To our settlers, it meant the birth of a new world. To the indigenous people, it meant a sort of festively-colored genocide. But to me, dear Soap Central readers, Thanksgiving means but one thing, and that is a drugged, death-like slumber from which no awakening seems imminent. I speak, of course, of your seasonal holiday nemesis and mine, tryptophan. That sinister amino acid that lurks within every bite of turkey, the holiday meat no one really cares for all that much; oh, sure, it's a big Thanksgiving tradition, but we've all tasted turkey, and white meat or dark, the song is pretty much the same, now, isn't it?
I mean, personally, I target the dark meat because it has a little more flavor, but you've still got to smother that thing in gravy, stuffing, potatoes, sweet potatoes, cranberries, pears, booze, you name it. Turkey, "tofurkey," what's the difference? If not for Thanksgiving, the turkey would be always the culinary bridesmaid, never the bride. It lucked out through a mere quirk of societal convention, perhaps due to supply versus other product in that wistful colonial yesteryear lost to the sands of time, and me personally - well, I'm tired of turkey skating by every year. Give me a big ol' chicken or some pork or something, and I'll buck that tradition.
Long story short (too late): turkey is a lackluster entree that only serves to send us all into bloated food comas, and that, oh my brothers and sisters, leads us to this week's holiday Two Scoops. Time and turkey are the enemies now; I have been asked to provide data on who in Llanview should be thankful this November, who should not, and what I personally have been thankful for on One Life to Live in 2009. This series of declarations I intend to provide for you, even as the trytophan fogs my mind and slows my hand.
It's a race against time, people, a kind of holiday-themed Thunderdome. Two enter, one leaves! Who will prevail: Me and my column, or the turkey's seductive chemical sedative? Even now, my eyes droop as I race for some sort of caffeine injection to stem the tide. But holiday or no holiday, turkey or no turkey, I won't let you down, I shan't let you down, I can't let you down - it's time for a Thanksgiving Two Scoops, and my cornucopia is loaded to bear. Prepare to reap the whirlwind, pilgrim!
Starr Manning and Cole Thornhart: Generally speaking, returning from the dead on daytime's really not that impressive anymore. Happens all the time, right? If Pine Valley's Jesse Hubbard can return to the land of the living after multiple ghostly visitations, anyone can do the trick. Yet, it's a sad few daytime couples who are lucky enough to have a young child thought lost return to them. Oh, sure, Ridge and Taylor thought their kid was eaten by Jaws, and Bo Brady in Salem had Chelsea - and really, that was stretching it, wasn't it? What was she, like five?
But strictly speaking, when a young child dies on soaps - usually a move only employed by a sadistic, uncreative head writer (James E. Reilly), or a really good one (Claire Labine) - there's no going back. Case in point: Even OLTL has never dared bring back young Brian Kendall, Tony Lord's only heir, who got run over by one of Karen Wolek's johns. But then there's baby switching. Too often employed these days, rarely done well, OLTL has gone to this well several times in recent years. The last time, we came up empty-handed, losing core children for the glory of All My Children, which gave both Babe and Bianca back their babies while leaving Kevin and Kelly Buchanan heartbroken.
This year, however, Starr and Cole's impossible dream came true when Baby Hope was returned to them, thwarting Bess's diabolical machinations. Okay, I'm not a huge fan of this teen couple, and I've found most of their storylines incredibly dull, but I can't help it: Hope is an adorable baby, and the kids' love for their daughter is palpable. Now watch neither one of them finish college. Oy vey!
Marcie and Michael McBain: Discussing Hope's return gives us a neat segue to Seattle's finest new couple. After a truly selfless act in giving Hope back to her bio-parents, Marcie finally lucked out after years of infertility, getting the miracle baby she'd always hoped for. Marcie and Michael were shocked, but in point of fact, Marcie and Al's pint-sized angel, "Gabrielle" (thus named for the late, great Ms. Medina), had foretold this development five years ago, promising Al that eventually his and Marcie's love would produce a baby Gabs.
Sure enough, Marcie gave birth to her son, Gabriel this month - and I couldn't be happier for them. I'm sure Gabrielle is up there smiling somewhere. Now if only they would show her "memorial bench in Angel Square" sometime. Come on, OLTL, I know Ron Carlivati remembers that plot point. If we had to resurrect Lee Halpern and re-rape Marty, then I want my Gabrielle Medina bench! With an inscription in Spanish!
Bo, Nora and Matthew Buchanan: Let's face it, this trio has no reason to complain as they struggle to fight off the tryptophan around the family table. Bo and Nora have rediscovered true love at the expense of some unfortunate marital vows, and Matthew has rediscovered his legs! Plus, he's found he has hormones: Matthew may be blind to Destiny's charms, but he's smitten with Danielle Rayburn, who seems all too eager to be his new BFF. You can't go wrong with a pretty girl who will go to the mat to fly you around the globe and get you risky spinal surgery against the wishes of adults. Unless that girl's parents are a rapist who loves to beat up teen boys and, uh, Téa. Then you might go wrong. We'll see. Jury's out. In any event, love and legs. What's not to like? They better eat that turkey. Gobble gobble, Matthew.
Cristian Vega and Layla Williamson: Just ask Vinnie and Wanda Wolek (uh, before he died by poisoning) - there's often nothing sweeter than second banana love. And while Layla's just about always held such a place on the canvas, Cristian is relatively new to that scene. But you know what? It fits him, and with the way the romance between Cris and Layla has shaped up, the second string feels like neither a demotion nor a dishonor. It just might be the best romance Cristian has had since Natalie or Jessica.
Both characters have spent years being odd people out, the unsung and unwanted. Natalie left Cris for John, while Evangeline dumped him to fawn over Todd; Layla spent years in her sister's shadow and got the shaft from Antonio, Vincent, and even Oliver. These two were decent, good people who just wanted to love and be loved, but were found wanting for someone sexier, someone more self-possessed or more dangerous. Together, they seem to fit just right. I pooh-poohed the setup for Cristian and Layla's unlikely love affair earlier this year, when it was all crass insults and insipid, ancient soap clichés. Since the onset of "Kish," however, this companion hetero love story has turned much gentler, more subtly, deftly delivered, and thus, more adult.
No, Cristian and Layla are not necessarily a big name couple; no, they will not hit the cover of Soap Opera Digest. But they don't have to. They're just good together, and they don't have to prove anything to anyone, because they've already won over much of the audience. They're in love, and like Ali McGraw said, that means never having to say you're sorry. (Of course, Ryan O'Neal replied in What's Up, Doc? with "That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard," but let's not quibble.) Still, they should probably be thankful.
Kyle Lewis and Oliver Fish: Daytime's most revolutionary and groundbreaking gay storyline is also perhaps its best gay couple. The platitudes have been exhausted by now, but it's enough to say this: Kyle and Oliver are both unique gay characters on daytime in that they are both fleshed-out, three-dimensional adults, not dewy Ingénues, incubators for children, or horribly accident or violence-prone - three storyline conditions often specifically designed to prevent gay characters from becoming openly intimate on-camera (looking at you, Bianca and Noah). In less than a year, they've worked out old issues, dispensed with internalized self-hatred and bigotry, and faced the world with courage and pride. They might even get a love scene!
By comparison, over in Pine Valley, Bianca's wife swapped spit with Zach, and across the lake in Oakdale, Noah got blinded by science, complete with cheesy pizzaface makeup. But here in Llanview, nobody's been raped, nobody's been crippled, and everybody gets to kiss onscreen. I call that a win. Be thankful, Kish. Anything else would be tacky.
Jessica Brennan: I know, I know, Mitch is back and she's miserable. But there is a bright side. A bright, hairy, regularly naked side. As Jessica admitted last week, she was grateful she didn't lose Brody in Napa, and well she should be. Jessica has weathered tragedy upon tragedy these last few years, horror upon horror, and I'm possibly even more sick of it than she is; how much can one heroine endure until repetition and rot set in? A dead husband, a dead child, an undead psycho dad, what's next?
At least our Jessie has one knight in shining armor, the valiant, unbelievably well-built Lieutenant Lovett. Brody's her rock, and a very handsome one who takes more showers on-camera than perhaps any other character in the last several years. He's a good man, and on ABC Daytime, a rare example of an intelligent, goodhearted, heroic man in uniform. Chivalry is not dead, and "white hats" are not uncool - Jessica's thankful for Brody, and so am I.
Dorian Lord and David Vickers: Llanview's most star-crossed couple has much to be thankful for, though sadly, not for one another. With Viki out of the running, Dorian is now primed to step in as the all-new, all-gay-friendly mayor of Llanview, giving her the power and prestige she's always craved. Meanwhile, in swinging London, David is finally beginning to feel like part of the Buchanan clan, at home in wealth and privilege while beginning to gain his family's respect. So why can't these two crazy kids ever work it out? Are their egos, hurt feelings, and personal obsessions to be forever the order of the day? I'll be thankful when they finally get down to brass tacks with one another and stop trying to nurse their broken hearts with cosmetic changes.
Todd Manning: I may hate it, but Todd's got a lot to be thankful for this year. Not only did he get off scot-free for "Raping Marty, Part II: Port Of Call New Orleans," but Todd has also managed to snag himself a grandbaby, a new/old bride and an all-new, all overly-SORASed daughter! What's more, that whole "make Marty my bride and steal Starr's baby to raise with her" thing has pretty much snuffed itself out; Viki and Starr are talking to him again, cozying up to the big guy with not a care in the world.
Unfazed by his recent crush on his rape victim, both Blair and Téa have bedded down with him in rapid succession, while Cole and Marty somehow restrain themselves from shooting him at family functions, Ross is ruined by comparison, and doesn't his hair look great? Yes, folks, Todd Manning's had a great year in 2009, and he did it all without having to lift a finger or pay for a single, solitary crime. That's an impressive feat, and our Todd's good fortune cannot be denied, as much as I wish it could. Whatta guy!
Mitch Laurence: Blows to the head? Can't kill 'im. Drowning? Now you just got him wet, and that means that like the Gremlins, he won't die, he'll just multiply. Contract issues? Oh, please! As this latest sweeps season proved, there is nothing that can keep Llanview's very own "Messenger" down. Mitch Laurence is back, he's brought both crazy and "silverback sexy" with him, and once again he's knocking people off and taking down names like it's going out of style.
He might be chillin' in Napa now, but state lines mean no more to Mitch than ticker tape. Nothing can keep him from getting his unholy shine on, and if Mitch is not unkillable, he's the next best thing. Ascending to that rare pantheon of invincible daytime evil with Stefano DiMera and Carlo Hesser, Mitch is our one, our only, our best "Big Bad," and we can be thankful for him, as he is thankful to the Lord above (or below), even when we know he knows not what he does. Well, actually, Mitch does know, that's why he's evil. Well, anyway.
This brings us to...
The Thankless (or the "Thanks For Nothing" crew):
Natalie and Charlie Banks: What's to say? Thanks to John's not-so-quick eye reflexes, Mitch capped our beautiful, beautiful Jared, and now Natalie and Charlie are out one husband and one son. Their grief is heartbreaking, and I'm heartbroken to have lost Jared and Natalie as a couple and Charlie and Jared as a family. Their story prospects range from grim (alcoholism) to grimmer (John McBain), and I fail to see the light at the end of the tunnel as Natalie promises to destroy Mitch, which sounds about as likely as someone ever finishing off Jason Voorhees from Friday The 13th. I still love you, Nat and Charlie. I hope OLTL does.
Clint Buchanan: This poor guy's ringtone should be "Don't Let Me Be The Last To Know." Because let's face it, at this point, Clint is the only one who doesn't know about Bo and Nora's passionate globe-trotting reunion. Rushing into scenes saying things like "I'm so glad you two are here!" and "I love you, Bo and Nora. Truly! ", Clint could not look like more of a forlorn schmuck if he tried.
Now, Kim's got her steely sights on his millions, and she doesn't seem like someone looking for true love in all the right sensible senior shoes. Poor Clint! Jerry ver Dorn's performance is extremely heartfelt, and I want him to be happy. But seriously, if they try to reunite him with Viki and dump Charlie, I will cut someone. Look to the future, Clint. Even if that future does own a g-string and pasties.
Ross Rayburn: It takes a special kind of man to get the reality show "villain edit" when paired opposite Todd Manning, but somehow Michael Lowry's Ross has made it happen. With just a meager five o'clock shadow and a selection of "dangerous" leather coats and hippie necklaces, Ross went from happy stoner to Charles Manson in a flash - suddenly, he is all evils to all people, just to make Todd and Téa's story work for them. It's lazy, forced writing, and Ross is the biggest victim here, especially when, even after choking Téa like a tube full of cookie dough , his arguments regarding Danielle still come off exceedingly more rational and sensible than his ex's. The character was ruined in five minutes or less; I next expect him to punt Sam across Angel Square, or steal Bree's doll. Where will it end for poor, cute Ross? I'm guessing in a shallow grave, possibly on location.
Blair Cramer: She went from loveless post-surgery marriage to John to desperate sexual Olympics for Todd in less than six months, and this is after Todd tried to steal their granddaughter and go live with Marty in a post-modern house in New Mexico. New Mexico! Now, Todd doesn't even want her, but doormat Blair continues to humiliate herself as he dreams of (you so) crazy Téa. Who could this happen to other than Blair, I ask you? No other female lead on the show is capable of taking this kind of relentless indignity or punishment, and perhaps no other female lead has ever had so much debasement heaped upon them while still retaining contract status.
Is it more of a verdict regarding Blair's longevity for the audience that she continues to draw demand as a regular despite years of such ignoble treatment, or more a statement on the writers' unending apathy and boredom towards the character? What does it all mean, I ask you? And when can she ever, ever catch a break? Blair fans had hopes for her finding real, non-rape-related love with Ross, but just look what's happened to him, he's going to be shooting men in Reno just to watch them die any day now! What's next? "Blair chains herself to Todd and contracts H1N1?" I'm at a loss, and I suspect the writers are, as well.
Destiny and Shaun Evans: These poor siblings just can't catch a break. Shaun takes at least three to five rounds full-on for Starr and Hope, Destiny scours the globe to find Matthew, yet neither big bro nor little sis can get some play with their mortal beloveds. Instead, brother Greg has won Rachel's heart, chair-tossing and all, with words of love such as "A brain is not a foot! " And Matthew seems to only have eyes for sassy Dani. Maybe Matthew's returning mobility will give Des the edge, but right now the poor kid still seems to be losing ground fast, and I think that's the wrong message to send with the only African-American youth on the canvas. Make it a fair fight for the younger Evanses, OLTL. These sweethearts deserve some sweetness in their lives.
Rex Balsom, Gigi Morasco, and Schuyler Joplin: It's been a banner year for the Balsom-Morasco blended family - childhood leukemia, date rape, dead parents, unwanted pregnancy, and now Mitch Laurence. Yet somehow this trio's biggest enemies are still lack of communication between one another; Rex and Gigi can't connect anymore due to his insensitivity and immaturity, combined with family issues and a natural paternal instinct towards Stacy's unborn child. Gigi continues to suffer in silence, with only Schuyler's shoulder to cry on. Little does Rex know how attractive and supportive the young Mr. Joplin's shoulder really is.
Meanwhile, poor Sky is pining for Gigi, he's lost his teaching career, and he's gone back to medical school only to find that Stacy is now claiming he is her baby daddy, and he mustn't tell, lest he lose Gigi's burgeoning love. What's a decent guy to do? Probably the decent, selfless thing, which may leave Schuyler out in the cold, alone, again, while Rex and Gigi continue to careen towards splitsville. No one's winning here, and with Stacy still alive and kicking, the fans are losing out, too. Just pair Sky and Gigi up, OLTL! The relentless gloom, doom, and Crystal Hunt is harshing my mellow.
Dr. Marty Saybrooke: She's a multiple Emmy winner and one of OLTL's most famous heroines. She also has no storyline to speak of, and has spent most of 2009 mooning over John, saying things like, "How can I help?" or "What's going on?" or "I haven't seen you in a while." But in point of fact, it's us who really haven't seen much of Marty in a while - not since the grotesqueries of the "re-rape" and KAD revisitation storylines ended, neither of which served to do anything with the character but dishonor her classic stories, compromise her strength, and shackle her to John. There have been great weeks, great episodes, great scenes for Marty this year, but nothing that has added up to much for the character other than arm candy for men and a renewed focus on anguish and victimization, which she outgrew over twelve years ago.
While it's true that Marty's character has always been based in powerful emotions like anguish, the key to her watchability was the passion, the strength, often the rage with which she faced each challenge or tragedy. Once crossed, she would unleash hell. But the Marty of 2009 has no hellfire to give us, precious little perspective, little strength, and even less evolution; all her return storylines have done is leave her helpless, and aimless. This is not my Marty, this is a wispy echo supporting lesser characters. And when she most likely disappears in 2010, I won't be surprised, I'll just be angry, and very un-thankful.
So there you have it: Llanview's thankful and the thankless for 2009. But what of me, your faithful columnist, you ask? What am I thankful for? Personally, I'm just thankful for my show. I realize I've given several of its storylines and characters quite a razzing directly above this paragraph, but all in all, pound for pound, I would stack 2009's One Life to Live up against any other American soap currently on the air, damage and all, as perhaps the best still running. That may be faint praise to some, and I will readily admit that the overall quality of daytime has declined in this past decade. Still, there are good stories to be told, good scripts to be written, good characters and scenes to be crafted, and I've found a great many of all of the above on OLTL every day this year.
Even when I'm angry with a certain story, even when I'm scowling at Téa, Rex, Todd, or Blair, these are all characters I'm still able to somewhat follow, thanks to committed performers (particularly Florencia Lozano, Kassie DePaiva, and Susan Haskell, who have elevated meager material) and passionate, if sometimes misguided storytelling. Every day, no matter what the tale, good or bad, interesting or dull, OLTL's writers, producers, cast and crew leave something up there on the screen, something of real heart or wit or history. Very few soaps still do that; a few try to fake it.
This is a dangerous time for daytime; Guiding Light is gone, and rumors swirl that an ABC soap may be next. Your mileage may vary, of course, but if this is One Life to Live's last Thanksgiving, I personally am very thankful to see Llanview striving onward with a degree, however slight or strong, of dignity, purpose, grace, and family, as opposed to the crippled, unrecognizable messes other canceled soaps became in their final hours. Nothing is perfect, and some stories are bad; some writing and characterization does call for a reckoning and major changes. But for my money, the OLTL I watch today is not so far removed from the OLTL I loved as a child, and there have been times in the last ten years when I didn't think I'd ever have any trace of that back again.
It is no coincidence that I chose to write about OLTL when I did. I'm grateful to know Llanview again, and to be able to love a lot of it, whether it has one more year or two or five or ten. I have always maintained that daytime is, above all, about home, family, and history, a place that lives and breathes and talks and moves even when you are not looking at it, a place you can go back to whether you are ten years old or sixty. In that way, OLTL still has pieces of itself enduring from the past into our present, and onward to the future, however uncertain. I'm extremely thankful for it, and for all of you for reading my silly columns, even if you don't always agree with me. Thanks for being there, and thank you, One Life to Live, for being there. It's time for me to succumb to the tryptophan now, guys; it's all holiday movies and hot toddies into the witching hour. Good night, good luck, Happy Thanksgiving, and see you in two weeks. And until next time, always remember: A brain is not, repeat, not a foot!