Oh, lord! I didn't think I could possibly cry over Jared and Natalie any more than I did last week with Mitch's Funeral Surprise, followed by the "We Totally Want To Bring This Character Back" memorial - how much more obvious can a show be when the poem ends with "I did not die?" Somewhere across the pond in Salem, the undead and still sexy Patch Johnson is giving us the side eye (just the one eye, mind you) - "mmm-hmm, mmm-hmm." But then this week, they had to go and break out that classic daytime staple, the Dead Soap Character's Unlikely Cornucopia Of Gifts He Just Had Lying Around. A proper wedding and honeymoon in Oahu, followed by a baby names book? Oh, my God. I was a mess, a. mess. Just like Natalie, I didn't know who I wanted revenge on first, Mitch, John or Brian Frons! I was glad Natalie got to stabbin', though, and boy, she don't mess around.
Unfortunately, Natalie's revenge led us to another echo of the past, which is where Joooohhhnnnn comes back into the storyline, covering up Natalie's crime in much the same way Natalie covered for him during the investigation into Spencer Truman's murder. Sorry, but I still don't care about John. Maybe if he wore a Jared mask, or dragged a John Brotherton cardboard standee along with him in every scene. No, that'd just be creepy. I hope Natalie's vendetta against Mitch isn't dropped to focus yet more on Rex or Jessica, though - she's got more reason to finish him off this time than anyone.
Anyway, it was a wild and woolly week in Llanview, with a lot of interesting tonal shifts: the anguish of Natalie and Charlie, the pervasive, gleeful evil of Mitch, the comedy with Kim and Neville, the forbidden passion of Bo and Nora, and the social conscience of Oliver, Kyle, and Layla following Nick's beating. Add on to that Rex hopping back onto his high horse, poor Ross being ground into prime chuck under the wheels of the proverbial "bus," Sky being too selfish for my tastes, and Todd and Tea bonding over Danielle, and you've got a full week and a compelling mix of mostly good, some bad and occasionally, yes, a bit of ugly. Natalie's gotten her pound of flesh, now let's move on to the rest of the week and get ours with your latest Two Scoops.
As to the ugly: they took their time with it, but unfortunately, Rex is well on his way back to being a total douchebag, twitching like a martinet because Gigi dared to compliment Sky for defending her honor in a barfight at the workplace. "You should've called me and taken the punch, Geege!" I've noticed that the longer Rex's hair grows out post-shaved head (which I really miss, BTW - hot), the douchier he gets; is this phenomenon exclusive, or has anyone else noticed the change? He's the one who had to run off to attend Stacy's doctor's appointment, yet suddenly Rex is going all Mariska Hargitay on Gigi; "who is he and what does he mean to you?" Really, Rex?
I liked Rex and Gigi at the start but frankly, this relationship has begun to take on shades of the misogynistic Zach and Kendall pairing on AMC for me, with the constantly accusatory male rehashing all of the woman's perceived failings and slights, until the conversations all run together like some sort of white noise. Sure, Rex occasionally is down on himself about Stacy, but not nearly as much as he's obsessed with Gigi and Schuyler. And I already suffer through the last five minutes of AMC everyday; I don't need another Zach and Kendall in my life, especially not with Gigi and Rex both having jacked-up hair. Of course, the problem now is, Schuyler has been taken down a peg in the narrative by keeping his secret with Stacy, or at least, what he thinks is his secret, poor guy. This seems like a device to "even the odds" and make Sky as 'guilty' as Rex in the audience's eyes, and it's transparent, and not working for me, especially given that in only a week or so, Sky has already demonstrated more guilt for his actions than Rex has in months.
As delighted as I am to hear of Crystal Hunt's impending exit - I'm sure she's a nice person but the character of Stacy is a blight on the show - I'm so ready for this to be over. Either commit to a round of Schuyler and Gigi as Gigi and Rex split up, or stop teasing me. I don't believe Sky would keep this secret for any longer than he already has, and the character assassination if it continues would verge dangerously close to "Ross Rayburn" levels for me. And if it's a no on these two, then give Sky a whirl with Rachel. Sure, Greg's okay, but the chemistry between Daphnee Duplaix and Scott Clifton sparkles, and it's obvious the show enjoys these characters' rapport or they wouldn't keep putting them in scenes at the treatment center. Schuyler and Rachel (and Brody, to name just a few) are some of that unique breed in soaps, genuinely good, decent people who are not by definition boring. These characters are intelligent and layered, flawed and fleshed-out, and I want to see more of them. In fact, with Sky back in med school, wouldn't it be interesting to do a Sky/Rachel/Greg triangle out of that hospital setting, perhaps with a quadrangle element if he truly becomes involved with Gigi?
Incidentally, Rex and Stacy are both complete idiots when it comes to Mitch. Despite everyone's pleas to the contrary, Rex seems bound and determined to forge a relationship with the worst dad since Darth Vader, or perhaps Charles Manson (yes, he has kids). This is actually an interesting wrinkle if they write it properly, perhaps with Rex being sucked into Mitch's world and regaining some of his more scheming traits, especially if he's single again. Rex doesn't seem to be able to cope with fatherhood and responsibility, and always worked better as a ne'er-do-well for me. Meanwhile, Stacy seems to think Mitch "could be of use to her" - oh, Stacy, Stacy, Stacy. You're going to use Mitch? That's the kind of dialogue that gets you killed off in February sweeps!
Speaking of getting killed off, there's no better segue to the hostage crisis with your favorite kidnapper and mine, Ross Rayburn. You can practically see the Grim Reaper breathing down Homeboy's neck, right next to those silly-looking scratches on his cheek. Great location footage (I still don't know how they pulled off that moving car interior footage on a soap budget; it didn't look like a green screen), but I'm never going to quite be sold on Big Bad Ross being so much worse than Todd. The saving grace of such a slanted tale is Michael Lowry's amazing, heartbreaking performance as the crumbling Ross; he never allows the character to become utterly monstrous or evil, and remains totally controlled as a performer. Surprisingly, the writing's given Lowry and Ross that sympathetic room as well, which begs the question of what their original plans for Ross were, and when they made the decision to torpedo him for Todd and Tea's tale as old as time, song as old and rhyme and a burning cabana.
Florencia Lozano and Trevor St. John are reasonably convincing as the concerned Todd and Tea, and Lozano sold the hell out of the scene where she finally opened Tea's Suitcase Of Relatively Little Mystery. It's not that they're bad actors; it's that after all the abuse, the co-dependency, the toxicity and dysfunction and rape and re-rape, I simply don't buy Todd and Tea's love story, or that Todd truly cares about being a good parent and partner to anyone or anything. He's had that chance dozens of times and always squandered it in favor of more rage and madness, more burning down his own house over and over. And Tea's just nuts; a delightful kind of nuts, but nuts nonetheless. Yet Todd and Tea are playing the roles of concerned, garden-variety soap parents in this story, a la Bo and Hope Brady, and while the actors are working hard, it's these two characters that I just don't believe in those positions.
For the record and in the interest of fairness, I also had a hard time believing the helplessness of Todd and Blair when Starr went missing in 2004; however, in that story, the characters took matters into their own hands and didn't leave it all to the cops. Another thoroughly miserable, out of character story was when Todd and Blair got similar "Bo and Hope" roles at the mercy of Margaret Cochran in 2005. Maybe I'm biased, and will never get Todd's second rape of Marty and his lack of punishment out of my mind or my heart. Bottom line, though: the writers haven't done the work with these characters. They don't make me believe it.
Despite the inherent weaknesses of presenting Todd and Tea as the suffering parents, this hostage story is well-shot and fairly well-written day to day. It's suspenseful and the performances by and large work, as does most of the writing. One big silver lining for me this week was what they did with Blair, allowing her to focus on Danielle, which is very in character for her, as opposed to her lame desperation to win Todd back, the man who tried to steal Starr's baby and run off with it to live with Marty forever. Blair should never have looked back after that. Here, Blair is doing what her character would do: focus on protecting the child in danger, no matter who she is or who her parents are. That went a long way with me, as did her clever GPS-fu.
The hostage crisis also gave us some adorable scenes with Bo and Nora when they returned to Seattle to see Matthew and lend a hand in the hunt for Ross. There's something about their arguing over directions and shortcuts, and Bo grinning as Nora put a route together just like she did when they were married, that warmed my heart so much. I realize this Bo/Nora/Clint triangle has been too slow-paced for some fans, and perhaps some are torn as to how to feel or who to side with, but I think that's exactly the point. In many of the best soap love triangles, the enemy is not any one person - the enemy is the situation. You're allowed to root for Bo and Nora while also feeling terrible for Clint, who truly loves Nora. And both Bo and Nora love Clint as a person and as family. That's what makes the anticipation, and the drama, all the richer; knowing that none of these characters are bad people, with no cardboard villains, no one ruined to make one side look better than the other. And now, everything's coming together beautifully.
Even though he hasn't matched his personal best in late 2007 and not all of the current stories work, it's a testament to Ron Carlivati's skill with the smallest nuance that the seemingly throwaway, comedic introduction of Nigel's cousin Neville has suddenly become crucial to a major storyline. Using Neville as her faux-Nigel, Kim prepares to lower the boom on Bo and Nora and swoop in to take Clint for herself, and it all works simply because we were introduced to Neville in a comic beat weeks ago when some of the cast went to the Buchanan compound in London. Most head writers just don't plan like this anymore. Kim may be a terrible, horrible, no-good person, but she's absolutely hilarious, wicked fun to have around, as opposed to her BFF Stacy; decked out in her sub-Dynasty power suit, she even makes a good sparring partner for Natalie. I don't know what's coming up with Kim and Clint, but I'm open to anything; it reminds me a lot of Asa and Alex, and that's a good thing.
The struggle of poor Charlie Banks, however, is the exact opposite of hilarious. Brian Kerwin didn't get that much to do this week, but what he did have was choice, as Charlie broke down at his Alcoholics Anonymous meeting and yes, got his drink on in front of the rest of the addicts (the reaction of the assembled extras was amusing, in a black comedy, "I'm so ashamed" way). Charlie don't play, y'all. It was an extreme bit of drama, but Kerwin totally sold it, and his tears got me crying as he described how he couldn't make it work as a happy, functional person, not even with Viki, "his angel."
My fear is that this week's scenes, juxtaposed with Clint being Viki's comforting shoulder, may be a signpost towards Charlie's future in Llanview, or lack thereof. And I, personally, couldn't give a hoot for any kind of Viki and Clint reunion. They had their day and it was a great day, but now I think their possibilities together are meager compared to what they have going on in two good stories as individuals, apart. I adore Viki and Charlie, and I don't want to see them broken up and Clint slotted back in just because OLTL may be hedging its bets for fear of cancellation, a subject I will address, finally, at the end of this column. So basically all I've got to say is, save it, Ron, it's not 1986 anymore - I love Charlie, I love Kim, and I love them with Viki and Clint, respectively.
It's almost the end of the column, and you know what that usually means: Kish Time. I knew nothing good would come of the All-American Rejects hitting the town! Kyle was Nick's hand to hold after his brutal beating by two nasty thugs and that guy from Blue's Clues, leaving Oliver looking a bit awkward, but still sexy in his Sonny Crockett first date/interrogation duds as he smacked the homophobes around back at the station. If he grew out the facial hair a bit he'd have the Don Johnson look down; all we need now is Phillip Michael Thomas (who is probably available). I know some fans will wig out about Nick once again settling in the middle of Kyle and Fish's world, but I think the way OLTL's handled it so far is extremely sensitive and cautious; those scenes with Marty counseling the traumatized Nick were very delicate, written by someone who clearly cared how this character came across and how the issue was dealt with, and Nicholas Rodriguez did a wonderful job opposite Susan Haskell, who's finally getting more to do in a role where Marty always excels.
While I'm eager to see where the primary storyline with Nick's beating goes, another interesting side angle the writers explored this week, one I didn't expect but should've asked for, was how Layla and Cristian reacted. Tika Sumpter's performance, as well as her dialogue, were perfect as Layla edged closer and closer to the issue of the hate crime, her passion rising as she was clearly identifying Nick with Evangeline. It's only right for the show to continue invoking Van in regards to Cris and Layla, even though I was never the character's biggest fan; somehow she's more interesting to me now in watching how people contend with the echo of her presence, as someone who was perceived as so together and perfect while her friends and family are trying to rebuild their own fractured lives into some sort of whole, having lived in her shadow. Yet I wouldn't mind seeing Evangeline back now to make trouble for the lovebirds, just so we could experience the storyline through a new set of eyes, through a different character's pathos, as opposed to how Layla used to merely exist to be Evangeline's supporting cast. Because Layla and Cristian care so much about her, I find myself caring about her more now than I did before, caring about what happened to someone who had everything going for her, only to have it snatched away.
So that it's for the week that was, but we're not done just yet. First, I can't let my turn pass without paying my respects to As The World Turns, cancelled this Tuesday after years of neglect and mismanagement. The passing of Irna Phillips and Douglas Marland's World is not surprising to me given its condition, but like Guiding Light, it is a tragedy which could have and should have been avoided, but for cynical executives and burnt-out production staff who clearly did not have the passion for the program, or for daytime, anymore. I hope the show reconstitutes its past spirit over the next nine months; it has plenty of time to redress wrongs and tell good stories, and no excuses to not satisfy its audience.
That sounds like finger-waving, but honestly, when I think of ATWT, I think of Douglas Marland's work, of that amazing storytelling that seemed keenly attuned to the senses in a way few soaps ever have been. Exploring Marland's Oakdale fascinated me, still fascinates; its people were layered and complex, decent and genuine yet seething with neuroses, and often they would keep their deepest secrets and hidden, roaring passions cloaked behind a veneer of social grace that rarely, if ever, was fully peeled away. That kind of everyday pretense is, I think, more true to our real life than a thousand hot and heavy love scenes. Love, home, hearth; the scent of food, the heartbeat of nature and its primal connection to the characters' wants and needs; the woodsy Snyder kitchen, Kim Hughes saying "kiddo," Lucinda's power suits; these are the things I remember when I remember Oakdale. More than it ever openly let on, I think Marland's As The World Turns explored the clash of the wild with the gloss of the supposedly civilized, and how they all came to the dinner table as family. It was a kind of storytelling we do not see anymore, and I will miss its timeless grace, and the characters it gave us, Marland and all the writers and actors before or after.
This brings me to the final issue of the weekend, which is something we've all tiptoed around for awhile but which is now a very pressing topic: the possibility of One Life to Live being cancelled in the next year. I've been as aware of this possibility as the rest of you for quite some time, but I wasn't sure how to address it in the column, or what, really, could be said up to a certain point. Rumors of all shape and size are swirling everywhere, and while in my role as columnist I don't think it's my place to indulge them all in official print, I can assure you I've privately heard just about all of them. I've watched this show for most of my life, and so I consider it a part of my life; losing it would be like losing a whole wing of my family, people I feel I know and love. It would break my heart, as surely as ATWT or GL fans have been heartbroken these past months.
My feeling about the whole mess is this: One Life to Live is alive and relatively well. It has its weaknesses, its share of dud storylines and things I don't like each day or week or month, but by and large I find it well-written, well-acted and well-produced, and I enjoy it as a whole more now under Frank Valentini and Ron Carlivati than I've enjoyed it in at least twelve years. I always loved my show, and I always will, but I've come to actually enjoy it again. Early last year, I took this position writing about the show because for the first time in a long time, I felt privileged to watch OLTL, to enjoy it during what I felt, and still feel is (despite some screw-ups) a creative renaissance. One Life to Live makes me happy, and you may agree or disagree, but this disparity of opinion is something rare still in a era where shows like AMC, GH, ATWT, GL and even Y&R are experiencing hard times.
I don't know how long OLTL has. Despite good stories, its ratings have not improved, though its key demographics often best other soaps, its budget is stable (unlike other soaps), and I feel it is creatively superior to most if not all of the other soaps on-air, particularly AMC, which has recently been showered with support by ABC Daytime. But aesthetic superiority is not a ratings grabber; if it was, Joss Whedon's Firefly would still be on the air, to name one of thousands of primetime shows (damn you, FOX Network!). If ABC's corporate bottom line and future programming strategy does not benefit from OLTL or its numbers, then they'll take it off the air; it's as simple as that. All I can do is watch the show, and encourage others to watch.
I truly feel OLTL's broken exciting new ground, as well as reinvigorated old characters and classical soap storytelling in these past several years, and I think it's as bright a time to be a fan of the show now as it's ever been. When I watch the show, I feel as though I am watching something that proves that the genre of soap opera is still alive and viable, and worthy of respect. Maybe that's why ABC seems to shun it. There is a distinct possibility that I will not be doing this column this time next year, or maybe we'll be winding up its final months. Or maybe OLTL will have escaped the axe altogether, indefinitely; who knows? I don't, none of us do, and that's the whole point.
But, unlike As The World Turns and Guiding Light, One Life to Live does not feel to me like death is trailing in its wake, waiting to pounce. Those shows were, in my opinion, poorly written and produced for several years, until their cancellations almost felt like a sad mercy killing (though I'd much rather they'd continued to thrive again). Not so for OLTL; like I said before, it feels alive and vital, with a spring in its step even after forty-one years, like it's just getting its second wind. If we must be in the potential crosshairs, I'm extremely grateful to have, in my opinion at least, a good show, as opposed to a show on its last legs, just waiting to be picked off.
To play on a huge nerd analogy, it's like the end of the sci-fi classic Blade Runner, when Harrison Ford learns that Sean Young has an unknown life expectancy that may be slightly longer than some of her fellow androids; he doesn't know how long they have together, but who does? All they can do is live every day to the fullest, and you've only got one life, after all. That's how I choose to perceive our situation today; every day is a gift, and we're living ours better now than others in our position have, when cancellation became a relief to them. My feeling is, let's cherish what we have while we have it, for as long as we have it. For my part, I intend to be here for the duration. I grew up on this show, and I intend to be here for its future, however far it reaches. But if by some insane twist of fate we suddenly get a five-year pick-up, all bets are off, people. I'm just saying.
I'm trying to save some of this for the Christmas column, but in conclusion, I feel blessed to have One Life to Live alive and well and in the condition that's it in, for as long as it's with us. Other soap fans are not so lucky, and my heart goes out to them. Instead of trying to figure out how we're going to leave Llanview, though, I suggest we celebrate it for what it still is to us, here and now, the good and the bad, the past, present and future. I'll be back with you in two weeks to help usher in a new year by reflecting on the past one, and I'm warning you now: save your eggnog, 'cause I'm fixing to get full of holiday cheer. Love to all, and til next time, please remember, a brain is not a foot.