Dallas: J.R. Returns (tv)

Weekly Alibi

DIRECTED BY: J.R. Ewing

REVIEWED: 11-20-96

Possibly the greatest event in the history of White Trash television, notwithstanding a "Dukes of Hazzard" reunion which I must believe is in the works, occurred this past Friday night at 8 p.m. on CBS. I'm referring, of course, to the "Dallas" reunion movie.

In the two-hour "made-for-television feature film," original cast members Larry Hagman, a.k.a. "Master," "Major Healy" (J.R. Ewing), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), George Kennedy (Carter McKay), Audrey Landers (Afton Cooper) and Omri Katz (John Ross Ewing) reprised their roles as members--in any number of twisted, country-fried ways--of the most famous oil family the world has ever known. And it was an event to behold! Incidentally, Charlene Tilton--the only original cast member other than Hagman who asked to be included in the reunion--was reportedly turned away. I can't remember the name of the character she played anyway, so who cares?

The special episode was the Great White Trash Hope of American prime-time soap operas. Although the various hare-brained schemes were decidedly difficult to follow, it went something like this: With pre-owned liver in tow, the infamous J.R. Ewing steps off an American Airlines jet and back into the lives of his supremely dysfunctional family like a surgically enhanced wrecking ball.

The mayhem begins almost immediately as J.R. strolls into the office of arch-idiot Cliff Barnes--who had been running the Ewing oil empire since Bobby got out of the business and J.R. got drunk, mumbled something about the Devil and took off for Europe five years ago. A self-described "kindlier, gentler J.R." all but begs Barnes to sell Ewing Oil--his Daddy's legacy--back to him. Upon Barnes' refusal, J.R. makes some unintelligible threat and sets out to take the company by force.

Just how he pulls off the coup is a piece of work so outrageous that it is truly a monument to White Trash television writing. The script was written by longtime "Dallas" producer Arthur Bernard Lewis, who obviously spent a lot of time hunched over platters of fried food and cheap beer to get into the mindset of the intended viewers. His understanding of what the people want is uncanny. And he delivers with aplomb.

Without the necessary funds to buy Ewing Oil himself, sneaky J.R. calls upon younger brother Bobby to join him in the quest. Bobby, who's been fairly bored running Southfork for the past five years, refuses, of course, and sends J.R. on his way. The Evil One immediately puts Plan B into action, stealing his own son's inheritance ($200 million) and buying stock out from under arch-rival Carter McKay, who plans to absorb the dwindling Ewing empire into his own company.

Interspersed throughout the flimsy plot are Bobby's squeaky clean romance with a long lost acquaintance, J.R.'s affair with a beautiful, crooked lawyer (Tracy Scoggins) and several gratuitous public service announcements. Perhaps the most annoying and ubiquitous of these are Bobby's incessant sermons about not drinking and driving. Perhaps the most annoying is the safe sex lesson Bobby's stupid teenage son, Christopher, attempts to teach J.R.'s stupid teenage son, John Ross. And the infinitely evil J.R. himself blathers on several occasions about "the doctors" advising him to "stay away from the hard stuff"--an exclamation that seems a bit on the sick side considering Hagman's recent battle against cirrhosis. Oh, and did I mention that J.R. fakes his own death only to make an appearance at his own memorial service? And tries to convince Sue Ellen that she is "the only woman I ever really loved?" And manages to get exactly what he wants despite Bobby's efforts to thwart his master plan? Could it have been any other way?

When all is said and done after 120 minutes of sex, scandal, family feuds, syrupy romance, explosions and bad business, J.R. has become the new Chairman of McKay's oil empire, and Bobby and Sue Ellen have formed a partnership to obtain Ewing Oil. The non-sequitur sub plot works itself out as well, as Cliff Barnes reunites (sort of) with his long lost daughter and his mistress, Afton Cooper. Audrey Landers as Cooper, in fact, gives the best performance of the lot even though she spends most of the episode locked up in a Waco mental institution confused, with mascara melting down her right cheek. "I'm not crazy, I promise," she tells her daughter upon release ... no one is convinced. And so the mighty Ewing family--what's left of it anyway--inhabits Southfork once again.

True fans are left in a state of teary-eyed nostalgia, desperately hoping for "Dallas: The Next Generation." Non-fans didn't watch. And as I turned off the television, the wise words of J.R. Ewing reverberating within my chicken-fried brain, I suddenly knew what it means to be a true fan of White Trash Television. As J.R. so eloquently put it, "You have ham and eggs. The chicken who laid the eggs is involved. The pig who supplied the ham is committed." I am the pig, coo-coo-ka-choo.

There's no word yet as to whether we'll ever hear from our favorite Texan family again, but the made-for-TV reunion movie at least gave us a certain amount of closure. We can finally get on with our lives knowing J.R. Ewing is back where he belongs. Thanks, J.R.!

--Sonny Trinitron

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