October 18, 2004

Yearning for Gray Areas… 

Every week, as I watch the soaps, I take notes.  For years now, since I began writing for Eye on Soaps, it has been my way of making sure I catch those “in the moment” reactions so that when I get the time to formulate a column, I can retrieve them.  Usually it takes only a few key words that I know will draw my memory back to what I was thinking while I watched a particular scene.  I count on those notes, particularly when I’m far behind on writing a column (as now) because I want to make sure that I don’t forget to mention the comical, dumb, and even the occasional brilliant, moment.  It’s been almost a month since I managed to produce a column.  I’ve been busy, no doubt, and time definitely plays a part.  The main problem though, has been that every time I sit down and decree that I’m going to write (and believe me, I’ve done that at least once a week), absolutely nothing comes to me.  I’m prone to a bit of writer’s block from time to time, but usually I’m jolted out of it one way or another by something that happens on the show.  Something happens to give me hope or spark that old familiar excitement and I can’t wait to talk about it.  Something happens to totally irritate the heck out of me, and nothing is going to stop me from calling someone on the carpet for it.  But over the last month…neither has happened.  I sit down at the computer, I glance at my notes, I type the date at the top, and I glance again at my notes.  I fidget a bit, check my email, and focus again on the notes.  I read:  “Jason won’t take it?”  I stare at that a minute, and verify that yes, it’s in my handwriting.  Why doesn’t it mean anything to me?  Honestly, in all my time writing, it’s pretty rare for my notes to make me remember exactly nothing.  (And seriously, a prize to whomever can make me remember what that particular phrase above was about because it’s driving me nuts!)  There’s something about Alan and Monica on here…one would think that wouldn’t be that hard to remember since it’s not like they’re on very damn often.  “Court – plastic bat”!  I actually remember that, but am now wondering why I bothered.  “Sonny in middle of teen story?”  Oh yeah, I recall writing that.  Wondering why the heck he had to be the one to break up the teen brawl.  But, I just wrote about Emily doing that so who really wants to write it all again?  Just go back to last time and take substitute “Sonny” for “Emily” and we’ll call it done.  “Ditto Ned”?  Uh…I have no idea what that one means either.   

Looking back, I can honestly say that I don’t personally recall this level of apathy for such a long period of time.  I recall being so angry I stopped watching.  I recall being so bored that making fun of GH became much more entertaining than watching GH.  I recall message boards that reveled in the idiocy ( Endgame, or as I prefer, “Stavros and Crap”), laughed until they cried over the lunacy (Angel’s white outfits, Felicia in fuzzy handcuffs), and ranted until friendships were ruined over whether AJ deserved to be in Michael’s life.  Now?  Now message boards erupt in excitement over spoilers on occasion, but that’s about it.  How can I be watching this show every day and find absolutely nothing worth discussing?  I think I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating.  Apathy is the absolute kiss of death for soaps.  Time’s just about up and somebody seriously better sit up and take notice of all the blank faces staring back at them and at General Hospital.  They should also note that even when flickers of emotion or recognition cross those faces, it’s usually fleeting.  Friday’s cliffhanger, for example, was decent.  Sonny hugging a quiet (thank God!) Michael while Alexis hugged little Kristina.  Slow motion shooting scene where a beloved (by someone, I’m sure) character might be breathing her last breath while loved ones look on in fear.  For a moment there, I was caught up.  Scenes (uh, exactly) like that have worked quite effectively before.  Problem is you have to have a deep story and viewer involvement to back them up.  GH viewers have been flat out told, one too many times, that moments just like this will “change Port Charles forever”.  That’s a threat they should really stop making since we’ve all been around for the last few years; we’ve *seen* the changes, and they haven’t been positive.  We’re used to being told who’s right, who’s wrong, who’s good, who’s bad, who’s worthwhile and who’s not.  There’s no in-between.  There are no choices to be made.  So many viewers have detached themselves from this show, even while still loyally viewing, and unfortunately it takes a lot to gain back a viewer’s trust.   

I’ve seriously contemplated the “Why are you still watching?” question lately.  I hear it from time to time (Imagine that?  People think I bitch a bit too much to be a true fan!) and usually I choose the “I’ve been watching it longer than these idiots have been writing it.” type answer.  Some days though, I start to wonder if it’s worth it.  Somehow, I think it’s easier to choose to hang in there and hope for change when I’m actually moved one way or another.  When I see tinges of something great, or when I’m downright livid at what’s happening to my show.  As apathy sets in though, I sometimes feel as though there is no real justification for spending substantial time on General Hospital.   

Something in me fights that logic dictates I just give it up.  I’ve no idea why; probably it’s just plain stubbornness.  I definitely have a thing for being comfortable with things.  Change doesn’t suit me whatsoever.  I’ve started watching As the World Turns on CBS, and I quite enjoy it.  I’m in the honeymoon phase, and for the most part I’ve few complaints about it.  I realize that will change, and truth be told I already do fast-forward a few things (I like Lucy and Dusty, but I don’t care about this boxing crap, for example) on occasion, but at the moment there’s no comparison to GH.  I’m excited to watch ATWT!  I literally can’t wait to get time to view my tapes.  That hasn’t happened with GH in quite a long time.  It begs the question though, is it just because I have no attachment to this new place and these new people?  There is no opportunity for me to pick anyone apart…I know nothing of their pasts.  I’ve no idea if this actress is ruining a character a previous actress made perfect.  I just know that Molly was annoying (and the actress less than stellar) when I started watching her.  I just know that I’m not so sure I think that the chick that plays Nikki is much of an actress either.  I just know I want Tom and Margo to call it even and be together.  There is absolutely zero baggage.  There are only opinions to be formed all around, and with no stipulations.  I realize that coming from GH, the land of the walking dead, even a crypt would probably seem cheery, but darn, ATWT has bright sets and bright clothing.  Sometimes people even wear normal looking clothes and I find that endearing, though please, for the love of God Carly, take off the plaid.  The crazy people actually spend more than two minutes in the mental ward!  The characters that do something wrong, actually *seem* to pay – at least as much as soaps allow for it.  Watching an entire town let someone know that there are other options and that “protecting my family” is NOT a get out of jail free card every time is so foreign to me, and so utterly welcome.   

Probably, a lot of it is because I have no history to have ruined here, and I’ve talked plenty in past columns about what I think GH has done to its history.  Part of it though, is plain and simple storytelling.  The week I started watching ATWT, I saw things I hadn’t seen in awhile.  Two mature females were facing up to immature moves on both of their parts.  One had taken part in an affair with another man and was probably pregnant with his child.  She feared her husband, by all accounts, a good man, finding out – she didn’t want to lose him.  The other had engaged in unacceptable behavior, short of an affair, with the same man and was now being accused of being the one that had the actual affair, accused by her husband.  Denying it meant admitting the indiscretion she did commit, and it meant possibly ruining her best friend’s marriage by telling him who had really done the deed.  Sound complicated?  It is, gloriously so.  A married couple was dealing with the fact that they’ve grown apart and are teetering on the brink of disaster.  They talked about it, like real people talk about such things.  Both disgusted by the chasm they’d created between them…yet somehow unwilling to let go of the freedom it allowed them.  A young man is forced by his evil father to choose between saving the life of the woman he loves, or her child.  He chose her, the child “died” and she could no longer bear to look at him.  She took her grief out all over town, on those deserving and those not…and then she slept with his brother for comfort.  The question of what choice he should have made became much clearer when we had the benefit of seeing the child alive and well with his captor, the evil father.   

Someone who tuned in to GH this week, saw Nikolas dragging Emily around by her carefully manicured but dying hand, until they found a long lost dead garden.  They brought it (and Emily) back to life with their love.  Flowers sprang out of the ground and everything.  They’ll be fine now.  Wedding, here we come.  Nothing complicated about that.  Oh, don’t get me wrong; there will be more trouble.  But please, let’s not bother to call them complications.  It’s unfair to the word really.  Beloved staple of the show, Luke, is back.  He and Skye are trying to prove her innocence.  Heather is trying to frame her.  It all would have been solved with the letter, but Heather managed to catch Steven, forensic specialist extraordinaire, carrying it around the hospital and she ruined it.  It hasn’t occurred to Luke to go to the PCPD and tell them he didn’t write the letter willingly, and that it’s not true.  It also hasn’t occurred to him to remember his history and be concerned about where his Laura has disappeared to again either though, so I guess we should give him time.  Meanwhile, they dressed up in several fun (?) outfits and wandered in on Georgie and Dillon in fun (?) outfits too.  We had a good moment where Mac tried to talk to his teen daughter, but where was her mother?  Did Felicia run off to Texas again without leaving a note?  Oh wait, her purpose right now was solely about the Q fortune and that’s done with…with huge payoff to boot.  I’m so glad I hung in there with that one.  (Where are the eye-rolling smiley icons when you need them?) 

Don’t get me wrong; GH has more than one thing going that should be great soap.  Carly’s father storyline should be a great payoff for Carly and Sonny fans alike.  Alexis and Ric, with baby Kristina in the mix should be fabulous stuff – she’s falling in love with the brother of the father of her child.  It should be huge!  It should be gut wrenching stuff, if spoilers play out as advertised.  The truth of the matter is that if you’ve watched soaps for more than ten minutes, you can often, very often, see this stuff coming a mile away.  It doesn’t usually matter though, because you make note of where we’re heading and you sit back to fully enjoy the ride.  That’s where GH is failing, it’s not because we know what’s coming, it’s because we know we can’t expect to just sit back and enjoy the ride.  I no longer trust the process.  I haven’t for quite awhile.  Too many promises of “shakeups of the canvas” and “change his/her life forever” with literally NO payoff for it, nor for the non-magazine coverage worthy stories either, has left me in utter disbelief.  I don’t believe in these writers, but what’s worse, much, much worse, is that I no longer believe in these characters.  That saddens me so much.  I can’t trust them to have human qualities anymore.  I can’t trust them to love, hate, judge, or fall apart.  The moments where I feel a connection to these characters are so few and far between, that they astound me when they occur.  I find myself focusing on finding that, instead of just enjoying the ride.  In the end, isn’t that what most of us want from any television show, movie or book?  We want to identify, understand, be challenged…and wonder what we would do?   

I don’t know.  I just can’t decide!  Would I want Nikolas to pick one of those bright happy flowers growing at my feet?  Do I want him to put it in my hair?  Or do I want him to kiss my glossy lips once again and then beam me back to PC so we can begin the next phase of our lives, totally freestanding from the last phase?  If I were Skye, persecuted by an unknown source, would I hide behind the bar or under the poker table the next time someone wanders upon my public hiding place?  

This brings me to the answer to my own question.  These things have to be taken on a week-to-week basis, so why am I still watching this week?  I’m watching because I do wonder if what I would do if I were Alexis.  How would I deal with Kristina’s illness?  How would I deal with Sonny?  I wish I could say I truly have hope that I’ll be able to sit back and immerse myself in it…but I’ve already accepted that it’s doubtful.  Once again though, there I’ll be, hoping for a surprise.  Hoping that I’m wrong.  And in the meantime, when I get bored watching the sparrows chirp over Nikolas and Emily, I can use the quiet time to contemplate Jack’s amnesia story.  It may not be a new concept, but there are real feelings involved and at the moment, there’s no right or wrong.  There’s a lot to be said for gray areas and for characters that are allowed to exist in that gray area for more than three seconds.  I had no idea how much I missed it until I found it again.       



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