90) Jack and the Spartans (Samurai Jack)

Genndy Tartakovsky is a genius who almost gets his due. He made Dexter’s Lab, the more awesome version of Star Wars: Clone Wars (cue the hate mail), Hotel Transylvania, and among the greatest 23 minutes of television, Korgoth of Barbaria. The latter is only not on this list because I acknowledge that it is only my particularly dark sense of humor that makes it amazing to me.

Despite all of those accomplishments, I’d argue his crowning achievement is Samurai Jack. It was a show that managed to create the least friction in a “fantasy kitchen sink” world, which is to say a world in which all mythologies are true, from Greek to Norse to Japanese. It was even more notable because it used all of these mythologies while taking place in a dystopian sci-fi future.

The villain, Aku (voiced by the late, great Mako), is an Elder God who was smote by Ra, Odin, and Vishnu at the beginning of creation until only a piece of him landed in Japan where he was brought to life by magic, then later conquered the world, turned it into a super-science based intergalactic empire, and endorsed a delicious sandwich shop.

samuraijackaku.jpg

That sentence was amazing to write.

samuraijackjack-e1523672194543.jpgJack (real name unknown, voiced by Phil LaMarr) is a samurai who was sent from the past to the far future and wanders in search of ways to kill Aku/return to the past, depending on the writer’s needs. Because of such a vague premise in such a vague world, episodes could be almost anything, from deadly serious to childishly light-hearted, as long as Jack was there.

SUMMARY

samuraijackspartan.jpgThis episode is based on one of the most storied events in real-world history, the battle of Thermopylae. More specifically, this episode is a tribute to Frank Miller’s graphic-novel adaptation of the battle, 300. The events in real-life were that the Persian army was invading Greece, and 300 Spartans led by King Leonidas (along with thousands of other Greeks which got overlooked) met the forces at a narrow pass and managed to hold them off for several days despite being outnumbered at least 20 to 1 (depending on whose account you believe). But, ultimately, all of the Spartans were killed, the Persians conquered most of Greece before being kicked out about a year later, and there isn’t a definitive sign that the battle of Thermopylae had much of an impact on the course of that. Still, it’s a great story of a few taking on many and it remains a testament to the idea of military preparation and strategy being able to act as a force multiplier.

SamuraiJackVillains
Villains: Start to finish

In this version, Jack is asked to assist the 300 Spartans against an army of robots in order to end a war which has been going on for 5 generations (referencing the first Persian invasion of Greece… I think). When Jack first sees the robots, they are shaped like Minotaurs and other creatures from classical mythology. Much like the Persians, they are almost innumerable, but they can only attack through a single, narrow, pass. Each day, the Spartans defend the pass, often at the cost of their own lives. When Jack arrives, and shows himself an incredible warrior, this version of Leonidas, Spartok (Daran Norris), decides to accompany Jack on a mission to go beyond the pass and try to destroy the source of the robots. As the episode progresses, the machines stop resembling mythical creatures and instead begin to resemble Skynet and other such robotic overlords from fiction, blending the mythologies of the modern and ancient world. It’s a small touch that adds a lot to the story. Ultimately, of course, Jack and Spartok conquer.

END SUMMARY

The overarching narration of the episode comes from the point of view of Spartok. However, unlike the actual battle of Thermopylae, Jack’s intervention allows the Spartans to survive the battle, and allows Spartok to tell the story on his deathbed to his family.

SamuraiJackSpartokDeath.jpg

The ending is touching, to say the least, as the man relates how one stranger joined their battle “and made a difference.” By having it parallel a real event, the audience is even more aware of the difference made than the characters. Unlike most episodes, Aku had little to nothing to do with the plot. This is not Jack’s quest. Ultimately, he fought with the Spartans for no reason other than that it was the right thing to do. This episode stands as a testament to the idea that one person can make a difference, even if they don’t know it. They just need to try to do the right thing.

PREVIOUS – 91: Lost In Space

NEXT – 89: Red Dwarf

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

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91) The Great Vegetable Rebellion (Lost in Space)

Lost in Space gets crap sometimes for being campy, or sometimes too silly, or having a terrible movie adaptation. It also gets crap for not being Star Trek, but it should be noted that, of those 4 things, Star Trek has been accused of 3. All of those things are accurate, but, sometimes the campy and silly elements of the show would combine into something amazingly over-the-top that would make it unforgettable. Plus, it was scored by John “Think of a Movie Theme and I Probably Wrote It” Williams.

LostInSpaceCast

The premise of the show is that the US has finally tried to colonize space in the far-off year of 1997. To do this, they launch a ship containing Professor John Robinson (Guy Williams), his wife Maureen (June Lockhart), and their children Judy (Marta Kristen), Penny (Angela Cartwright), and Will (Billy Mumy). The only other person on board was supposed to be the pilot, Major Don West (Mark Goddard), but the launch is sabotaged by double agent and legendary coward Dr. Zachary Smith (Jonathan Harris), who reprograms the ship’s robot (voiced by Dick Tufeld) into going on a rampage that accidentally activates the hyperdrive and traps Smith on board as they are sent in a random direction into space.

LostInSpaceRobot.jpg
Such advanced robotics!!!

Ultimately, the things that worked for Lost in Space were usually that it had pretty good special effects and costuming for the time (getting Emmy nominations even against Star Trek), the simple character dynamics (a space-family Robinson, a robot, and a cowardly scientist villain were the only characters in some episodes), and that they would have hammy overacting guest stars a la Batman. This episode has all three.

SUMMARY

It starts off with the family celebrating the robot’s birthday. That alone is provocative and says a great deal of the effects of long periods of time stranded with a small group. But, Dr. Smith, the possibly pedophilic pedagogue, decides to sneak off to a nearby planet run by plants, where he picks a flower and is sentenced to death by literal “tree-hugging” by a carrot-man.

LostInSpaceCarrotMan
Carrot. Man.

Eventually, everyone is captured and sentenced to turning into celery or flowers until the resolution. I know that plot summary sounds stupid, but it somehow actually manages to be just surreal and fun enough to work. Plus, it has Stanley Adams, 60s actor extraordinaire, who works harder than any man ever should to embrace the role of “carrot-man.”

Some production details help this episode. The sets are in this episode are definitely worthy of mention. The planet on which the episode takes place resembles a garden paradise, which allows the space-props of the cast to stand out more. The other thing is that all of the plants have voices, so when they’re hurt throughout the episode, even as a background action, they cry out in anguish (which the cast chooses to ignore, because plants). The costume of Stanley Adams as Tybo the Carrot-Man, while goofy, is actually very well done. Willoughby, Tybo’s human-with-a-heart-of-lettuce, similarly, is a surreal purple shade, which still somehow works within the episode. The episode’s musical arrangement, too, is excellent, even if it isn’t by John Williams.

LostInSpaceSets.jpg

Ultimately, after they’re all captured and placed in a hot house, the Robinsons manage to subdue Tybo and escape from the plant planet.

END SUMMARY

So, why is this episode on the list? Well, some episodes are born great, some episodes have greatness thrust upon them, but this episode stumbles into it like a drunken frat boy running an obstacle race. This episode is simultaneously on multiple lists of the greatest episodes, but also on lists of the biggest “Jump the Shark” moments of all time. When the episode’s writer, Peter Packer, handed the script to Jonathan Harris, he actually apologized for writing it, saying that he just didn’t have any ideas for a good episode left. I think that Harris took that as a challenge. Throughout the episode, Harris’s over-the-top mugging, monologuing and soliloquizing, rather than being off-putting, manages to hit right in the sweet spot of fun enough to keep us entertained. He manages to sell even the most melodramatic acts as genuine. His interactions with the Robot, who has to deliver everything in monotone, make for a hilarious dichotomy.

LostInSpaceSmithRobot
The Odder Couple

But, mostly, the episode actually raises a very interesting line of thought, and I have no doubt that it was completely unintentional. In this episode, the Robinsons aren’t the good guys. They show up on a planet and murder a ton of sentient life forms.

LostInSpaceTybo.gif
Vegecide.

There’s no ambiguity about it. At one point, Willoughby tells them that they just have to talk to the plants, and the plants will happily get out of their way, but that doesn’t stop them from using machetes on vines in the next scene. Plants are crying out in agony throughout the episode, but the Robinsons are so ingrained with the concept that animal life is the only kind of life that matters, that they don’t stop killing the plants EVEN WHEN TOLD THEY’RE SENTIENT. Again, I don’t think this is intended, but it’s part of why this is such an interesting episode: It points out that what we consider “life” is based on a series of established assumptions of our own superiority, but here, everything is turned on its head. It’s this interesting flipped perspective within the episode that convinced me that, while the episode is cheesy, it was cheesy in the best way.

PREVIOUS – 92: The Twilight Zone

NEXT – 90: Samurai Jack

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

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92) To Serve Man (The Twilight Zone)

The Twilight Zone was both nominated for, and received, more episodes on this list than any other show. It was early in television’s history, it pushed every envelope it could find, contained episodes by some of the best writers willing to work on TV at the time (which later made it okay for others to do likewise), and it has had one of the biggest impacts on society and pop culture of anything since Sherlock Holmes and Superman. Even if you’ve never seen an episode, you’ve at least seen a tribute to one, I guarantee it.*

SUMMARY

TwilightZoneToServeManAn episode of The Twilight Zone was typically a morality tale relying on a sci-fi or fantasy element, and this plot is a classic one: Aliens arrive on Earth. However, rather than trying to take over the world, the Kanamits supply us with everything we ever wanted. Starvation, war, power issues, disease; you name it, they’re all eliminated. The world becomes a utopia. A commission is set up to determine if the aliens pose any threat, but the only information they have on the aliens is a book whose title is translated as “To Serve Man.”

TwilightZoneKanamit.jpgIf you’ve watched films or television shows in the years since, you’ve probably seen a joke about what we find out at the end. Right before the main character departs for the home planet of the aliens, he is told that it’s not a guide to helping humanity. It’s a cookbook. The aliens only pretended to help humanity so that we would be fat, healthy, and docile. Now, we’re the perfect livestock, even unwittingly volunteering to go to the Kanamit home planet to be devoured.

END SUMMARY

TwilightZoneKanamitAmbassador.jpg
This guy seems “punny.”

I’m going to go ahead and address the two problems with the twist. First, it requires that someone can translate the language enough to translate the title, but not the rest of the book. Second, it requires that “serve” can have the same dual meaning in both English and Kanamit. However, there is actually a way to reconcile both of these: Someone just asked the ambassador what the title was. The Kanamits in the episode use a few colloquialisms, so they’re at least capable of using English puns. Since they probably assumed no one could translate the book for real without any form of reference, telling people the title in that way was probably just a sick joke on their part. Alternatively, maybe the guy who figured out the language died after translating the title, like Michael Ventris, the guy who translated Linear B.

Regardless, it’s not the twist that got this episode on the list rather than some of the others. While the twist is clever, and famous, it’s not any more so than the end of, say, “Time Enough at Last” (the one where the man with all the books he could read in a lifetime breaks his glasses). These were pretty standard Twilight Zone quality, so if I included them all, this list would be forty percent Twilight Zone.

TwilightZoneTimeEnoughAtLast.jpg
All the books, no more glasses. Better find the large print section.

What sets this episode apart is that this is one of the first episodes of television to truly break the Fourth Wall as we now consider it for a purpose other than humor. Sure, host Rod Serling always addressed the audience before and after each episode, but he was (almost) never a character, just the narrator. But, at the end of this episode, before Rod Serling shows up, the main character, Michael Chambers (Lloyd Bochner), who has been on a hunger strike to make himself less palatable, turns and talks to the audience, asking them if they’re on Earth or the spaceship with him. He says that in the end, it doesn’t matter, because everyone is just on the menu.

TwilightZoneToServeManEnding
This must’ve blown minds in 1962

The subtle camera work as he says this creates a mild disorienting effect that adds to the message: We, the audience, are the cattle, whether in the field or the slaughterhouse. It made the audience part of the story in a way which had not really been done to that point on a major show, and it deserves acclaim.**

PREVIOUS – 93: The Simpsons

NEXT – 91: Lost In Space

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

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Rather than just put in the clip of the reveal, I’m instead putting in one of my favorite references, from Naked Gun II: The Smell of Fear. The man saying the phrase is none other than Lloyd Bochner.

*Not a guarantee.

** Serling calls it a “soliloquy” in his closing, but that’s not correct. Bochner isn’t talking out loud about his feelings regardless of anyone to hear it, like in Shakespeare. Bochner’s clearly talking to the audience.

93a) Krusty Gets Kancelled (The Simpsons)

Welcome to your bonus entry. There are a few of these on the list for various reasons. This one is on here just because I originally picked this episode for number 93, but then decided to replace it with “Homer’s Enemy.” Since I wrote it already, it seems a waste not to post it, so here you go:

The main characters of the Simpsons are the fat, lazy, idiot father Homer (Dan Castellaneta); his wife who definitely could have done better Marge (Julie Kavner); his prankster (and later sociopath) son Bart (Nancy Cartwright); brainy daughter Lisa (Yeardley Smith); baby Maggie; and the city of Springfield (hundreds of characters at this point). It would take me days to explain all of the characters, but, this episode focuses mostly on beloved kids’ show host, Krusty the Klown.

Television is a fickle mistress. Some TV shows fail because they just don’t have the quality, but, occasionally, a hit TV show can fall off the radar just because something more popular comes on in the same time slot. This episode features the latter.

When Krusty the Clown is run off the air by the creepy puppet show Gabbo, Krusty falls into depression. He is taken in by the Simpsons, who convince him to fight to get his show back. He calls in every connection he can in order to create a star-studded comeback special. Bette Midler, Johnny Carson, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Hugh Hefner all guest star, along with Sideshow Luke Perry, Krusty’s “Worthless Half-brother.” This episode was only possible because the Simpsons were red hot at the time, and the reason why they’d become so popular is that they had some of the best writers available. Every line of this episode is funny, and it’s not just one style of humor. It comes at you from every direction, from “Worker and Parasite,” Eastern Europe’s favorite cat and mouse team, to the Red Hot Chili Peppers changing their indecent lyrics to “what I’d like is, I’d like to hug and kiss you.”

Krusty Gets Kancelled showed that an episode full of cameos could use their presence to focus on more than just the fact that they had a guest star. It simultaneously embraced and satirized the exact thing depicted in the show: Relying on celebrities to draw in a crowd to get the audience to remember a show that was losing out to the flavor of the month. Since then, we’ve seen many more celeb-mob TV episodes, but I can’t think of any that were better.

Link to the Archives.

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For your clip, here’s the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and then Johnny Carson lifting a Buick Skylark over his head while singing opera.

93) Homer’s Enemy (The Simpsons)

SimpsonsFamily.png
They’ve yellowed with age

If you don’t know what The Simpsons is, well, congratulations on finally escaping the basement that you’ve lived in since birth. Welcome to the above-world. Here, The Simpsons is the show that never quite drops in quality enough to be outright cancelled. It has enough nostalgia left from seasons 2-10 that it has managed to hang on for an extra decade and a half. It has a few episodes on this list, and all of them are from that window because, for those years, the Simpsons managed to combine cartoon physics and reasoning with bitter reality in a way that even the Flintstones had to envy. This episode is a perfect example.

Quick Recap of the cast: The main characters of the show are the fat, lazy, idiot father Homer (Dan Castellaneta); his wife who definitely could have done better Marge (Julie Kavner); his prankster (and later sociopath) son Bart (Nancy Cartwright); brainy daughter Lisa (Yeardley Smith); baby Maggie; and the city of Springfield (hundreds of characters at this point).

SUMMARY

SimpsonsHomerPunch
He’ll be fine

The Simpsons is a show that has ebbed and flowed in terms of humor and relevance, but has never managed to die. It’s impacted the world so much at this point, that people know about it, even if they don’t know they know it. Homer Simpson is one of the most remembered and beloved figures on television, albeit not always for good reasons. One of the keys, though, is that, in typical sitcom fashion, Homer will always end up okay, no matter how ridiculous the situation. Other characters… not so much.

SimpsonsGrimes1Frank Grimes was in only 1 episode of the Simpsons, but has been referenced at least once per year since then. He was an everyman who had to work extremely hard for everything he ever got. After seeing a story about him on TV, Homer’s boss, Mr. Burns, hires Grimes to work at the Springfield Nuclear Power plant. After being assigned to work in sector 7G, he takes an immediate dislike to Homer, both for his incompetence (Grimes stops Homer from drinking acid and gets yelled at for wasting it by Burns) and his seeming never-ending streak of good fortune (Homer is the only person in the plant without a Nuclear Science degree, having just shown up when the plant opened).  After losing his salary due to saving Homer, Grimes openly declares himself Homer’s enemy.

SimpsonsGrimes2Homer, wanting to make amends, invites Grimes over for dinner, which only makes things worse. The Simpsons live in a rather large house (despite Homer being the only breadwinner and perpetually losing money), whereas Grimes lives above a bowling alley and below another bowling alley. They have money for lobster to try and treat Grimes. There are photos of Homer with former presidents, in space, and on tour with the Smashing Pumpkins. Homer even has a Grammy. Grimes, not seeing how Homer could merit any of these experiences or awards with his limited intelligence and lack of work ethic, leaves.

Later, Grimes rants to Homer’s co-workers, but they deny that Homer is a bad person. Grimes decides to show that Homer is an idiot by having him enter into a contest designed for children, where the contestants are asked to create a new model for the power plant. Homer ends up winning the contest, despite one of the other entries being so efficient that the model of it is powering the room (Homer’s design is the existing plant, but with a racing stripe and fins to make it more aerodynamic). In response to this, Grimes snaps and begins running through the plant doing all the things Homer usually does, believing that his incompetence will save him. In the end, he electrocutes himself and dies, showing that, realistically, Homer Simpson should be dead 100 times over from the things that he does on the show.

SimpsonsGrimes3.png
I don’t need rubber gloves, I’m Homer Simp- *dead*

END SUMMARY

The episode really lampoons cartoon physics and hangs a lampshade on almost everything about the Simpsons’ lifestyle and continuity. The reason they keep going back to Grimes afterwards is to remind everyone that, sometimes, you need to just suspend that disbelief because otherwise your main character is a corpse.

BONUS – 93a: Krusty Gets Kancelled

PREVIOUS – 94: Bonanza

NEXT – 92: The Twilight Zone

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

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94) A Rose for Lotta (Bonanza)

Bonanza was the show to watch 60 years ago. When Westerns dominated the market, this was the first one in color, and had James Arness not been so awesome as Marshall Dillon, it would have been the longest running Western. As it is, it has the 4th most episodes of any prime-time show ever (update: now sixth). It was an impressive show, to say the least, and this episode both did, and didn’t, start the show’s run. You’ll see why.

bonanzacast.jpgA Rose for Lotta was the first episode of the show, and introduced the Cartwright family to the world. The family consisted of Ben (Lorne Green), the aging father and owner of the Ponderosa Ranch, and his 3 sons, each from a different wife (Ben Cartwright was bad for the ladies, apparently, because they all died). The eldest was Adam (Pernell Roberts), who was an architectural engineer who had returned to work for his Ben, usually attributed to seeking to gain his father’s approval. The middle was Hoss (Dan Blocker), who is the original gentle giant, and peacekeeper between the family members. The youngest was the impulsive and hot-headed Little Joe (Michael Landon). Each son was very different in personality, but all were equally bound together as a family. It made for great tv… and it wasn’t clichéd then, because there were only like 10 TV shows in existence. Oh, and the theme song was awesome.

SUMMARY

BonanzaLotta.JPGThe plot of the episode involves a singer/actress named Lotta Crabtree (Yvonne De Carlo) being hired by a mining tycoon, Alpheus Troy (George Macready), to lure the Cartwrights into town in order to ransom one of them into surrendering the timber rights for the Ponderosa Ranch. She succeeds in drawing the amorous Little Joe in. For much of the episode, Lotta is “entertaining” Little Joe, but since this is 1959, he’s always wearing a four-piece suit to make sure that it’s chaste. Granted, the outfit that Lotta wears, while modest by modern standards, is still pretty provocative. Credit where it’s due, however, Yvonne De Carlo plays her as a deeper character than just being the money-hungry singer. She loves the finer things, but it’s clear that it’s because she started out with nothing. Eventually, she starts to have some feelings of regret about what she’s done, asking Joe if there’s any way that his family can just give Troy what he wants so that Joe won’t be hurt.

BonanzaPooleMeanwhile, the rest of the family rides in, ready to take on the men working for Troy. Troy directs them to his hired gun, Poole, a man famous for having “12 Notches in his Belt.” Ben agrees to duel him, but Adam, true to character, steps in. Adam wins, but declines to kill either Troy or Poole, and demands to be taken to Joe. By this point, however, Joe has escaped, leading the family to finally locate him dancing in the saloon. As the episode ends, they ride off into the dawn.

END SUMMARY

BonanzaHopSing.jpgIn this first episode, the Cartwrights, who in the rest of the series were usually a peaceful, lovable family, were much more aggressive. They were truly the “fighting Cartwrights” who were willing to take on anyone who threatened them. At one point in the episode, Adam pulls a gun on a henchman and gives him a minute to talk him out of pulling the trigger. Ben beats and hogties the man, and coldly tells his cook Hop Sing (Victor Sen Yung) to kill the man if the family isn’t back by morning. After this episode, they were toned down, because America wanted a slightly gentler Western. Later episodes even have outright goofy premises like Hoss and Little Joe trying to be detectives based on reading Hardy Boys books. What a different world we might have had. This episode gives us a taste of that world.

Also, this episode originally featured the only time the Bonanza theme was sung with lyrics, which were so awful that they were only broadcast once. The scene in which they sing it is… bad. It makes no sense, it completely clashes with the tone, and removing it was the right call. Despite the fact that it only aired once, when I bought my father the complete series, he remembered the exact part of the episode from which the song was cut (it was not the title sequence). He was 10 at the time of the only airing of the song, fifty years earlier. That ought to tell you how badly it stood out.

PREVIOUS – 95: Dallas

NEXT – 93: The Simpsons

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

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I won’t subject you to the horrible lyrics, but you can find it on YouTube if you want. However, here’s the normal version:

95) A House Divided (Dallas 1978 Series)

Okay, this is a tough episode to judge. I like Dallas, but, objectively, the show was not art. It is fun, and that’s all it ever needed to be. Cue some angry PMs.

DallasCast

The main focus of the show was the Ewing family. They’re an oil money family based in, you guessed it, Dallas. The one in Texas, not the one in Georgia. The loving matriarch of the family was Miss Ellie (Barbara Bel Geddes), wife of Jock Ewing (Jim Davis), a very driven businessman who built up an oil business from nothing. They had 3 children: Bobby (Patrick Duffy), the altruistic, favorite, youngest child; Gary (Ted Shacklelford), who spent most of his time on the spin-off Knots Landing; and J.R. (Larry Hagman), the ruthless oil baron who bribed, blackmailed, or broke anyone who got in his way. J.R. is married to Sue Ellen (Linda Gray), an alcoholic who he bullies constantly and cheats on with her sister, Kristin (Mary Cosby). While the plot of the series usually relies on the rivalry between the Ewing family and the Barnes family, the build up to this episode came from all sides.

SUMMARY

DallasJREwing
Kids, this used to be imposing

For several seasons, J.R. has mistreated almost everyone he has come in contact with, and somehow managed to get away mostly unscathed. In fact, he was originally only supposed to be a supporting role, but, because America loves a scoundrel, he not only got progressively worse, but became the breakout star of the show. Still, watching him get away with everything short of outright murder made anyone with a shred of decency want to put a bullet in his smug, smiling face. Sadly, he only got shot in the gut.

DallasWhoShotJRYes, this is the famous “Who shot J.R.?” episode. After escalating his behavior for several years, someone finally decides to remove J.R. from the Earth… but the show didn’t tell you which of the 5 likely candidates it was going to be. Well, I should say which of the 5 people who had established that they either wanted or intended to kill him. By this point, almost anyone in the cast would have been completely justified in wanting him dead, if only on principle.

Why is this episode on here? Well, partially because even within the episode, J.R. getting shot was a shock. It’s literally the last scene of the season, J.R. hears a noise, steps out into the corridor, and is shot twice. That’s it. The episode closes on him groaning. We don’t know who shot him, we don’t know if he’s dead, we just know that no one was going to tell us until the next season.

DallasHouseDividedEnd

END SUMMARY

Over the Summer of 1980, people lost their damned minds on this. “Who Shot J.R.?” and “I Shot J.R.” shirts were popping up everywhere, both in the US and beyond. One of the shirts even showed up in the pilot for “Father Ted,” an Irish sitcom, years later. After President Jimmy Carter remarked that he would have no trouble financing his campaign if he knew who shot J.R., the Republican Party started manufacturing pins that said “A Democrat Shot J.R.” (This would later prove false). People were making bets on it around the world. There were official international odds (the favorite was Dusty Farlow, J.R.’s Wife’s lover, at 6 to 4). The Queen of England, Elizabeth herself, went on record of saying she was greatly intrigued by the mystery, which is the closest she gets to being Honey Boo-boo’s Mama June.

ImageNotFound
I Googled “Queen Elizabeth Mama June”

And it’s not like it was easy to figure out. In addition to the number of people shown wanting to kill J.R. in the episodes leading up to it, the writers locked the script in a vault and refused to tell anyone. They filmed multiple fake versions of the scene with every actor on the betting list, plus a few more, killing J.R., and told no one which version was real. Hell, it wasn’t sure if J.R. was going to survive, not just because of the ambiguity, but because Larry Hagman was holding out for more money. He flat-out refused to show up to film the next season until they renegotiated his contract. He ended up getting 3 times his previous salary and a percentage of the merchandising, because it’s not like they could write around it at this point. Apparently, Hagman was method.

DallasPeopleCover.pngThe conclusion to this episode, which was called “Who Done It” had a 76% share of the market. To put that in perspective, more people watched the episode than voted in the presidential election that year. Restaurants brought in televisions and advertised that people could eat and not miss the show. Heck, the Turkish Parliament shut down to watch the broadcast. Part of the hype was that a writers’ strike had delayed the debut by an additional two months. Much like Hagman, the writers knew they had the upper hand, with the fans clamoring for the reveal. Even still, the reveal wasn’t given in the first episode of the next season, it was held until the fourth.

DallasHomerBurns.jpg
It wasn’t Homer

It was so successful, other shows started doing more drastic cliffhanger season finales. Whether that’s a good thing or not is another matter, but this is what really began the trend, and, like most such things that can be abused as gimmicks, the first one was the best one. Years later, the Simpsons would parody this with “Who Shot Mr. Burns,” and that too, was successful (although, according to the producers, no one guessed the right answer to theirs, unlike Dallas). This episode was original, it was intense, it was surprising, and, since there wasn’t as much in the way of film and tv news back then, there really wasn’t a way to be sure who shot J.R., or even if J.R. would return. At the very least, this episode managed to hold the world in suspense for 8 months, and I have to respect that with a spot on this list.

PREVIOUS – 96: Frasier

NEXT – 94: Bonanza

If you want to check out some more by the Joker, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

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The Scene of Who Shot JR Here: