Soap opera is without a doubt my favourite television genre. With this in mind I recently rectified what I feel is one of my biggest television faults, the fact I have never seen Dallas. I’m sure this won’t come as much of a shock given that soap opera has always been a blink and you miss it medium and the show first aired 12 years before I was born. But with all 14 series available on DVD I felt it time I finally sat down and watched series 1 and 2 of this iconic primetime drama.
Dallas centers around the Ewing family. A group of wealthy Texas oil tycoons who do not react well when youngest brother Bobby Ewing returns home married to Pamela, the daughter of his father Jocks nemesis. Pamela’s efforts to become one of the family are constantly being scuppered by Bobby’s malicious older brother JR as he desperately tries to keep control over Ewing Oil. This is a very simple overview of events but Dallas is so abundant in interweaving storylines that it is impossible to sum up, its position as a soap means that narratives are frequently endless and no real resolution is reached. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t see this as a negative. Dallas is not some high concept drama whose main aim is to keep its viewers guessing, instead it simply aims to please its audience, mainly by involving its characters in (often implausible) scandals which act to constantly disrupt their lives.
Soap opera is dependant on well established characters, which is probably why Dallas doesn’t really find its feet until the second series. Now that we are familiar with the Ewing’s the disruption caused by Pam’s estranged husband, Sue Ellen’s desperation to have a child or the countless situations in which a character is held hostage/at gunpoint have much more effect.The better we become acquainted with the main characters, the more space there is for minor ones which in turn allow for a whole host of subplots. Most supporting characters, however, only last one episode, this allows us to always focus on the Ewing’s which is fine by me as they are hilarious. Despite all of them having an unhealthy obsession with the notion of family most of the time they don’t even pretend to like each other. Poor Lucy (the illegitimate daughter of middle brother Gary) is constantly being called a spoiled brat or manipulative tramp by her elders, Jock can hardly disguise his distaste whenever JR is within close vicinity of him and on the rare occasion Sue Ellen manages to touch JR he looks overwhelmed with nausea – it being the other way round would make more sense to me.
All of the above makes for very interesting viewing, there is so much resentment on Southfork Ranch that despite being part of a close-knit family unit, there are few characters who act in the best interest of anyone but themselves. The most obvious example of this is the notoriously spiteful JR. As the programmes main antagonist he is by far the most pivotal character. The narrative tends to be driven by the way he manipulates anyone who dares to get in the way of either himself or his control over Ewing Oil. As a general rule soap opera baddies are my absolute favourite characters, normally they are so multi-faceted that a likeable attribute will unearth itself every now and again. JR is the exception to this. Apart from the odd hilarious (but cruel) comment – normally at the expense of his poor wife Sue Ellen, JR would appear to have no redeeming qualities. In later series this may well change, but the fact that he was so famously shot would suggest otherwise.
I was always going to enjoy Dallas, it encapsulates everything I love about American soap opera, melodrama, outrageously implausible storylines and glamour. Unfortunately, the fact I watched it on DVD meant its famous cliffhangers were lost on me, although changing the discs could be a very tense time I doubt the writers intended effect was reached. After watching the first two series it is safe to say I am addicted. Luckily I still have another 12 seasons to watch and that’s before taking into account the 14 season spin-off series “Knots Landing”, the 2 made for tv movies and the series revival which channel 5 kindly brought to British screens last week. Looks like I’ll be kept busy for some time…