Judge Brett Cullum knows who shot J.R., but thanks to state shield laws he doesn't have to tell you.
Our reviews of Dallas: The Complete First And Second Seasons (published September 29th, 2004), Dallas: The Complete First Season (published January 15th, 2013), and Dallas: The Complete Fifth Season (published November 17th, 2006) are also available.
Sue Ellen Shepard Ewing: Which slut are you going to stay with tonight,
Dallas: The Complete Third Season is a set fans of the show have been waiting for since the first package (with seasons one and two) came out. The third season of Dallas was the show's landmark season, when it earned juggernaut ratings and left everyone gasping over the "Who shot J.R.?" cliffhanger. It was Dallas at its best. If you were going to select only one season of the series to own this would be it. It was a story as big as Texas, filled with larger-than-life characters who captured the imaginations of America. Warner Brothers offers a pretty good set with Dallas: The Complete Third Season, but is it up to the quality of the series itself?
Facts of the Case
Dallas: The Complete Third Season starts off resolving a cliffhanger from the previous set, where a drunken Sue Ellen (Linda Gray, Models, Inc.) got into a car accident while heavy with child. Turns out she and the baby are fine, but quickly questions begin to pop up over who the real father is. Seems Sue Ellen had an affair with Cliff Barnes (Ken Kercheval), and he's convinced the baby is his, since J.R. (Larry Hagman) has never been able to successfully impregnate his wife. All of this, and a kidnapping, makes bringing John Ross, Jr. home to Southfork a bittersweet occasion. In short order, Sue Ellen's sister arrives on the scene, with designs on landing a man "just like J.R." She ends up settling for being his secretary and mistress. J.R. schemes and twists his way through the entire season, until he is finally in the compromising position of being so intensely hated he ends up on the floor doubled over with two shots to the gut.
The rest of the Ewings also deal with a lot during the third season. Bobby (Patrick Duffy, The Man From Atlantis) and Pamela (Victoria Principal) struggle with their own issues as Pam yearns for her own child. Miss Ellie (Barbara Bel Geddes, Vertigo) learns she has breast cancer at the same time she hears about how Jock (Jim Davis) left his first wife because she was sick. Jock becomes a suspect in a murder trial when the body of a Southfork rancher from thirty years ago is uncovered along with his father's revolver. Lucy (Charlene Tilton) falls for a crooked campaign manager and decides to get engaged, with disastrous results. Meanwhile, Southfork's main ranch hand Ray Krebbs (Steve Kanaly) also falls hard, for a pretty lady with political connections.
So why was Dallas such a sensation? It kicked off the '80s Texas style, and personified the greed of the materialistic "me" decade with a fortune teller's eerie accuracy. But as socially relevant as it turned out to be, mostly the show was just entertaining as hell. It was a great cast working on well-written scripts with a solid crew. Dynasty and a whole crop of imitators and spin-offs would quickly follow, but none of them could capture the magic of what Dallas started and did so well here in Dallas: The Complete Third Season. Hell, even Dallas became a pale imitation of itself in its later years, as the writers and producers struggled to compete with the outlandish fashions and frenzy of hyperbolic night soaps like Dynasty. At the core of the show was a simple level of quality coupled with great storytelling. Oh yeah—and the show also had one of the world's most unforgettable villains.
Originally, Dallas was a Romeo and Juliet story about the merger through marriage of two Texas oil families at odds with each other. The series was supposed to center on Pamela Barnes and Bobby Ewing, as they married and learned how to navigate the rocky terrain of having rival in-laws in the Ewing and Barnes clans. Problem was, America fell harder for another character, the mincing vitriol of Bobby's evil brother John Ross Ewing (J.R.). Larry Hagman had been known mainly for his comedic work on I Dream of Jeannie, but here he got a chance to show off his Texas heritage and his skill at creating a complex, fully-realized bastard you just couldn't help but love and hate in equal measure. Dallas: The Complete Third Season shows some of Larry's best moments. Whether it's undercutting everyone in a boardroom or spending a quiet moment with his son, Hagman delivers the goods. He's a remarkable performer, but never won an Emmy for the role that basically carried the show into its first place position. J.R. was so much of a phenomenon that when CBS decided to extend Dallas's run by several episodes, the creators had to find a way to make J.R.'s character the center of the season cliffhanger. Originally, the intended season closer was Jock's trial for murder, but now the writers had to come up with something new. Someone in the writing room suddenly came out with "Why don't we just shoot the son of a bitch?," and a revolution was born.
Although Larry Hagman easily walked away with Dallas, the show certainly didn't rest solely on his prowess as a remarkable villain. Linda Gray shines as the put upon "Lady Macbeth" of the show. She certainly sustained her pain for years, and played the sometimes-sober-sometimes-drunken martyr better than anyone before or since. Her alcoholism was something new for television, which had always stayed away from storylines like that for women. Patrick Duffy and Victoria Principal embody all that is pretty and good in people while still holding on to a sense of reality for their characters. Duffy and Principal were the two best-looking actors on the show, but they also brought a lot of skill to their portrayal of a young couple finding out marriage isn't always as perfect as it sounds. But above all the great performances, Barbara Bel Geddes is the one who comes off with the best display of her acting chops during the course of Dallas: The Complete Third Season. Her plot about breast cancer allowed her to bring some of the most honest moments about the disease to television. Back in 1979-80, breast cancer had seldom been addressed openly on television, and the writers of the show gave her some beautiful moments that made the story touching and enlightening.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Dallas: The Complete Third Season is definitely high in quality, but some of the technical issues bothered me a little. The fullscreen transfers are mostly clear, but there's an awful lot of grain and scratches on the image, which is also terribly soft throughout the set. Also, the sound mix is mono and has a lot of residual hiss to it. I realize the show's era is partly to blame for this, but I've certainly seen some other shows that were presented in better ways on DVD. Basically, this looks like late '70s television without any help from today's technology.
The packaging itself is slimmer than the previous release, with a slip cover that holds the usual fold-out gates. It's striking, but they've put two discs in each holder overlapping each other. I've seen this a lot lately, including releases like Lost: The Complete First Season. It's a trend I hope becomes short lived, because it's hard to get out a disc you want. To add insult to injury, the discs are also double-sided. Nobody can tell me with these transfers that only three episodes can fit on each side of a disc. So now not only do you have to dig to get a disc out, but you run the risk of leaving fingerprints.
The commentaries this time are by Patrick Duffy and Linda Gray. They talk over two episodes, and deliver nice tracks that are fun to listen to. Yet the last release had Larry Hagman; he is sorely missed here, considering Dallas: The Complete Third Season is his shining moment. We do get to hear Larry's thoughts in a featurette called Who Shot J.R.?: The Dallas Phenomenon. The feature is brief, and concentrates on the cliffhanger of this season. It also contains many spoilers about how the story is resolved. This would have been better added to the next season, which includes one of the highest rated episodes in television history—the premiere of the fourth season.
Dallas changed television forever with the success of its "Who shot J.R.?" cliffhanger. Dallas: The Complete Third Season is a wonderful chance to relive the heyday of the nighttime soap that started it all. It has become a part of television history, and also has a loyal following even to this day, long after the last show aired. Pity that Warner Brothers hasn't lavished a lot of love on the show. It's still a "must own" set for fans, but I wish it had better transfers and a few more extra features with thoughts on the making of this season, rather than just a rehash of the craze around the finale.
One of the guiltiest pleasures ever, Dallas: The Complete Third Season is great fun and solid entertainment. Warner Brothers will have to take two slugs in the stomach for not piling on the extras, but at least they had the good sense to make the show available on DVD.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Commentary on Two Episodes by Actors Patrick Duffy (Bobby) and Linda Gray (Sue Ellen)
Review content copyright © 2005 Brett Cullum; Site design and review layout copyright © 2016 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.