First, you need to know that if you pick this up expecting to get to the famous "A House Divided" episode which ends with the cliffhanger of J.R. being gunned down in the offices of Ewing oil that sparked the "Who Shot J.R.?" mania of the summer of 1980 it is not to be found here. While that episode did come at the end of the second season of "Dallas" this collection counts the five episode mini-series from 1978 as the "first" season with the 24 episodes of the first season now called the "second." This explains why there are only 5 discs in this collection of "Dallas: The Complete First and Second Seasons."
It is easy to see how "Dallas" got on the air. In the very first episode, "Digger's Daughter" (April 2, 1978), Bobby Ewing (Patrick Duffy) is bringing his new bride, Pamela Barnes (Victoria Principal) home to the Ewing family ranch of Southfork. She predicts that his family is going to throw her off the ranch and we soon learn why. Once upon a time Pam's father Willard "Digger" Barnes (David Wayne) and John Ross "Jock" Ewing (Jim Davis), the patriarch of the Ewing clan, had been oil wildcatters in the great state of Texas. When they struck oil Jock too both the company and the woman they both loved, Eleanor Southworth (Barbara Bel Geddes) away from Digger.
But not only do we have the whole Romeo & Juliet thing going on with Bobby & Pam, now Juliet is from the wrong side of the track. Add to this that Juliet has a brother, Cliff Barnes (Ken Kercheval), who is the legal counsel for a government investigation gunning for Ewing Oil, and that the foreman of Southfork, Ray Krebs (Steve Kanaly) is Pam's old beau. Ray is also sleeping with you Lucy Ewing (Charlene Tilton), who is the daughter of the absent Ewing son, Gary (David Ackroyd). Of course if you watched the show when it aired you now how twisted the Ray-Lucy bit becomes down the road, but that does not matter because we still have to talk about J.R. and Sue Ellen.
This time around Romeo has an older brother who was a human oil slick that viewers loved to hate. John Ross "J.R." Ewing (Larry Hagman) was power hungry and unscrupulous, whether it was with regards to the business interests of Ewing Oil or with his personal life. If Bobby and Pam were Romeo & Juliet, then J.R. and Bobby were Cain and Abel. By the end of the first episode J.R. is trying to have Pam caught in a compromising position with Ray so he can through "Ms. Barnes" off of Southfork and the mini-series ends with J.R. making sure that Pam does not produce the first Ewing grandson. Of course, since J.R. and his wife, Sue Ellen (Linda Gray), the former Miss Texas, and having a contest to see who hates the other one the most, their having a child first does not seem to be a real possibility.
Actually while "Dallas" resonates with Shakespearean and Biblical elements, series creator David Jacobs, who had been the story editor on "Family," was inspired by Ingmar Bergman's Swedish mini-series "Scenes From A Marriage," which an executive at CBS suggested Jacbos should move up the social ladder The mini-series was enough of a success that "Dallas" came back as a regular series in 1978-79.
The season begins with prodigal son Gary returning to Southfork with his wife, Valene (Joan Van Ark) and J.R. conniving to drive him away. Then Bobby's childhood sweetheart Jenna Wade (Morgan Fairchild) shows up with a daughter, Charlie (Laurie Lynn Myers) who may be his, Jock has a heart attack, Sue Ellen tries to adopt a baby on the Black Market, Pam's first husband (Robin Clarke) shows up claiming they are still married, Lucy runs away, Cliff runs for the state senate, a plane carrying Bobby and J.R. crashes, Ray becomes smitten with country singer Garnett McGee (Kate Mulgrew), Bobby tries a business venture with old friend Guzzler Bennett (Richard Kelton), Bobby gets kidnapped, Elle gives Southfork to her brother Garrison (Gene Evans), Jock's former secretary Julie Gray (Tina Louise) shows up dead and J.R. tries to frame Cliff for the murder, and Sue Ellen's sister Kristin Shepard (Colleen Camp) makes a play for Bobby, Pam and Bobby separate, J.R. tries to marry Lucy off to Kit Mainwaring (Mark Wheeler), and Ray has an affair with Donna Culver (Susan Howard).
However, the second season comes down to the fact that Sue Ellen has an affair with Cliff Barnes and then finds out she is pregnant offering us the delicious irony that the first Ewing grandchild could be a Barnes and not a Ewing. But Sue Ellen, afraid to leave J.R. starts drinking hard and heavy (even by Ewing standards). J.R., figuring that the child is not his but fearing what would happen to his reputation and the Ewing name if the truth comes out, has his wife committed to a sanitarium. Even there Sue Ellen manages to keep on drinking and the season ends with her in the hospital and the life of the baby in danger. To be continued...
The main advantage of "Dallas" as a nighttime soap opera was that the show really kept things moving. Arguably as much happened in a season of this show as you got in a year with a daytime soap opera but jammed into two-dozen episodes. More importantly, even if you do not care about Pam and Bobby, who refuse to live happily ever after, there is cunning J.R. sticking his finger into each and every pie. The year after this "second" season, "Dallas" finishing 6th in the Nielsens with a 25.0 rating. The series would finish 1st three of the next four seasons including a 34.5 rating the year we found out "Who Shot J.R.?" (Only one television show has average a rating over 30.0 since then, "The Cosby Show," 1985-87).