Pine Valley Highs: The Best of 2011

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Pine Valley Highs: The Best of 2011
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2011 may go down as the year in which the grinch stole soap operas, but there were many reasons to hold our heads high as All My Children lovers. This week it's one last look back at the Best of 2011 on AMC.

To hear Dan discuss his (and other columnists) picks for the Best and Worst of the year, be sure to listen to Soap Central Live's two-part special wrap-up of the year -- The Best of 2011 and The Worst of 2011.

'Twas the column before Christmas and all through the house, the television was silent and there was no Chrishell Stause. Okay, so maybe poetry isn't my forte. Hopefully, though, writing commentary is. It's time for a look back at the year 2011. No, no, no -- we're not going there. At least not this week. This week it's time to celebrate why we loved All My Children in 2011. In spite of someone else's decision that people don't want to watch soap operas, there was a lot to celebrate.

Without further ado, here are my picks for the Best of 2011.

I know that the Orpheus storyline has been maligned by many All My Children fans, but for me, it provided a way to transition the show's post-cancellation storytelling. I suppose that the writers could have crafted another tale that would have brought about the end of Pine Valley, but I don't know what it would have been.

Had it not been for David's "resurrections," some of the greatest moments of the year would not have been possible. I still get weepy when I think of Ryan and Gillian's final goodbye. Something that lasted less than three minutes from start to finish was one of the year's most memorable scenes.

If you recall, when I wrote "Goodbye, princess" (August 29, 2011), I was livid that the much-hyped return of Esta TerBlanche (Gillian Andrassy) was over in the blink of an eye. As I look back on it, if it had been done any differently, I don't think it would have been as powerful.

There was also the return of Josh Duhamel (Leo duPres), Thorsten Kaye (Zach Slater), and Cady McClain (Dixie Martin), none of which would have been as easily explained had it not been for the Project Orpheus plot.

This story didn't win over everyone because some fans felt that too many people were being brought back from the dead. It is worth noting, though, that more of the returns were from people who were still very much dead.

The only thing that might have made this storyline even better for me would have been if Project Orpheus could've somehow raised All My Children from the dead. But I guess there's still time for that.

The Soap opera's grown-up name is "daytime drama series." Personally, though, I've always felt that All My Children has been at its best when it swings over to the more comedic side of the spectrum. A perfect example of this was the absolutely hilarious look inside the walls of Oak Haven.

The last time we got to go inside the insane asylum was when Aiden went undercover as a patient to try to befriend Annie. That saga went on way too long, and it was way too dark. This time around, I almost wanted to ask for a day pass to visit Oak Haven and be a part of the yoga class. Oh, c'mon. I can't be the only one. Show of hands... anybody?

When I wrote "Putting the fun in funny farm" (August 1, 2011), I remember that I was distracted from the fact that, at the time, All My Children was winding down its run. For the first time in a long time, I couldn't wait for the next day's show.

The campiness of the Oak Haven storyline was what made it so special. That, and you had a group of powerhouse actresses all sharing the same stage: Susan Lucci (Erica Kane), Melissa Claire Egan (Annie Lavery), Jennifer Bassey (Marian Colby), and Kate Collins (Janet Green). There was also a smattering of Jill Larson (Opal Cortlandt) and Cady McClain (Dixie Martin) tossed in for good measure.

There were so many nods to history, which I think is one of the most important things in great soap storytelling. "I would put you both in a freezer if I could," Janet snapped when Erica and Annie were bickering. There was Marian explaining macramé hanging plant baskets to Erica. Even the jailbreak from Oak Haven was hilarious. Remember when Kendall referred to Janet's stint in jail and Janet pointed out that Kendall had been right there in the pokey with her?

If laughter truly is the best medicine, then this was just what the doctor ordered to help make the bitter cancellation pill go down a little more easily.

BEST ROMANCE: Brot and Natalia
"Brotalia" may not go down in the annals as one of All My Children's biggest supercouples, but that doesn't matter to me. Just because you haven't been deemed the best by the masses doesn't mean you aren't the best. Susan Lucci wasn't any less of a star by not winning an Emmy all those years. And I'd like to think I've done a pretty decent job with this web site for the past 17 years -- even if I've never even been nominated for anything.

But now I am getting off track.

In my column "Nothing says 'I love you' like a chalk outline at the altar" (February 7, 2011), I referred to Brot and Natalia's love as "complicated" and "heroic." Both Natalia and Brot are headstrong, and neither wanted to be the first to admit their true feelings for fear that it would be seen as a sign of weakness.

I was so glad that Shannon Kane -- who has become such a wonderful actress -- wanted to return to AMC before it ended production. Hey, I'll admit that I wasn't a fan of Natalia when the character debuted back in 2008. In fact, I named the storyline in which Natalia constantly whined about how she wanted Jesse to and her mother, Rebecca Fowler, to get back together the Worst Storyline of 2008 (December 29, 2008). I love when actors get to make me eat my words.

And I don't think I need to tell anyone what an amazing person JR Martinez is. I'm so glad that the rest of the non-soap-viewing world is getting to see that now.

BEST UNLIKELY ROMANCE: Cara and Tad/Cara and David
I don't know why the residents of Pine Valley haven't learned that when you marry someone out of love, the marriage doesn't last. Conversely, when you marry someone to scam the government, craft some sort of business dealing, or to stick it to a former lover, that fake marriage will result in very real feelings.

Lindsay Hartley (Cara Castillo), in addition to being a beautiful woman, has an amazing sense of comedic timing. I guess anyone who was able to act opposite orangutan nurses and 300-year-old witches on Passions had to have some sort of a sense of humor. It was, however, that comedic side that meshed so well with AMC's resident funnyman, Michael E Knight (Tad), and what made Tad and Cara such a fun couple to watch.

What was interesting about the pairing, too, was that Tad often made references to the fact that Cara was way too young and too beautiful to be with someone like him. At times, I found that so sad. Tad's usual jovialness was replaced by such low self-esteem. That insecurity did, however, lead to Tad's silly hair-dying.

With All My Children ending, there was no way that the writers could not put Tad and Dixie back together. I don't know what would have happened had AMC not been canceled. Cady McClain might not have returned to AMC, so it could all be a moot point. Maybe Jake would have ditched Amanda and made a play for Cara. Who knows?

We'll never get to know exactly what happened with David and Cara's flirtations. Remember the saucy post-coital conversation that Cara and David had? You know, the one where she announced how good he was in the sack and how much she "needed" that.

Back in my "Is that an egg in your basket or are you just happy to see me?" (September 12, 2011), I was tickled by how David was so reluctant to lay on his back on the ground and look at cloud formations with Cara. Opposites do attract -- we've seen that over the years.

BEST VILLAIN: David Hayward
Other than Ricky Torres, I don't know that they were any other villains roaming through Pine Valley last year. You'll hear all about Ricky again -- next week in the Worst of column.

The mark of a truly good villain is being able to do all your villainous trickery and other shenanigans, and to still have people like you. Okay, maybe "like" is a little strong. Maybe it's just better to say that people can still see the good in you.

Whereas the aforementioned Ricky was a cardboard cutout of a cartoon villain, Vincent Irizarry has always been able to bring a much more layered approach to the role of David. Let's be clear: David has never been the most upstanding individual. He lied, he blackmailed, he conducted what amounted to medical experiments on people, he made the entire town horny (with Libidozone, gutter minds!), and that's just a few of his dirty deeds.

Yet, David also had a tender side -- even if it was driven by his God complex. David wanted to help Angie restore her eyesight. He wanted to cure the seemingly fatal conditions that "claimed" the lives of various Pine Valley residents. We can probably argue over how much of his desire to help is fueled by egomania. I'd like to think that it's closer to 50/50 than we think.

Here's something else to consider: Without having David on the canvas, All My Children's entire wrap-up would not have been possible. In essence, it makes David (and actor Vincent Irizarry) the MVP of the final few months.

BEST SURPRISE: I see dead people
Last year, I raved about David Hayward's surprise appearance during his own murder trial. There weren't any jaw-dropping surprises that come to mind over the past twelve months, but there were still some good surprise moments.

I particularly liked the way that AMC wrote Leo and Zach's returns. If you can't remember, here's a brief reminder. Greenlee was drugged, woke up and saw a mystery person on a table in David's mystery lab. The camera slowly panned over, and we realized that it was Leo. Was he alive? Was it all a dream? We had to wait get the answer to that.

A few days later, it was déjà vu all over again as Greenlee was in the same position on the ground, and again she saw a mystery patient on a table in the lab. Greenlee walked over to the patient, and viewers were left wondering who she'd see. Would Leo be there again? Might he be dead this time? Would the patient turn out to be someone else? As the camera panned toward the patient's face, this time we saw (a fuzzy-faced) Zach Slater.

The finale week surprise that Stuart Chandler was still alive was also a great surprise. I have to admit, it didn't even occur to me that Stuart might be one of David's patients. Killing off Stuart was, to me, still one of AMC's greatest mistakes. Sure, there were others over the years, but this was one that needed to be undone, one that just couldn't be left unfixed before the show ended.

While not quite a "surprise" in the traditional sense, I watched with bated breath to see how AMC would write Sarah Michelle Gellar (ex-Kendall Hart) back into the show. I thought it was very clever to have her play someone who thought she was Erica Kane's daughter. On top of that, she also sees vampires? What a cute nod to Gellar's history.

BEST ACTRESS: Debbi Morgan
Debbi Morgan (Angie Hubbard) has been thrown a lot of stuff in the past few years. She was reunited with the husband she thought was dead. She dealt with the loss of her vision. If that weren't enough, her baby was stillborn. Then there's that whole baby-swapping situation that didn't end so well.

For much of the year, there was a constant uncertainty looming over the Hubbards. Would Maya leave town and allow the Hubbards to raise Ellie/Lucy as their own, or would she spill the beans and crush any chance of happiness? I don't think there's anything wrong with my having wanted Maya to disappear. That wouldn't have made for much drama, though -- and it would have meant that we wouldn't have seen what should be an Emmy-winning scene.

It shouldn't have come as a surprise to anyone when I wrote "The final countdown" (September 5, 2011), I had nothing but praise for Debbi Morgan. When the truth finally came out and Angie learned that her baby had died, Morgan took her acting to a whole new place. As Angie went to her baby's gravesite and broke down, I sobbed right along with her.

BEST ACTOR: Jacob Young
For whatever reason, Jacob Young (JR Chandler) has managed to fly under the radar of the rest of the soap community during his time with All My Children. There have been so many moments over the years when Young was just fabulous. This past year was no exception.

JR loves hard -- something that he must get from his father. JR's relationship with Babe was tumultuous. Ditto for how things went with Annie. I never got into the JR and Marissa coupling, and would have much rather seen JR stay with Annie. I guess that wasn't possible since Melissa Claire Egan wanted to leave the show.

JR's life started to fall apart the minute his relationship with Annie crumbled. To find stability, JR resorted to the Chandler ways, and he lashed out at everyone around him. He also succumbed to the other Chandler vice: alcohol.

David Canary's (Adam Chandler) retirement forced AMC to shuffle its deck, and Young was thrust into the role of the on-screen Chandler patriarch. Canary is a phenomenal actor, and it seemed unlikely that anyone could fill his shoes. Young, however, proved he was up for the challenge and, as I explained in "Just another column in a long line of columns about the same topic" (March 28, 2011), rightfully took the torch from his on-screen dad.

When Marissa started to fall in love with Bianca, that proved to be the final blow to JR's bruised ego. JR was already dealing with a lot of other pressures and the expectations that his surname brought with it. I think JR would have imploded no matter who Marissa had decided to move on with, but the fact that it was another woman turned that implosion into an explosion.

I've had the opportunity to speak to Jacob Young (you can listen to his guest appearance on Soap Central Live on February 5, 2010, by clicking here), and he is a really nice guy. As a scorned JR, Young was downright scary. I wouldn't call him a villain, though, but please don't ask me to explain why because I don't think that I could.

There was a standout performance from AMC's final week that definitely needs to be addressed: the vision of Babe. While others in Pine Valley were having happy reunions (or reunions that offered them some sort of closure), JR's hallucinated reunion with Babe only poured more salt into his gaping wound.

BEST CLASS ACT: Christina Bennett Lind
Contrary to what Oprah may have had to believe, it is not easy booking guests for a talk show. Well, maybe it was for her because she had hundreds of people on her team. On Soap Central Live, it's just me -- and a team of tech folks that broadcast my show.

I thought it would be fascinating to have Christina Bennett Lind (Bianca Montgomery) on the show to talk about being part of the AMC cast. In early March, we eventually arrived on a date that worked for both of us: April 15, 2011. At the time, we had no idea that All My Children would be canceled the day before.

Considering the devastating news, I really expected that Christina would want to cancel. I was wrong. She kept her commitment to the show, and came on the air live to chat with fans (and me) about ABC's decision to end the 41-year-old series. She'd later tell me off-air that the show was just as helpful to her grieving process as it was for the fans.

After All My Children was canceled, there were all those rumors about how Susan Lucci (Erica Kane) was holding out for more money, and was threatening to kill AMC if she didn't get her way. I can't say that I was privy to any of the discussions that they had, but here's what I do know.

When I learned that I would be able to attend the final ABC press junket for All My Children, I wanted to try to give fans a way to have one last chance to reach out to the stars. I posted an article here on the site where fans could submit messages, and I promised to deliver them when I visited the AMC set. Maybe you were one of the fans that submitted a letter.

There were so many emails (500,000+) that I had to back away from my plan to print them all out and deliver them. For all the stars that I knew were active online, I posted their letters in a private location so that they could come online and read them. For the stars that I suspected were not online savvy, I printed them out.

Susan Lucci was one of the stars I gave a printed packet to. When I explained what the letters were, Susan reached out and pulled me into a very unexpected embrace. As tears streamed down her cheek, she told me how much the fans have meant to her over the years and how badly she wanted All My Children to continue. For a woman who is known for being a sometimes over-the-top (fictional) diva, this was very real.

At the end of the day, those fan letters gave something back to all of the stars of All My Children.

BEST OFF-SCREEN DEVELOPMENT: The return of Lorraine Broderick
When the rumors of All My Children's impending cancellation first started to surface, I offered some suggestions to the writers about how they could right the wrongs that had been done over the years to our favorite soap.

In "A do-it-yourself guide to fixing All My Children" (January 10, 2011), I mentioned that AMC needed a head writer who truly cared about the show. Lorraine Broderick was anointed interim head writer after the dismissal of Charles Pratt, Jr., and she got the show back on track during her short stint at the top of the writing team. After Donna Swajeski and David Kreizman were given the boot as AMC's head writers, Broderick was brought back as the show's permanent head writer. Ultimately, it would also be as the show's final head writer.

If she had been given the opportunity, I fully believe that Broderick would have been able to get AMC back on track, boost the ratings, and keep AMC alive for some time. We know now that that wasn't a possibility because ABC had already made the decision to kill its soap opera lineup.

BEST KISS-OFF: Jackson to Erica
I liked the cliffhanger episode of All My Children. I know that most everyone else thought it was the worst idea ever. Maybe in retrospect it wasn't the best ending, but the open-endedness of it still has fans talking about what might have happened. There is also the possibility that AMC could return somewhere down the line.

That aside, it might have taken 41 years, but someone finally put Erica in her place -- and I loved it. Don't get me wrong: I like Erica. However, that doesn't mean that I approve of her schoolgirl antics. Really? You don't know whether you want to be with Jackson or not? If you have to think about it, the answer is no. Oddly enough, that's my rule for buying a new pair of sneakers, too.

With the entire town of Pine Valley gathered to celebrate Stuart's homecoming, Erica once again became the center of attention -- but this was not the way she wanted it. As everyone looked on, Erica professed her love for Jack, and pleaded with him to stay because she needed him.

"Frankly, Erica, I don't give a damn what you need," Jackson snapped.

No one talks like that to Erica Kane. Even when Tom Cudahy found out that Erica was secretly taking birth control pills, it wasn't like this. Erica's behavior had finally caught up with her.

"This is not the ending I wanted," Erica shouted. Those words, of course, would become somewhat ironic.

BEST PLOT DEVICE: Honoring the history of All My Children
As contrived as it was, I absolutely loved Erica's visit to the corner of Hollywood and Vine with J. Peterman. Yes, I know that wasn't the director/producer's name, but John O'Hurley will always be known to me for his Seinfeld role.

It wasn't just the little winks that worked for me. There were so many other nods to 41 years of history -- and that was so rewarding as a long-time viewers. Earlier in the column, I mentioned how the Oak Haven storyline used Janet and Kendall's history (as well as that of all the patients) to make the story funny and watchable.

The finale week brought back members of all the families that we loved. It was important that each of those core families got an episode during that last week that was devoted strictly to them. There were wisely used flashbacks, and it was very much like a family photo album... fitting considering the iconic opening for the show.

17 years have come and gone so fast. It's been like the blink of an eye. It has been my absolute pleasure to be able to share with you all of my thoughts about All My Children for the better part of two decades. I have to be honest with you: I never thought that it would end. I thought we'd all be together dishing the hits and misses of Pine Valley for many, many more years.

This is not the ending I wanted, either.

But the memories that I have collected will forever be cherished. The time we've spent was never wasted. The smiles we shared will always have a special place in my heart. Now before any of us get weepy, let's pull it together because next week it's time for the Worst of 2011. I hope that you'll take some time out to share with me your picks for the Best of 2011 -- and remember that in just two weeks the Dankies will be kicking off. Just because AMC is not still on the air does not mean that we cannot still cast our votes and honor everyone that has entertained us over the past year.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and Happy New Year. I'll see you back here one last time next week.


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