Skip Bolen

Break out the bourbon and branch. On Dallas, they've come to bury J.R. Ewing, not necessarily to praise "the most infuriating, charming scoundrel I think I've ever known," as his most famous and long-suffering ex-spouse, Sue Ellen, describes the iconic oilman. "It's enough to drive a girl to drink," she jokes. Though it may not be entirely a joke.

For the TNT reboot of the '80s phenom, it's certainly no joke when it comes to paying respects to the legendary character and actor (Larry Hagman), both of whom would likely be tickled to know what a hornet's nest of intrigue J.R.'s untimely death stirs up. This pivotal and more-memorable-than-most episode (Monday, 9/8c) brings out the best in Hagman's longtime compatriots: Linda Gray's Sue Ellen, whose eulogy achieves a soap-operatic high, a great payoff for the legions who were obsessed with their antics back in the day; and Patrick Duffy, delivering unexpected eruptions of simmering anger and steely resolve through his grieving as white-sheep brother Bobby. "Things with J.R. were almost never as they appeared to be," Bobby remarks soon after they get the bad news, and that sentiment seems to apply to the mysterious circumstances surrounding J.R.'s apparently random (though we know it isn't) murder.

The aftermath isn't likely to generate the level of obsessive buzz that captivated the TV world during the "Who Shot J.R.?" frenzy of 1980. But a handful of reveals from beyond the grave promises to send the show into more interesting directions than we've witnessed lately, and for that, we can thank J.R. one last time. "Let's face it. He was as bad as they come, but he was as hot as hell," chirps another of J.R.'s former conquests, ex-wife Cally (Cathy Podewell), at his memorial. She's one of many familiar figures from Dallas' heyday to appear as a reminder of when this show was really something. With J.R. gone, Dallas has mighty big boots (and hat) to fill, and so far, the younger generation of Ewings has a long way to go to measure up to this legacy. Even so, the nostalgic vibes set off by this funeral for a TV titan make this a must-see event.

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HOPING FOR HAPPY ENDINGS: Following last week's tremendously effective all-American Sign Language episode, ABC Family's Switched at Birth presents its midseason finale (8/7c), with turning points for a number of characters, including the students of Carlton School for the Deaf, who'll find out if their rally to keep the campus from closing has paid off. ... The look for love is over on ABC's The Bachelor (8/7c), as Sean chooses between Catherine and Lindsay, and before the petals even settle, ABC will announce the identity of the next "Bachelorette" during the After the Final Rose recap special that follows (10:01/9:01c).

DAYTIME DRAMA: In the wake of her brain-cancer diagnosis, beloved sitcom star Valerie Harper (Rhoda) is taking to TV to reassure her fans that for as long as she's got, she's going to "live each moment fully," she tells Savannah Guthrie in an interview on NBC's Today. "What I'm saying is keep your consciousness, your thoughts open to infinite possibility and keep yourself open to miracles." She's also scheduled to appear on the syndicated The Doctors (check tvguide.com listings) and later this week on CBS' The Talk. ... On ABC's The View (11 am/10c), Joy Behar will discuss her decision to walk away from the celebrated round-table at the end of the season, leaving Barbara Walters as the last remaining original member of the team. Whether the fate of Elizabeth Hasselbeck will be addressed remains to be seen.

THE MONDAY GUIDE: Fresh from his triumph hosting Saturday Night Live this weekend, Justin Timberlake settles in for a full week of musical appearances on NBC's Late Night With Jimmy Fallon (12:35 am/11:35c). He'll chat with the host tonight and Friday, and if we're lucky, maybe they'll collaborate on some comedy along the way. ... The laughs (intentional anyway) are few and far between on Fox's The Following (9/8c), as the diabolical Joe Carroll (James Purefoy) has managed to foil the feds again, escaping from prison and reuniting with what looks like a convention of his biggest, deadliest fans. We'll see what kind of game-changer this turns out to be. ... Don't get your hopes up that Reelz' Ring of Fire (8/7c, concludes Tuesday) is a new Johnny Cash biopic. It's just another cheesy example of the sort of disaster-of-the-week miniseries that helped kill the genre. This one's about apocalyptic volcanic eruptions, starring Michael Vartan as the hero, a scientist who must also contend with a nagging aneurysm (could be a headache brought on from reading the lousy script). ... Weirdly, Vartan's co-star Lauren Lee Smith (formerly of CSI) also appears in Encore's two-part Hindenberg: The Last Flight (8/7c), as the daughter of villainous Stacy Keach in a German-produced docudrama about the ill-fated airship. ... The Oscar-nominated documentary short Kings Point, airing on HBO (9/8c), is like the flip side of The Golden Girls. It's a searingly candid, sometimes funny and often poignant look at a retirement resort in Delray Beach, Florida, where the longtime residents (many refugees from the Northeast cold) cope with loss, aging, the possibility of making new friends or finding a late-in-life love connection, while one realist insists repeatedly, "Self-preservation is No. 1, always."

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