*LOTSA JUICY ADULT LANGUAGE FOLLOWS. So grow up or get out.
And a few spoiler mentions.
WHERE THE FUCK DO I BEGIN?!
ONE LIFE TO LIVE should be good. With a talented cast of mostly seasoned actors and promising newbies, this last-placed ABC soap is tanking in the ratings, unable to find an identity or keep a head writer.
“Think about that [payback]. That’s what gets me to sleep at night.”
–Todd to Blair, May 1, 2005
ONE LIFE TO LIVE pissed me off so much last week, I actually sat my fat ass down and wrote a list of all the fucked-up bullshit TIIC [The Idiots in Charge, and I’m being nice] have pulled out of their fucked-up bullshit asses, in place of character-driven story based on time-honored history.
After #21, Where the fuck is Starr if she’s so goddamned wonderful?, I gave up and took a nap.
Ah, fuck it. Here’s some of the list, in no particular order:
1. ANTONIO’S DEAD LIGHTS
I didn’t notice this one until Evangeline strutted into Carlotta’s Diner to check on Antonio, one day before his custody court hearing. He sat at the counter, going over notes, completely ignoring his lawyer’s plaintive hints at romantic trouble with his best friend, the cop. Evangeline did most of the talking, starting and stopping about her great-aunt’s funeral, her family’s third-degree of John, and her own doubts as to whether he’ll ever open up fully to her. But she might as well have been talking to her coffee mug. Antonio neither gave her the courtesy of a face to face or any response. He just reminded me of my best friend Jon sometimes when Jon clams up, puts on a Buddha smile, and shrugs with his entire soul.
Then, a waitress at Carlotta’s Diner gets strangled to death, it could’ve been Natalie, for a moment there, everybody thought it was Natalie. Antonio gets called back by his upset mom, and he’s SMILING THROUGH THE SCENE, putting up with these crazy people until it’s quitting time and he can escape, or something. He doesn’t comfort his mother with any feeling, he doesn’t blink at the fact that his best friend John’s in the kitchen then off to chase after a lead on the Killing Club murderer, or that his sister-in-law Natalie nearly bought the farm. He just stands there with a smile on his inscrutable face, mouthing the words, evenly, almost in a low-voiced sing-song.
At his own custody hearing the following day, May 6, Antonio still acts as if he’s picking up his dry cleaning, instead of fighting for his only daughter against his arch-enemy R.J. Again, voice barely above a whisper, far below a dull roar. Did Kamar de los Reyes hear about some online fans ripping on his huffing and puffing extremes under the Manuelito story last year, and wanted to tone it down?
If the actor is bored or fed up with his job, he might consider stepping down so that another actor, one more hungry, can do this formerly riveting role justice.
2. RENEE’S A WHORE
The former madam and queen of hypocrisy in the land of hypocritical, fucked-up soap characters practiced the questionable art of discernment at her Palace Hotel when she not-so-politely kicked out David and tried to kick out R.J. At least R.J. fought back, God love him, suggesting racism, trying to drag a black waiter into it.
Renee’s hardly on as it is. When her bitchy highness does show up, it’s to lord over the colorful (more interesting) flawed characters, lecture said flawed characters and occasionally display unprofessional, shallow tyranny in the running of a hotel that’s supposed to be open to everyone unless proven otherwise.
It’d almost be a running joke, except I can still remember a time when Renee’s whoring ass wouldn’t be able to step a stiletto onto that joint.
3. JEN’S GRAPHIC DEATH
In the same week a little boy remembers smothering his own father to death with a pillow on GENERAL HOSPITAL, a closeted gay ADA smothers the ex-girlfriend of his son to death with a plastic bag in an excruciatingly long Friday cliffhanger on OLTL.
TIIC tried to spin it off as an artistic bon voyage, soft lighting, poignant music, cuts to those who love Jen and reaching out to her. A few months ago, they even tried to spin it as a “fun” and exciting way for Jessica Morris to exit the show. Being choked to death is fun and exciting on ABC Daytime now, send in the clowns.
I just came away from that visceral scene as if I’d just narrowly escaped my own murder. Daytime, however flagging in the ratings – the lowest drop to date this past fall season – doesn’t need to sink down to HBO levels, and worse. I especially don’t need to see a murder embraced with the same exacting detail as that of love making.
4. TODD, THE PLOT DEVICE
It’s become extremely rare when I like Trevor St. John’s version of Todd. Usually, I don’t, because he takes restraint and understatement into almost bad acting; rather, not acting at all.
Half the time, St. John looks like he’d rather jam on his jazz drums at some East Village dive, than make any effort to emote, even the iota required to convey to the audience his character’s torment as a ::cough, cough:: rape victim (more on that travesty later).
St. John’s idea of throwing Todd in an emotional tailspin over what tortures Margaret put him through is to have Todd spy on Renee, make childish faces in mockery at Marcie, bellow and sputter about finding and killing Asa (yeah, like that’ll ever happen) and be mean to Ginger for no reason.
The previous Todd, Roger Howarth, showed another emotional layer underneath the gruff, impolite demeanor, always fighting for leverage. St. John – to me anyway – just mostly acts like he’s fighting the urge to yawn or vomit, acting out just for the sake of acting out, to break up the monotony and, heaven forbid, avoid acting as if he’s in a soap.
Trouble is, he doesn’t seem to be acting at all. This week, the week of May 9th, Todd’s supposed to be all torn up about Margaret having raped him in the cabin, wigging out when Blair blows his secret and running away, seeking the shelter of counseling in an unexpected source.
I don’t see it.
This Todd’s more comfortable threatening Asa as payback than dealing with his inner demons. For inner demons, a character must possess and barely contain a thrushing soul.
5. SHUT THE FUCK UP, EVANGELINE
I have never wanted Natalie to slug another woman more than I did on Friday, May 6, when Evangeline threw down the gauntlet, all the while bragging about how she has been forced to descend in the gutter which is so uncharacteristic of her. Give me a fucking break.
Five minutes earlier, Evangeline was making a big fucking deal over the possibility that Natalie had been murdered in Carlotta’s kitchen, as if she were submitting an Emmy reel, or trying to impress John with her compassion. To me, she was just showing off, adding to the noble resume in her own inflated ego.
I agree with Natalie. Evangeline wouldn’t have really cared if the Killing Club murderer succeeded in targeting his next victim, her romantic rival for John’s affections.
Evangeline is an empty shell of a pathetic waste of character, all boast, little substance, straight As and student government but soulless, heartless and gutless, she couldn’t pen a poem from the heart if she tried. She’s bullshit, pure and simple, the kind of parasite who gloms onto the next popularity contest for the latest trend to fit her expose.
Every time Evangeline opens her “butter wouldn’t melt in her” mouth to speak, it’s either to put John on trial or assert her inferiority complex.
6. NORA, YOU DUMB-ASS
Ever since Hillary B. Smith went on record (maybe she was kidding, who the fuck knows) with her opinion of Nora as a smart woman, and wishing she were more like smart Nora, she has had to eat her words, script by script.
The smart Nora Smith is so fond of pointing out in the press would never marry Daniel after merely months of dating him. She would never idly sit by while Daniel carried on his obsessive case against Jennifer for the murder of Paul.
After all Nora’s been through, losing Bo to lies, falling for a psychopath, Sam’s murder, she’d end up smarter, not dumber. And yet, there she is blithely going along with one hare-brained caper after another, simply because Daniel looks hot without a shirt on.
Don’t even think of tacking on a belated DID here. It won’t whitewash.
Part of the rush, I think, is to stick it to Bo, whom Nora never completely recovered from, which is a shame, considering Bo and Nora were over the second executive producer Jill Farren Phelps broke them up for her friend, that Kale guy who first played Sam.
I wonder if this Daniel angle prompted Nora’s Smith to seek clarity from TPTB [The Powers That Be] a few months ago, as she reported in SOAP OPERA WEEKLY…only to be reassured by the commitment of new head writer Dena Higley.
Ask for a second opinion, babe.
7. NU NAT NUTS
Here’s my guess on the Melissa Archer (Natalie) stalemate: (Keep in mind, by the time this comes out, OLTL could have a recast already in place.) She wanted more in her contract renegotiations, more outs especially. ABC Daytime, as is the reputation, balked at letting one of its talents out to play on other projects and is currently playing hardball to force Archer to cave. Archer being Archer, opted out of the contract rather than jeopardize her future as an actress of wider repute.
As I mentioned before, soaps overall have tanked, ratings dropping to levels unheard of this past fall season from previous dips. Daytime executives have already tightened budgets, cut costs, dropped vets and deadweights, eliminated most if not all location shoots, limited most of the scenes to individuals, couples and trios, as opposed to the ensembles soaps were known for in the past. ABC Daytime president B.S. Frons issued an edict of sorts, saying that the days of the lavish salaries for a select few are over. Soap actors like Julie Pinson (Billie, DAYS OF OUR LIVES) and Eileen Fulton (Lisa, AS THE WORLD TURNS) confirmed such belt tightening.
Under this stingy atmosphere of watching every penny, it’s natural for TPTB to choose ongoing story over core characters, and then, even over the fan following of a few particularly popular actors. As much as head writers and executive producers would love to keep every beloved character played with longevity and improvement by the beloved character’s portrayer, they probably can’t.
And, as much as we fans like to bitch about our soaps sucking ass, they suck ass for a reason. We keep tuning in no matter what. We no longer keep tuning in, because loyalty, nostalgia and appreciation for the genre are lost with this millennium’s attention deficit disorder for anything new, scandalous, prurient (easy and free) in passing.
With a reduced viewership, declining steadily, and in this past year, dramatically, executives often have no choice but to let the show go on in as cost-effective a manner as possible. That doesn’t lend favorably to one or two successful characters.
Still, the only cash cow OLTL has, has been the infamous Natalie/John/Evangeline triangle. To risk it, would be the height of career suicide.
It took soap newcomer Melissa Archer years to earn her place, after a few shaky starts. She finally made sense as a character, as fully fleshed out as anyone could be on a show that has yet to realize its full potential, the daughter of Viki and Clint.
To replace her with another unknown, wait years for that actress to take off, in a triangle that’s already generated heat, controversy and board buzz is tantamount to throwing in the towel. They might as well cancel already.
Let’s face it, budget cutbacks and ratings decline be damned, soaps were and should always be based on familiar characters. In order for the characters to be familiar, they must, for the most part, be played by familiar actors. Recast only with extreme caution, and for God’s sakes, never in the middle of a hot triangle.
8. MARGARET WAS RAPED, NOT TODD
When Kevin said he’d tell anybody and everybody that Margaret raped Todd, I just about spit up on myself.
For the record, in case any OLTL people are reading this: MEN DO NOT GET RAPED, WOMEN GET RAPED. The closest men come to feeling what it’s like to be a rape victim is when they are reamed up the ass by other men. A male inmate surrounded by and gang-banged against his will is raped. A prisoner dying from the effects of having cops jam a broomstick up his ass has been raped.
A psychotic woman tying a man up in bed, shooting his legs, worsening his bullet wounds, threatening his wife and kids and then drugging him with Viagra, before placing his erection into her waiting vagina does not constitute rape.
If, as spoilers indicate, Marty returns to help Todd recover as a rape victim, this analogy is even more fucked up and wrong. No way in hell did what happen to Todd equal what he did to Marty.
9. GLAAD HANDLING
But then what does one expect from a show that thinks nothing of pinning a murder, a murder nobody gives a rat shit about anymore, on a gay man? And worse, transforming a decent guy from the Love Crew into a willing philanderer?
The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation group of activists recently gave its media award for positive portrayal of gays to OLTL, for its story about Marcie’s brother Eric about to marry his boyfriend and the flack they received from Marcie’s and Eric’s homophobic father.
Reps will not comment on this recent turn of events involving gay Daniel turned serial killer until they’ve watched for themselves. Yet, I’d hazard to say some of them won’t be pleased.
Head writer Dena Higley – the same person who “God bless”ed Melissa Archer (Natalie) out of a triangle – blessed the move to suddenly blame Daniel for everything, figuring that gay or straight, fucked up is fucked up.
My main problem isn’t so much the gay reveal, as it is the half-assed, last-minute HEY, LET’S GIVE BO AND NORA ANOTHER REASON TO GET BACK TOGETHER BY SCAPEGOATING DANIEL! Shades of Flash, Tico and 90 percent of soap storytelling today. They never learn.
10. USE ‘EM OR LOSE ‘EM
These are the real supporting players who deserve stories of their own: David, Dorian, Rex, Viki, Kevin, Adriana, R.J., just for starters. They’re the darlings of fans and critics.
Yet, as every Sweeps season approaches then fades into obscurity, they’re hardly used to their full capacity and only to prop up TPTB’s darlings, and I don’t know why.
As the latest news spread of: a) Catherine Hickland’s (Lindsay) having just been taken off-contract, thereby effectively wiping out any trace of a romantic possibility for the perennial loser in love, Timothy D. Stickney’s R.J., b) casting for Viki’s love interest put on hold indefinitely, c) a spoiler indicating Dorian’s change of heart, a softening of personality but still nothing but bare bones in terms of generating her own human interest, d) two more spoilers pitting Adriana against Ginger over Duke and putting Kevin and Kelly back together by default, and e) nothing substantive regarding the Love Crew (if they want a workable post-teen set, they’ve already got ‘em), save for the Killing Club pimpfest . . . I have to wonder if I’ll ever see anything resembling story for my favorites, and if maybe I am in the minority.
What I’d kill to see, as just a sampling: Dorian and Viki forging a real friendship, Dorian saving Viki from another health setback, Dorian talking sense into Viki about one of her children, Dorian and Viki working together to save Jessica from DID, Dorian being the first to notice Jess’s DID, Kevin and Adriana, David turning out to be a Lord after all and related to Todd, David befriending Rex, Rex turning out to be related to David, Todd facing the consequences of his past actions against Marty for the first time, seeking therapy, as he’s faced with a recurrence of the gang rape, but at the opposite end, as the savior, R.J. and Nora falling in love, rekindling what they’d started but never finished, as the rest of their respective families return, including Hank and their parents, R.J. switching vocations to jazz, revealing a hidden talent…
The list of what works is much shorter, not surprisingly:
I had no idea that if I waited long enough, Bree Williamson (Jessica/Tess) would do something astonishing as an actress, winning me over, partially, to her DID. She did on May 6, during her part of the testimony, as a subpoenaed hostile witness for R.J.’s side.
After running off to the restroom to compose herself, Jessica saw Tess in the mirror for the first time, recognition and horror threatening to browbeat the young heroine. Most would assume Jess would be no match for the louder, brasher, ferocious Tess.
But it was Jess who returned to the courtroom, a tad late, to testify, shaken but not vanquished. Williamson used Jess’s (usually annoying) character traits of decency, honesty, and delicacy (to a fault) to contrast the differences with Tess.
Instead of caving to R.J.’s attorney, feeling ashamed for simply rousing in the middle of a fire Tess started, Jess calmly, quietly, barely above a whisper, explained that she had no idea what happened but she immediately went to rescue Antonio’s child and R.J.’s grandchild, Jamie, her only thought being her welfare.
Strength despite weakness.
When the attacking attorney tried to place blame on Jess for the fire risking Jamie’s life (therefore depicting her father Antonio as a risk for even letting Jess near the child), Jess merely accepted it. She helplessly admitted to her health problems and vowed that as much as it pained her to do so, she will keep her distance from Jamie, that she must from now on.
She then vouched for Antonio as a loving, wonderful, laughing father whom Jamie adored. But by then, she’d already won over the courtroom. And me. I began to care what happened to her.
It was a quiet performance that spoke more for Jessica Buchanan as a burgeoning heroine of gentle but strong principles than any third-party plot device could.
While TPTB paint Kathy Brier’s Marcie as a trembling-lipped martyr over her novel, “The Killing Club,” effectively boxing her in with the dismissive do-good-girl label, Nathaniel Marston and Melissa Archer revisit their undeniable force of nature in a new guise, as that of Michael and Natalie, reluctant acquaintances, maybe even friends.
Fans noticed this force the second Marston took over the role of Al as an unpopular recast and shortly after Archer took on the comely come lately role of Viki’s undiscovered daughter Natalie. Al and Natalie always sniped at each other, a tag team of brother and sister animosity, with an undercurrent of sexual tension bred from antagonistic familiarity.
Al died, Marston received a reprieve in John’s M.D. brother Michael, just for Kathy Brier’s Marcie – to lukewarm reviews. Not enough was done for Michael and Marcie, except after-school specials capitalizing on Marcie’s exceptional flair for causes – a smaller degree of plot device over relationship dynamics suffered by Todd and Blair.
Pretty soon, fans tired of Michael and Marcie, Michael’s stalwart stoicism, Marcie’s loudmouthed whining and grating lectures on morality.
TPTB thought up stupid obstacles for the couple to overcome, instead of letting the two work out their conflicts through personality, communication, meaningful human contact.
Then, hurricane Natalie trampled over Michael to flirt openly with John, and that initial fire flamed up again.
In one of the first real scenes between Michael and Nat, at Carlotta’s Diner, over French fries and mustard, the actors, the writers and the strange but wonderful unconscious instincts of serendipity and happenstance worked to grab my waning interest. The slice of life, as Michael recoiled at Nat’s casual fry appropriating and mustard dipping, then tried it out for himself after she left – characters are forged through such background antics – is the answer to OLTl’s dreams as a soap contender. There’s always more going on underneath the surface, informing characters through their idiosyncrasies, without verbosity and grandstanding taking over.
I see no mention of a romance in Natalie and Michael’s future, not even a triangle. With Melissa Archer telling some fans she’s really leaving for good within weeks, this major opportunity will die a whimpering death.
Like my attention if TPTB don’t pay attention to my lists.