When you're favorite soap is canceled -- for the second time -- it may seem like there's not a whole lot to celebrate in a "Best of" column, but that's not the case. There will be plenty of time to talk about what went wrong. In fact, we'll do just that next week in the super-sized, extended edition of Worst of 2013. Actually, it'll be the same size as any other columns, including this one. I'll need to work on some sort of catchy marketing slogan.
They say it is better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all. Obviously "they" have never had the rug yanked out from under their favorite soap on two different occasions. Uh-oh. Someone hasn't taken their happy pills. Call Father Clarence, STAT!
After a, um, minor mix-up with the happy pills and the Libidozone, I'm back and ready to move on with a look at some of the things that I absolutely loved about the Prospect Park edition of All My Children. Contrary to conventional wisdom, there were some incredible performances and stories in that four-month span that Pine Valley was back in action.
Faced with the seemingly insurmountable challenge of not being able to re-sign all of the performers who'd appeared on All My Children when the show ended its run on ABC in 2011, the writing team of AMC wisely decided to jump ahead five years in time. It's not a new idea. In fact, I'd imagine it's the same principle of physics used by airplanes that depart from Pine Valley International Airport and land anywhere else in the world in about an hour.
Yes, the show could have easily recast all of the actorless roles, but that would've led to the same complaint: too many new faces. Most of the new faces ended up being younger characters that had been aged - and, let's face it, time leap or not, the youngsters would have been aged at some point anyway.
The best part of skipping ahead a bunch of years is that it actually created story possibilities. Since no one knows what happened in the day-to-day living during that jumped-over part of Pine Valley history, it left the writers with limitless possibilities and no real need to worry about tripping over continuity issues.
Never in a squillion years would anyone have thought that Dimitri Marick and Billy Clyde Tuggle would be taken out of mothballs for the reboot of All My Children. Fans had been asking for a Count Andrassy comeback ever since Michael Nader's unfortunate personal issues of more than a decade ago. If Prospect Park was attempting to thumb their nose at ABC's past misdeeds, this was certainly a good way to do it.
Time may have marched on, and the days of waltzing in Budapest may be long behind us, but having Dimitri return to Pine Valley was a perfect way to marry the past with the present. And certainly had AMC continued on and things worked out to get Susan Lucci back to the show, seeing Erica and Brooke square off over a man would have been epic.
Whereas Dimitri was one of AMC's most dashing leading men, Billy Clyde Tuggle was one of the show's wickedest villains. Billy Clyde's reintroduction helped give Dixie story, and it played logically into Cassandra's kidnapping. Whereas Billy Clyde was one of the worst villains of his day, in 2013, his wickedness seemed tame by comparison. So having Billy Clyde want to see the Koslov gang driven out of town made sense. I suspect that we'd have seen many more blasts from the past had AMC continued on.
When ABC announced in April 2011 that it was canceling All My Children and One Life to Live, its press release said that its marketing research had found that people just didn't want to watch soaps anymore. People, according to ABC, wanted programming with a "takeaway" message.
In 2013, the ratings of all four broadcast soaps were up… and All My Children and One Life to Live were back in production. And even though AMC and OLTL are once again gone, it certainly doesn't mean that fans didn't want to see them.
Now there are lawsuits and, unlike the seemingly bottomless bucket of cash that soap characters have, the coffers have run dry. I have no idea if we'll ever see our All My Children favorites again, but I find some comfort in knowing that ABC was -- and still is -- wrong.
In order to have a future, soap operas also need to bring in new blood. So while Billy Clyde and Dimitri were characters from the past that everyone knew any loved, there were other characters that were barely in elementary school when AMC left the airwaves.
One of those characters was Miranda, played wonderfully by Denyse Tontz. For me, Denyse was the breakout star of the short-lived return of All My Children and one of the finest younger actresses to make their way through Pine Valley in some time. Denyse Tontz was tasked with a pretty heavy mission: carry on the legacy of the Kane women. No pressure, right?
Tontz got to show us her range in quite a few areas: romance, drama, comedy, and even singing. There was immediate, palpable sexual tension between Miranda and AJ. What happens when you fall in love with the guy next door? Who also happens to be the guy that you were swapped with when you were a baby… and presumed dead. Heck, if you can get past those issues, your love can stand the test of time. It also didn't hurt that Miranda was a looker just like her mother, aunt Kendall, and -- don't say it, Dan! -- grandmother Erica.
Watching Denyse reminded me of watching Josh Duhamel as Leo duPres. I knew that we would only be blessed with her presence for a short time before she would move on to other non-soap projects. Selfishly, I'm upset that AMC ended and took her portrayal of Miranda away from us even sooner. A huge honorable mention goes to Sal Stowers who proved you should judge a book by its really, really pretty cover. But there will be more on her later in the column.
Whereas Denyse Tontz had to pick up the torch for the Kane women, as Opal, Jill Larson -- whether implied or inferred -- had the weight of Pine Valley on her shoulders. Opal took on the role of mama bear, comic relief, schemer, cultivator of pearls of wisdom, and leading lady.
It's been far too long since Jill received her last Daytime Emmy nomination, and maybe some fans forgot just how wonderful of an actress she is. For a long time, Opal was sort of saddled with being Erica's gal pal and an overall second fiddle. Towards the end of AMC's run on ABC, we saw that Opal was getting fed up with being an overthought in La Kane's life. In the online edition of AMC, Opal was no longer standing in a shadow. Don't get me wrong -- Erica and Opal are one of my most favorite non-romantic pairings in AMC history -- but it was a welcome change to see Opal standing on her own.
Was Opal an overbearing mom? Sure -- but Petey was all she had left with Tad running around in parts unknown and Adrian Sword nothing but an unmentioned memory.
The confrontations between Opal and Colby were some of the best in recent memory. Was it silly that a woman of Opal's life experience was squabbling with a bobble-headed -- hush, I didn't mean it that way -- woman many years her junior? Yes. But that's the sort of thing that we, as soap fans, love.
If they were to make a list of the best actors in soap opera history, David Canary and Julia Barr would definitely be present on that list.
We didn't get to see a bonanza of David Canary appearances, but the few bits and pieces that we saw of Adam were as incredible as always. Even when Adam wasn't on-screen, like when he returned to scold JR during the gala, David Canary somehow still managed to command the screen. David Canary has certainly deserved every moment of his retirement, but there is a part of me that hopes he gets restless and decides that he needs to get back in front of the camera. There are millions of AMC fans that would watch him anytime, anywhere.
Then there is Julia Barr, a woman who wasn't even given a proper farewell when her character was written out of AMC in 2006. There is no denying that Brooke English is a massively important character in the history of AMC -- and it's not just because she seemingly was always there to pick up Erica's leftovers.
Julia Barr has had chemistry with every actor and actress she's ever worked with -- even when their characters (*cough* Pierce Riley *cough*) were duds. Bringing Julia Barr back was not only a smart business move for Prospect Park, but it was also one of the best gifts that fans could be given. With a smaller canvas, Julia was given the ability to use her talents to help fill noticeable voids in story. And as a result, she was given the opportunity to once again be showcased, much like those two Daytime Emmys she's won.
With Michael E Knight's Tad nowhere to be seen in the AMC reboot, the show needed to find someone else to provide the levity. It found it in the most unlikely of characters: Billy Clyde Tuggle, a man who'd been Tad's on-screen nemesis.
Matthew Cowles somehow made Billy Clyde likeable. Billy Clyde didn't completely turn his back on his sleazy ways; he just twisted a few degrees at the waist. I mean, he still dabbled in pimpdom and even blackmailed a former client to get an access card to where Sinnamon-turned-FBI-agent-Lea was dancing.
There's a part of me that feels bad for liking a guy with such a horrific criminal past, but how can you not like a guy who completely butchers every quotation he's ever tried to recite? And did he really think that Dr. Joe Martin was hitting on him?
Whereas Snoop Dogg had his mind on his money and money on his mind, Colby Chandler had penis on her brain. Literally and figuratively. Colby was presented as a Paris Hilton-y, ditzy blonde. She was the mean girl looking to make life miserable for the angelic Celia Fitzgerald.
Then just when you were about to write Colby off as a throwaway character -- BOOM! -- she showed a totally different side when Cassandra needed her most. I don't think that anyone was expecting Colby to have more than one layer. There's a joke in there somewhere. Anywho… Brooke Newton was really quite good at conveying Colby's fierce loyalty to Cassandra. It's not often that soap operas show solid female relationships. In spite of her immaturity elsewhere, Colby proved that when there's a friend in need, she's a true blue friend indeed.
I've always liked Zach Slater. I don't find him particularly loveable, but I've gotten oodles of emails over the years that let me know that plenty of ladies (and occasionally a few guys) find him irresistible.
I'm one of the few people that liked Zach's flirtations with Lea -- even though, in my mind, he belongs with Kendall. Zach had some great zingers when he and Lea were trying to crack the escort service web site. "Did you click on the naughty bits?" he asked Lea with a smirk firmly planted on his face.
Perhaps that's why I thought that the reinvention of Zach Slater was so much fun. Zach is a man's man. A hockey fan. Someone who'll drop an F-bomb here and there. I thought that the great freedoms afforded by the Internet allowed for Thorsten Kaye to offer a more realistic portrayal of Zach.
If you didn't like seeing that side of Zach, there was also a chance to see his softer, gentler side as he interacted with Miranda. It was the same side that we got to see interact with Myrtle. It's rare that we see a multi-faceted male character on soaps, so when someone like Thorsten Kaye's Zach comes along, you sit up and take notice.
You can't bring up Colby's name without giving some sort of oral discourse about her obsession with Pete "Don't call me Petey" Cortlandt. Colby had it bad for Pete -- but who can blame her?
Soap operas have always been the land of the beautiful people, but All My Children struck gold when it cast Robert Wilson as Petey. I don't know how much they paid for him, but, um, the price was right.
Models have been daytime staples for years, and some have been much more successful than others. I've already mentioned how impressed I was with model-turned-actor-turned-Fergie's-husband Josh Duhamel. I don't know if Wilson will go on to find the same success that Duhamel has found in feature films, but he certainly has the look for it. Wilson's Pete was quite a bit more gangsta than the nerdy version that was struck by lightning while mooning over Colby. As I mentioned earlier in regards to Denyse Tontz, it's a shame that we won't get to see how Wilson would have settled in to the role of Pete.
There was only one truly established couple in the reboot, but if there had to be just one I am glad that it was Jesse and Angie. Darnell Williams and Debbi Morgan are, were, and will always be magic. The show isn't even in production now, and I have no doubt that wherever they are, they are still amazing.
That leads us to…
There is a smoldering, sexual tension between David Hayward and Angie Hubbard. I spent the bulk of AMC's 40-some episode revival wondering what it would be like if Dr. Doom and Dr. Hubbard somehow found their way into each other's arms. Then I felt guilty for taking the Hubbards' marriage in vain, and I'd stop thinking those blasphemous thoughts. I'd close the curtains, turn off the lights, and look around to see if anyone was looking… and then go right back to thinking about "Dangie" or "Angavid" -- or whatever the kids were using as a smooshed name for these two.
In most of my soap viewing, Debbi has always been paired romantically with Darnell. Vincent Irizarry, on the other hand, has really gotten around in the world of romantic playthings. Let's see… there was David and Erica. Hot! David and Gillian, David and Dixie, and David and Anna. Hot! Hot! Hot!
From everything that I've seen on social media and learned during interviews with Debbi and Vincent, both have incredible respect for one another. I think they both understand, too, that breaking up Angie and Jesse would've been a hugely risky move. I'd even have accepted some sort of dream sequence romance or a nightmare that Jesse had of Angie and David in some sort of moment of passion. You know, just so we could've seen what it would have been like.
In my 19 years of covering the soaps, I've been to every kind of event that you can imagine. The Emmys. Charity softball at Yankee Stadium. A Habitat For Humanity build site in Philadelphia. A Guiding Light location shoot at Universal Studios. But I never saw anything like the Red Carpet premiere that Prospect Park threw for All My Children and One Life to Live.
For the first time, soap stars were being feted like the stars they truly are. There was a red carpet. There was oodles of press. And then… an episode of All My Children played on a larger-than-life 20-foot tall movie screen to a packed house.
I haven't watched an episode in the same room with that many people since I was in college -- and even then, there weren't that many people. It was an unreal experience that I will always remember. If this really is the last we ever see of All My Children (and One Life to Live), then I am glad that the actors were able to experience this once in their careers.
You won't be reading Celia's name a whole lot in this Best Of column -- but I have to make at least one exception to that. I was completely riveted by Celia and her visions. You really didn't think I'd say her guardian, did you?
I'll admit, I'm a bit ticked off that we'll never find out who her guardian was… but if I never hear the word "guardian" again, I'll be fine with that.
As a character, Celia was a little blah. It wasn't until the creepy man in her visions popped up that I started to care for her a little. The easy guess was that the man had done something horrible to Celia… or maybe to her parents. But the visions weren't the standard "Eek! Someone is out to get me!" visions. There was enough wiggle room to leave me thinking that humdrum Celia was a cold-blooded killer. What if Celia's parents didn't just die… what if she killed them?
A round of applause also needs to be given to the behind-the-scenes technical crew because the special effects involved in all of the flashbacks were amazing.
There was really only one major storyline during All My Children's return, and luckily when AMC's executives decided to bet the farm on Cassandra's kidnapping, it turned out to be a wise choice.
It's always a risky move to devote a huge amount of screen time to a character that viewers don't really know. Yes, we met Cassandra half a decade ago, but back then, another model-turned-actress played the role. Since we're being honest, I can barely recall anything that Cassandra did during her short time in Pine Valley.
Fast forward to 2013 when it was announced that Cassandra was returning. Newcomer Sal Stowers -- an America's Next Top Model alum -- was cast in the role, and fans lamented that another inexperienced performer would be thrust opposite Emmy winners Darnell Williams and Debbi Morgan. But Stowers held her own.
Did Stowers' beauty add to the intensity of the storyline? More than likely. Acting isn't just about delivering lines. For much of Cassandra's time, being held against her will, Stowers didn't really have a great deal of lines to memorize. But with a look, or a change in breathing… viewers knew exactly what Cassandra was feeling.
The human trafficking story was difficult to watch at times because of the graphic nature of the storyline. Through no fault of their own, the timing of the storyline played out at the same time as a real-world kidnapping story. If anything, the AMC story reminded everyone that this sort of thing happens in the real world all too often. The real world isn't just about letting skunk unfurl its essence on your romantic rival.
In the real world, there are bad guys -- really, really bad guys. There probably should have been a separate category for Best Villains. Alfredo Diaz and Martin Harvey were quite simply two of the best villains ever seen on a soap opera. Vlad and Uri weren't some cookie-cutter mobsters that we've grown accustomed to seeing on soaps for the past 50 years. No, the Koslovs were two guys you wouldn't want to mess with or even come anywhere near.
In the real world, there aren't always happy endings. When we think of "Love in the Afternoon," we often think of romance. But if we extended that definition somewhat, Cassandra had all the love in the world from her parents and friends. We'll never know how Cassandra dealt with the aftermath of her ordeal, and while some viewers bemoaned the dark and twisted story as disturbing, there's no one who wouldn't want to be surrounded by loved ones when going through such a tough time.
I know that you're probably asking, "So, Dan J Kroll, if the show was so great, why isn't it still in production?" That, my friends, is a discussion for another time. Luckily, that time is next week when I pop in with my picks for the Worst of AMC 2013.
In case you just can't get enough Two Scoops, all of my columns from the year gone by are available in the archives. You can also listen to the special year-end review of the Best of 2013 that I've produced for Soap Central Live. It's free to listen to online, and it features all of the Two Scoops columnists from all of the soaps talking about the Best and Worst of the year in soaps.
I'll see you back here again next week for one final time -- until then, have a Merry Christmas!