Friday, March 8, 2013

On 'Dallas,' J.R. Goes Out With a Bang – For Real This Time

This time, sadly, J.R.'s not coming back. (Credit: Skip Bolen/TNT)
Whether you follow the new incarnation of Dallas like a Texan follows his Longhorns or you decided to keep your TV past in the past, if you loved the series in the '70s and '80s you owe it to yourself to tune in to the episode titled "J.R.'s Masterpiece" at 9 p.m. EST Monday, March 11 on TNT.

It's "Who Shot J.R.?" 2.0, as last week's hour ended with J.R. Ewing's son, John Ross (Josh Henderson) on the phone with his felonious father when he hears two gunshots on the other end of the line.

"Dad? DAD?" he screams.

I was so hoping he might get stabbed or poisoned this time around. Let the murder mystery begin!

Of course, unlike the media phenomenon that swept the world over three decades ago, J.R. won't be returning to lead the investigation this time, since Larry Hagman died of cancer last November at 81. So Monday's episode, J.R.'s memorial service at Dallas's exclusive Petroleum Club, is both a celebration of TV's most famous and enduring villain and the remarkable actor who portrayed him.

Might as well practice saying it now: "Boy, doesn't he (or she) look old?" Because J.R.'s funeral reunites a score of characters from the show's first go-round, and seeing them on the same set again is one of the special delights of the hour.

In addition to series regulars Patrick Duffy (Bobby) and Linda Gray (Sue Ellen), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), who makes recurring appearances, and Ted Shackelford, whose character Gary Ewing returned to Dallas a few weeks ago, will be there. (Knots Landing alert: Joan Van Ark, the longsuffering Valene Ewing who's now estranged from Gary, will return in a few weeks.)

Jones, Cuban and Mayor Rawlings with Duffy (Skip Bolen)
The guests include Ray Krebbs (Steve Kanaly), Lucy Ewing (Charlene Tilton), Mandy Winger (Deborah Shelton) and J.R.'s second wife, Cally (Cathy Podewell). Victoria Principal, Priscilla Presley and Susan Howard were invited, but declined; however, as a testament to the larger-than-life persona of both Hagman and his character, real-life Dallas moguls Jerry Jones, owner of the Cowboys, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings appear as themselves at the memorial.

I spent an evening with Hagman many years ago with a group of television critics at his Malibu beach house. It's a night I remember vividly to this day. He was gracious, friendly – and showed flashes of a wild-ass, bad-boy streak he couldn't mask if he tried. I left his presence thinking everything I'd heard and read about him actually might be true. Larry Hagman – native Texan, liver transplant recipient, marijuana advocate – was a marvelous TV actor (don't forget Maj. Tony Nelson in I Dream of Jeannie), and truly one of a kind as a human being.

If you'd like to catch up on the events leading up to this historic episode, TNT is making the first seven hours of the current Season 2 available for online viewing at http://tntdrama.com. And the official Dallas fan site, http://www.ultimatedallas.com/, is an overwhelming wealth of information on the series.

In the tipping point of "J.R.'s Masterpiece," Barnes crashes the private ceremony and runs his big mouth, sparking a brawl that disrupts the proceedings. Kercheval, however, escapes without a scratch. "Back in the day, Cliff Barnes would have been the first person hit," Duffy told TV Guide. "But we can't lay a finger on each other anymore because we'd fall down and break a hip."

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