Episode Title: A Family Matter
Season 02, Episode 09
Episode 022 of 344
Written by David Paulsen
Directed by Edward Parone
Original Airdate: Thursday, January 22nd, 1981
The Plot (Courtesy of TV.Com):. J.R. Ewing is in town for an oil convention. When Gary refuses to ask him for the money, Abby goes to J.R. for it and sleeps with him. J.R. says he knows that Abby has designs on Gary and that he'll only give Gary the money if he asks for it himself, so Abby keeps trying to persuade Gary. Val asks Gary not to get in any deals with J.R., and she and J.R. have a nasty confrontation. Roy and Frank continue to pressure Gary, so he finally goes to J.R., who gives him the $50,000.00. Kenny breaks up with Sylvie and wants to get back with Ginger, but she says no.
A Family Matter marks the fifth out of nine crossovers from Dallas to KL and it marks the second time that Larry Hagman has guest starred as J.R. Ewing on the spinoff series; we last saw him (aside from our Brief Dallas Interludes) in just the second episode of KL, Community Spirit, when he came to town and caused trouble and shenanigans. Well, now he’s back, twenty episodes and just about one year later, to wreak more havoc. I must say that crossovers featuring J.R. are among my favorite treats in the first couple of seasons of KL. A quick reminder that we have our final crossover episode in season four and then the crossovers stop completely, which is both good and bad. On one hand, it’s important for the spinoff to be able to stand on its own two feet, but on the other hand, I sure did enjoy seeing J.R. and would have loved to see him continue to come to California and visit, perhaps even butting heads with William Devane as Greg Sumner; wouldn’t that be something?
We begin A Family Matter with the lovely ladies of Seaview Circle all driving somewhere together (well, it might not be all of them; I feel like maybe Ginger was missing but I didn’t bother to write it down in my notes), speaking about J.R.’s impending visit. Karen reminds us of how much she kicked ass back in Community Spirit and got the best out of J.R., and Abby says how she’s excited to meet him. Well, I’m excited, too, because I absolutely love the sizzling energy whenever Larry Hagman and Donna Mills are onscreen together, and I really really wish Abs could have crossed over a time or two and made appearances on Dallas but I guess it wasn’t meant to be.
The two of them have instant chemistry, by the way, and I did some research and learned that they actually played a husband and wife in some short-lived series back in 1971 called The Good Life. Well, it’s easy to see that because both of them strike up a special relationship right off the bat and I just love watching them interact. In their first scene together, Abs shows up at J.R.’s hotel room and the two of them sip brandy together and talk about life. See, if you’ll flash back to our previous episode, Scapegoats, you’ll remember that Gary is in some dire financial trouble because of those pesky mobsters and he needs $50,000.00 real fast. Abs thinks he should just ask J.R. for it, but Gary refuses. Hence, Abs pays J.R. a visit herself and starts to work her magic on him. She says how Gary needs the money but he’s too proud to ask for it, and she really appeals to him in a special way when she thinks up a lie and she thinks it up quick involving Valene and Gary splitting up. Basically, Abs doesn’t come right out and say that Gary wants to divorce Val, but she heavily implies it, and she makes it sound like this $50,000.00 is all he needs to proceed with divorcing her. She also works up a lie to make it sound like Val is one step away from moving to Texas and living there forever, and that is most certainly not what J.R. wants to hear. We all remember how much J.R. hates Val (and vice versa), so we can sense that this little lie might work.
J.R. may be in town bringing his star power over from the #1 show on television, but we still have a whole cast of beloved (and maybe some not so beloved) KL characters to discuss in this episode. What else is going on? Well, to get the boring stuff out of the way, Kenny finally up and leaves Sylvie. I did some checking just to make sure, and yes, this marks the official last appearance of Louise Vallance as Sylvie, who made her first appearance in Home is For Healing and appears in a total of seven episodes. Yikes, only seven? It’s funny how it can seem like someone is in A TON of episodes but then when you look it up, it’s really not that many. In any case, we start with her and Kenny together in her bedroom or whatever and he pretty much just dumps her right there, saying how he has the chance to get back with Ginger and he’s not gonna miss that. It’s a real quick little scene, especially considering how long these two have been carrying on their little affair, and it ends rather un-dramatically with him just leaving her alone and her sort of accepting this.
I’m fine with this development. Sylvie never interested me, and she even failed to be a good, interesting bitch. Psychotic female characters can be and should be great fun (I am thinking of both Kristin Shepherd and Katherine Wentworth over on Dallas, and we obviously have the magnificent Jill Bennett coming to KL several seasons down the line), but Sylvie never was. She was just a generic stock bitch and she brought nothing more to her character; mostly she was just irritating to watch. Therefore, I will not miss her at all and I’m really quite pleased that this ep marks the last time I’ll have to look at this character. A quick note: It is interesting that Kenny just dumps her and that’s the end of it. I’m wondering how this story would be handled just a few seasons later, when the show had become a full-on nighttime soap? Perhaps in that case, Sylvie would go crazy and pull a Fatal Attraction and start boiling, oh I dunno, maybe one of those kids from Ginger’s kindergarten class. Here, in the more quiet and down-to-earth early seasons, she gets dumped, she accepts it, and we don’t see her again.
Meanwhile, over at the Fairgate house, I am shocked to note that Michael’s A.D.H.D. is still being discussed! Now make no mistake; I am still quite certain that this development recedes into the background and is completely forgotten about over the next twelve years. However, in my memory his A.D.H.D. was never mentioned after the Scapegoats episode at all, so I am pleased to see it coming up here. In this instance, Diana discovers that Michael has used her yearbook as part of some art project. Basically, he snuck into her bedroom, stole her yearbook, and started cutting all the pictures out of it. This is one time where I’ll actually defend Diana and disagree with Karen, by the way, because when Karen hears what he has done, she’s all like, “Oh, it’s no big deal, and he didn’t even cut out any of the pictures you like.” I don’t think that’s the issue; I think the issue is that he went into his sister’s room and took something that belonged to her and destroyed it, and I’d be pissed off, too. I guess Karen is still trying to be patient with him and, because of that, she can perhaps be a little too lenient with her discipline.
Meanwhile, we shift our focus over to my vote for most fascinating couple on the cul-de-sac (specifically at this exact juncture of the series): Richard and Laura. Things are really evolving (or perhaps even devolving) in their relationship. As we dive deeper into season two, we see that Laura is no longer that wimpy, crying, mistreated woman that she was in season one. Again, I’m surprised to see that my memories are not accurate, because in my brain, I thought she was wimpy and weak for four seasons and didn’t start to toughen up and become independent until the fifth season of the series. Well, turns out it’s much faster than I remembered, because now that she has a job of her own and Richard is unemployed, there seems to have been a power shift, and Laura is changing and becoming a woman who is unafraid to talk back to her husband.
I’d say that Laura as a character is evolving while her husband is the one devolving. Poor Richard has just not been having a good last couple of months. If we care to review, we’ll remember that he lost his job back in Chance of a Lifetime and, since then, has mostly been lazing around the house, carrying on in his affair with Abby and drinking a lot. See, that’s another thing I’d totally forgotten, but we’re now in a period of episodes where Richard seems to constantly have an alcoholic drink in his hand and either be drunk or on his way to drunk. Clearly he was drinking too much in Breach of Faith, where he couldn’t resist groping Abby at the neighborhood barbecue even in front of everybody, but here he is still pounding back that brown liquor whenever we see him. Subtlety is something that’s done so well on KL, and this is a prime example: The writers don’t go out of their way to say, “Look, Richard’s drinking too much,” and to my memory (which could be inaccurate), they don’t use this to set up some big “Richard the alcoholic” storyline; instead, it’s just a subtle little character detail we notice if we’re paying attention.
I feel like Richard’s affair with Abs is on its last legs, anyway. Around Breach of Faith time, it sure started to seem like she was becoming tired of him, and that feeling is growing now. She clearly has the hots for J.R., but he’s also only in town for a few days; the Ewing that Abby truly has her eyes set on is Gary. This has been obvious since she arrived back in Hitchhike: Part One and I get the feeling that she was only sleeping with Richard as a quick little sub-affair to hold her attention until she can get her claws into Gary, her true gold metal. I believe we have a few more eps of Richard and Abby continuing their affair, but I think it’s going to come to a conclusion very shortly. We’ll have to just wait and see.
Abs invites J.R. over to her house for a dinner party, and then she invites pretty much everyone else on the block. Well, not everyone, but the dinner party does include Abs (obviously), J.R., Val, Gary, Karen, and Sid. Obviously Val is vehemently opposed to showing up for this dinner, but she eventually caves, and I’m glad she does because we get a fabulous scene that put a big old grin on my face. Not only that, but we also get some nice linkage back to Dallas. For a quick bit of context, I’ll go ahead and say that our next episode up for discussion after A Family Matter is not a KL ep, but rather another Brief Dallas Interlude. So basically, you have this episode, which aired on Thursday, January 22nd, 1981, and has J.R. crossing over from parent series to spinoff series. Well, the very next night, Friday, January 23rd, 1981, we had Lucy’s wedding on Dallas and both Gary and Val show up to see their daughter get married. I like the idea that is still going strong at this point in the series that the two shows are firmly linked and what’s going on within one series can be mentioned on the other series, and I also like the idea that you could see two crossovers from show to show within the same week; if I was a viewer of both series back in 1981, I think all that stuff would get me rather excited (nerd alert, I know).
What I was just saying about the two shows still being able to reference each other is exemplified perfectly in this scene. J.R. gives a toast to the gathered table and announces the impending nuptials of Lucy Ewing to Mitch Cooper, a storyline that was going on at the exact same time over on Dallas. Continuity within character behavior and motivation is also done well from show to show, as J.R. talks some smack about Mitch, implying that he’s not a very good doctor and that he’s not good enough for Lucy, and that’s all very much in line with what was happening on Dallas. I love these small details, and at this point in both series, it really does seem to me like the writers and producers want you to be watching both shows simultaneously and they are rewarding the viewers who are doing so by maintaining a great continuity from show to show. Kudos to the writers, at least at this point (just wait until 1985 and The Bobby of Two Universes because I will have a lot to say about that development). Oh yeah, and now might be a good time to mention that this ep is written by David Paulsen, who served as the big cheese supervising producer over on Dallas during its best seasons (or was he just a big writer for that show and not necessarily a producer?) before moving over to KL for the 1985-1986 season (at which point KL supervising producer Peter Dunne moved over to Dallas, somehow managing to go from running three of KL's most brilliant seasons in a row to running one of the absolute turds of the entire Dallas run). I just note this because I wonder if Paulsen was specifically shipped in from the parent series this week to write this ep because of high J.R. content. Any thoughts?
The scene escalates when J.R. says how he’s basically just going to give Lucy and Mitch a big wad of dough or something, and this makes Val angry. There’s obviously always anger bubbling under the surface for Val whenever J.R. is around, but she gets very upset and says how he’s just going to ruin Lucy’s life the way he ruined her life. In all honesty, I’m not quite sure what J.R. is planning to do that is so upsetting for Val; isn’t it standard for the bride and groom to get a lot of money from their rich family members? Oh well, in any case Val gets angry with J.R., which I always enjoy watching. In fact, Val actually gets the BIG LINE of this episode, something I always remember fondly. When she goes to confront J.R. at his hotel room, she exits the scene with this classic line: “I don’t blame whoever it was that shot you; I just wish I’d done it myself.” Oh, delicious, just utterly delicious, and Hagman has a fabulous little delivery right before we fade to commercial where he just sorta looks off into the distance and quietly says, “I don’t need this.” Hilarious, just hilarious (and also doubly funny when you think that just a few weeks back, Val was allowing the very person who shot J.R. to stay in her house for awhile).
By the way, what exactly is going on with Gary and the mobsters? I’m glad you asked, because that storyline pseudo-culminates (for the time being; it will return in a big way at the end of the season and then yet again at the start of season four) with quite possibly the lamest fight ever committed to celluloid. It takes place at Knots Landing Motors, where the two mobsters show up to presumably beat up Gary. For whatever reason, there is absolutely nobody here aside from Gary and Abby, despite the fact that it’s a weekday afternoon. Where is Sid? Oh well, it doesn’t matter, as it makes it easier for Gary to have this lame fight. See, one of the mobsters sneaks in through the back door to find Gary, but Gary is prepared and starts beating him up. Meanwhile, the other mobster is trying to get in through the front door, but it’s locked. Finally, we also have Abby watching from a short distance, seeing Gary’s epic lame fight.
Why is the fight so lame? I dunno, maybe because Gary is battling a ridiculous mobster stereotype who has positively no game whatsoever, or maybe it’s because the entire scene is done without any sort of music or background soundtrack, it’s just the sounds of two guys having this lame fight. Now, if you take any of my words for a harsh criticism, that’s not how I intend it. I am saying this is a lame fight with love in my heart, and the occasional corny and lame sequence is just another part of the magic that is KL, and I got a good laugh out of watching this long and decidedly unexciting fight sequence.
The mobsters pretty much run away in terror at this point, but that doesn’t change the fact that Gary still needs his money. Now, I will admit to spotting some storyline logical holes within this particular ep. We’re watching the show, we’re enjoying it, but My Beloved Grammy made the point of: Why doesn’t Gary just call up his mama for a loan? Miss Ellie probably keeps $50,000.00 in her fucking shoe and would not mind giving it away to her favorite son. I wonder if the fact that she just bought Gary and Val a house only about one year ago has anything to do with Gary’s reticence; perhaps he doesn’t wish to feel entirely dependent on his mother, or perhaps he’s just embarrassed by having to ask for so much money. My point is that there’s no scene of Gary calling Miss Ellie or even mentioning the idea of Miss Ellie giving him a loan to anyone, and it seems like a bit of an oversight to me. Even a quick bit where Abs says something like, “Why not call your mother?” and Gary getting upset about the suggestion would have suited me just fine.
But in any case, this ep culminates with Gary obtaining a check from J.R. and J.R. giving him a bit of a lecture about what this transaction means for their familial relationship. I also love seeing Gary and J.R. interact; I feel like Gary always makes it pretty clear that he doesn’t like his brother much, and you can tell that it actually physically hurts him to take this money from J.R., but he’s in a desperate situation and needs to take care of it. As J.R. sees Gary out, he delivers the fabulous line, “See, doing business with the family ain’t so bad,” and we close out our episode for the week.
I must say I was very enthused about this particular episode. Of the entire disk we watched during our last visit together, this is very likely my favorite episode we saw (although perhaps I’ll give the edge to Breach of Faith, which I also positively and 100% enjoyed). Also, after seeing the writers try a crossover episode and simply fail with Kristin, it’s nice to see an ep that is both a great crossover episode as well as just a great episode all around. To go back to a subject I discussed in Kristin, if I was a loyal Dallas viewer and only tuned into this one episode of KL because I wanted to see Larry Hagman’s appearance, I would probably be sold on the show based on the merits of this particular ep; it really represents the show coming along nicely and it’s a wonderfully entertaining 48 minutes.
And one last note, something which I’ll probably bring up again whenever J.R. comes to California, but I really love that Larry Hagman so clearly loves playing this character and gives it his all in absolutely every way. I could see a lot of other actors being reluctant to appear on a spinoff of their own popular series, or perhaps showing up but not really putting any effort into it, viewing their guest appearance as just a quick paycheck. Not Hagman, however. He bites into the character of J.R. Ewing with just as much gusto as he had in any episode of Dallas, and there’s that wicked glint in his eye that shows us how much he truly relished playing this character, whether within Dallas or its spinoff.
I’ll conclude by saying that this is also, at least up to this point, my favorite crossover ep. We had a visit from Bobby back in Pilot, then J.R. in Community Spirit, then Lucy in Home is For Healing, and then Kristin in, um, Kristin. This is my favorite one because it works as both a great ep of KL and a natural and seamless crossover from one series to the next. We get some material for every character and we also get this fabulous guest spot from Larry Hagman.