Opposites do not attract (good writers)

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Opposites do not attract (good writers)
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The week of March 17, 2008
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The writing for notable vets such as Michael Knight, Darnell Williams, David Canary, Walt Willey, and Susan Lucci has been almost top-notch as of late.

Night and day, short and tall, fat and skinny, apples and oranges. What do all of these have in common? They're opposites, with some being cherished some, but scorned by others. One group of people might enjoy the bright, cheerful hours of day, while night owls prefer the dark, calm, and quiet that stretches across midnight to dawn. Apples are sweet and crisp, but oranges are squishy, juicy, and add a pleasantly bitter tang to their sweetness.

Besides getting you hungry for fruit, this short (but bitter-sweet!) overview of opposites is missing one critical, AMC-centric entry of pairs: veterans and novices. Just like country and heavy metal, the writing for notable All My Children vets such as Michael Knight, Darnell Williams, David Canary, Walt Wiley, and Susan Lucci has been almost top-notch as of late. Sure, nothing's perfect, and even the best storylines will have critics; but these actors have, for the most part, been given quality material to work with, and as a result, their scenes have risen above those of their peers.

Which peers, specifically? I've got quite a list, but let's start with the recent triangle between Jacob Young, Billy Miller, and Amanda Baker. The lack of logic and quality in this one saddens me, because it started out with potential. JR falling off the wagon last fall planted reasonable and believable seeds of doubt for Babe, JR's on-and-off-again pursuit of a happily ever after that will never end, especially not 'happily'. JR sobered up and even had Babe admitting (though not to him) that she'd once again fallen for her blonde-haired beau, only to find him drugged and in bed with a prostitute--the morning after he'd promised to be a bone marrow donor for one of his many enemies, Richie Novak.

Again revealing himself to be quite the cunning psychopath, Richie had some goons capture JR, drug him, extract some bone marrow, and dump him off at a sleazy motel with an equally-sleazy bedmate. Nothing happened, but of course, Babe won't believe him. And why should she? As I said, reasonable seeds of doubt were planted last fall for just such an occasion. So far so good, right? That aspect of the story makes sense, but the fact that JR's puncture wounds were only noticed recently is where the story suffers most. First, with JR in such pain over the last couple of weeks because of the aforementioned bone marrow massacre, why wouldn't he (or anyone else) thought to have examined his body for marks before his little sis admitted him to the hospital? Equally perplexing is the fact that Dr. Joe released JR after finding the source of his pain, but apparently the source of the source isn't important enough to warrant further probing (pun intended).

Now admittedly, this is a glaring flaw, but not so glaring that it has detracted from my enjoyment of the story. I personally have issues with JR and Babe's continued attempts at romance, but I look forward to the day when JR finds out that Richie is the one responsible for his current woes, both physical and romantic. Jacob Young and Billy Miller have fantastic chemistry as antagonists, and it's my personal hope that Richie's sins against JR will be revealed around the same time as Richie's sins against Zach come to light, which could make for a very unlikely but deadly partnership.

Poor, poor Richie - another character that stands as an example of solid writing gone sour. Richie Novak came to town as a character with a wide shade of gray: maybe he was as psycho as his sister claimed, maybe he wasn't. Unfortunately, his hit-and-run against Zach Slater decreased his value as a middle-ground villain, rendering him a bad guy that most viewers want killed or jailed so the rest of town can move on. It's a shame - Pine Valley has been in need of a love-to-hate villain since the November 2006 departure of Dr. David Hayward. Here's to what could have been, Richie.

Moving on, let's take a look at the best-friendship that never should have been: Greenlee Smythe and Kendall Hart Slater. Aside from the history of abuse that rivals JR and Babe's, let's examine the sophomoric (more like "sopho-moronic") tendencies that haunt these and seemingly all Fusion girls. This week, we were, uh, "treated" to a pact between these two giggling gals. To paraphrase:

"I love Zach, but Ryan wanting my heart-shaped bottom is pretty cool. Tee-hee!"

"Preach it, girlfriend. I love my boyfriend Aidan, but kissing Ryan was just so HOT!"

"Yeah. Hey, I know: let's make a pact."

"That sounds childish and fun! What kind of pact should we make?"

"Well, we love our men, but we like Ryan chasing us around the playground and passing us notes in class, right?"


"So, let's promise to be loyal to our men until we get bored. Then, we'll hop into bed with Ryan!"

"I love it! Should we spit on it? Maybe cut our palms and shake bloody hands?"

"Nah, that's not stupid and juvenile enough. Let's pinky swear."

Gag me. Please.

Arguably the most disappointing aspect of these scenes is that Alicia Minshew and Rebecca Budig aren't exactly new to Pine Valley's canvas of cheaters, lovers, and killers. Neither, for that matter, is Jacob Young or Thorsten Kaye, whose character is well on the path to being sacrificed for the antics of his cheating wife. In fact, I would like to retract the ambiguous "novice" label I applied to the younger crowd early on in this article. But if they're not novices, what are they? So long as we're on the subject, what exactly is a veteran? An older performer? One who has been on the show for, let's say, eight to ten years or more? A combination of the two? Something else altogether? Let's attempt to find out.

Jacob Young has been around for five years and is no stranger to the soap opera scene. Thorsten Kaye has been on AMC for four years as of May 2008 and has a history in soaps dating back to 1995. Alicia and Rebecca have been part of AMC's cast since 2002 and 1999, respectively. And let us not forget Ryan Lavery (pun yet again intended), whose portrayer, Cameron Mathison, has been around since 1999, with a one-year hiatus from 2002 to 2003.

The list goes on, but the important common trait shared by all of the above is that, while some have been around Pine Valley longer than others, none of these talented actors are newcomers to the acting scene. Jacob Young and Thorsten Kaye have talent that could easily keep them in Hollywood full-time, which is entirely possible, since their current stories have disappointed them if backstage rumors and gossip are to be believed. Cameron Mathison was beloved by fans until his true love, Gillian, was killed in the early 2000s. Since then, he has become abusive, egotistical, and all but abandoned by fans that were once legion in numbers. Why? Bad writing and unflattering storylines, that's why.

Of course, some actors are talented enough to make even the trashiest script compelling. Jacob Young and Billy Miller, the latter of which is very new to the acting scene, are the primary reasons for my enjoyment of the JR/Richie/Babe triangle; Rebecca Budig oozes spunk and ability; and Thorsten Kaye could make a genital herpes commercial appealing.

The talent of AMC's roster, young and mature, regardless of the definitions of veteran and novice, raises a simple question: why? Why do the writers insist on producing excellent writing for a select group of people while others are forced to work with scraps? As much as I love Adam, Jesse, Tad, Angie, and Greenlee, why write only for them?

I feel like I say this at least once a month, but apparently, it needs to be repeated: All My Children has one of the most diverse casts in television history. ABC Daytime Powers That Be, I am begging you: please, use them. All of them. Do not force experienced actors such as Jacob Young and Thorsten Kaye to mold garbage into silver when they can turn silver into gold. Do not hide actors such as Chrishell Stause, Colin Egglesfield, Jeff Branson, and Leven Rambin off-screen and barely acknowledge their existence when your viewers are begging for them to become more involved (unless Leven Rambin is used to portray Ava, in which case I'd rather not see her at all).

Guess what, ABC? All My Children's ratings are still in the toilet, waiting to be flushed. How can you save one of daytime television's most venerable shows? Just follow two simple rules. Firstly, one clump of talented actors cannot possibly carry the entire show. Jesse and Angie's story is compelling, but in each of those episodes, we're still forced to wade through the crap that is Ryan's trip down four years' worth of memory lane, the Fusion women's laughable late nights at work, and a hospital that finds puncture wounds on a patient but does not think to hold the patient for observation to determine where those puncture wounds cam from. Again, not every storyline, no matter how great, will be unanimously praised by fans and critics, but when a one-hour show pits 20 minutes of compelling writing against 20 minutes of horrific scribbles, the good 20 minutes loses some of its luster.

Secondly--and I cannot emphasize this enough--do not show us the exact same characters for days, weeks, and months at a time. AMC, like most soaps, has a large cast; there's no need to involve the same five or six people in every story. Everybody needs a break at some point, and many talented actors such as Jeff Branson are desperate for their time to shine. I'm willing to bet a large sum of money that inserting Jonathan into his big brother's current storyline would make the whole ordeal more bearable to watch. It only makes sense that Jonathan would play a part in helping Ryan regain his memory, and yet he's nowhere to be found. Even worse, he's barely mentioned.

At the opposite end of the visibility spectrum, we have Kendall. To be blunt, I'm sick of seeing Kendall on my screen. Kendall, who has never had a rational thought in her head, who handles every situation based on raw emotion and never takes time to think of the consequences (grief sex, anyone?). I realize that for many, these traits make the character endearing, but enough is enough. I used to like her, then it became mere tolerance, and now I don't mind telling you that I can't stand her. I'm tired of her, I'm sick of her, and I wouldn't shed a tear if Alicia Minshew were to be given a six-month vacation or even a one-way train ticket on the Gone Forever from Pine Valley express.

Better yet, why not put the Martin attic through the paces of spring cleaning? Have Kendall wander up there for an extended stay, then free a few actors eager to strut their stuff for viewers who would happily welcome them back into the fold. It's called diversity and versatility, ABC. Look up the definitions, then get back to me. Positive results are guaranteed.

-- David

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