Way back in January, things looked pretty rosy in Pine Valley. Bianca got her baby back, JR was hot on the trail of Babe, Jamie and the baby that was then called James, and Ryan and Greenlee were planning to have a child of their own. Oh how things can change in a mere 365 days...
By the end of the year, Bianca and Miranda had moved to Paris, Edmund was dead, Adam was married to Krystal, and the tortured Lavery clan had all but taken All My Children hostage. By the middle of 2005, AMC definitely started to dip - after the epic baby switch story, things were bound to decline. As of now, the show is still struggling - but it hasn't been all bad.
I know I won't be able to cover everything that happened this year, but I'm going to try to hit all of the high (and low) points. I decided to take a cue from Clint Eastwood and break the year down into three categories - the good, the bad and the ugly.
The Battle for Little Adam/Baby James/Ace
This was the only major element of the baby switch that was left unsettled after Bianca's magical reunion with Miranda. While I was never a really big fan of the Jamie/Babe pairing, I did enjoy watching them on the run with Baby James. And the custody battle itself brought my two favorite soaps together for a heartbreaking and compelling trial.
Some of my favorite moments: OLTL's Kelly, Ace's adoptive mother, tracking down Babe and Jamie and ultimately letting go of her one-time son, only to be topped by her shocking courtroom declaration that Babe had taken the baby with her permission; JR and Adam, in full-on evil genius mode, plotting to make Babe look bad (not a hard job, I admit) and trying to manipulate Bianca into supporting the junior Chandler in court; and finally, Bianca's honest and classy testimony, asking the judge to place the much-loved child in Babe's custody.
All in all, it was the most compelling custody hearing I've seen since JR himself was the child in question. It was classic soap opera and I loved every minute of it.
Zach and Kendall Fall In Love
This choice will come as no surprise to regular readers - I have been on the Zach and Kendall bandwagon for a while now, and judging from the emails I've received, I'm not alone. But what is it about this unlikely duo that's so compelling?
The premise - marrying first, falling in love second - has certainly been done to death. In fact, Zach and Kendall found themselves smack dab in the middle of Ryan and Greenlee's merger-turned-marriage. But the difference, as was pointed out in the Year in Review issue of SOD, is that this story was allowed to percolate over the last six months, finally coming to the forefront in recent weeks. The chemistry between Thorsten Kaye and Alicia Minshew is palpable, and they've shared only one fully fledged on-screen kiss. They make me laugh, they make me cry and they make me furious! And like all the best soap couples, they always leave me wanting more.
Hopefully, 2006 will bring at least a few pockets of happiness for these two would-be lovers. In soap opera land, you can't ever expect a happily ever after, but I look forward to seeing more of this couple. And would it kill AMC to throw us a love scene sooner rather than later? I think poor Zach can now officially qualify for priesthood!
Jack and Erica's Wedding
This event was more than a decade in the making, and AMC did it justice by devoting an entire episode to the ceremony. It was a little over-the-top and very sappy, but given that AMC fans had been waiting so long for it to happen, it was more than appropriate. Seeing the extended Kane-Montgomery clan happy - if only for a fleeting moment - was worth it.
And even though Jack and Erica's nups were the focus, the events surrounding the "I do's" were just as intriguing: Kendall marrying Zach before Ethan could tell her he was ready to give up Cambias and Greenlee finding out that Ryan had planned a secret vasectomy. Throw in the humor of Lily stowing away on the newlyweds' honeymoon yacht, and you had the perfect balance between a long-awaited payoff event and the advancement of current storylines.
Honorable Mentions: JR and Babe's ever-changing relationship (and intense chemistry) often has me glued to the set; Lily continues to be one of my favorite characters; Aidan, while still woefully underused, is still a nice stand-by hero, who deserved better than a snore-inducing relationship with Anita; Phoebe's funeral was a touching send-off for the beloved Ruth Warrick; AMC's 35th anniversary episode was a real treat, complete with an appearance by Carol Burnett's Verla Grubbs.
Julia & The Dragon
After the horror story of Maureen Gorman, I didn't think AMC could screw up another much-anticipated Santos return so badly. Unfortunately, I was wrong.
I was looking forward to Julia's arrival as much as anybody, but with no Noah and almost no family to welcome her, Julia's homecoming fell flat. I understand that after everything Julia's been through during her time off the canvas, she's bound to be a changed woman. But this girl needs a story, fast - one that doesn't involve her mentioning the "nine years" she lost every five minutes.
Julia's big storyline, the hunt for The Dragon, was somewhat anticlimactic. The reveal that Mimi's fiancÚ Garrett was the big bad crime boss seemed obvious from the start - and the big showdown in NYC was only made interesting by Lamaan Rucker's chilling performance. I shudder to think how that story would have played out if he had not been cast in that role.
The best part of the Dragon story, in my humble opinion, was the emergence of Di. While I initially hated this Dixie-wannabe for hurting Tad, Jamie, and especially the already embittered JR, I have grown to like her in recent months. When it came right down to it, she risked her newfound happiness to save lives, and that endeared me to her. Plus, I have enjoyed the budding friendship between Di and Julia as they struggle to rebuild their lives. And I'm very interested to see how a returning Dixie is tied to Di.
The Surrogacy Story
This was a giant mess from the very start. While I liked Kendall and Greenlee as friends back in the day, their sudden sisterhood was a little jarring. I'm not surprised that Kendall would go to such lengths to give Greenlee what she wanted, but that doesn't mean I'm happy with how things turned out. Most people saw the supposed "twist" - that Kendall is really the mother of the child she's carrying - coming a mile away.
And now, we have to see Kendall tied to Ryan for the rest of her life. I have resigned myself to the fact that Kendall will have the baby and I'm trying to make my peace with it. There are some storyline possibilities - I would love to see Zach bond with Kendall's baby (perhaps even talk to her belly? Or play Austrian music to it? Or show it flashcards?) And that intriguing opportunity is one of the only reasons this storyline didn't end up on my "ugly" list.
Bye, Bye Binks
This isn't really meant as a criticism of AMC, but I couldn't do a year-end column without mentioning it. Eden Riegel wanted to leave and try her hand at primetime and movie roles, and I certainly don't begrudge her that. But when I found out that Bianca was leaving town, I was hit hard. The exit couldn't have been handled much better than it was - I particularly appreciated that AMC arranged for Elizabeth Hendrickson to leave at the same time, allowing Bianca and Maggie to exit together. But watching Bianca board that plane to Paris had me reaching for a crate of Kleenex. The only good thing about Binks leaving is that when she comes back, it feels extra special. And seeing as she's already been back twice since she left, I guess there's not all that much to complain about.
Honorable Mentions: Rebecca Budig's exit also saddened me, even though her alter ego Greenlee regularly drove me up the wall this year; AMC continues to let talented vets such as Julia Barr (Brooke) and Vincent Irizarry (David) languish on the backburner.
All My Laverys
If there is one common thread in all the emails I've received in recent months, it's that the majority of AMC viewers wouldn't mind if the Lavery family disappeared from Pine Valley altogether. I'm not even sure where to begin with these three. In the interest of time, I'll give Erin a free pass and move on to her big brothers.
I actually enjoyed pre-op Jonathan much more than his current, stuttering incarnation. Every show needs a good villain, and Jonathan certainly fit the bill. I understand AMC wanting to hang on to an Emmy-nominated actor, but I think they could have gone another way. There are plenty of current soap heroes with less-than-stellar pasts: OLTL's Todd and GH's Luke to name but two. Why not actually show him in prison for a little while (like OLTL's Todd) and try to redeem him afterwards? I'm not sold on this new, improved Jonathan, but if I ever like him again, it will be because of Jeff Branson's performance. But that's a big "if."
And then there's Ryan. There has been so much said about this guy recently, I feel like I'm rehashing very well-tread territory. The bottom line is that Ryan is completely unlikable right now. His treatment of Greenlee and Kendall, his current and former loves respectively, was just unacceptable. Add to that his staunch defense of Jonathan, and his most recent quest to "save" Kendall from Zach, and you've got one hated Lavery! For me, redeeming Ryan is just as tall an order as redeeming his serial killer brother. Jonathan can blame it all on the tumor, but what the hell is Ryan's excuse?
The Death of Edmund Grey
It wasn't the fact that they killed off one of my all-time favorite characters, Edmund Grey - it's that they so utterly decimated him before he died. The Edmund that shuffled off Pine Valley's mortal coil this year was not the Edmund that AMC viewers knew and loved.
Before he met his maker at the hands of Jonathan, Edmund turned into a bitter, mean man who went out of his way to get back at wife Maria and pin any number of crimes on a relatively innocent Zach. Yes, Zach was pursuing Edmund's wife - I didn't expect him to invite the guy over for a beer. But the singular obsession with which Edmund tried to destroy Zach was very unnerving. And his overly cruel treatment of Maria - keeping his recovery and ability to walk a secret, and replacing her with rival Brooke in his will - was cringe-worthy.
The New Amanda Dillon
Here we have another botched return of a once-loved character, Amanda Dillon. For some reason, the aged Amanda was brought back as an oversexed, money-grubbing liar and thrown into the Jamie/Babe/JR mix as a spoiler for Jamie and Babe's relationship. Along the way, she found the time to come on to Aidan, posing for photos in a bathing suit that looked like it had an unfortunate encounter with a paper shredder.
If it had been some random newbie doing all this, I might not have been so turned off. But the fact that all this was being done to a character that I knew was too much to take. Only now is AMC starting to come around, giving Amanda a more sympathetic edge by introducing her overbearing (and possibly still psychotic) mother Janet back into the mix. And her blackouts are somewhat interesting. But at this point, Amanda is still a worthy candidate for fast-forwarding.
Honorable Mentions: Jamie Martin as a doctor-in-training has been downright painful; not even trying to explain Janet having her old face was a bit insulting to long-time fans; and poor Tad is officially the world's worst private detective he couldn't even figure out that Di wasn't Dixie after kissing her!
Well, that's what I thought of Pine Valley in 2005. Here's hoping that in 2006 it only gets better. Thank you all so much for reading my column, for writing in to me, and for making this experience so wonderful.
Have a safe and happy holiday - see you next year!