It's that time of year again, fellow AMC fans! Time to look back on the year that was to see what worked (Zach & Kendall) and what didn't (pretty much everything else). Seeing as this column will cover all of 2006, I want to warn you that you're in for a longer read than normal, with more criticism than praise for our beloved show. It's been a rough year for us, and it's time to hash everything out and hope for better things in 2007. So here are my choices for the best and worst of All My Children. Whether you agree or disagree with my picks, I hope you enjoy reading them.
Yes, I did manage to pick out some high points from the past year, as difficult a task as that was. I'm not sure you'll agree on with my picks, but doesn't that just make it more fun?
Zach & Kendall
It was definitely a rough year for fans of Zach and Kendall. They finally got together, split up, reunited, remarried, split up again, and almost got divorced before reuniting again. They had to deal with a blackout, an explosion, Ethan's death, a mad doctor, a coma, a suddenly-in love Ryan, Dixie, a phony affair and a serial killer. But this isn't about me complaining about the myriad of ways AMC tried to keep these two apart. This is about why I loved watching them get back together.
Even in their darkest moments, the connection between these two flawed characters never broke. When the writers threw ludicrous scenarios at viewers (Zach left Kendall in a coma to chase Madden with Dixie? Kendall suddenly isn't sure about her feelings for Ryan?), Thorsten Kaye and Alicia Minshew made sure the throughline of the story remained intact. When they're together, they're funny, romantic and, most importantly, realistic. When they're apart, they clearly want to be together.
Even with all of the lowlights, there were plenty of Zach and Kendall highlights this year. Their second wedding (the first one fans actually saw) was perfect for them - not showy or over the top, with impromptu vows from the heart. Zach's devotion to his wife throughout the coma ordeal was at once painful and beautiful to watch. Love scenes, though scarce, were well worth the wait, and watching Zach, Kendall and Spike as a family is wonderful to see.
I'm sure there will be another obstacle sooner rather than later, but it seems like AMC is committed, at least for the time being, to keeping these two together as they face their problems. It's certainly been refreshing to see tragedy strike (the serial killings) and have it actually strengthen their bond. This year may be just as rocky as the last, but hopefully Zach and Kendall can navigate the twists and turns side by side. If they don't, there could be very little worth watching - especially in terms of romance - in 2007.
Michael E. Knight as Tad Martin
What can you say about Tad the Cad that hasn't already been said? We've seen him through his wayward bachelor years, three weddings with Dixie, death, amnesia, becoming a father and losing the love of his life, and through it all he has remained the heart and soul of All My Kids. And in my humble opinion, that is all because of Michael E. Knight. So why single him out this year? Well, let's consider the evidence.
Tad was dealt the blow of a lifetime in 2006 when he stumbled upon a very-much-alive Dixie at David's cabin. It should have been a happy moment, but when Tad realized that Dixie has stayed away on purpose, Tad's joy turned to rage. Then Tad found out that his daughter Kate was alive and living who-knows-where thanks to his ex-wife and Dr. Madden.
Then the writers decided to make Tad a murderer. Suffice it to say, it made very little sense. Even with all of his faults, Tad's no murderer. Sure, he had plenty of motive and opportunity, and I could see him accidentally killing Greg in a fit of rage, but to bury the man alive and torture him for weeks? I don't think so. When the reveal was finally made, however, Michael E. Knight single-handedly sold the story for me.
No, I still don't think of Tad as a cold-blooded killer, and yes, I would have preferred the culprit to be pretty much anyone else. But MEK's performances at Zach and Dixie's trial and during his confession to his ex were almost worth the crappy storyline. There hasn't been a moment since the reveal where MEK didn't make me feel Tad's guilt over doing a horrible thing for the right reasons. He doesn't apologize over and over again, he doesn't cry crocodile tears or wring his hands. He just looks weighed down by remorse and regret while trying to carry on. Simone's death just added to his burden - his scenes where he was saying goodbye to her were amazing. That's Emmy reel material if I ever saw it.
The month of December
When I heard that AMC would spice up the holiday season by introducing a sexually confused rock star and a serial killer, I was more than a little skeptical. But the last weeks of 2006 have been some of the best I've seen on AMC in a long time.
As you know from reading my last column, I am already enjoying Zarf, much to my surprise. I'm excited to see what AMC can do with such a unique, complicated story. I will admit that Zarf and Bianca's second kiss was awful and that won't fly if this tale is supposed to take off. I did love their scenes picking out Christmas trees with Miranda, though. With Maggie returning to Pine Valley soon (if only for a short time) this story should get interesting pretty fast.
Death and funerals aren't exactly light holiday fare, but so far, I am really liking the serial killer storyline too. The characters they've chosen to kill off are ones we care about, and more importantly, are mourned by people we care about. Of course, I am borderline dehydrated from all the crying I've been doing, but it's a good kind of cry. Plus, as with any good umbrella story, other storylines are branching off of the main plot. Zach is being forced to confront his past, giving viewers - and his wife Kendall, for that matter - a chance to get to know more about why Slater acts the way he does. The killings have shaken up a lot of couples - Ryan and Annie, Jonathan and Amanda, Babe and JR, Babe and Josh, even Erica and Jackson. And everyone, from Jeff Branson (Jonathan) to Michael E. Knight to Alicia Minshew are turning in great performances.
I must say that I'm terrified of who the next victim will be (why, oh why can't it be Babe?), because I'm pretty sure that I'll like the person we lose. But isn't that the whole point? If they were killing off Winnie and Del, the storyline would mean nothing. I just hope the conclusion to this mystery is a little more satisfying than the Madden reveal was (I'll save my theories and speculation for next year). And with Jack Smith and Kay Alden (former Y&R head writers) consulting, hopefully AMC can carry the momentum from 2006 into the New Year.
Other highlights: Aidan and Di's burgeoning relationship is the most fun that old Fish-and-Chips has had in years. Hopefully, they will grow closer as they investigate the serial killings * With the exception of borderline-catatonic Little Adam, the children on AMC are so much fun to watch. Emma and Miranda are too cute for words and they can actually act! And little Spike always looks adorable in his Red Wings gear. * Even though I didn't love some of the aftermath, the Mardi Gras Ball was quite the spectacle, and the explosion at the party was very well done. The opening of ConFusion was kind of fun too.
So this section came a little easier. In fact, this could have been the whole column. There was a lot to complain about, but I tried to focus on the things that annoyed me the most. Enjoy!
The Abortion That Wasn't
In 1971, daytime pioneer Agnes Nixon wrote a story that changed soaps forever. Erica Kane, pregnant by her first husband Jeff Martin, had television's first legal abortion. Decades later, the writers at AMC saw fit to reverse this storyline by saying Dr. Greg Madden, the man who performed the termination, had actually implanted the fetus into his wife's womb and raised the child as his own. Unbelievable.
Personally, I think that the reversal of Erica's groundbreaking abortion story is one of the biggest mistakes AMC has ever made. TPTB began splitting hairs, saying that the intent of the story was still intact - for all intents and purposes, Erica did have an abortion. It was Greg who changed everything. Nice try. I don't care how many ways you try to justify it, the fact that the procedure didn't actually happen forever changes the way that story will be remembered. It is tainted, plain and simple.
Add to that the fact that Erica's reasoning for the procedure has also been rewritten, and you have a bona fide disaster of a plot twist. Whatever they may say now, I will always be convinced that despite whatever hidden trauma may have been lurking in the back of her mind all those years ago, Erica Kane had an abortion for one simple reason-she wanted a modeling career, not a baby. To see her try to justify her actions 30 years later is insulting to fans and the character herself.
That being said, I do like the character of Josh and the way he's slowly being integrated into the Kane and Martin families. For that, however, I give most of the credit to Colin Egglesfield for making me care about a character I didn't want to like. But there are about a million ways they could have introduced Erica's long lost son - he could have been Kendall's twin or Greg could have used Erica's egg to give his wife a child. In short, AMC didn't have to sacrifice its past for its present.
Remember this time last year? It was Christmas Eve and the Martin-Chandler clan was in disarray. Di, sensing that the family needed a miracle, took off for parts unknown. She entered an unfamiliar room and said hello to an unseen figure. Cut to Dixie Cooney-Martin, alive and well, standing at a window with an almost ethereal glow about her.
A little heavy-handed? Perhaps. But scores of AMC fans had been waiting for Dixie to return for four years (and if we'd forgotten exactly how much time had passed, they made sure to remind us every five minutes). I can't exactly say I was one of them. By the time Dixie was killed off, I didn't have that much invested in her. I felt badly for Tad and Junior as they grieved her loss, but I didn't shed many tears for Dixie herself. But when I heard Cady McClain was returning, I thought the possibilities were endless. It turns out that I should have learned my lesson from Maria and Julia.
The only thing that was endless was the number of ways AMC screwed up another surefire return. In fact, you could argue that of the three big female returns of the past few years, Dixie's had the most potential. Unlike the Santos sisters, all of the family members Dixie left behind were still in Pine Valley, with a few extras to boot. And as mentioned before, her family was a mess and needed her help.
The major stumbling block for me was how they were going to explain Dixie's absence for all these years. Did she lose Kate and then lose her mind, getting committed to a Swiss psych ward? No. Maybe medical troubles were the obstacle? Strike two. Was she somehow kidnapped and held against her will? Wrong again. After months of waiting, we finally found out that Dixie let her family and friends think she was dead for four years-count 'em, four years-because she mistakenly gave Kate away and was searching for her all this time, too ashamed to come home and face everyone. WHAT?
Dixie was never the brightest bulb, but even for her this was a stretch. Even if I forgive her for assuming Tad wouldn't love their child enough to be a good father, I have yet to hear a decent reason for her to not immediately realize her mistake, high tail back to Pine Valley and enlist the help of her friends and family. Her ex-husband is a private investigator, for crying out loud! Adam definitely would have pitched in, if only to make JR happy, not to mention Palmer, who would have gladly bankrupted himself to find his grandniece.
To top it all off, AMC cast Dixie as a spoiler in the wildly popular Zach/Kendall pairing by having Dixie not only monopolize Zach's time, but actually fall in love with him. This wasn't only a stupid move, it was a dangerous one. Most long-time fans already had an opinion about Dixie, be it good, bad or ugly. By making Dix an obstacle to a couple that the majority of fans enjoy, you risk alienating the Dixie fans you have, further pissing off the fans who hate her, and making her unlikeable to fans who have never met her.
Things are looking up for this storyline, and Dixie did have her moments. Her reunions with Tad and JR were powerful and her scenes with Tad after he confessed to killing Greg were great. Plus, Tad and Dixie still have it. But you can't help but wonder where AMC would be right now if they hadn't wasted all this time.
The Teen Scene
Colby, Sydney and Sean - what more needs to be said? Not since Junior and Laurie exchanged IMs have I hated AMC teens this much. Aside from a few glimmers of possibility here and there, this whole storyline has been downright painful to watch.
Sometimes I like to imagine I'm a fly on the wall during AMC's writers' meetings. In an effort to try to understand their own unique brand of logic, I try my best to picture the conversations they have when pitching story ideas. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what they were all thinking when they decided to unleash the teen squad on an unsuspecting public. This is the best I could come up with:
Writer 1: "OK, here's the deal. We'll age Colby and bring her back. We'll barely mention Liza, even though she was so desperate to keep her daughter away from the Chandlers that she became a fugitive. Plus, we'll make Colby entitled, snobby, vacuous, and shrill."
Writer 2: "Sounds great!"
Writer 1: "Oh, I'm not done! Then, we'll introduce the Brooke to her Erica - Sydney."
Writer 2: "Who the hell is Sydney?"
Writer 1: "I don't know, we'll make her the daughter of Winifred's sister's cousin's former roommate or something. It doesn't really matter. Anywho, she'll be the poor girl who gets tortured by Colby. But we'll make her really annoying too, so people have no one to root for."
Writer 2: "I love it!"
Writer 1: "Wait, it gets better! Since we all know that teenage girls can't talk about anything but boys and clothes, we'll need a guy for them to fight over. So we bring back Sean Montgomery!"
Writer 2: "Who?"
Writer 1: "Don't you know your AMC history? Sean Montgomery!"
Writer 1: "You know, the baby that Travis and Barbara conceived, while he was still married to Erica, so that they could get a bone marrow donor for Molly, who had leukemia?"
Writer 2: "Uh, sure, that could work. In fact, it's brilliant. They'll never see it coming!"
Writer 1: "Of course, we'll call him by his middle name so that even viewers who were around during the original storyline won't know who the hell we're talking about. Then, we just sit back and watch the ratings skyrocket."
Writer 2: "Like, totally!"
Writer 3: "Wait a second. You're going to intro three annoying new characters, only one of which the viewers really know, just so you can have a youth-oriented storyline that starts up after our teen viewers have gone back to school? What about Lily, Reggie and Dani? I mean people already care about them and the actors are great. Wouldn't it be better if..."
Writers 1 & 2, in unison: "YOU'RE FIRED!"
Having recently attended my first (but not my last) Super Soap Weekend, I now have first-hand evidence of how devoted soap fans can be. You have to be loyal to make a daily commitment to a program that can often be frustrating, disappointing or downright depressing. So why do we stick with it? Why do we suffer through the bad to get to the good when we can just change the channel or turn off the DVR?
In my opinion, this loyalty is not to the show itself, but to the characters. Whether we love them, hate them or love to hate them, we need to care about the people on the screen to stay invested. So when a character establishes a connection with the audience, TPTB should take special care to protect it. Unfortunately, this year, AMC managed to sever a lot of those long-standing connections and have damaged the show by doing it.
The two major losses are David Hayward and Brooke English. These weren't peripheral characters with no connection to modern-day Pine Valley. David is Babe's father, Dixie's ex, Tad and Ryan's archenemy, Erica's former love and Bianca's former stand-in father. Why wasn't David more involved in the Madden Murder Mystery? Couldn't he have connected with Erica again? Shouldn't he have gone after Ryan when Lavery ran Greenlee out of town? There were endless possibilities. But all we got was David mopping floors at PVH, doling out advice to Babe and having an off-screen romp with Julia. There is a shortage of great villains on AMC - those slightly evil yet redeemable bad guys who stir up trouble and have fun doing it. Losing David was a huge blow.
And where do we begin with Brooke? Despite constant reassurances from Megan McTavish, Ms. English has languished on the backburner for years, existing only as a talk-to for Adam, Jamie, Tad and, most recently, Amanda. AMC passed on the goldmine that is Brooke and Adam to have Chandler ogle Krystal's cleavage for most of the year. Brooke could have investigated the Madden murder for Tempo, only to find that her ex-husband and father of her beloved Jamie was guilty of the crime. Or, heaven forbid, they could have actually made the Jeff/Erica/Jack snoozefest a little more interesting by making Brooke a viable rival for Mr. Montgomery. Nope. All we got was Brooke acting like a prudish, overbearing Mom meddling in her grown son's sex life. What an incredible waste of talent. And at least David got a farewell of sorts. Brooke's last scene was this past week at Simone and Erin's funeral, not that anyone would have noticed. To treat a beloved star with such little respect is reprehensible, not to mention disrespectful to those of us who loved Julia Barr for decades.
And that's not all. Opal and Palmer are nowhere to be seen, despite all the Tad and Dixie drama that's been going on. Stuart only shows up to play with Little Adam, while Marion has been MIA even though her grandaughter Colby is back in town and wreaking havoc. Even some newer established characters (Reggie, anyone?) have been pushed to the backburner. Why make us care about characters if you're just going to let them fade away?
Wise up, AMC. By honoring your history and the characters who built it, you honor the fans who stick with the show... and you have a better chance of luring back the ones you've chased away.
Other lowlights: The Madden Murder Mystery - the murder took months, the investigation took weeks, the trial took three days and the conclusion strained all credibility. That adds up to a dud of a storyline, with none of the high spots a murder storyline should hit. * Jonathan and Lily's barely legal romance made a lot of people wince. Mercifully, when Jonathan finally got his wits about him, AMC followed suit, and ended this icky pairing for good. * Babe and JR. Please make it stop. * AMC's nausea-inducing camera work not only made viewers dizzy, it took away some emotional punch from dramatic scenes. Stick with the stationary cams, people!
There you go, AMCers. Hope you all have a very happy holiday and a prosperous new year. As always, thanks for reading.