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  • Writer's pictureBrandi Bird

Enlightenment



The Buddha achieved enlightenment after meditating under the bodhi tree for 49 days. I have been meditating under the hypnotic glow of Dallas for 20 days. The jaunty electric sex of the Dallas theme song signified the injustice of my bedtime growing up; it was with a sense of tantalizing rebellion that I streamed the first episode. Let me tell you people, this is quality television. For those of you visiting from a different galaxy or perhaps born after Taco Bell was really good, Dallas  is an American television drama that follows the exploits of the powerful Ewing family and their lives in a quiet town in Vermont. Not at all.  It follows a family who heroically overcome the limitations of double poly knits to live filthy rich emotionally wrought lives as oil, land, cattle, and construction barons. Dallas debuted on April 2nd (my birthday!) 1978 (before I was born) as a five part CBS series and ran for 13 years, ending in 1991. 



Yes, I have many plant projects and passions brewing up, including a huge spring plant sale! I’m just not ready to write about them, yet, and the rhythm of the winter season has me making time to slow down and germinate. Even though winter is considered a dormant season in the gardening multiverse, it’s when the behind the scenes work takes place and when you work for yourself with no supervision it’s easy to look up from a project and wonder what day it is and how many suns since you last showered or slept. This is the time of year all my construction and commitments have to start gelling and my trademark huge pieces of paper are taped up on the wall for me to scribble and map. I thought Dallas would be a way to hit the ‘off’ switch, zone out for a while, and transition away from the work day. But no, I have fallen into a deep well of Ewing intrigue and 1980s nostalgia. 


What I think I look like: What I actually look like:


So if you are trying to avoid spoilers to a program that was on 45 years ago, don’t read further, but do go watch Dallas so that you can be properly woven into the cultural fabric of American television. Now, I’m only 20 episodes in, I watch one a day so I’ll probably wrap it up shortly before retirement. The following opinions expressed may differ by the time I hit Season 7. 


First the pros…this show moves refreshingly fast. We live in an era that drags a paper cut out over 3 episodes and then therapy for the paper cut and then a flash back to the paper cut, then the paper cut holiday special…you get the picture. TV goes too slow now, the “winter is coming” plotline in GOT literally took 8 years, and remember how long the Walking Dead crew was looking for the Sanctuary?  In Dallas time, a year is like 4 kidnappings, 5 political bribes, 1 acquittal, 2 long lost relatives, 3 natural disasters, and a plane crash. I mean, it never stops, but do the Ewings complain? No! They just get on with it. All ready, there has been forced signing at gunpoint…twice. How many times could that even happen in a person’s lifetime? They didn’t even call the cops! The episode after Jr. and Bobby crashed landed in a swamp in Season 1, the Ewings were right back up in that tiny plane. If there’s anything I love, it’s an indomitable spirit. 



Another reason to watch Dallas are the before-they-were-big cameos. Brian Dennehy makes a rapey appearance early on. Before she trekked off to the Starfleet Academy, (see what I did there?) Kate Mulgrew played hard-luck lounge singer, Garnet Magee, on Dallas. Morgan Fairchild shows up, Ginger from Gilligan’s Island is there, Joan Van Ark makes a brief appearance in Season 1 and then disappears to pursue her eyebrows, which clearly had no relationship to the rest of her face in her 1978 debut episode. Joan and her eyebrows (later coaxed into a near human expression) would go on to star in Knots Landing, a successful Dallas spinoff that ran for FOURTEEN years. There are plenty of other American treasures to recognize including Patrick Duffy as the Lawful/Good Bobby Ewing. To Gen Xers he was the goofy dad on Step-by-Step, a show modeled in the wacky blended family sitcom genre that helped give the 90s its Bertie Bott’s barf flavor. 


This brings me to a third reason to watch Dallas. J.R. Ewing is a tremendous character and fantastic villain. One of the many reasons Dallas became a global phenomenon despite the odd plotline absurdity is it’s a mostly great cast with a lot of chemistry.  However, Larry Hagman as J.R. is the rhythm section keeping it all together. Not only is he single handedly bringing the neckerchief back, he’s dodging every STD in Texas, defrauding Ewing Oil and still making it back to Southfork for breakfast with the fam. It hasn’t even happened yet, but at this point, everyone is my number 1 suspect for “Who Shot Jr?” including me. J.R. is bad news, but he’s hard to hate because the writers let him get punched in the mouth every now and then to make up for his dubious behavior. My favorite Larry Hagman bit is this little gem where he urges all politicians to try LSD. In the 1960s, Hagman was a member of the perceived radical Peace Party. Just about as far from J.R. Ewing as one can get, which is just more to love in my book. In researching this post I learned he was the only cast member to appear in every single episode. I’m having a bracelet made: WWJRD - What would JR do?



J.R.s worst behaviors are against his wife, former “Miss Texas” Sue Ellen Ewing, played by Linda Gray. Sue Ellen is the most believable, but least likable character, the neglected debutant turned housewife ready to stand by her philandering man in a loveless marriage for a shot at all that Ewing moola. Sue Ellen’s biggest contribution to Dallas is the Dallas Diet, the weight loss program that keeps all the actresses on the show lean and emaciated. On the Dallas Diet, you have all the coffee and bourbon you want, but you have to eat lunch with your enemy every day at a swanky downtown restaurant. Then you simply blackmail your enemy at the restaurant before the bread basket gets there and call it a day. There’s TV skinny and then there is Dallas skinny which is about 4 days away from an IV.  The male aesthetic is similarly skewed. With the exception of Patrick Duffy/Bobby, the leading men of Dallas look like the kind of guy that sells meat out of a van. 



There is a general ick treatment of women on Dallas that thankfully hasn’t aged well. For example, high school student Lucy Ewing has an on again off again with the head ranch hand who looks like he’s old enough to get AARP offers in the mail. When Lucy isn’t skipping school and rolling around in the hay loft, she’s getting pawned off to go on unsupervised horseback rides with every middle aged creep who drifts onto Ewing land. Here’s where the show dips its toes into the pool of shenanigans, because we are led to believe the richest family in Texas sends their only granddaughter to public school in Texas of all places. 


Another unbelievable antic? There’s a doctor making house calls every other episode. Like any insurance company would allow it. A doctor comes to the house to treat Pam Ewing, who while on the nest with the Ewing heir, falls when a drunken J.R. accidentally pushes her. The three foot plummet onto a meter of soft hay possibly renders her healthy young body infertile forever. 


Luckily the fall doesn’t stop Pam, sensible wife of multi-millionaire Bobby, from pursuing her dream as a…hourly wage retail associate at a mall? Six weeks of hard work later she’s …invited to Paris and sketching up dresses like a fiend? It’s hard to fault Pam and her confusing career trajectory, because whoever was orchestrating Victoria Principal’s iconic wardrobe nailed it. Her make-up and outfits are a time capsule of taste in an era not especially known for good taste. Legend. 



My biggest beef with Dallas is logistical. Are we to believe that three generations of a mega wealthy family have entombed themselves in a five bedroom house? There are gloved servants and candelabras at dinner but then the adults just mosey up to their childhood bedrooms to share a bathroom after the evening’s intrigue? Seems suspect. As a gardener, the coup de grace of Dallas is the lack of landscaping by the pool. I mean, it's more distracting than the camera pans of Pam’s Gen 1 fake boobs. The Gen 1s were the kitchen sponges that declared separate majors and now live in inflexible disagreement of one another.  Without scenic greenery, the Ewing pool sometimes resembles a HoJos in a sketchy Florida parking lot. Especially since all the fisticuffs seems to transpire poolside (also HoJos behavior). Nary a bodhi tree in sight. All that money and you can’t spring for a Ficus or a fern?


But as I digress, these are but teeny ripples in the magnificent capitalist ocean that is Dallas.  As far as the meditation goes, if meditation quiets the mind, my brain activity is certainly less robust after my daily dose of Ewing drama. 




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