January 19, 2004

Soaps can be murder to watch during a murder mystery. Not because I don’t love murder mysteries because I do. Started as a child with Trixie Belden and Cherry Ames. Soon moved on to the Agatha Christie stories. Flying on business I could devour 3-4 mysteries between NYC and LA. Dorothy Simpson, Ruth Rendell, Patricia Highsmith, Sujata Massey, Robert Parker, and the incredible Sharon McCrumb were my traveling companions. In a few hundred pages they could transport me somewhere else, be it London, Tokyo or the Appalachians, take me into the lives of victims, murderers and law enforcement, while maybe teaching me something along the way, be it ikebana, forensic techniques, or a really good pasta sauce. 

Most importantly these authors, along with many others, know to tell a complex story logically in a discrete amount of time/pages. That is where soaps fall short. The mystery always starts out well and then quite often falters and drags and loops around and stumbles ad nauseum until the viewers just want the story to end dammit. 

Of course some murder stories never end. Want to make a GH fan chortle? Just ask,  “Who murdered Ida?”  Ask a dozen OLTL fans who really murdered Mitch and you are likely to get a dozen different answers. (As well a few responses stating that Mitch did not really die, because in Llanview everyone has several lives to live.) 

A murder trial begins this week on AMC. The victim was the loathsome Michael Cambias. Found frozen on a meathook, few would argue that Michael did not deserve exactly what he got. The problem is Michael got his just “frozen”dessert six months ago. Like most soap murders the story started out strong. Everyone in Pine Valley had a motive but few had an alibi. Alliances were formed. Old lovers Erica and David “reunited” to give each other an alibi. Kendall and Boyd flew off to Vegas for a faux Michael/Kendall wedding.  Reggie protected Bianca while Bianca secretly disposed of his gun. It appeared that we were heading in the delightful direction of an homage to Murder on the Orient Express.   

Unfortunately now it is beginning to feel like we are stuck in the Proteus swamp once again. Just like the Proteus horror, the Cambias murder mystery has developed the feeling of being made up as it goes along. Boyd, once a key player in all this, disappeared off the canvas for months. Kendall is faking a pregnancy because somehow the fact that she had sex with her “husband” will prove she did not murder him. The sense of that as a defense eludes me. And the Pine Police resemble Clouseau more than Poirot.  Of course, the biggest insult to this viewer is that Babe “hot-to-trot” Chandler knows what Erica did the night Michael was off’ed and I don’t.  

From this viewer’s perspective the only good thing to come out of all this has been the Adam/Palmer scenes. They stand out like real diamonds in display case of cubic zirconium.  

Who killed Michael? At this point I do not care. Just wrap it up, it’s starting to stink up the joint. 

Over on OLTL, characters are living in fear of the Music Box Killer. This viewer’s fear? That this story will never end.  

As I said, I enjoy a good mystery, but this is not one of those.  

It unfortunately reminds me of when Viki had cancer. Lip service was paid to it being another Emmy level story for Erika Slezak. When in truth, it was merely a plot device to introduce the McIvers to the canvas.  The MBK story is not a finely crafted story but a plot created to put John McBain at the center of OLTL. I have nothing against Michael Easton. I think he is doing a fine job. And maybe this could have been a wonderful story. A wonderful story if the serial killer entered the scene when all of Llanview was in a happy place. Instead Llanview feels like the character Job and the MBK is just one more awful thing for its citizens to bear.  

It could also have been a wonderful story if TPTB had not gotten the idea to use it to terminate expensive talent contracts. I am not a fan of Rae’s, but she was on so seldom, couldn’t she have just faded away? Or reunited with her boytoy John and moved to SF? (This is based on the rumors that Rae is a MBK victim.) 

The most egregious thing of course was having the MBK kill Gabrielle. In a public ladies room. Wasn’t it enough that her son was dead? Wasn’t it enough that she was in love with the very dense Bo Buchanan?  To add insult to injury, did she have to die with her head next to the toilet, too?  

And then of course the teasing us by pretending that the MBK was going to kill Jen and Flash. That was cruel. Totally cruel. 

The problem is that once they changed the victim list, they had to start rewriting scenes. And once you do that, all story momentum is lost. And there goes the fun. The suspense. And viewers are back to just wanting it to end. 

Recently I experienced an anomaly in mystery soap stories. Regrettably it was not on an ABC soap, it was on ATWT. For the past few years I have been dropping in on ATWT a few times a month just to check out the “competition.”  

Since Rose died, however, I have been tuning in every day. Rose, a fairly major character, died less than two months ago and we already know who killed her. And next week, the Oakdale police will know, too. It was not just the great acting, edgy editing, and good writing that made this a good mystery-it was that it was wrapped up quickly. Quickly while we still missed Rose. Quickly while the people in Oakdale who loved her are still mourning her death. Quickly before the viewers became so bored that just wanted it to be over. 

And a quick resolution does not mean a murder mystery is over, done with, forgotten, let’s move on. The fact that Rose’s murderer was her fiancé’s much younger brother will have repercussions. The anger, the guilt, the blame will haunt the characters for years. 

It was a job and a murder well done. 

Now does ATWT have better actors than AMC and OLTL? Do they have better writers? Is there talent pool bigger? Absolutely not. 

But ATWT was able to tell a cohesive emotional and suspenseful story. That is something the ABC soaps recently seem to have just beyond their grasp.

 And why is that? Perhaps that is the biggest mystery of all.

A Cynic Soaps Up - Old Pete Cooney Has a Plan

A Cynic Soaps Up - OLTL - August 17, 2003

A Cynic Soaps Up - AMC - August 4, 2003

A Cynic Soaps Up - AMC - June 9, 2003

Kate's Emmy Wrap Up

AMC Spoilers and Commentary by Kate Brown

OLTL Archives For A Cynic Soaps Up

AMC Archives For A Cynic Soaps Up

Bubbly background by Gabjele