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 Two Scoops: September 21, 2009 columns
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Robin Strasser
Lord vs. Banks
by Michael For the week of September 21, 2009
The beauty of the mayoral race is that it's a classic umbrella story drawing lots of people in.
Whichever end of the political spectrum you happen to fall upon, I think we can all agree that one thing daytime rarely does well, at least in the last decade, is political stories. Who can forget the two-minute race between Nora and Daniel Colson for the District Attorney position? How about Nikki Newman on Y&R, who had, let's just say, skeletons in her closet, complete with their own pasties and thongs? Or Scott Baldwin on GH, who ended up back on the municipal payroll even after he'd heisted millions, skipped town and left a DVD explaining his criminal scheme? So why is it that, with all that bad baggage from recent years, I'm still all over this Viki versus Dorian mayoral race storyline? It's a hot track, baby, I'm loving it. And it's just one story that's really firing on all cylinders in Llanview these days. The canvas isn't perfect - rarely anything ever is - but there was a lot to sink one's teeth into on OLTL this week, and I've got a hankering that just won't quit. Eat up, baby, it's Two Scoops, it's good for you. Kind of. Maybe. (Incidentally, this week's title comes from Robert Altman's political mockumentary, Tanner '88.)

The beauty of the mayoral race is that it's a classic umbrella story drawing lots of people in; Charlie and David are Viki and Dorian's campaign manager major domos, giving them something substantial to do, while the rest of the Lords/Buchanans and Cramers slowly get pulled in the fray as well, just as Starr and Hope did back when Lowell was still on the ticket and looking for a photo op. What's more, the storyline not only plays off of Viki and Dorian's classic rivalry, but gives both women, veterans of "a certain age," a direction to vie for. Whichever woman emerges victorious becomes mayor of Llanview, essentially planting her smack in the middle of the show and leaving her in prime position for future story and continued relevance on OLTL, and a veteran-starved ABC Daytime. At first glance, I feel this role is something Viki particularly needs, as she's been ignored by other creative regimes in years past; while Viki is the more heroic, even-tempered character, Dorian, as a flamboyant antiheroine, has rarely suffered for screen time. Then again, you can just as easily make a case for Dorian being the more interesting winner - imagine what she'd do to Llanview with that kind of power! It would make Alex Olanov's reign of terror look like a day at the fair. It would also be an opportunity to explore avenues with Dorian's character which the show squandered last year, when they kicked the potentially very exciting twist of her taking over Buchanan Enterprises under the rug. That being said, I love both women and consider them indispensable to the show, so whoever loses, I think fans win. And that's what makes this story exciting - we're seeing the twin hearts of Llanview duke it out in a story which isn't a retread or a rehash of old beefs, isn't about their kids or some day player, but instead is relevant and current to the OLTL of today. Viki and Dorian are made vital again with a stroke of the pen, and you may want to vote for one or the other, but neither you nor I nor any viewer tuning in can ignore them, the way the elder Quartermaines or Martins are so often now ignored on AMC or GH. Now the question is, is David a David Axelrod or a Karl Rove? Is Charlie Paul Begala or Lee Atwater? Which candidate will be the first to don a flight suit, or jump into an armored tank? Will Dorian declare her yearly income in a televised speech ("My daughter Langston bought a little dog named Checkers...")? Will Viki buy television airtime to bludgeon us with charts and graphs like Ross Perot? The possibilities are endless.

Another storyline which has developed seemingly limitless potential is the Evans family drama with Rachel, Greg, and Shaun, though not necessarily for the reasons you might think. The fact is, while I have really enjoyed this romantic yarn so far, I simply have no idea what Dr. Greg will do next. All I know is, I wouldn't like him when he's angry. That's right - I fear he may be the Incredible Hulk. If they start playing that music and his eye turns emerald green, clear the hospital corridors. Yes, Terrell Tilford played to the opera boxes this week, giving us what I can only call a histrionic tour de force worthy of Faye Dunaway's most, er, memorable acting moments (think Mommie Dearest) as Greg broke down over his brother Shaun's critical condition. Listen, as viewers, your mileage may vary on these scenes, but the fact remains, the good doctor was what us discerning types call wilding out. Personally, I couldn't help but giggle at some of the over-the-top acting in Greg's scenes, especially as he babbled about splinters and needles, and then tore through the hospital like Forrest Gump, being pursued by security guards - for all I know, he's still on the run! I kept hoping they would cut to "Speedy" Greg Evans later in the week, rushing past as Jessica and Brody watched Bo's press conference, or interrupting Viki and Dorian's mayoral showdown with an interpretive dance set to Rihanna's portion of Jay-Z's "Run This Town." It reminded me of a classic scene on The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air where a hysterical Carlton Banks runs through every single set on the show, finally crawling offstage, still howling like a banshee.

Still, I will say this: For all the hammy acting, I felt the truth of Tilford's performance and the character of Greg shone through. The writing was exceptional, and if anything, I thought Greg's hysterics continued to enhance his much-needed vulnerability. When faced with serious trouble that his skills can't fix, Greg is still just a big kid. His confrontations with Rachel and his family, respectively, was very well-scripted, and the chemistry between Duplaix and Tilford still crackles. So I say, Greg, keep on bugging out, as long as the caliber of your story remains up to par. Maybe next week you can take out Stacy, throw another chair at her or something. Also, Shaun and Greg's parents were fantastically cast with two incredible stage and screen veterans, Tonye Patano and Frankie Faison, known best for their work on Weeds and The Wire (Faison played Baltimore Police Commissioner Burrell). And I have to commend Shenell Edmonds (Destiny) for doing her best work on the show so far, breaking my hard, cold heart as Des wept for her brother in the hospital chapel. I couldn't help but get verklempt as Matthew literally crawled over to her to comfort his friend. My secret is out, I'm a big softy. This story is pure soap, and it's getting the kind of attention and care minority-centered storylines rarely seem to get on modern daytime.

It's not all wine and roses, though. Sadly, the most beefcake and twinkie-laden crime storyline on daytime came to an end this week as John made short work of the sexy, scary Sergei in some surprisingly well-shot location scenes. It'll be at least another six weeks before any more attractive men decide to start frisking Cole and pinning him against furniture again. Also, unless a sinister-looking water park opens in Llanview, how often am I going to get to see Mark Lawson in a wetsuit? All I ask is that the writers take these factors into consideration before concluding promising storylines. Seriously, though, I've felt the undercover storyline was pretty solidly delivered, and the climactic action was really impressive for today's budget-conscious daytime. What I most appreciate about this story, however, is the way it ended. First, there was a very character-driven coda for Brody and Jessica. The scenes between them as Brody recovered in the hospital were among the most tender, mature and loving I've seen on a soap opera in some time; neither party forced the other to accept their point of view on Brody's new job with the LPD. Instead, they had a real, adult conversation, and Brody was able to show a mixture of strength and accessible humanity by tearfully explaining the depths of his devotion to Jess, and offering to step back. Secondly, I want to mention the episode dedicated to the awards ceremony for the local heroes, including Brody, Cole, and Fish. Soaps so rarely seem to acknowledge or honor truly decent, heroic men anymore; every supposed "good guy" is instead compromised or counterfeit in some way, either by sexual dalliance or by slanted writing that unfairly pits them another party and skews the writing to benefit them (see: General Hospital). It seems that in these cynical times, there's no room for a Cord or an Andrew Carpenter, no place for an Ed Bauer or a Roman Brady like Wayne Northrop's. Today's soap police are generally bumbling or corrupt; Lucky Spencer on GH is an afterthought, and even his father, Luke, once the ultimate "soap hero," has mutated into something unrecognizable to me. So I'm pleased to see that OLTL is not afraid to still be earnest, and honor heroes, good men like Brody or Fish or Shaun even Cole or John, without it undermining it in some way by giving the glory to someone "darker" or "cooler." There's also no other soap out there with the cojones to dare show gay Oliver Fish as a man of action, given a hero's welcome by Llanview proper right alongside the other more conventional heroes. That's something to be applauded. Heroes still have a place on soap opera. They never left - we did.

It seems there'll be no rest for the weary, however, as Brody's next case literally crawled onto his hospital doorstep. Yes, it seems Jared was assaulted by the stalker, who by all scant appearances vaguely resembled a leprechaun - at least, the extra in question was much shorter than John Brotherton. And I think he wore a hobo cap. If you hear an Irish fiddle on the wind, Jared, run for your damn life. Homeboy wants his gold, and I know how this ends - I saw Leprechaun In The Hood. Elves aside, I'm glad to see this story kicking off in a big way, with Natalie and Jared front and center. It's been too long for the junior Mr. and Mrs. Banks. I'm still pretty sure I know who this stalker is, though. I'm sure of it. He's got a message, and he wants you to heed it, y'all. Mitch Laurence, all the way. Beware, Llanview!

And then we come to the Reject File. Stacy is having Fish's baby - now she has to pollute the gay storyline? Well, I guess it has possibilities, but to be honest I seem to have begun blacking out during Rex or Stacy scenes. For example, the last time Rex began talking, I woke up in Queens covered in blood, as if the sound of his voice had driven me into a homicidal rage, much like that episode of Seinfeld where Mary Hart on Entertainment Tonight turned Kramer into an epilectic. Okay, okay, so Rex doesn't really send me on a killing spree, but it's getting close, y'all. And by the way, how dim can Gigi and Schuyler be regarding the very recent home pregnancy test? Or Rex for that matter? "Oh, Rex, no, I refuse to let you test my baby's paternity for nine months." Are you kidding me? Get a court order! This is the height of stupid, plot-driven writing for these characters. They are forced to be extremely, catastrophically stupid to service a bad story, and I find it inconceivable that this triangle exists on the same show as a top-notch affair like, say, the Viki and Dorian feud or Kyle and Fish.

There's yet one more stinker on the pile, and of course it's the story I've come to know as "Todd Loves The Lovely Ladies, Whether They Like It Or Not." Todd and Téa's courtship continues to bore me to tears, and does both unique characters a supreme disservice, as the "we're perfect!" writing has drained them, their chemistry and their twisted romance of all color and fire. Téa continues to come to life in the courtroom or opposite Blair, as she did late this week, and I was glad to see Starr and Jack displaying rare narrative consistency by finding Todd and Téa's engagement sudden and ill-thought-out. Jack in particular has suffered whiplash as a character; depending on the month, Jack will either be on Todd or Blair's side without warning, and it's as though the writers decide he doesn't have to make sense because he's not an adult. I disagree, but I was glad to see him settle on a point of view this week. The sluggish, inconsistent writing for this story also bumbled back over to the other side of the fence by having various characters (Téa, Starr, Langston, Jack) drop narrative anvils about how "Todd and Blair are in each other's blood," coupled with Todd attempting to immolate Blair's "mystery lover", as he used the same lame excuse Blair has given for digging into Téa's past - "It's not about me, it's for the kids!" Yeah, right. I'm fully aware that the show is just yanking the chains of both Todd fanbases at this point, I can handle that cliche, I just wish the swerves back and forth weren't so blatant and clumsy. And I'm still hoping something substantial will develop between Blair and Ross - their kiss had heat, and I'll root for almost anything that will get Blair out of this story at this point (except John). Kassie DePaiva and Florencia Lozano are carrying this mess on their backs in their fierce confrontations and give-and-take; Trevor St. John, who's equally talented, has nothing to do but react to other people and be clueless, which the script demands but Todd has never been. So he's done perhaps the biggest disservice of all, and I hope his talent is properly utilized again soon. It's just not going to be in this sorry story, about a character who only vaguely resembles Todd. Maybe if you squint.

Then came Kish. Oh, mama! Nobody expects the gay makeout session! I know I sure didn't, but there it was, all up in my face, with Kyle and Nick all but hitting the sheets on-camera! Eat your heart out, Luke and Noah. Forbes March better step his game up! So should Oliver, for that matter; Nick is absolutely adorable, but unfortunately, Oliver still has Kyle's heart. Between that shockingly casual scene of intimacy and the heartfelt family scenes with "the Fishes," I was really stunned and impressed with this story this week. I thought Scott Evans' real-life mother acquitted herself well as Mrs. Fish, and Evans himself turned in a heck of a performance as Oliver, whose heart was obviously breaking as he struggled to get through to his father. What is particularly touching to me, and I think so important about this story on a whole, is the forceful, direct presentation of these gay male characters and their lives as real, showing them as well-rounded people, both flawed and strong, with a surprising degree of candor and, yes, masculinity. Oliver is a hero cop, Kyle is a bit of a ne'er-do-well, but neither fits any typical stereotype, nor was David Fumero expected to fit any "camp" posture when Cris was once again mistaken for gay. Instead, he was simply Cristian, strong, honest, powerfully defending "himself." There's guys like Cris who are really gay out there, everywhere, or guys like Kyle, or Oliver, or Nick, and they're just who they are, no pretensions, no drumroll when they begin to make love, as Kyle and Nick did on Friday. There was no big press announcement about this latest scene either, which is what really leaves me struck. It was treated as a non-event, like any other daily love scene on a soap between any heterosexual couple. That is acceptance. Things really are changing, and somehow I always knew One Life to Live would be the soap to go there.

It was a good week in Llanview for me, and I hope you guys enjoyed it too. But I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge the passing of another great soap opera this week, and that of course was The Guiding Light. I had a mixed history with GL, a jumble of good and bad periods, everything from Michael Zaslow and Beverlee McKinsey to "Clone Reva" and Peapack, New Jersey. In its later years I couldn't watch what GL became through a succession of bad creative regimes, and when I viewed its final weeks this month, I felt a mixture of sadness and relief; I frankly find its demise, and what happened to it to lead it to that terminal place, to be a cautionary tale for all soaps. With the loss of Guiding Light we lose a touchstone, a hieroglyph which shows us how things were done on daytime from the very beginning. In its end, we also see what we have to lose, and what can be undone with carelessness and neglect. There are hundreds of incredible actors and talents on GL who are in the ether now, characters and performers who I can't ever forget, like Maureen Garrett, Peter Simon, Robert Newman, Grant Aleksander, Kim Zimmer. But its seventy-two year run makes GL a spectacular cultural artifact, a living, breathing document that, at its height and in its history, exemplified the best of what daytime drama can be, and what it represents to an audience of all ages, of a world, a town, a people going on, living, day in and day out, as you watched the television or even turned on the radio. Former head writer Nancy Curlee, who penned GL during one of its many golden ages, described the show's essence to be that of someone running for their screen door on a cool summer night, knowing that home, hearth, and "good things cooking" lay just inside. This image is not just GL, it is all soaps, at core, because I think the TV's the screen door and we're the ones running for it. But it was GL understood that concept first, and oftentimes, best. Goodbye, Guiding Light; daytime knows less of itself without you. See you all in two weeks.

Michael


Two Scoops is an opinion column. The views expressed are not designed to be indicative of the opinions of soapcentral.com or its advertisers. The Two Scoops section allows our Scoop staff to discuss what might happen, what has happened, and to take a look at the logistics of it all. They stand by their opinions and do not expect others to share the same view point.



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