Back in the saddle

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OLTL Two Scoops: Back in the saddle
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The week of May 5, 2008
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A daytime drama has to be confident in what it's putting out and what its writing team will mean to the audience in order to run an actual title card over a scene on the writer's first day back.

...and it feels so...good? Yes. Yes! I think it does. A daytime drama has to be confident in what it's putting out and what its writing team will mean to the audience in order to run an actual title card over a scene on the writer's first day back. (Unless you're Guiding Light, that is, in which case you run lame titles over episode after forgettable dime-store-budget episode.) Quite a bit of stuff happened this week on OLTL - Starr and Cole did a runner, Viki singlehandedly saved Buchanan Enterprises, Brody Lovett was the hottest piece of shortcake this side of Oz, and Antonio and Talia found their way back together with a little bit of Miami Vice roleplay - but I think it's safe to say that the major thing everyone's talking about, however they feel about it, is the return of Ron Carlivati and his full writing team to the show as of Friday, May 2nd. I know I'm happy, but how do you feel? And what's it all really mean? It's worth noting that Carlivati prefaced his return to the airwaves with a startlingly fresh and candid interview with the soap press (not known for the hard-hitting questions, or for eliciting non-stock answers), in which he made it very clear what stories he cared for and what he didn't from his time away from his show during the Writer's Strike. During the interview, Carlivati sounded less like a snake oil salesman, and rather disturbingly like...well...just another fan. Maybe that's because because Carlivati was, in fact, an OLTL devotee long before coming to the show under the Claire Labine regime in 1997. I say Carlivati's honesty is disturbing only because I think we're so thoroughly used to being cajoled, soothsayed and hustled by daytime management. Even the best head writers in the business generally have to add a patina of huckstership to the sales pitch in the rags, but Ron Carlivati was something I'm not sure I've ever seen before: Both totally honest, and totally down to earth. He addressed fan concerns one by one - the problems with the lame John/Talia/Antonio story, with the lack of airtime for Dorian and Langston's relationship, with Blair kowtowing to Todd - and promised he would address them. And then, he actually did, on his first day back! It's a freaky thing to be faced with a head writer who actually says he will do something, then does exactly that. I'm not entirely used to it. I...I think I need to check my blood pressure. And find a priest...or Justice of the Peace...or whatever...who will civil union me and Ron. Oh, the hell with that. The line for illicit congress with Ron Carlivati forms behind me.

Before we go on to the week's business, I want to add a brief word about a man who seems to polarize fan opinion every time his name appears on the show: Gary Tomlin. Tomlin head wrote OLTL in Ron Carlivati's stead during the strike, with a handful of Carlivati's writers who had gone to "financial core" status, along with undoubtedly some scabs. Tomlin also, as most of you probably know, used to be first a director, then an executive producer for OLTL from 2001-2002, and pioneered such special episodes as "Trading Places," "Babes Behind Bars," and "Live Week" (which I still miss). His run as EP was not without its highlights (the special productions, the return of Gabrielle, the introduction of Natalie and the Balsoms), but had many, many lowlights, including the rise of Jen Rappaport, the infamous "dead baby lie" and Todd and Téa summering in the South Pacific for what seemed like most of my natural life. I didn't agree with many of Gary Tomlin's creative choices while he ran OLTL as producer, and I didn't agree with all of his chosen stories this time either, as interim HW. One thing I knew both times, however, is that for all his flaws as a writer, Tomlin was an excellent producer who genuinely cared about Llanview and the people who we grew up with in it, a fact made evident every time he spoke publicly. Despite the many lame temporary plotlines Gary gave us this time out, I feel that he and the other interim writers at the very least were able to keep a consistency of dialogue and thematic "feeling" to Ron Carlivati's OLTL. I also really enjoyed the rise of Lee Ramsey and the Buchanan Enterprises storyline, as well as the quadrangle with Bo, Nora, Clint, and Lindsay, which Carlivati apparently is planning to discard or at least drastically alter (more on that below). So what I'm saying is, it wasn't all that bad. I think Tomlin had his hands tied in perhaps more ways than one, and while I wouldn't want him co-writing OLTL with RC, I do think he's a talented man who gets too much of a bad rap despite some very real faults. I do hope he's able to produce or write another soap soon. I think when he's got legitimately good writers at his disposal (like this time), and perhaps a few less network dictates and time constraints (unlike this time), he could really surprise his detractors. Gary Tomlin goes with my support, even if he did make me watch that episode with Todd, the midwife, and the Mexican mariachi band all those years ago. That hurt, Gary.

Now, where were we? Oh, right, a whole week worth of shows! Let's start with the dismantling of the BE story as we knew it. Yes, yes, I know the overall Buchanan Enterprises story isn't going anywhere, but it was dead obvious by Wednesday that it was over and done with in this particular incarnation. Viki reasserted herself as Queen of Llanview and quietly saved the day by going to poor, sweet Calvin Jenkins directly and circumventing Dorian (and then elegantly smoking her at the Palace in front of Charlie), and good for her! The only problem with this is, whatever will become of the new, dark Clint? Or of Lindsay and her sexy, sexy BLACK FILES OF SIN? Or the distinct possibility of Clint and Lindsay doing it atop said files of sin? What, I ask you, what?! To this, and the loss of a Bo and Nora reunion, I must call foul on my beloved RC, my sweet babboo. While I think Clint and Nora have been well-positioned by Carlivati and sweetly done - Jerry verDorn and my goddess Hillary B. Smith clearly enjoy each other, and I enjoy watching them - they are just no patch on the smoldering hotness of Clint and Lindsay, or the legendary passion of Bo and Nora, and let's face it, y'all, Bo and Lindsay suck together. They suck. There's got to be a better way. I have every confidence Ron Carlivati will find it, since he lives, breathes, and created the great Buchanan Enterprises canvas, but for now, I'm a little miffed about the end of this promising angle, brought to us by, yes, Gary Tomlin, eight out of ten online soap fans' favorite choice for Antichrist.

Did you hear?! Antonio's daughter has a DEADLY DISEASE! No, seriously, y'all, seriously! She has...she has...well, we don't know what she has, just go with it! Just go with it! Antonio is dressed up like one of the No Limit Soldiers and is stealing the drug money to pay for Jamie's treatment for her fictionitis! How will Antonio's descent into corruption affect his relationships on the police force? Will he become Ramsey's lapdog?! The answer to these and many more questions will not be answered on next week's episode of Soap, but rather right now, and that answer is "Who cares, it's over!" And thank Cthulu for that. It was ridiculous enough to believe that Antonio Vega, El Leon, king of Angel Square and former Santi billionaire, was still able to operate as an undercover agent amidst the Llanview inner city element, but the rest of the story had also stretched to the breaking point and grown beyond tired. How many scenes were we expected to endure with Antonio and John scowling at each other while Talia looked pained and weepy and Officer Eddie kept adding another irritating two cents? Fortunately, I got all the payoff I needed: A lush, sunny location shoot with Antonio cruising down the waterfront and sweeping Talia into his arms for a kiss, while John stood around trying to look like Don Johnson and coming off more Phillip Michael Thomas. I don't have any idea yet how Talia, Antonio, and John put together "Operation: WTF?" or what their thought processes were, but I'm just glad this story as we know it is finally OVAH and I can see Antonio and Talia macking again. In his interview with the soap press, Ron Carlivati said he was "over that story" - so were we all, schmoopy. So were we all.

Back in the "good things the strike gave us, no really, stop it, I'm being serious" department, I give you Exhibit B: B for Brody Lovett. Some may call him "short" or "stocky," I call him "well-packaged." I mean, damn. Damn! If I had a punch bowl like Florida Evans, I would be hurling it! I honestly don't want him to shave the PTSD beard of war trauma and heartache, you know what I'm sayin'? It's kinda hotter that way, am I right? Y/N? Maybe so? Text me your answer! Wait, you can't, you don't have my phone, fine, never mind, just forget it, look, let's get back to Brody and...and...mmm. Thank you, Insane Bitch Adriana, for bringing this fine specimen to Llanview in all his glory. Apparently he is not, as some suspected, CJ Roberts, but, but...well, I'll take him anyway. Any way I can get him. And he'll apparently take anything he can get. Dorian and Layla (or, as I call them now, "Téam Serf," as in Empress Adriana's long-suffering, unpaid feudal-era servants) were the height of comedy as they struggled to deal with Brody's nightly peccadillos at the Palace, and Layla's massive hair did not detract from her spark of chemistry with Brody and his hot hairy barrel chest...I'm sorry, I'm sorry. Where was I. Brody, Layla, Adriana, yes, okay. He's hot, it's fun, I like it, bring on the Rex and Gigi, bring on more bitchy Adriana, bring more layers to Adriana's villainy, Ron, and bring on more naked Brody Lovett. Okay. Done with topic. Let's move on before I go back to just staring at him.

"It looked bigger on the Internet!" Cole Thornhart wailed. Now, out of context, that could mean anything, but don't get your minds in the gutter anymore than they already were. As it happens, Cole was talking about his and Starr's rented little hovel on the Jersey shore, where they landed after executing their brainless scheme to run away and raise their "oops baby" on summer tips. Even a really cute poker and pizza night with the family didn't dissuade Starr, and I thought Jack and Sam were so adorable that evening! It seems Ron Carlivati may have, again, found the silver lining to this story he inherited, by immediately highlighting the harsh, grim realities of Starr and Cole's silly little fantasy. Things already aren't working out, and now the teenage lovers are turning on each other over their ill-timed sexual encounter. Isn't that always the way when you're fifteen or sixteen, though? Impulse, then regret? So few soaps are honest about that with their teenage characters, who seem to flit through these saccharine wonderlands of pure love (Colby, Cassandra and Dre, I'm already looking at you after one day over on AMC), but RC had explored this before the strike, and I'm hoping the teens' scenes on Friday mean he will be again: Dismantling the "Starr and Cole together forever" myths and exploring the innate flaws and immaturity within these two young people, and showing why they don't really work after all. On another note, who the hell calls Jersey "the place where all our dreams will come true?" As Miss New York would say, "are you serious to me right now, Cole?" It wasn't all tiresome Starr/Cole, though; RC immediately resurrected the wonderful Dorian and Langston dynamic, then followed it up by having Blair regain her long-misplaced backbone and smack Todd clean across the chops. Another thing to thank Cthulu for; while the scenes with TSJ and KDP (not to mention Todd threatening Langston when he learned the truth) have been rivetingly ugly and intense, Blair's spine has been missing since not long after the initial discovery of Starr and Cole in bed together. She's let Todd walk all over her up til now. It's about time one of the Cramers decided to regulate. Thanks, Ron, for bringing it all back. J'adore!

If I could only love Ron Carlivati's return for one reason, though, it would all come down to Natalie and Jared, back on the Buchanan ranch in Texas, where it all began. In a word, wonderful. Their scenes were emotional, heartfelt, probing, insightful, aeons beyond anything they've had before, and Jared and Natalie's scenes were already pretty damn good. When Jared spoke about why he had grown up able to trust, always reaching higher, I understood him better than ever before. Melissa Archer and John Brotherton played off each other perfectly, matching each other with emotion and intensity, and let's just say MA has, in my opinion, never had a romantic partner right there with her like that. It was gratifying to finally see her equaled. But what was really gratifying, and important, was hearing Jared tell Natalie that it was all up to her, that she was in control. When was the last time Natalie was in control of her heart, of her personal life, before Ron Carlivati? When was the last time a writer gave a damn about letting her be the one in the driver's seat, the one whose perspective we stayed with, instead of giving everything to the man she was with? This isn't just a problem with Natalie in the last few years, it's a problem with most women in soaps today, sadly; the writers, be they male or female, put everything on the pursuit of the man, or what the man wants or needs, and the women become either appendages to the man's focus, or driven to win the man to better themselves. But not Natalie, and not anymore. Her confrontation with Jared, and her choice to go back to him at the ranch, was all about her. That's still important. Fleshing out the characters is still important. Showing us they love each other is still important. And damn, they were hot. All in all, classic soap.

So that's it. Ron Carlivati is back in the saddle, and all is slowly becoming more and more right with the world again. Next week, the Starr and Cole story hurtles closer to a mercifully swift conclusion, Talia and Antonio make it hot, and Jared and Natalie get down to business. And hopefully, Viki and Charlie's romance will finally be brought out of cryostasis. See you there. And remember who the line forms behind!

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

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