They’re still saying goodbye to Larry Hagman and his beloved TV alter ego, J.R. Ewing, on Dallas.The third season of the popular prime-time soap — or Season 17, if you choose to tally things the way Patrick Duffy does — premieres at 8 p.m. Monday on TNT and opens with Bobby Ewing, Duffy’s character, engaged in a heartfelt, one-way conversation with the gravestone of his brother J.R.The season opener also includes a scene in the offices of Ewing Global, where a painting of J.R., that “human oil slick” of a Texas businessman, watches over the proceedings, presumably amused by all the backstabbing, two-timing and double-crossing that still goes on without him.“He is too iconic to just let go,” Duffy says of Hagman, who died in November 2012, midway through production of the second season. “It’s our way of honoring one of the greatest people in my life and certainly one of the greatest television characters that ever was. I think he’ll be present in some way or another for as long as the show continues to be on the air.”That said, the new season of Dallas also makes a point of moving forward quickly, launching new storylines and introducing new characters. And look at what J.R. left behind: a whole nest of snakes, every one of them poised to strike. There isn’t a good guy to be found in these parts anymore — only liars, cheats and thieves who believe they’re entitled to have everything go their way.Even Bobby, always the white-hat yin to J.R.’s black-hat yang, has taken a page from his brother’s playbook of dirty tricks. In last year’s finale, remember, Bobby and his family framed longtime Ewing adversary Cliff Barnes for murdering J.R. and then found great satisfaction in stealing Cliff’s business.Now it’s certainly true that Cliff (Ken Kercheval, who plays every scene with scenery-chewing, Ewing-hating mania) deserves everything bad that’s coming to him. His attempt to sabotage a Ewing oil rig led to the deaths of Pamela and Christopher’s unborn twins, after all. But drumming up false charges to put a man behind bars isn’t the Bobby Ewing way.Or wasn’t.Much of the new season will involve the fallout from those fireworks.“It seems as if everybody crossed over to the dark side this season — and some people are going to reside there longer than others,” Duffy says during a break from directing a pivotal Episode 11. “But I have a feeling that, once the script gets resolved for this season, some of us, especially Bobby, will want to atone and divest ourselves of our recent misdeeds.”For the time being, though, it’s a tangle of crosses, double-crosses and triple-crosses.A quick recap:Following the death of his father, John Ross III (Josh Henderson) is determined to prove he can be just as powerful an ally, just as dangerous an enemy and just as shameless a womanizer.John Ross’ mother, Sue Ellen (Linda Gray), is so consumed with worry that it’s driving her back to the demon drink.Bobby’s adopted son Christopher (Jesse Metcalfe) is still set on making a name for himself, but he continues to reel after his engagement to Elena Ramos (Jordana Brewster) fell through.Elena, having recently learned that the Ewings cheated her father out of a fortune years ago, has secretly partnered with Cliff in a plot to destroy the family from the inside.And Pamela (Julie Gonzalo) is trying to find a happy ending with her new husband, John Ross, even though it doesn’t look very promising, given that he’s sleeping with the girl right across the hall at Southfork, Emma (Emma Bell).“This year has been so much fun,” says Gray, who was a member of the cast with Hagman and Duffy in 1978 when the original Dallas began its 14-season run on CBS. “We get new scripts every week and we are shocked and amazed at how the writers keep coming up with all these wild twists and turns.”One would think, after all these years, Gray would have learned to expect the unexpected.“But I still find myself being surprised,” she admits. “I still find myself saying, ‘Wow, I never saw THAT coming!’ ”When the show was revived in 2012 after a two-decade “hiatus,” Hagman said the goal was to make a show that doesn’t feel like a remake, a reboot or a reunion. The goal was a show that feels like it never left the airwaves, with 20 seasons of “lost” episodes about rich people doing bad things.Mission accomplished. The new Dallas is the same, but different. It’s different, yet the same.Duffy says he’d like to see some of the lost episodes that Hagman fantasized about. Many of those plots, he reasons, would have been doozies.“As soon as I find out where those missing episodes are,” he jokes, “I’m going to demand to be paid for them!”
J.R. Ewing didn’t hold the monopoly on shady business deals and bad behavior on Dallas. Here are a few of the show’s other memorable villains from past and present:
Cliff Barnes (played by Ken Kercheval, 1978-1991 and 2012-14): The success of the Ewing family has been a burr in Cliff’s saddle for decades. Jock, J.R.’s daddy, wronged Cliff’s dad in a business deal. Cliff has dedicated his life to settling the score, yet never seems to wind up on top.
Katherine Wentworth (Morgan Brittany, 1981-1984): Cliff’s wacko half-sister fell in love with Bobby; when he rejected her, she repeatedly tried to kill him so no one else could have him.
Jeremy Wendell (William Smithers, 1981-1988): J.R.’s rival oil baron hated the Ewings and started a range war against them. J.R., repulsed by his tactics, once called Wendell “the scum of the earth.”
Angelica Nero (Barbara Carrera, 1985-86): During the Bobby-less season that turned out to be “just a dream,“ this flamboyant Greek shipping magnate plotted to blow up J.R. and his cousin Jack Ewing.
Harris Ryland (Mitch Pileggi, 2012-2014): The head of Ryland Transport, a front for drug smuggling, Harris always seems to find great glee in tormenting his ex-wife, Ann Ewing, Bobby’s current wife. Kidnapping, blackmail and money laundering are all part of his repertoire.
Judith Ryland (Judith Light, 2013-2014): Harris’ creepily controlling mother was last seen being carted away to a rehab facility, but she’s back this season to stir the pot with a ruthless power grab.
— David Martindale
• 8 p.m. Monday
To watch an extended trailer of Season 3, visit star-telegram.com/living. Click or swipe through a gallery of the show’s most infamous villains online or on your tablet or smartphone.