2004-A Retrospective Of Everybody Else’s Best & Worst
I hate following the crowd. But honestly, I don’t know what else to talk about right about now (because I’m away on a nearly two-month trip as you read this) other than what I’ve BEEN talking about, or what the shows have been featuring for months on end.
In the weeks to follow, I’ll try something different and focus on specific characters who’ve mostly annoyed the enjoyment out of me – characters a lot of fans adore on the level of blind worship.
For this week, however, it’s a look back on the past 12 months of soaps from someone who cannot remember where she put her cell phone five minutes ago, or why she walked into the kitchen seconds before.
Ha, ha. Who says God doesn’t have a sense of humor?
(Outline borrowed from the December 21st issue of SOAP OPERA DIGEST, “The Best & Worst Of 2004”)
AMC – When I read that Megan McTavish, nicknamed “The Destroyer” would head-write AMC a second time (if it’s a third or a fourth, don’t bother writing to correct me, get the gist, fartknocker), I figured the failing show Agnes Nixon tried so hard to enliven with social issues was doomed to utter failure.
McTavish has a tendency to dumb down the dialogue, use common, trendy euphemisms, instead of letting the original characters write their own story (for a stunning example of immediate gratification on this score, check out OLTL from two weeks ago when new head writer Dena Higley took over).
And yet, and yet, her writing helped catapult AMC higher in the ratings – a feat that had not been done in dare I say, decades – tie, then defeat GH in the youth demo one recent week. She risked ridicule to push forward with the baby-switching story, more successfully accomplished on the more-cohesive AMC than schizophrenic OLTL, that – while frustrating viewers to wrap it up already – got more bottoms on the edge of more seats.
She involved more of the cast in two major social issues, the rape of a beloved character and the baby-napping of two young mothers. In these stories, practically the entire town cared what happened, moment by moment, beat by beat. It was rare indeed to see any clique of any sort forming, the way cliques routinely do on GH.
Most miraculously, McTavish almost hypnotized me into rooting for Bianca. Almost.
With the head writer honoring most of the basic, time-tested precepts of soap storytelling 101, I think I can deal with the high school riffs and the simplistic climaxes the former “Destroyer” reverts to now and again.
SOD editors voted AMC as the most improved show because “the show feels ... well, like itself again: rich in history, rich in family, rich in emotion.” Can’t argue with that.
OLTL – Here’s a clear case of a former head writer returning to the soap that he once gave so much Emmy-winning glory to, then proceeding to tank it systematically with disorganized, last-minute additions having little to nothing to do with the actual show’s personality whatsoever.
Head writer Michael Malone re-joined the soap with Josh Griffith at the helm, at first, then for some mysterious reason, Griffith abdicated the throne, then left entirely (I think wanting to be with family more on the West Coast was mentioned). For that same mysterious reason, OLTL floundered in what should’ve been dead-last place in the ratings for hiring horrendous recasts (Heather Tom/Nu Kelly and Bree Williamson/Nu Jess, as two big examples), changing plot points as the writers went along, without thinking story arcs through – and it showed in the dismal failures of several murder mysteries and the one disastrous introduction of Tico Santi as the ineffectual, emasculated mob boss wannabe, hampering brilliant leading players with cartoonish, repetitious, boring childish antics (Todd and Blair punking Asa, the Love Shack, the afterschool special that Marcie has become), focusing too much on promising newcomers without integrating them into the community of already beloved mainstays, neglecting said beloved mainstays or misusing them as sounding boards... the list goes on.
Fans came away from watching OLTL with an uneasy feeling of discontent, dissatisfaction, and disgust, as any glimpse at the message boards would tell. Even I, at one point, toward the end of Malone’s tenure, considered a break.
I couldn’t believe this was the same successfully published author who transformed the sleepy, peaceful town of Llanview into a hotbed of controversy and painful revelation only a decade ago when Todd raped Marty, Andrew made peace with his homophobic father, Antonio made an intense impact for the cause of diversity, and Nora was actually easy on the gag reflex... reduced to forcing a staring, pouting Jessica, a sour, whining Kelly, etc. etc. down our throats.
For the Santis alone, heads should roll. SOD editors wrote that the introduction of this mob story introduced every single drawback a soap could have: “filling a screen with newbies, ignoring the vets, telling a boring, clichéd story and rewriting history in a way that doesn’t make sense.”
MOST ANNOYING CHARACTER
Emily Bowen Quartermaine Cassadine on GH, as played by Natalia Livingston – Good Lord, was this a toughie. I had a vast array of annoying characters to choose from (not all of them female). On AMC, there’s Bianca, Jamie, JR, Krystal, Tad, Tad, and more Tad, a little Kendall, Ryan and Greenlee. On OLTL, Jessica and Kelly, Nora and Evangeline, Starr on a Todd bender, Tico and Paul. On GH, Emily barely made it past Sam, Carly, Courtney (her my way or the highway playing hard to get with Jax has worked my last nerve).
Alas, in the final tally, nobody could hold a thousand red candles to Huff ‘n Puff Emily. When she’s good, she’s a phony hypocrite. When she’s bad, she’s scary to behold.
I’ve never been much of a fan of drab, cloying, popularity-chasing Emily, no matter who played her. Under Amber Tamblyn, who could act under the worst of circumstances, Emily came off as a snotty know-it-all, too busy licking the boots off Brenda and Jason to notice the hurting A.J. Under Natalia Livingston, who couldn’t act if A.J.’s Billy Warlock were giving on-the-spot lessons, Emily is a pathetic excuse of a human being, soulless, guileless, spotless in her pursuit of the ultimate happiness, completion, Nirvana – attaching herself like a parasite to Prince Nikolas.
This Emily – just voted the most hated in an informal poll on SoapZone – has given up family and friends, morals and ethics, compassion and introspection in pursuit of true moaning.
But most unforgivable, has done so in the unbearable likeness of a panting, gulping, chuckling shrew that everyone on-screen only sees as a dainty, fragile, devoted goddess of feminine perfection and that every eligible man can’t help but fall for.
CHARACTER I WANT BY MY SIDE AT ANY SOIREE
David Vickers from OLTL – Tuc Watkins is a rare gem. When I first saw him trying to put one over on Viki, posing as her long-lost brother Todd, I knew he wouldn’t last long in soaps... not because he sucked, but because he glowed in that kind of way the mainstream entertainment industry would be stupid to pass up. Because it has to some extent, Watkins is back in a more long-term role.
As with several other gems on this show, John-Paul Lavoisier (Rex) comes to mind immediately, Watkins’ David better soon be put to good use or TPTB deserve a spanking. I get the feeling he may be gone if things keep up the way they’ve been for the past lackluster year.
Watkins is the kind of guy that has to be used and used often, in a supporting capacity and in a story of his own. I am not too proud to beg for such a story to center around him and build outward, connect the dots and really do have him related to the Buchanans/Lords in some major way.
He’s one of the few people I will drop the dishes, the laundry, my vibrator for.
And that’s the highest compliment I could give.
Carolyn Hinsey, SOD’s “It’s Only My Opinion,” offline – Here’s my litmus test for whether any columnist is worth her hate mail: If I still love reading her opinions even if they’re diametrically opposed to my own, especially if they’re divergent, then she has me as a fan for life. Also, if I start going over to her side despite myself, because of her outstanding arguments. A good writer will sway me. A great writer will have me thinking beyond my comfort zone for weeks thereafter. And a brilliant writer like Ms. Hinsey will leave me marveling at the effortless, efficient, effective manner in which she communicates the complex, the trivial and the common – a frequent habit in soap writing.
Cynical Kate Brown, EOS columnist of “A Cynic Soaps Up” and “AMC Spoilers With Commentary,” online – A lot of columnists, including myself, fall back on the bragging position when at a loss for words, or to assert our power over viewers. We’re like, “Hey, I’m better than you, because I have a byline, and here’s all the great things I’ve done instead of this stupid freebie soap gig.” Well, maybe not the last part for me, but still, it’s kinda obvious that these kinds of columnists are there simply to amass another line on their considerable resumes and let you know that you’re wasting their time bothering with soaps when you should be outside smelling the roses and making society a better place to live.
Kate Brown doesn’t do that. She’s one of the rare writers out there who could (and should, as far as I’m concerned; I’ll read her reading the alphabet) get away with it. If you haven’t noticed how clever she is, how very interested she sounds about the very subject she’s covered on a weekly basis for EOS, then I give up.
Just reading her spoilers with commentaries gets me revved up about soap operas all over again, the way I used to be in high school back in the ‘80s.
She has a command of the language that goes over the heads of most typical soap fans, me too sometimes, and yet contains a welcoming sense of inclusion, like we’re all accepted in this wacky community, sharing the popcorn, cracking the jokes and waiting for her next observation, so wittily, understatedly made, virtual arms around us.
I wish I could write even 1/10th as provocatively as her, equal parts history, motivation and biting sarcastic commentary. But more than that, I wish I could be one of her students in an ivy-league university somewhere on the East Coast, 18 again, learning to rediscover the unique individual woman that’s just waiting to burst forth to change the world.
And thus ends my dabble on the retrospective side. I could’ve gone on to disclose other categories: MOST DISTRACTING TIDBIT READ IN AN INTERVIEW KEEPING ME FROM PAYING ATTENTION TO THE SCENE (Shaun Benson’s/Steven-GH admission that he doesn’t wash his hair everyday), HOOTERS I CAN’T HELP BUT PRAY TO GOD WOULD MAKE THEMSELVES KNOWN INADVERTENTLY THROUGH A COSTUME DEPARTMENT SLIP-UP (Melissa Archer’s when Natalie sprung upright in bed with Cristian on OLTL has got to be one of the sproing-worthy surprises of the year 2004), SOAP MOMENT WHERE I ALMOST CONTEMPLATED SMASHING THE TV INTO PIECES WITH A SLEDGEHAMMER (a tie between Carly going off on Alexis in the hospital following the successful stem cell infusion on GH and Jessica mouthing off to John after ruining his investigation of Steven Haver on OLTL), THE PART WHERE I ALMOST VOMITED, AND I’M NOT KIDDING FOR CREATIVE EFFECT EITHER (OLTL’s Tico macking out on Jessica on their honeymoon), THE TIME I NEARLY QUESTIONED WHY I’M WRITING A SOAP COLUMN FOR FREE IN THE FIRST PLACE (no comment except to say, I love you, Tolan)...
Next week, the week of January 3, 2005, I’ll start character profiles, one at a time, starting with AMC’s Bianca, through OLTL’s Nora and on and on. Unless I actually manage to sneak in enough soap viewing to make writing about all three soaps worth my while. If not, I’ll return to all three when I return, February 22 or thereabouts.