"Knots Landing," the offspring of but not the heir apparent to "Dallas," wastes no time in getting down to disaster.In the opening scene we see a Daddy coming home in the afternoon. Everyone knows that nothing good happens to Daddies who come home unannounced in the middle of the afternoon.
In this show (who knows what may happen in future episodes if the show's a hit) his estranged daughter from a first marriage is frolicking in the bedroom with what appears to be a male person. And "Knots Landing," premiering tonight on Channel 9 at 10, is off to an appropriately soap-opera start: sex (daughter in bedroom) and violence (angry father).
The apparent premise of this new prime-time soap opera is that the long-lost Ewing brother, Gary, has been found and sent to Southern California after a booze-filled 17-year disappearance to start afresh with his former child bride whom he has remarried. The real premise of the series is that the creator, David Jacobs, who discovered the gold mine that is "Dallas," is getting a big pat on the head for that show in the form of this new show, which was rejected by the network before.
Anyway, poor Gary and Valene Ewing end up in this expensive subdivision in California. Surely this is the worst punishment that any prodigal son every received. Not only is the house located in a cul-de-sac but it is surrounded by homes occupied by nosy and obnoxious neighbors whose various foibles hint at plots to come.
"How can anything be right here?" says Valene, surveying the vast driveways and green lawn after an introductory evening with the new neighbors. She should have known right away -- anyplace where the neighbors are falling all over each other to ask the new couple on the block over for dinner their very first night has got to be full of weirdos.
There's short, lecherous lawyer, a trendoid record company executive who seduces the daughter who was fooling around with someone else in the first scene (or was it he?), the shrill step-mother, and two blond wives who smile a lot.
The problem with "Knots Landing" is that while "Dallas" succeeds as soap opera because the characters are larger than life, these characters are caricatures of life. There's romance in a ranch; there isn't much in a subdivision.
The actors who play California Ewings, Ted Shackelford and Joan Van Ark, lack the simple, identifying characteristics of their Texas relatives (J. R. equals bad, Bobby equals good) that help "Dallas" make it. They are physically and emotionally pale, although Van Ark, a Joan Kennedy look-alike, shows promise. She wears these girlish dresses with little lace collars and puffy sleeves, and just a hint of a possible future Ewing under the skirt. Maybe they haven't decided whether to go the expense of hiring a baby actor yet.
In this opening episode, Don Murray as the early Daddy is the only one allowed to do any real acting, and he does it well. Although he has an annoying habit of working on his car every time he has a problem, Murray is able to make him seem like a real person, which in this neighborhood is quite an accomplishment.