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"If I did give you power then you've got nothing. Nobody gives you power. Real power is something you take."—Jock Ewing
"Don't forgive and never forget; Do unto others before they do unto you; and third and most importantly, keep your eye on your friends, because your enemies will take care of themselves."—JR Ewing
Note: If you want to read about the actual city of Dallas, see DFW Metroplex.
As the name might suggest the series was set in Texas, based around the Ewings, a large Dysfunctional Family of oil barons. Family patriarch John Ross "Jock" Ewing had built up Ewing Oil and married Eleanor "Miss Ellie" Southworth, the daughter of a rancher and together they had three sons:
- John Ross "J.R." Ewing Jr. was a Magnificent Bastard of the highest order and a chip off the old block in terms of ambition and cut-throat tactics but with an added dose of charm and infinitely less scruples.
- Gary Ewing was weak but well meaning and spin-off bound (Knots Landing). The Black Sheep of the family, an alcoholic drifter who dumped his daughter Lucy on his parents and took off.
- Bobby Ewing was the golden child - the youngest who seemed to possess all the positive qualities of his older brothers but none of the bad - and for quite some time was the only one who sees J.R. for who he is and has the power to stop him.
Initially the show focused on Pamela Barnes, Bobby's sweet natured and beautiful new wife as she attempted to fit in with the Ewing family, but the chemistry between Larry Hagman (JR) and Linda Gray (Sue Ellen) quickly took center stage. Hagman's JR in particular became one of the great characters of television history, his greedy, sleazy yet oddly charming villain becoming an icon of the decade.
The show produced two of the most famous stories in television -- both cliffhangers (a staple of the series). The first in 1980-81 was the mystery of 'who shot JR' (it was Kristin), the answer to which was at that time the most watched episode in television history.
The second story was... less successful. When star Patrick Duffy left the series, his character was McLeaned. But with declining ratings, the return of the original series show runner after a brief absence, and the cast missing Duffy, the actor returned in the final moments of the seventh season, leading to the eight season opening with the revelation that Bobby's death and the subsequent season seven were all an elaborate dream. Needless to say, reaction was quite negative to say the least.
Inspired a glut of failed copycat shows (Secrets of Midland Heights and Texas), the most successful being Dynasty, its So Bad It's Good counterpart that ended up becoming the show's chief rival during the mid-1980s. It was also given a Spin-Off, Knots Landing, which was based around Gary Ewing, though the dream season ultimately led to both shows severing ties with each other.
There have also been two television Reunion Movies -- J.R. Returns (1996) and War of the Ewings (1998).
A possible movie remake with John Travolta as JR Ewing and Jennifer Lopez (!) as Sue Ellen has been in Development Hell for years. Problems include the recent Real Life oil crisis, the increasingly negative views of Americans toward oil companies, and doubt in the entertainment industry that fans would accept another actor portraying JR.
In 2011, TNT announced plans for a Revival of the series, and that Hagman, Gray, and Duffy would be returning as their original characters. In 2012, Twitter feeds popped up for J.R., Bobby, and their respective sons, John Ross and Christopher, who will be the primary characters of the revival.
- Aborted Arc: Several in the Dream Season for obvious reasons. Also the original plot about Ben Stivers/Wes Parmalee (see You Look Familiar below) was set to reveal he was really the missing, presumed dead Jock Ewing. The producers dropped it because they felt the fans would see it as being in questionable taste.
- All Just a Dream: Like you really need to ask.
- Apron Matron: Miss Ellie
- Armed with Canon: Bobby's return to Dallas after the dream season calls into question all references to his death made by the characters of Knots Landing.
- The Artifact: Once Lucy grows up and calms down by about the fifth season or so, there's really nothing for her character to do except fall in and out of love, and her appearances diminish. They Put Her on a Bus to Atlanta, brought her back, Put Her On A Plane to Italy, and sort of brought her back for the last season. But in the finale they sort of lampshaded her artifactiness by including a throwaway line to the effect that she would never have been born in a world without J.R.
- Babies Make Everything Better: According to Miss Ellie.
- Battle Butler - Sylvia "Sly" Lovegren. Sly spent a decade working for JR and he trusted her enough to make her a head of one of his dummy companies - and forgave her for working with Cliff Barnes against him. They end up sleeping together in the final season.
- Beware the Nice Ones: When a reporter comes calling, Miss Ellie chases him off with a shotgun.
- Big Damn Heroes: The brothers Ewing got this moment when they saved John Ross from a kidnapper in California. It's the one time JR got shot that he didn't deserve it.
- Big Fancy House: The main house at Southfork ranch. Damn, that thing was nice.
- Big Screwed-Up Family
- Butt Monkey: Cliff Barnes. The last time he's seen (in JR Returns), he's screwed out of his position as Chairman of Weststar after JR cons the board into ousting him.
- Not quite. Carter McCay is the Chairman of West Star that J.R. conned the board into ousting. Cliff was running Ewing Oil, which he sold to Bobby. Cliff was definitely the inarguable butt monkey of Dallas, but he did get a reasonably happy ending, with him leaving Ewing Oil behind to move on with his life and connect with his daughter.
- And the Twitter page for J.R. (set up to promote the continuing series) suggests Barnes invested in Google and retired to a life of gambling in Europe.
JR: I hope he chokes on a poker chip.
- Call Back: The night Bobby died, Pam said she couldn't sleep, because she saw Bobby every time she closed her eyes. Who knew it would end up All Just a Dream?
- The Cape: Bobby
- The Casanova: JR is a textbook example of this trope, even though he's married most of the series.
- Christmas Cake: Dozens of examples. In fact the majority of lusted after women in the series were in their late 30's or older; the main cast alone had Sue Ellen, Donna Culver Krebbs, Jenna Wade and April Stevens.
- Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Dusty Farlow, by accident. The character appeared in a few episodes at the end of the 7th Season, then left town a few episodes into the 8th. Unfortunately the 8th Season was also the Dream Season and the producers apparently forgot about Dusty, so that per canon he simply vanished without explanation...until The Bus Came Back in Episode 355.
- Circling Monologue: Sue Ellen coming home in a chipper mood the night Bobby died (she was out all day, and hadn't found out yet) was J.R.'s breaking point.
- Cliff Hanger: Once a season, but "Who Shot JR" is largely considered the show's best moment.
- Convenient Miscarriage
- Creative Closing Credits: Following Bobby's shower reveal, the mystery of whether it was really Bobby or not was kept for a few more months with the season-closing credit of "Also Starring Patrick Duffy as" with no character name listed afterwards.
- Do Not Do This Cool Thing: When communist Romania started airing this show, they were hoping that people would be appalled at the decadent, materialistic lifestyle of the Ewings. It didn't quite work out that way.
- Downer Ending: The series finale ends with J.R. being Driven to Suicide by Satan's crony after he loses both his oil empire and his family. Though whether he actually kills himself or not is left ambiguous, it is strongly implied. J.R. Returns retconned this ending by explaining that Bobby walked in on J.R. ranting and raving about the Devil after shooting the mirror, and that he subsequently fled to Paris to hide out for five years.
- Drowning My Sorrows: JR is a heavy drinker even at the best of times but he really hits the bottle hard after Jock dies (see Heroic BSOD below.)
- Drugs Are Bad: Lucy's sudden pill addiction.
- Family Business
- Family Drama
- Feuding Families: The Barneses and Ewings. Leads to Obnoxious In-Laws on both sides.
- Foiler Footage: Several different resolutions to the "Who shot J.R." cliffhanger were filmed, including one where he shot himself.
- Follow the Leader: Dynasty clearly was made to capitalize on this show.
- Foreshadowing: Two scenes before the accident that disfigured her in the Season 9/10 cliffhanger, Pam got stuck in a game of Chicken on the wrong side of a two-lane road with some punks in a Jeep. She ran them off the road right before she would've crashed head-on into a van.
- Go Among Mad People
- Grandparental Obliviousness; For all that everyone praises Miss Ellie, she doesn't seem to notice or care much when Lucy's in trouble at school or doing drugs, and she doesn't do a whole lot when a pregnant Sue Ellen is going around drunk either. She mentions taking a Hands-Off Parenting approach with J.R. from an early age, which... might explain a lot.
- Heroic BSOD: For a given value of 'heroic': JR has a total breakdown after Jock dies.
- Heterosexual Life Partners: JR and Bobby, when there not killing each other, figuratively speaking of course.
- Ray and Jock were shaping up to become this in season 4.
- Also Sue Ellen and Pam in later seasons.
- Hollywood Heart Attack: Jock
- It's a Wonderful Plot: The final episode. Subverted in that a): the alternate reality shown has many characters' lives noticeably improved by J.R.'s absence, and b): the "angel" is a demon encouraging J.R. to kill himself.
- I Want Grandkids
- Kavorka Man: Cliff Barnes (early on anyway, before he became the Butt Monkey).
- Lady Drunk: Sue Ellen totally averts Alcohol Is Poison when pregnant, and spends the entire pregnancy conspicuously staggering around drunk. Nobody really yells at her for this or tries to stop her much until she's near to term. In later seasons, the Ewings automatically assume Sue Ellen is drunk whenever she doesn't return home on time.
- Ladykiller in Love: JR is arguably this to Sue Ellen, even though he has cheated on her many times.
- Lingerie Scene: Lingerie series is more like it. The 2012 series will actively continue this tradition.
- Loads and Loads of Characters:
- Long Runners: 13 seasons (14 if you count the original miniseries) and its Spin-Off Knots Landing ran for 14 seasons and a miniseries as well. If the Revival is successful this could lead to it being an even longer running series.
- The Masochism Tango: JR and Sue Ellen (when they weren't actively trying to destroy each other)
- Misplaced Accent: In spite of the Gung-ho, Texas! spirit of the show, most everyone has a Generic American accent, with notable exceptions being JR and Sue Ellen. That's all good and well, she was Miss Texas and he's, errr, just JR, but it's weird that neither of their younger siblings have any trace of that Texas drawl.
- Larry Hagman grew up in Fort Worth, so he was the only member of the cast who didn't have to try.
- Steve Kanaly actually did a good enough job with the accent that many viewers assumed he was a native Texan as well (he's actually from California)
- Ms. Fanservice: Pam does not believe in bras.
- Multigenerational Household
- My Beloved Smother: Miss Ellie gets way too distraught when her children (now in their 30s and 40s) want to move out of Southfork. Rebecca Wentworth is arguably this to Cliff Barnes, as well.
- Naive Everygirl: Pam Barnes, at least at first.
- Naked in Mink: Kimberly Cryder wore a sable coat with nothing underneath, to show JR what he could have had if he weren't such a Jerkass.
- Nice Guy: Although Bobby has had a few moral grey moments and occasionally has a really bad temper, he is usually kind and caring.
- Miss Elie is a good female version of this trope, and is in fact probably the nicest character on the show.
- Donna Culver is another good female example.
- Clayton Farlow and his adoptive son Dusty Farlow.
- Even though he is unbelievably self-rightous and stubborn, Mitch Cooper fits this trope well enough.
- Off the Wagon: Although J.R. is a huge social drinker, Sue Ellen frequently gets outright addicted to alcohol, getting committed twice for alcoholism, the first time while pregnant with John Ross.
- And though the second time seemed to actually rehabilitate her better than just going cold turkey alone like after all her other relapses, it unfortunately took place during the Dream Season. When the next season started up, she had to kick it all over again.
- The Other Darrin: Miss Ellie (Barbara Bel Geddes was replaced by Donna Reed, who was herself replaced by the returning Barbara Bel Geddes.)
- As a series regular, Jenna Wade was played by Priscilla Presley from 1983 to 1988, but she was actually the third actress to be cast as Jenna. The character first appeared in an one off episode in 1978 (played by Morgan Fairchild) and appeared in two 1980 episodes (played by Francine Tacker.)
- Digger Barnes was first played by David Wayne, then Keenan Wynn.
- Kristen Shepard was originally portrayed by Colleen Camp before the more well-known Mary Crosby took the role over.
- David Ackroyd (and not Ted Shackelford) was the original Gary Ewing.
- The Patriarch
- Pretty in Mink
- Put on a Bus: Numerous characters, but notably Lucy who left and eventually came back only to be put on another bus.
- Raised by Grandparents: Lucy
- Reality Subtext: The death of Jim Davis (Jock Ewing).
- Revival: The 2012 series follows the original surviving characters (JR, Bobby and Sue Ellen in the main cast; Cliff, Lucy and Ray as guest stars), and focuses on a growing battle between John Ross Ewing (JR's son) and Christopher Ewing (Bobby's son) over the rights to Ewing Oil. The previews for the show also indicate that the story will follow up on a plotline from the original series - namely, the right to drill for oil on the Southfork Ranch (which was a major source of contention in the early seasons). The series is also being internally referred to as "Season 15" by TNT.
- Schrodinger's Butterfly / Schrodinger's Cast: Bobby's death wasn't All Just a Dream in Knots Landing; Gary had just fathered a pair of fraternal twins when he found out about Bobby's death, and his son ended up being named after his dead brother.
- The Seventies: Though indelibly linked with The Eighties Dallas began in 1978 and had its biggest moment (the shooting of JR) before Reagan took office.
- Stay in the Kitchen: What Jock thinks women should do. Sue Ellen does it (or at least doesn't work), but Pamela insists on employment.
- Stepford Smiler: Sue Ellen.
- Sugar and Ice Personality: Also Sue Ellen.
- Surprise Incest: Lucy and Ray Krebs in the first season. Ray was subsquently revealed to be Jock's son and thus her uncle (eww)! Luckily by the time this was revealed the two had broken up, and no one ever mentioned they had once been an item.
- Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Clayton Farlow
- There Can Be Only One: Jock's idea of how Ewing Oil should be run, and what his will does with JR and Bobby.
- Truth in Television: Unlike Jock's Hollywood Heart Attack, Miss Ellie's breast cancer (and subsequent mastectomy) was realistically and tastefully done, mostly owing to Barbara Bel Geddes' own struggles with breast cancer years earlier. Particularly tear-jerking is a post-surgery Ellie crying "Nothing fits!" when trying on her clothes.
- The Unfavorite: At the outset, black sheep Gary Ewing is the least favorite Ewing son, being a ne'er-do-well drunk who can't even raise his own kid. Over time, however, Gary grows up and everyone gradually figures out J.R. is a despicable human being, and he takes over this role.
- The show, interestingly, states flat out each parents' favorite and least favorite child. Jock's favorite is Bobby (for being the most likable and family-oriented) and least favorite Gary (for being weak and irresponsible), Miss Ellie's favorite is Gary (for being sensitive and emotional, more Southworth than Ewing) and least favorite J.R. (for being, well, J.R.) That this puts J.R. in the position of being nobody's favorite and Bobby in the position of nobody's least favorite factors heavily into their identities.
- Unrequited Love Switcheroo: Bobby/Pam/Jenna.
- Also Cliff/Afton/Sue Ellen.
- Wham! Line: Bobby in the shower: "Good morning!"
- With Lyrics: JR, JR, he's a really bad guy, who lives on a ranch with his mom...
- You Look Familiar: A very unusual case: a recurring character named Ben Stivers appeared in the Dream Season. Obviously after Pam woke up he didn't appear anymore, but an identical character named Wes Parmalee did and was played by the same actor (see also Aborted Arc above).