I've told this story before, I think, so I am not going to belabor it with a long, embroidered tale. But I wanted to speak briefly about when and how I started watching One Life to Live.
My earliest memories of OLTL are with my babysitter, an ancient woman named Juanita, who never, ever revealed her true age but seemed to me older than Methuselah. I was about six or seven, and during the afternoon, she would constantly switch between the CBS soaps and One Life. I remember "Nadia's Theme" for Y&R used to drive me nuts. But I also remember the Peabo Bryson theme song for OLTL, and Tina, and Cord, and Max and Gabrielle. Juanita watched a lot of Cord and Tina, a lot of Clint and Viki. A lot of One Life to Live.
I glimpsed the show off and on in the early '90s -- I remember some of Jake and Megan, some of the Billy Douglas story, which I only got to see in full much later. In the spring of 1993, when I was 11, I began watching the ABC soaps in earnest, due in part to a childhood crush on Sarah Michelle Gellar, who was appearing on All My Children as Kendall Hart (oh, how times change, both for Kendall and pour moi). But I was a contrarian sort of child, and upon review of ABC's daytime programming, AMC seemed a little too "sweet" to me, too "nice." (I came to appreciate it not long afterwards for the rich soap opera it was.) General Hospital was homey and fun while also being exciting, but there was still something missing for me. Now, One Life to Live -- that was home for me. It felt real, current, edgy, plugged into the 1990s -- the age of The Real World, AIDS, Bill Clinton, hip-hop, and grunge rock, -- and the things that were actually happening.
To understand why so many of us watch One Life to Live, people of all races, creeds, and nationalities, I think you must also ask the question of who we are. For myself, at least, I was a latchkey kid who was by this point alone in the afternoons afterschool, the only child of parents long-divorced, a little uncomfortable with his Jewish heritage and the funny hats and terrible food he had to eat every Thanksgiving as his grandparents spoke a language he could not understand. I grew up with a mild learning disability and was never the most popular kid in school, to put it mildly, and by eleven, I was starting to very slowly come to terms with the fact that I probably liked the boys a little more than the girls. Or perhaps just identified with the girls that much more, and with women. When I began watching OLTL, Hillary B. Smith's Nora, the neurotic Jewish divorcee, was instantly my favorite character. She still is today. She reminded me of myself, smart but sometimes awkward and silly. But she had a lot of heart, and she fought for the people she loved and the things that meant something to her.
This was the way it went with most of the cast and characters in Llanview, a town between Heaven and Hell, full of ancient secrets, groundbreaking social challenges, outlaws and outcasts (just as I felt like an outcast as a young child). I especially identified, also, with Susan Haskell's Marty, the damaged, angry, scarred young heroine who wanted justice for what had been done to her. The gang-rape storyline, which had just kicked off, scared the hell out of me, as did Roger Howarth as Todd, but there was something about him that I had never seen on TV, let alone those other soap operas. I loved Max and Luna instantly, and Andrew and Cassie were very comfortable characters for me; Laura Koffman's Cassie in particular was like a big sister.
But I was instantly transfixed by Robin Strasser, playing Dorian Lord, which I immediately thought was the most terrifying-sounding name since Darth Vader. When she strode into the frame, children were scared -- I was scared, anyway, and could not take my eyes off her. I had little context at that time for her ancient feud with Viki (who reminded me, then and now, of my mother), but I knew it went back many years. As I began burrowing back into OLTL's past history and learning about so many amazing characters and plotlines, I was fascinated by the idea that this story with all these people had been going on for such a very long time, and that here I was, now, a part of it with them, that I got to go along. Little old me! Who'd have thought?
And so, that's the way it went. Asa; Alex; Clint; Jessica; David; Rebecca Lewis and Zorro; Patricia Mauceri's heart-on-her-sleeve Carlotta, who I always wanted to hug, weeping for her ex-con son; Hank and R.J.; Angel Square; Antonio and Andy; Todd and Blair at the bar; Patrick and Marty; and on and on for the next nineteen years. They became my family. You don't need me to tell you my personal lyrics when we all know the song. Viki explained it all to us this past week as she gave her incredible and heart-stopping metatextual speech about the end of Fraternity Row, and the nature of soap opera and the serialized drama. As OLTL came to the end of its network run, we were right where we've always been: right there beside our friends and family, on the couch, watching television. Inside Llanview.
I am sorry that this is going to be late, and I am sorry that this is probably going to be long, but it was hard enough figuring out where to start, and it's going to be hard enough knowing where to stop. All I can do is take the show as it happened in its final week, and try to proceed from there from something else that's very important to me, beyond saying goodbye.
First up: Heaven. Good stuff, if a little rushed. Loved seeing Gabrielle again, all the ghosts, but I felt there wasn't quite enough of everyone, from Viki and Megan to Clint and Stacy facing Clint's sins, to the wonderful (and buff) Van Hughes as the new Cole, and Luna, and even to the Fords. Believe me, I thank God every night that that chandelier came down and took Bobby Ford from my sight last week -- I am so happy he is dead -- but I felt Heaven should have been a two-day affair, if only to close out these characters' arcs properly.
Love him or hate him -- and I really hated him -- it felt as though Ford's final exit and the summation of his character needed a little more clarity in the dialogue. The metaphysical implication was surprisingly mature for latter-day OLTL; Ford could not totally countenance his misdeeds or the rape of Jessica, but he distinguished from his evil father by promising to "ask the right questions" about himself and his mistakes, even in the afterlife, and strive to become a better soul. Thus, he was allowed to ascend to Luna's side of the aisle. That's what I gleaned from those very quick scenes, but there could have been a bit more meat on the bone to get us there. I actually wanted more from that. But hey! He's dead, who cares? Siesta!
Crystal Hunt was also a surprising delight as Stacy opposite Jerry ver Dorn, but I also felt Clint accounting for his wrongdoing was a little too quick. But with Viki and Megan, to be fair, how much more needed really be said? That was an ultimate soap moment at the end, with Clint facing down the gates of Heaven and telling Viki to beat the odds one more time, and Viki rushing to his arms and crying, "I can't let go!" You can't get any better than that for the character. I'm not the biggest fan of this two-minute Viki and Clint reunion, believe me, but I respect them for what they are, I love the actors together and separately, and yeah, I wept. Especially when I saw Meredith Wolek on the mantel along with the rest of the family pictures. Go back and look, she's there.
Back in reality, can I just say how thrilled I was that a woman finally got to be the heroine again and kill Mitch Laurence? I would've preferred Viki, but Natalie was a pretty damn good choice as she blew Mitch away and said she did it "for Jared." I hear you, Ron Carlivati! Somewhere out there, undead Black Lantern Jared Banks is stirring in his shallow grave! Seriously though, I'll give credit where it's due; I thought John and Natalie's final, very late reunion was well-written and performed and I appreciated McBain taking his share of the blame for his crap. It almost was enough to make me like them again for the first time in, oh...seven years? I gave up on those two around the time Evangeline entered the picture and the story got really stupid and forced. (I didn't like John and Evangeline together either, by the way.) But Michael Easton and Melissa Archer sold their happy ending, and I was happy for Natalie. (Just in time for John McBain to go to Port Charles. More on that later!)
Am I the only one who noticed how not broken up Jessica was that Uncle Bobby had bitten the dust? It seemed like she was crying over the family pet at the hospital. Not a wet eye in the house the morning after, that's all I'm saying. And I am five by five with that. I was thrilled beyond words that Brody showed up at Llanfair, I cannot tell you. Sure, it makes no sense that he just got out or that he could be allowed back into the Special Forces given his record, but hey! Again, who cares? Not me.
The obvious implication of Alison Perkins's sinister narration is that Brody and Jessica may yet reunite down the line, and that is certainly what I choose to believe. I loved them together, and I await yet another DNA test to prove that Ryder is a true-blue Lovett after all. If you happen see me at a New York area Kinko's printing out fake documentation for "Baby Lovett" with lots of medical jargon, pay no attention, I'm on my own trip here.
Despite all my issues with several of their terrible, terrible storylines, I have always liked Rex and Gigi as a couple, particularly Farah Fath as the plucky Miss Gigi, and I am pleased their family went off happily ever after to join the Buchanans' London collective, which presumably now includes Cord and Tina as well. (Scenes with Rex, Gigi, and Tina practically write themselves.) More than his parents, though, I'm glad Shane got a happy ending, even if he and Jack never got to fess up to their burgeoning puppy love. Neela, I like you and your family, girl, but you know you were just in the way!
And now, one of the main events: the Mannings vs. what has been perhaps not-so-affectionately termed "Team Hater." It's like I said weeks ago, people: if you find a hunky Latino secret agent tied up in an undisclosed location, just leave him there! But did John listen? No, and it's all Agent Baker's fault for being addicted to "his story" as much as we are. Thus "Team Hater" was born, as Téa and Tomas stomped around John's cruddy-ass apartment --
(-- okay, I'm sorry, let's stop a second, because this is probably my last rodeo and I just have to tie up everything. What is with John's horrible apartment? You all watched this soap opera too; you know what I'm talking about. That place is rank. It is a slum, a hovel. It's like a giant studio apartment. It does not look clean. Looks like a roach motel. So how is he going to raise a family up in there with Natalie and Liam? Where does the baby sleep? John has been chief of detectives for years; you mean to tell me he cannot afford a bigger place? How did all these women just love getting down with McBain in that crummy place? I have a better place than that, and I am a freelance writer! Come on, John! Shape up! Or is he just going to stick Natalie with the lease while he moves to Port Charles? I can totally see him doing that. Okay, fine, back to your scheduled programming.)
Anyway. Team Hater has spent the week being all, "ooh, we got Todd now, he's gon' get it!" So I knew some sort of twist was coming here, but the lead-in -- Todd and Blair's romantic reunion, on the heels of Starr's exit for Los Angeles -- was spectacular. Roger Howarth was absolutely heartbreaking with Todd's confession that he had thought of all sorts of ways to keep Starr in Llanview, but "it's not about me" anymore. That is growth for the character, and his last hours were staggering for me to watch as a longtime fan.
They did a lot with a very short timeframe, packing a surplus of emotion and history into a handful of scripts, supported by some wonderful performances from Howarth and Kassie DePaiva. I loved the discussion of his departure for Ireland in 1995, where it all first went wrong for Todd and Blair, and how it changed everything. "I do stupid things every day," he told Blair, and I wished Todd had told her the truth before they went to bed together -- but I'm not sorry they did! Those two are still scorching hot when they bring it, and they've been bringing it ever since Roger Howarth walked back on-set. The easy intimacy between Howarth and DePaiva in the afterglow scenes was particularly startling. He came back to play.
I was pretty sure Victor Jr. was alive already, but I loved the way they did that big twist for a variety of reasons. (I also love the fact that Trevor St. John apparently insisted on drooling like Cujo and flashing the crazy eyes for his last close-up. That dude always does whatever he wants.) Number one, Todd is immediately exonerated, and Team Hater denied. Oh, sure, he tied Tomas up for a couple weeks, but I didn't see anyone pulling out the sodium pentothal, or the hammer and tongs, or the hot pliers for his happy ass, did you? Doesn't really compare to Todd's eight years of torture as Tomas mooned over his wedding pictures.
Listen, I love Ted King to bits, I had high hopes for the Tomas character, which I still think could go far on OLTL or GH, but they wrecked this "triangle" the minute they said Tomas was responsible for Todd's incarceration and knew all along. As far as I'm concerned, Blair can ride the night with Todd forever. When it comes to these two, Tomas just needs to sit down. Sit down, angry bearded man! And Téa -- well, despite her extreme hateration (she does think she's a widow, after all), I'm glad she'll get a reunion with Victor, either on GH or off-screen. I do hope to see them in Port Charles in some fashion, because I think that's a fascinating couple, and they're the perfect rivals for Todd and Blair. I'll miss Florencia Lozano terribly if Téa does not cross over.
Was anyone surprised that Starr dumped poor sweet James, after seeing Van Hughes's naked chest on Monday? I was not. Not seeing more of those finely sculpted Thornhart pecs is another fresh, keenly felt loss in a sea of melancholy as we say goodbye to Llanview. That being said, as happy I was to see Starr and a much more interesting Cole together at the end, what I've realized is the Thornharts as a family have a serious, systemic problem with the concept of "the low profile." Patrick and Marty flee town in 1997, the world must think they're dead to escape Patrick's enemies -- what do they do? Move to California! Then back to Llanview! Cole is presumed dead and a fugitive from the law -- what does he do? Move to California and live with his girlfriend and their baby!
Marty, Patrick, I love you (even after Marty stabbed all those people), but this is how you got in trouble in the first place! Still and all, it was nice to see them together at the end, and Markko and Langston happy too. How the hell could they afford the apartment, BTW? That was some nice furniture and pottery. This is the stuff I focus on, have you guys noticed?
On a more somber note, I cried buckets at the finale for my Buchanans, and the birth of Matthew and Destiny's little Drew. The waterworks really kicked in when I saw the looks on Bo and Nora's faces after Matthew suggested the name, and I thought there was something so wonderful and fitting about OLTL's last newborn being a biracial child. Bo and Nora's final farewell to us in the foyer -- "I love you, Red" -- oh, my God. I can't think of anything more perfect or more sob-inducing. And when Eddie Alderson started crying and said, "Happy birthday, Drew," forget it, I was done. Done. There was such sorrow at the ending of that storyline, but such joy for the future.
Tears of joy -- this is what Viki's speech to the Fraternity Row audience, and to us, was all about. That's what daytime drama is about. We all inherit this world, these people, these families, and we become a part of it as they become a part of us. But it's more than just the soaps. What she said on Thursday was a far more eloquent expression of what I have tried and often fumbled to express at times since signing on to the Two Scoops column. Serialized storytelling is older than the hills, older than the word processor or the printing press, as old as the cave paintings and the spoken word passed down. It is not a dinosaur; it is simply immortal. It will always be with us, in one form or another, at different timeslots, in different genres, shapes, mediums, offline, online, prose or film, network or cable or beyond. That's why the serial will never die, and why soaps, these soaps, all soaps can never really die.
When I first said I thought we would hear from these brands again someday, I had no idea there would be a bid from Prospect Park Media to resurrect them so soon, but I was not surprised at the offer itself. And when Ron Carlivati and Frank Valentini announced that Todd, Blair, Starr, and John McBain were crossing over to join General Hospital in February, well, I was stunned -- but again, a part of me suspected that Llanview, and the serial, would find a way again, somehow, some way, someday. Apparently someday is February. It won't be all of Llanview -- Viki, Clint, Bo, Nora, Natalie, and so many others -- but it will be a piece of our shared home, a piece I'll treasure. And who knows what the future could hold for the overall OLTL brand name? I've given up trying to guess.
The most important thing the OLTL finale did was preserve what I treasured as a child, what I think all of us treasured, especially the viewers out there who are perhaps still that young today -- the idea of a second home, with other families, a place to go, that is still continuing on, where the sun rises and sets everyday. A place that we can look in on any time we want, and they'll still welcome us home. By giving closure to characters like the Buchanans; Bo and Nora; Rex, Gigi and Shane; and John and Natalie (well, up to a point, right?), while also leaving room for more for Todd, Blair, Téa, and Victor, they gave us peace of mind, happiness, but also excitement, a sense of vibrant life, vitality in a place and a world, a community that is not dead, far from it, that goes on. As Viki said, all we have to do to be part of it, to feel at home, is "tune in tomorrow." I cannot tell you how much that sense of a continuing, if happily parted, narrative meant to me, and how important I think it is for fans young and old.
As for General Hospital. Yeah, I'll be there, with bells on. I can't wait to see our Llanview foursome tackle the monotone mobsters and their molls, and I want to see what kind of shape Todd and Blair are in after Victor Jr. and Alison are dealt with. (Or is our Ali still at large? Hmmm...) Though I was once an ardent GH fan, I think that show has been a hazmat disaster area for the better part of a decade, so a storm of Llanviewites can only help in my opinion. If anyone's interested, I might be amenable to coming back sometime and writing a relative outsider's take on the crossover madness -- but we'll save that for another day.
Right now, GH or no GH, I want to do one more thing for you, and I want any of you who are creatively inclined to respond in kind. As I said above, I believe so much in the continuing serialized narrative of Llanview, and we all always want to know what happens next. So I'm giving to give you a little bit of my take on what I think might come next week for a couple characters, admittedly informed here and there by both the final weeks of the show and a few intriguing rumors I've seen tossed around online. And if you're interested, you can send me your own ideas, or you can just write to say goodnight, not goodbye. Whatever you like. But I figured, like Peabo's song said, I could give you tomorrow. Because tomorrow, building from today, is what Llanview is all about. So, without further ado...