorce drama, Sue Ellen (Linda Gray) left J.R (Larry Hagman). At the end of each episode ran a promo clip from the next week's episode, to ensure that you remained stoked for the next six nights. There I was, at my dad's, when the preview clip ran and Sue Ellen stormed into the room and demanded to know, "Where's my son, you bastard?!"
|I'm unaware of my mom holding my dad at gunpoint.|
|I grew to accept and even like Clayton. But not Steve!|
The secret to why J.R. Ewing was so captivating wasn't just that he was as shrewd as he was ruthless. Anyone could be that. What made J.R. the greatest character on TV was that everything he did, was for the family. Maybe he was misguided about what was right for the family, maybe he was inconsiderate of the family's actual wants and needs, and maybe he was as destructive for the family as he was helpful, but every activity he ever undertook was directly connected to advancing the security and prosperity of the Ewings. There's a nobility to that, I think. This is the same reason that we later identified with Tony Soprano. He may have been a brutal sociopath, but he broke those kneecaps for his family. We get that. Simply put, Tony Soprano existed and worked because of J.R. Ewing.
|In addition to John Ross, Tony Soprano is J.R. Ewing's rightful heir.|
In 2004, my then-girlfriend flew down to Daytona to visit her family for a weekend. The first night she was gone, CBS aired Dallas Reunion: The Return to Southfork (by morbid coincidence, the same day on which actor Howard Keel, who played Clayton Farlow, passed away). I had gotten way behind on laundry, so I washed it all night long. I started during the Dallas Reunion special and then proceeded to make my way through the entire Back to the Future: The Complete Trilogy DVD box set, borrowed from a friend. The sun was up by the time I finished the last of the laundry and the DVD. That was a fun night for me.
It's funny, really, but where other kids my age identified with Luke Skywalker and Indiana Jones, I identified with John Ross Ewing. I saw how distraught Sue Ellen became when J.R. kept him hidden from her, and through that I was able to surmise what it had been like for my mom when my brother and I were hidden from her. It should have made me resent J.R. Ewing all the more, but instead it somehow endeared the show to me even more because they were actually talking about my own life. I found it helpful, in the way that children respect that one grownup who will give them straight answers to their questions.
|The answer to any question that begins with, "Why did J.R....?"|
Speaking of what I can get behind, Charlene Tilton is returning, too! There's plenty more to be said about Dallas, of course, so go ahead and expect that show to become a frequent topic of discussion here on this blog.
All photos of Dallas are from the official Dallas Facebook page, Facebook.com/DallasTNT.
The Sopranos photo is from the official Sopranos Facebook page, Facebook.com/TheSopranos.