Where there is smoke, there is fire - and to say this past week contained its fair share of both is a gross understatement! While fans remain divided on the arson storyline and upon the success of February Sweeps, perhaps more important than the storyline itself is what we witnessed emerge as a result. As seasoned viewers, we are adept at navigating our way through Sweeps and savoring the best moments while casting aside those plot devices that always fall short of our expectations. So as we wrap up yet another ratings race and reflect upon last week's episodes, just exactly what "sizzled" and what "fizzled"? Which interactions stood out to you, and which ones felt like overused stunts and constituted nothing more than smoke-and-mirrors? What follows are my personal picks for the best and the worst of what the tail end of February Sweeps had to offer.
Here's What Sizzled…
Shattering the Chemistry Barrier
The chemistry between Trevor St. John and Renee Elise Goldsberry continues to burn up the screen. Time had come for the writers to either shift Evangeline out of Todd's orbit or tap into the incredible dynamic between them. Watching them interact and express their emotions last week revealed new dimensions of these two familiar characters. If you strip away all the physical passion, there is a serious emotional connection that has formed between them. If the writers continue developing Todd and Evangeline in this manner, every major character on the canvas will be impacted. This is truly a "win-win" scenario, because no matter what side of the fence someone sits on in relation to these characters' romantic lives, their involvement will create serious conflict and drive story for citizens of Llanview for an indefinite period of time. If you examine how many faces have already been impacted by their intensified involvement, more characters are affected by their connection than by any other storyline on the canvas.
Pushed to the Breaking Point
I genuinely believe that David Fumero puts forth his best and most dramatic work when Cris is pushed to his breaking point. I don't enjoy watching this character suffer, but Fumero deserves a huge round of applause for his performances last week. Cris has endured one devastating blow after another since his character first returned to the canvas, and though I haven't enjoyed much of what the writers have generated in the way of story for him, viewers have witnessed Cris truly evolve into a much more complex and dynamic character than when he first stepped into Llanview. My heart positively ached for Cris when he appeared, flowers in hand, only to find Todd with Evangeline unexpectedly. The raw emotion that David emitted in that brief moment was great, and he is one actor who doesn't receive nearly enough praise for the effort he places into often lackluster and second-rate material.
Reconnecting Friends and Foes
It was absolutely delightful to see Nora and Renee reconnect. These two women were close friends for many years, and their relationship has been sorely missed. Very few people can speak to Nora as honestly and pointedly as Renee can, and the onscreen dynamic between Patricia Elliott and Hillary B. Smith is laden with humor, sincerity and sentiment. During Dena Higley's tenure, the ties that bind Nora to the Buchanan fold were grossly minimized and later ignored, and I sincerely hope that the renewed interaction between these two characters is the first of a pattern to follow. I also find the plotting and scheming between Dorian and Lindsay positively delicious. Both women share a wealth of history that has been ignored for much too long. I will concede that the dialogue being written for these two characters is trite and juvenile - if not bizarre - but either way, Catherine Hickland and Robin Strasser make it work. They simply compel me to want to start a food fight, and are capable of infusing sarcasm and humor into any scene. These two actors are fabulous together and play off one another incredibly well, and I suspect that as Dorian and Lindsay further reconnect, we will see Lindsay's dark side slowly reemerge - and I, for one, cannot wait.
Every time I see the set for Asa's mansion or Llanfair, it truly puts a huge smile on my face. Though both sets have endured facelifts and are rarely shown in their entirety, something about them simply feels like "home" to me. Some of the fondest memories and horrific atrocities have occurred there, and they are ingrained into the fabric of OLTL's canvas. The same can be said for the Palace Hotel, Carlotta's diner, the station house and Llanview Hospital (though I am all in favor of taking a long break from both the police station and hospital sets for awhile). These familiar locations remind me of all the wonderful actors and characters that have come and gone throughout the decades, and you can simply feel the history when they're utilized. While monetary concerns versus creative decision-making have most likely kept these sets in use, they provide a welcome respite from the parade of newbies with which we have been inundated.
Mothers and Their Sons
I have always enjoyed the very special bond between Nora and Matthew, and this past week was no exception. Hillary B. Smith and Eddie Alderson are so believable as mother and son that the line often blurs between fantasy and reality. I am yearning to see these two interact on a more mature level at this point, as each of them has evolved due to last year's chain of events. Nora and Matthew are the center of each other's worlds, and they connect on a very deep, emotional level. Watching them conspire over how to sneak junk food into Asa's mansion and talk about how displaced they feel pursuant to the fire was truly a touching scene, and Eddie Alderson deserves a huge round of applause for the work he put forth both during the fire scenes and in those that followed. I am hoping we are treated to more tender moments between Nora and Matthew, as their mother-son relationship is one of the most unique and few remaining of its kind on ABC's daytime canvas.
…And Here's What Fizzled
Indulge me just one question: If you were trapped inside a burning building, what would be your goal? I can tell you what I wouldn't do. I certainly wouldn't put a towel under the door, strip down and decide that now is the time to succumb to pent-up passion like Nash and Jessica. That had to be the most outrageous and idiotic scene I've witnessed in ages. These constant contrived situations in which the two of them find themselves alone together simply grate my nerves. After months upon months of enduring these scenarios, last week's interaction consisted of the final straw for me. Once again, Antonio risks his life and plays hero to a woman whose heart belongs to someone else, and once again, he goes out on a limb to save the man who has been trying to pry Jessica from his arms for what feels like forever. Nash and Jessica discuss their feelings, analyze why they shouldn't be together and how they don't wish to hurt Antonio, and continue to struggle with what to do next. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
The Missing Matriarch
Where in the world is Viki? I am completely bewildered at why Erika Slezak, who is the show's longest-running cast member and six-time Emmy award winner, has been relegated to "under five" status. Just who is running the Banner, anyway? Shouldn't the newspaper be covering what one would assume is major news in Llanview? Once again, Viki was utilized as a prop last week. Her interactions with Natalie, Vincent and Clint were ever so brief and failed to connect her with Dorian. Incidentally, if the writers are sincerely planning to move forward with a Viki/Clint/Dorian triangle, now would be the time. I sense a great deal of stalling with this storyline, and this does not fare well for any of these vets. The board has been abuzz with discussions of how Viki's character has been minimized and back-burnered, as the network continues to slash longtime vets from its canvas. No one is safe at this point, and if it seems that Erika's tenure with OLTL would exclude the threat of her ever being cut from the show, I pose this question to viewers who are also longtime fans of GH: Rachel Ames (Audrey Hardy) is that show's longest-running cast member, and how often do you see her?
Another McBain, Another Set of Demons
Allow me to say that I am a huge fan of Nathaniel Marston. Though I miss Al's character, I think Nathaniel has turned in some of his most powerful and best work as a McBain. I also enjoy the onscreen connection between him and Michael Easton, and I'm able to suspend reality because I take pleasure in the brother dynamic between both characters. However, I do not like the dark turn that Michael's character has taken; first, by withholding the knowledge of Tommy's true parentage, and second, in the ongoing "whodunit" involving Spencer's killer. So while I enjoyed the interactions between Michael and John in the police station last week because of how well Marston and Easton work together, if the writers are setting up a scenario whereby Michael is the next McBain to battle inner demons for months on end, this shall not bode well for his character. Kathy Brier is also suffering in response to the shift in Michael's demeanor, because Marcie has become a receptacle for all of this negative emotion.
Damsels in Distress
What have the writers done to Natalie's character? Melissa Archer is one of my favorite actors, and we have seen an incredible range of talent emanate from her during her tenure on OLTL. I simply cannot determine which direction the writers are taking with her character, and what concerns me is that she is becoming more of an appendage to the men in her life than an individual creation. While viewers may disagree as to which man owns Nat's heart, I believe we all concur that her character is in need of a defined direction. I did enjoy the interactions between Natalie and Vincent, which actually surprised me because I've never quite warmed to Vincent's character. However, seeing Natalie's whole thought process constantly centered upon the men in her life is exhausting, and does both actor and character a huge disservice. We watched Natalie study for a career that never materialized to fruition, and it seems the writers don't have a clear path mapped out for her character whatsoever.
Sadly, Starr and Cole are just not working for me. I adore Starr, and like most long-term viewers, am heavily invested in her character - almost to the point of being overprotective. I think Kristen Alderson is a dynamo, and fans have literally watched her grow up onscreen. While I expect to see Starr struggle and grapple with those issues that every teenage girl must face, there is something about her union with Cole that feels sinister, disturbing and uncomfortable. Todd and Marty's history was simply too sordid for me to wrap my mind around the concept of their children ever connecting in the biblical sense, and watching Starr and Cole discuss the topic of sex at Michael and Marcie's was reminiscent of a bad after school special. I am supportive of Starr's character development, and she is maturing from the girl who once tormented her peers with reptiles into a beautiful, independent young woman. This is why I do not wish to see her sucked into a union that is tainted by so much darkness.
Please, Paige - just take the job. I simply cannot endure another moment of this unnerving character. I must praise Kimberlin Brown, Cady Huffman and Alex Neil for putting forth incredible effort and attempting to make a character work that was doomed from the inception. These three very talented actors gave everything they could, yet still, this character remains a complete failure. In the process, Paige has shaven serious points off Bo's intelligence quotient. I did a double-take after the exchange of words among Paige, Dorian and Lindsay in the diner, when Bo told Paige that she shouldn't feel badly about her past because she'd done nothing wrong. The writers have unsuccessfully attempted to reinvent this character, greatly annoying the majority of viewers in the process, and neither heroine nor victim suits her.
While most of us concur that we are far from restoring OLTL to its heyday, there were some standout moments and events during February Sweeps that caught me by surprise. How do my picks stack up against yours? Please send me your feedback and let me know what "sizzled" and what "fizzled" for you as we once again wrap up another ratings race.