Henderson is a decent actor and not hard on the eyes. But his villainy is cold-blooded, flinty and graceless compared to J.R. The elder Ewing may have found having a conscience to be an inconvenience, but he exuded a steady stream of old-fashioned charm as he went about thwarting anyone who got in his way. If John Ross is to be the new J.R., both Henderson and Cidre need to step up their games.
It’s not just comedy that’s hard compared to dying: Villainy is tough as well. Consider some of TV’s current crop of bad guys and gals: Boyd Crowder in Justified, Carl Elias in Person of Interest and, with much less creativity, Victoria Grayson on Revenge. Margo Martindale won her Emmy for Justified because she made Mags Bennett almost warmly maternal and ruthless at the same time. Kate Burton’s guest arc as Sally Langston in Scandal fascinates us because she is a consummate politician, barely able to cloak her boundless personal ambition.
Filling the void
To be fair, no other villain needed to be that interesting in Dallas as long as J.R. was around. But if the series is to remain viable beyond this season, it needs a character at least somewhat worthy of filling the void that will be left by J.R.’s death. The options include Rebecca Sutter and Ann Ewing’s (Brenda Strong) ex-husband, Harris Ryland (Mitch Pileggi), who guest-starred last season but is a series regular this year. Ryland is the stronger candidate, in part because Julie Gonzalo remains the weak link in the cast. We never quite believed her last season and still don’t now, no matter who her character reveals herself to be.
Even if the producers develop a new primary villain, we know Dallas will never be the same without Larry Hagman. Those cowboy boots he left behind are just too big to fill.