Daily Archives: April 8, 2014

John Ross Ewing III: not his father

“Junior, it’s time you learned the art of subtlety.  .. . . Because the lack of it turns competitors into enemies and enemies into fanatics.”
–John Ross “Jock” Ewing I

That advice from Jock Ewing to Larry Hagman’s J.R. in the pilot episode of Dallas, “Digger’s Daughter,” which aired April 2,  1978, could very easily establish the theme of the series.  While the original intention was Romeo and Juliet in the oil and cattle industries, Hagman’s portrayal of J.R. was so compelling that he became the break-out character and gradually the “main character,” the only series regular to be in all fourteen seasons (Ken Kercheval’s Cliff Barnes not being an official “regular” till the third or fourth).

In that sense, the recently retired Jock’s advice to his son served as a fitting theme.  In fourteen years, “Junior” never did learn “subtlety” in the way his father meant.  He kept making the same mistakes of hubris over and over, till the point that, in series finale “Conundrum,” he had lost just about everything due to making too many enemies.

Every villain is the hero of his own story, but that works many ways.  Hagman was successful by playing JR comically and by portraying him as thinking himself the hero, doing everything he did for his family’s own good.

Meanwhile, J.R. and Bobby’s sons, John Ross and Christopher, were often portrayed worrying their grandmother.  Miss Ellie would often express worry that they were too much like their Daddies, and that the family was doomed to another generation of feuding.  However, while in their play John Ross would sometimes cheat Christopher, in general John Ross was the “good boy,” and Christopher was the one creating mischief.  JR often worried that his son lacked the competitive edge to take up the legacy of his name.   Indeed, when his illegitimate firstborn James Richard Beaumont shows up in later years, JR lifts his usual contempt for “half breeds” to welcome a son who is a bit more interested in following in his footsteps.

Larry Hagman, Omri Katz and Linda Gray on the set of _JR Returns_

James (and the grandson he fathered,  who would be in his 20’s now) have not even been mentioned, but that tension is still at work in the character of John Ross as portrayed by Josh Henderson on the new series.  He isn’t in appearance or demeanor as “gentle” as Omri Katz’s portrayal of the character-there’s something very hard about him.  In recent weeks, he finally seems to be hitting his stride, but it’s been hard to sympathize with him as a character.

Josh Henderson and Larry Hagman in the new series

When the new show started 2 years ago, ignoring the two movies from the late 90s, it picks up almost like the beginning of Season 15.  JR is in a mental hospital recovering from an unspecified breakdown.  A fictional Facebook “timeline” suggests stories to fill the gap, but it could easily be picking up as if JR has been in the looney bin since he shot the mirror in 1991.

The Ewings are, largely, has-beens.  John Ross and Christopher each start the series trying to rebuild their family’s legacy.  While Christopher and Bobby have a standing relationship, John Ross and J.R. are estranged.  He wants to earn his father’s respect.  In the second season, J.R.’s death saddles John Ross with the legacy he was given in his name.

This season, the character seems to have come into his stride.  While he is still far more serious and dour than his father, we see him more as the “hero of his own story.”  We also see him not so much as the “villain who thinks he’s the good guy,” but as the reluctant villain.  More like Roger Thorpe than J.R. Ewing, he’s constantly struggling with the desire to *not* be what everyone expects him to be. I can truly see in him the need for Grace, the thought that he doesn’t really want to be this way and would welcome an “out”, that maybe with a slight shift in priorities, and truly establishing a relationship with Christ, he could be a better person.

The episode featured the introduction of yet another family, and another international connection: a vaguely defined Arab Sheikh who had a previous agreement with JR.  John Ross nearly loses the deal by failing to demonstrate “subtlety,” and then wins an alliance by showing it.

Meanwhile, we see an alliance of various competitors-turned-enemies and enemies-turned-fanatics due to the arrogance of both Jock Ewing’s namesakes, including the return of the McKay’s (with George Kennedy still living, perhaps at least a cameo by Carter McKay himself will come down the line).

It’s nice that they’re giving the character a slightly different angle rather than making him a straight-up copy of his father.



On a lighter side

The other day, the Facebook Page “Dallas Fanzine” posted the following photo of the casts of the four Lorimar TV series in production 1978-1979.  From stage right, they are: Dallas (minus Jim Davis, for some reason), Eight is EnoughThe Waltons and a short-lived series called Married: the First Year.Someone made the comment that, somewhere, in a parallel universe, Dallas  was an unsuccessful 1978 miniseries, and people are watching Married: the 35th Year on TNT.

News from the World of Geocentrism

First, it has been reported (coincidentally, by the same “Dallas Area Catholics” blog I cited yesterday) that controversial traditionalist (more on that in a moment) Fisher More College will be officially closing in May. They were controversial, as you may know, for issues ranging from leaning towards “radical” traditionalism to financial mismanagement to teaching geocentrism.
On a side note, the use of the term “radical traditionalist” or “RadTrad” has come to be the subject of controversy recently, and many across the board have called for the cessation of its usage due to lack of clarity and its having become something of an epithet. Fair enough, and when it comes to geocentrism, that steps way out of the range of even “Radical Traditionalism” into “just plain nuts.” It has become a pet cause of Robert Sungenis, formerly a mainstream Catholic apologist, turned schismatic trad., turned “in union with Rome” but still a bit off his rocker. Sungenis has produced a “documentary” called The Principle, trying to promote geocentrism, and has tapped none other than Kate Mulgrew to narrate it.

Here’s Kate Mulgrew as Admiral Kathryn Janeway in Star Trek Nemesis, the most depressing Trek movie ever.

The headline of the article posted about it on Monday and linked above reads, “‘Star Trek’ actress lends her gravitas to film promoting idea that sun revolves around Earth.”

I have several thoughts on this subject:

1) Going with the gut reaction that she somehow supports the project, it makes me kind of curious. Obviously, she’s one of Hollywood’s most openly Catholic actresses (one of the reasons she gets few roles). Like ex-Catholic Patricia Heaton, Mulgrew is very active in Feminists for Life and a few years ago took a break from acting to try and help her husband get elected governor of Ohio as a pro-life Democrat. From what I can tell, while, unlike Heaton, Mulgrew is economically liberal, and, like Heaton, liberal on non life-related moral issues. So it kind of surprises me that, as a more “progressive” Catholic politically, she would align herself with a far right, anti-Semitist on a geocentrism project. On the other hand, 10 years ago when he was popular on the interview circuit, Mel Gibson often said that, other than abortion his political views were generally more Left Wing, so maybe something similar is at work *if* she sees it as anything more than a paycheck.
2) OTOH, she’s not the first Trek star to lend her “gravitas” to a pseudo-science documentary (Leonard Nimoy and Jonathan Frakes come to mind).
3) However, what really strikes me is how people are taking issue with the use of the term “gravitas,” saying that she lacks “gravitas” because she isn’t a “real scientist.”

According to dictionary.com, “gravitas” means “seriousness or sobriety, as of conduct or speech.” It has nothing to do with academic credentials and everything to do with style.
Few “real scientists” have “gravitas.” It’s why St. Augustine in On Christian Doctrine said we need rhetoric and logic together. Another comment I saw was that she lacks gravitas because she started out in soaps. However again, good soap actors and actresses have lots of gravitas. One of the reasons Joan Collins quit her much publicized stint as Alexandra Spaulding on Guiding Light (and few actresses in TV history have had the “gravitas” of the late Beverlee McKinsey, for whom the role was created) was, by her own admission, she didn’t realize the acting ability daytime actually requires: learning and performing a new script every day, without the teleprompters everyone thinks they use(d).