To hear Jennifer discuss her picks for the Best and Worst of the year, be sure to listen to her appearances on Soap Central Live's two-part special wrap up of the year -- The Best of 2011 and The Worst of 2011.
To quote one of my favorite old TV show theme songs, "You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have" General Hospital. It's been a good and a bad year for General Hospital fans. Before you Negative Nellys start yelling at me for calling this a "good" year for GH, let me remind you that the show is still on the air. That alone is a good thing.
Despite a rocky 2011 that included behind-the-scenes shakeups of executives, writers, and cast changes, we still have an extraordinarily talented cast, despite whatever writing curveballs have come their way. I dare anyone to watch a scene with Tony Geary, Steve Burton, or Nancy Lee Grahn and not be pulled into the drama or humor.
I know rumors are swirling that GH won't be on much longer, because of ABC's programming switch to reality daytime shows. But until I hear a final cancellation notice, I'm still celebrating. So cue up Beyonce's "I'm a Survivor," and let's talk about the past year in Port Charles.
Best villain: Anthony Zacchara. It's a little strange when a murdering mobster's one-liners are the most fun part of the show. But, that's usually the case when Bruce Weitz's Anthony is on-screen. He steals every scene, which is not easily done against powerhouses Brandon Barash and Jane Elliot. Anthony is creepy and humorous, whether he's doting out TLC to his precious orchids or chastising Johnny about his piano playing. Please, GH, keep Anthony in town. He's one of the few funny highlights we have anymore.
Worst villain: Lisa Niles. This is in no way a stab at the talented Brianna Brown. I loved her Lisa. What I didn't love was the fact that this character was interesting, had chemistry with Johnny and just about anyone in town, yet she was quickly turned into an obsessed Fatal Attraction villain, who wanted revenge on Patrick and Robin. I chose her as "worst" because I don't think it was necessary for her to be a villain in the first place. There were plenty of other ways to give conflict to Patrick and Robin that didn't involve Lisa going psycho. Runner up: Franco. Please, James Franco fans, don't send me hate mail. I know having an Oscar-caliber actor on GH is a real coup. But his creepy robot cameras, strange artwork, and taunting of Jason have been disturbing. His mind games of rape and mayhem are just torturous and sick to watch. I'll take a kooky Cassadine villain any day over this horror show.
Best storyline: Luke's alcoholism and intervention. For decades, Luke Spencer had downed Scotch like most of us drink water. Frankly, it's always been fun to see Luke stealing Edward's top-shelf booze or dispensing his Luke wisdom behind a bar, while knocking back his Crown. But things stopped being funny when Luke killed his own grandchild who had wandered into the road at dark, while Luke was driving drunk. Luke swore he wasn't drunk. He'd had only a few drinks and for him, he argued, that didn't make him intoxicated. The incident left fans, and Luke's family, devastated and hotly debating whether or not Luke Spencer was an alcoholic.
It's rare than an entire hour is given to one storyline, but thankfully GH did exactly that when Luke's family and friends duct-taped him to a chair for an intervention. We've watched for years as Luke has turned his back on his kids, wife, and friends, to instead spend time with a bottle or an out-of-town adventure. When they each got a turn to tell Luke how his drinking had affected their lives, it was sobering. Each character shone as they unloaded their emotions. Tony Geary stayed true to Luke and didn't show his vulnerability -- during the intervention. Instead, he spat his sarcasm and anger back at those who gathered to help him. It wasn't until he was alone later, outside the door, when he broke down into a weeping puddle. I joined him with my box of Kleenex.
Worst storyline: The Balkan wants revenge on Brenda and all the resulting Brenda storylines. After years of hoping for Brenda Barrett to return, she finally did in 2009, but in 2010 her storyline left fans disappointed and dismayed. The fact that Brenda was given a child that didn't belong to either Sonny or Jax was strike number one. The history could have been golden there, as the old Sonny/Jax rivalry could have been reignited, giving Carly, Brenda, and the whole gang plenty of nail-biting drama. Instead, Brenda had hooked up with the Balkan's son, got pregnant, and had a child that was hidden from her. The Balkan wanted his grandson and tried to kill Brenda.
Lucian/Alec was reunited with his Mommy, just before gunfights, a car bomb, and a murder attempt scared Brenda into taking the kid away from violent Port Charles. She also finally married Sonny, but it lasted about as long as the Kim Kardashian marriage, before Brenda hightailed it out of town, without her trademark spunk. This Brenda wasn't the one we knew and loved. Every woman in town, except Robin, seemed to instantly hate her, and her friendship with Jax and the Quartermaines was almost nonexistent, as she spent most of her scenes with Alec's grandmother, Suzanne. As much as I love Marcil, the writing for this arc was a huge miss on all fronts.
Best exit: Nikolas Cassadine. I'm still not over the fact that Tyler Christopher was fired, but I will say this: his parting scene was one of the funniest exits I've ever seen. When Lucky asked why Nikolas didn't have a European accent, since all the Cassadines are from there, Nik didn't miss a beat and slipped into an accent immediately. "How do you know I don't?" or something to that effect. Priceless.
Worst exit: Jasper Jax. Those of us who know and love the character of Jax could hardly believe our eyes, when Jax slithered out of town to hide from Sonny's assassination attempt. There is no way the character we used to know would have hidden from Sonny, let alone leave his only daughter with Carly. The writing for Jax has changed so dramatically from when we first met him that I'm pretty certain Helena Cassadine must have the "real" Jax chained up in a wine cellar somewhere. It's the only plausible explanation.
Best couple: Luke and Tracy. If you had told me last year that I would have a tough time finding a romantic couple to name "Best Couple," I'd have laughed. But the truth is, romance is so far off the grid these days on GH that I'm bestowing this award to an unconventional couple. They capture my attention anytime they grace my screen -- which, albeit, is a rarity. Yes, I know Luke and Tracy are headed for a divorce and that they've spent most of the last year apart, but when these two are together, the sparks are undeniable. They're deeply scarred and don't fit the mold for a romantic couple, but they are still more realistic and interesting to me, romantically, than Dante and Lulu and Matt and Maxie. Runner-Up: Robin and Patrick. They survived Lisa, and do occasionally get busy in an empty hospital room. So, they get points for romance and making their marriage work, despite the odds.
Worst couple: Steve and Olivia. Two beautiful people do not always make a perfect couple. Sorry fans of this duo, but I'm bored with them. She sparked with Johnny and Sonny. He sparked with Lisa and now Maggie. But together, Steve and Olivia make me reach for the fast-forward button, and no matter how much pasta Olivia cooks, it is not going to change it.
Most anticipated scenes: The B Team -- Diane, Max, Milo, Coleman. I'll call them the B team because the actors don't get A-list storylines, but they hands-down give me the most pleasure when I watch GH. Yes, they are mostly comic relief, but we did get a peek into Coleman and Diane's deep personas this year, for a few minutes. And I'll argue that Milo and Max could easily transition into storylines of their own, if the writers toned down their goofiness and amped up their sexiness. Who needs new characters when fans already love these scene-stealers.
Best surprise: Jason softens toward the Quartermaines. I never thought I'd see the day when Jason apologized to the Quartermaines for his past behavior or spent some time with them, but for a few weeks this year, Jason seemed to be drawn back to his roots. It didn't last long, as he ruined Thanksgiving with an anger outburst and stormed out, but at least we got to see a little bit of the old Jason this year, if only for a few minutes.
Biggest letdown: Michael works at ELQ for about a week. I've had a longer relationship with a tank of gas than Michael had with ELQ. I was so excited for this supposed change in direction for Michael. Fans have been wanting the Quartermaines in Michael and Jason's lives for years, and it seemed the new head writers were doing just that. Getting Michael back to his Quartermaine roots had so much storyline potential and was a win-win for fans and this character. But, it barely lasted two weeks before he rudely quit and was hauling coffee bags back in Sonny's mob warehouse. Sigh. This was an epic miss, writers.
Most dreaded scenes: Sonny and Bensonhurst. Child abuse is a horrific subject, and we've been watching Sonny deal with it year after year after year after year. This may sound callous, but I'm tired of revisiting the Bensonhurst storyline. I watch GH for escapism, people; I need to smile once in a while! There is enough darkness in the show lately with death, rape, illness, murder, and mayhem. I really didn't want to watch Sonny deal with another bipolar episode and revisit his past again, especially since we've seen it all before. I admit it: I've been fast-forwarding this difficult tale.
Best friendship: Tie -- Alexis and Diane: I almost named this dynamic duo my best couple, because they make me smile every time they get together. Whether critiquing fashion, gossiping about the latest town drama, or knocking back drinks at Jake's, these two ladies show us that girls still know how to have fun. Kudos, GH, for showcasing friendship on daytime. It's a rarity. Spinelli and Jason: For years, I thought Sonny was Jason's best friend, but this year it became clear to me that Sonny sees Jason more as an employee who cleans up his messes. When Jason lay fighting for his life in a hospital bed, it was Spinelli who was at his bedside, emotionally distraught. Jason confides in Spinelli, and he stood up for Jason at his wedding. It's an odd friendship, but they seem to genuinely respect one another. Like Spin's orange soda and barbeque chips, it just works.
Best new character: Dr. Maggie. She's gorgeous, fun, and has a bag load of mysteries. She's somehow connected to Steve, and it seems, Lisa Niles. Yes, she looks eerily like Lisa, but she has brought some levity into the dark, dreary hospital. Please, GH, don't make this gal a stalker or a villain. I would have liked to name the gorgeous Shawn Butler the best new character, but making him another one of Sonny's lackeys does not an interesting character make. Plus, I'm still ticked at him over the way he treated Jax when Joss was sick. Disclaimer: I'm not a fan of "new" characters; I'd much prefer to have Ned, Dillon, Brook, Nik, Serena, Scotty, Robert, etc., back instead of investing in "new" people. New writers and execs, please take note.
Most wasted character: Ethan Lovett. I could easily have given this category to Jasper Jax or Mac Scorpio, who both were so woefully underused it was an outrage, but for the sake of timing, I'm going with Ethan, since news broke that he's leaving the show. Nathan Parsons is a wonderful actor, and his character seemed like a chip off the old Luke. He had chemistry with Kristina, Lucky, Luke, Tracy, Alexis, and the rest of Port Charles. What a waste that such an interesting character was given nothing to do this past year. After his marriage to Maya fizzled, so did his storyline.
Strangest firings: Kristina, Jax, Elizabeth, Nikolas. I know budgets are tight, but firing iconic characters is always a miss in my book. There are other characters that could have been cut, in my opinion. Kristina was just starting to come into her own, and she had sparks with Ethan. Jax is fascinating, or at least he used to be -- (new writers, please watch some old tape of him in the mid-'90s.) Elizabeth is a member of a core family with ties to Jason and the hospital, and Nikolas brought us the Cassadine/Spencer connection. If GH needed to cut the cast, why not start with characters that seem to have little to do? Olivia always seems oddly placed to me. It's like she was brought on to share a history and a child with Sonny, but now that Kate is back, that seems irrelevant. Shawn Butler is Jason 2.0, complete with a traumatic history. I don't think those two characters' departures would have left a gaping hole.
My advice for GH's new execs and writers: Change the tone and storyline balance, bring back old faces and the Nurses Ball, and give us some happiness. I know what I like in a soap -- escapism that includes romance, family drama, adventure, witty dialogue, friendships, and more romance. The biggest problem right now with GH is the fact that it's darker than a starless night. There has been little to no happiness in Port Charles this year. Robin is sick, Sam was allegedly raped, Abby is dead, Sonny is dealing with child abuse scars, Michael is dealing with rape trauma, Jake is dead, Lucky and Elizabeth need therapy, Jason is acting out, Franco is stalking Jason, Lulu is drinking, Luke is an alcoholic, and so on and so on. No one is happy, and I mean no one -- including fans, if my inbox is any indication.
I'm not suggesting all sunshine and rainbows, but this show needs balance, and quickly. No one wants to watch a show that is so dark and depressing. Please, new execs, change the tone. Bring back the Quartermaines, starting with Ned, Dillon, and Brooke. Bring back Robert for Luke and Mac to work and play and quip with, and bring back the Nurses Ball. It was a fan favorite, and in a year when Robin is sick, it would be the perfect time. I would give just about anything to see Lucy Coe having a dress disaster instead of watching all this maudlin drama.
Merry Christmas, Two Scoopers! I appreciate all of you welcoming me so warmly with this column -- and don't forget that you can send your thoughts to me at any time, by clicking here. Here's wishing you the best for 2012, whatever it may hold.
Tamilu will be here next week with her picks for the Best and Worst of 2011. Be sure to tune in to see what makes her list.