Happy old year

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Part two of a special two-part look back at the events of the past year in Llanview.

This week, Michael shares with you his picks for the best and worst of One Life to Live '08. Remember that this is a special, two-part season finale. Well, so to speak. Last week, Dawn took her turn with her picks for the tops and the flops from the year gone by.

Don't you hate it when people try to tell you not to get gifts during the holiday season? For several years now, one set of my parents have been all, "Oh, we want gifts of service from our children." Like they're Barack Obama . "Divine, selfless acts of service to others. 'Others' meaning us." As though they are a nation unto themselves that the citizenry applies itself to, like the "Greatest Generation" did with America. "Ask not what you can buy for under $25, but what serf-like duty you can do for us to ingratiate yourself." Doesn't it turn into some sort of moral/social bloodsport then, as the rest of the kids line up to prove their serrrviiiceee is the most appropriate? Am I the only one who finds this a little weird? Can't I just get you a Borders gift card and be done with it? Or even something personal and heartfelt? "Oh. I see you...chose not to be of service. (dour look) Very well, we shall unwrap your capitalist token and entertain its pablum for the People." They didn't really say that, I did give them some service (that sounds dirty), I love them very much and I'm mostly kidding, but I'm just saying, it's a little weird, right? I mean, nobody wants to blow a lot of money during these tough times but as far as I am concerned, Christmas is about gift giving and finding something personal and appropriate for each of your loved ones. Why ask me not to do that as though it were crass and superficial? I mean, it's a bit like the tail wagging the dog, isn't it? "Oh, the holidays are such a cynical, consumerist invention, who needs them? BTW, what special service have you set aside for me?" Even if you're not into it, you're still into it in some way, because people expect something at this time of year. So I say embrace the avarice; brave the Macy's, trample your neighbors in the Best Buy. Because dammit, your nephew needs that last Wii to have your love validated, and you are willing to snap Peggy from Accounts Payable's neck like a wishbone to make that happen!

Anyway, in all seriousness, Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Chrismukkah, and Festivus, etc., etc., to all. I hope a minimum of blood was spilled during your holiday endeavors, that all broken homes are sufficiently mended, and that no one ended up really snapping necks. You know what time it is, I'm sure -- time for my turn at the grand old critical tradition of The Best & Worst of the Year Past! And what a year it was on OLTL, eh? The corporate takeovers! The time travel! The fake Colombian accents! The cheesy Mendorran sets! The beloved returnees! The re-rape! We'll take it all in turn with a series of broadly defined categories I hope you'll enjoy. I've never really done this in long form before, so I'm going to give it my best shot, try to keep things to a reasonable length, try not to bore you all to death, and hopefully make it out of here in time for more eggnog. Let's give it a whirl, shall we? Without further ado, I give you...

Michael's Best & Worst of One Life to Live 2008!

First off, we have....

Worst New Character: Lola Montez. It was a real white-knuckle race to the bottom of the suck for the ladies Montez, but our girl Lola made it across the finish line first by a squeaker. Whereas obviously evil Vanessa at least has some driving purpose onscreen, her stepdaughter has absolutely none, and her future prospects (Markko? Cole?) are less than thrilling in and of themselves. Camila Banus doesn't seem like she's that bad of an actress, but there's no way of really telling since L'il Lola has virtually no dialogue, no inner life, no real exploration as a character, and no personal perspective. She's a prop tossed around as further plot for Vanessa and Cris, or Langston and Markko. "My father killed my mother! I don't want to go back to Colombia! Marry my psycho stepmom, Cristian!" Pull her string and she coughs up a plot point. If the actor or character cannot quickly establish a personal hook for the audience into the life of a character, be they contract or recurring (as was originally done with Langston herself), there is very little chance anyone will be interested when it comes time to play that character up into a major player. This, I fear, will be the same fatal flaw for Lola that we saw in characters like Layla, Vincent (shudder), Claudia Reston, or Chad Bennett before her. She's just wallpaper, and we don't need another teen.

Best New Character: Brody Lovett. What is there to say about Brody (and his abs) that I haven't already said ad nauseum? Not just a divine specimen of man, Brody is a deeply resonant and viscerally-felt character, played with intense dedication by the incredibly talented Mark Lawson. Brody has defied the odds and survived doing time as a potentially disposable recurring player/romantic obstacle for a hot young couple; he survived the character and story purge that came after the end of the rriters' strike, and instead grew to become three-dimensional, fleshed out as a decent, noble young man who is struggling with demons he can barely comprehend. What's more, his new friendship and relationship with Jessica makes for an exciting new possibility for both characters, as Brody is utterly unlike any man Jess has potentially been paired with before. Brody is a rare breed of character on ABC Daytime (ABCD): The non-psychotic war vet. Over the last several years, ABCD has done a number of stories using unbalanced former soldiers who come careening into town to make trouble for the beautiful people. The most egregious example of this is how comrades-in-arms Cooper Barrett and Logan Hayes were both turned into crazies and killed off on General Hospital. This is particularly sad coming from the network which pioneered emotional and thought-provoking storylines about the effects of war trauma, back in the '70s on All My Children, where Ruth Martin and Amy Tyler first spoke out against the Vietnam War, then dealt with Phil Brent's "death," and his shocking return. Phil Brent was one of AMC's first shining young heroes, so why are so many young men and women who fight and die today tossed in the Fronsian meat grinder? It's not an issue of supporting the current Middle Eastern conflict or not, either; Vietnam is generally regarded as an illegal war, but Phil was still treated as a fine young man who fought for his country. I think the way we treat and honor our fellow Americans in uniform supercedes our personal politics, and even me, the bleeding heart liberal, thinks it's a shame how ABCD has treated most of its vets (with the possible exception of Taylor and Brot on AMC) as cannon fodder. Brody is a proud exception to the current unfortunate rule, and I hope he and potentially the new vets in Pine Valley prove to be the way of such stories in the future: Fully realized characters for whom their combat experience is a part of them, but whose having seen violence is not the sum totality of their role.

Most Useless Character: Again, it's Lola Montez by a nose. There was nothing I could do, but it's worth mentioning that she just barely edged out perennial champion Layla Williamson this year. What exactly is Layla's purpose, though? What does she do? What is the point? Aside, of course, from being the only remaining African-American contract player, a sad statement on the show's current color lines. Tika Sumpter seems like a lovely enough person, and she always seems to store up unused energy for her mid-show promo bumper or opening credits shot; she's got plenty of vim and vigor, particularly in her scenes last summer with Brody or Dorian, and in recent scenes with Rex and her lady roommates, but as a character, all she is is an accessory. She started out as sister Evangeline's "Mini Me," and she's been trading "Heathers" ever since. I fully believe Sumpter could do more, but the problem is there is no real character there to invest in, just acting quirks and cute bits of business. And when the writing isn't there to make something more from someone, such a character stays in mildly diverting limbo. Therefore, Layla is still quite sadly useless, but she is edged out by someone who may become her replacement...but probably won't be nearly as fun to see dance around at 2:31 p.m.

Most Ignored Character: Randall. James. Gannon. Remember the name, playa! Oh, how I miss the supercool dreadlocked ex-con, with the voice like a caramel candied apple that's got a razor blade hidden inside. Is R.J. gone from Llanview for good? Is his portrayer, Shakespearean actor Timothy D. Stickney? No one seems to know or be willing to tell us. No one wants to admit it. R.J. last appeared in early spring, when he was spurned by his ex, Lindsay, and took off in a huff to visit Rachel and Hank in Chicago; he left behind a letter for Linds, which Nora intercepted, later using it to bust Ms. Rappaport back to the pokey. Back then, R.J.'s letter claimed he was only "going away for a little while," and he gave neither Linds, nor Nora, nor the audience the impression that he'd be leaving Llanview forever. So why won't OLTL just level with us? R.J. is no longer listed in the credits as far as I can tell, he has been excised from the opening sequence, yet no mention of a permanent exit was made in the soap press or from ABC. I must be the last poor sap in America waiting for R.J. to fly home! Don't get me wrong; I'm not a total fool. I know R.J. has probably been dumped altogether, and I suspected as much in the spring. There were rumors that Mr. Stickney was taking time off for another commitment, but nothing definite. At this point, though, I just want a simple "yes" or "no" and an answer as to why evicting R.J. was necessary. Mr. Stickney was already a recurring player, not a financial burden upon the show. Further, he was a longstanding veteran actor of color on a show that has often prided itself, rightfully so, on having one of the most racially diverse casts in daytime. Sue me, but there is something rotten in Denmark when R.J. Gannon goes M.I.A. and the last regular African-American player on the show is Layla. Even as a recurring player, R.J. enlivened scenes with his one-of-a-kind presence and limitless potential any time he appeared; others who have taken his space simply bumble through their paces. OLTL has been both very good and quite bad this year, and I think it owes the audience the truth: If R.J. is really, truly gone for good, which seems obvious, just tell us and get it over with. This limbo state is obnoxious. Otherwise he'd be in the "Worst Exit" category. What a waste.

Worst Exit: Allison Perkins. "Hey, I've got a great idea: Let's let Ron and co. set up an exciting story about a slew of town secrets, and have Allison come back and unveil a series of shocking revelations, hinting at a paternity retcon for Jessica and Rex, and a brother for Blair! We can even threaten to get Mitch Laurence in on the act posthumously! It'll all be an awesome build-up to a huge climax, and then at the last minute - BANG! Let's toss out all the remaining scripts Ron wrote for February and make stuff up when the WGA strike begins, and write Allison out with nothing whatsoever resolved! I know, genius, right?"

Best Exit: Nash Brennan. For some soap characters, their defining moment comes when they face the end. For me, Nash was the perfect example of this principle. A fairly popular but often plot-driven or confused character, Nash had the misfortune of debuting under the Dena Higley regime, in which his purpose quickly became basically to stand around wearing Don Johnson Miami Vice suits or howling "Tess! I love Tess [or Jessica, depending on the year]! Come back, Tess! Our love is real! Screw you guys!" Though I liked him, I never found him very well-defined; thanks to Higley's pen, Nash's sole core traits or facets seemed to be Tess/Jess and wine. No family, precious little history, nothing to invest us in him more; I often wished for Nash's siblings or parents to show up, but it never happened. Tess and wine; that was it. Mind you, Forbes March was a decent actor with a very winning chemistry with Bree Williamson; I really enjoyed our too-brief glimpses into the Brennans' married life over the last year, and I thought it was a good place for their characters to grow from. I would've been happy for Nash to remain with the show, and when the news came down that March was out, I was saddened, but also intrigued. Why? Because sometimes, some characters are at their best with tragedy, and in turn, some shows are at their best when good people die even though they don't have to. That, after all, is life.

Take Megan, or Viki's little sis, Meredith; their deaths shook the canvas and changed things forever. The loss of Nash irrevocably altered the lives of everyone in his family and extended family, and brought about a violent and amazingly dramatic conclusion to the shocking storyline of the Buchanan Enterprises takeover -- because of Nash's accident, Jared, Natalie, and Charlie's "lies of the heart" had much more consequences than some transitory soap business strife. As a result of the carefully orchestrated storytelling, Natalie and Jessica's relationship is changed forever, and Jessica is left struggling to regain her sanity and sense of self in St. Anne's, a much stronger storytelling position for her than the backburner rut she and Nash were left in after their prior overexposure, and the unpopular affair storyline in early 2007. Before summer 2008, Nash had devolved into an appendage of Jessica, beautiful but with few ties and smaller purpose. Today, his name is instant OLTL legend, like Megan or Joe Riley before him, Jessica's lost true love. The power of his heartbreaking final scenes in the hospital with Jessica, as he drew his "heart'" on her palm and passed away, are burned in my memory, and the aftereffects of how he lived and, yes, died will stay with us, and the character. That's staying power, and Nash developed it as he expired, as part of a stellar storyline that drew the entire canvas into its web and left Jessica without a husband and Bree without a father. As exits go, they don't come any better.

Worst Return: Dallas Jones/Loyita Woods. What? How? Why? Don't get me wrong, Loyita Chapel Woods seems like a very nice lady, and she really rocked that silver hair and those power suits when she strutted back into Llanview as Clint's ex, Dallas Jones. (Take a note, younger ladies; that's how you age gracefully!) But for what purpose? Making Nora jealous in one of the most juvenile and pointless subplots of the year? Flirting with Bo, bringing us yet another potential epic fail in the notorious "Real-Life Spouses In Soap Romance" department? And then there was her role in 1968. Come on. Is the unspoken ban on Bo and Nora interaction soooo important that it is now necessary to dredge up Bob Woods' real-life wife, however lovely she may be, to play the young Renee? Especially when you've got another certain redhead on the canvas who also has a corresponding "ex-wife" role to RSW as Bo/Asa? And that ill-fitting wig! Ye gods! It looked like something Sarah Palin had gunned down from the air and stuffed! Then, of course, Dallas disappeared without explanation no sooner than she'd returned, but enough time had already been wasted watching her flounce around the Buchanan mansion that I was pissed that I'd had to sit through it. What the heck was that about? And couldn't you have spent the time giving poor Nora more to do on her own?

Best Return: It pains me to say it, but the great Andrea Evans' return as Tina Lord was not the Best Return of 2008. For better or worse, that mixed honor has to go to...and I say this with several qualifications...Susan Haskell as Marty Saybrooke. I can't let this column go without addressing the return of Tina in-depth, however, so this is as good a place to do that as any.

First, let me say this about the Tina storyline: I enjoyed a lot of it a great deal, but it had huge problems. There is nothing inappropriate IMO about Tina being involved in a campy, over-the-top storyline; such material is Tina's classic M.O. and to bring her back to, say, help the Diner employees unionize or partner up with Adriana and Layla at Exposed would have been too low-key, too same-old same-old, and just not Tina. She deserved a big, splashy entrance and storyline, and she got one. The problem, however, was that there was far too much camp and far too little substance when it came to fleshing out Tina and Sarah's relationship, as well as Carlo and Talia's, and the storyline seemed increasingly disconnected, and distant from the rest of the show. "Camp" is not a slur when you modulate the humor correctly and use it sparingly; instead, the Mendorra storyline seemed light and fluffy on character and logic, and heavy on gags and set pieces.

Furthermore, focusing on surface elements doesn't really work when there are like two or three Mendorran sets total and each looks like a cheap re-dress of either the Buchanan mansion or the courthouse. And while I could understand using Tina's return to promote and highlight the virtues of newer characters and couples like Antonio and Talia in an organic fashion (by having Carlo menace both the Roberts and the Vegas over his daughter), having them plus Sominex - I mean, Cristian and Sarah - be the only real touchstones Tina had to Llanview for months at a time was just plain off-putting, and hurt the story. How much better could Mendorra have been if Todd or Viki or Bo or Cord had accompanied Tina and the youngsters to Carlo's evil fiefdom? When Tina did return home and began to interact with old friends and family, it was very welcome, but almost too late, as she was immediately plunged into an equally silly and far more repetitious storyline with Tess and the secret room. As Andrea Evans' taping schedule grew more random and discordant with the storylines, Tina seemed to float around other people instead of bouncing off them properly. When her character finally came together - helping Viki and Charlie save Natalie and Jared, and flouncing around Angel Square in a leopard-print hat with Cain - it was over; Evans was gonee. And now, when her presence is needed more than ever to enliven the Montez storyline (you can't tell me Tina wouldn't make short work of Vanessa for her baby girl), we can't have her back! Well, I want Tina back, and I want her to be a regular or semi-regular presence; I don't care if the taping schedule has to be re-worked or what is necessary, but I felt Ron Carlivati had a real handle on Tina's character, with simply the wrong execution. If you bring back a force of nature like Tina, you can't let her light be hidden behind a bushel, with only a series of delightful glimmers occasionally popping out from beneath the dross of the draggy, half-told, half-budgeted storylines. You gotta go all the way and go all out.

Now, as to our winner for Best Return, Susan Haskell - like I said, I've got issues here also. The larger issue of her overall return storyline is going to be saved for another "award," so you'll forgive me for being succinct here, but regardless of my feelings about her material, the actress is an undeniable showstopper as the amnesiac Marty Saybrooke. Come November, Haskell took command of the show, just as she had several times in the '90s, as Marty took center stage upon discovering Todd's sick games. Since then she has been the engine powering OLTL, with able support from Hillary B. Smith, Kassie DePaiva, Kristen Alderson, even Brandon Buddy, and now the one in a million Florencia Lozano. From her unbelievable performances at Todd's home and with Nora at Llanview Hospital on the night of her "liberation," to Marty's heartbreaking cross-examination by Téa on the stand last week, Haskell has made every moment with Marty back in Llanview as agonizing, raw, and full of intense drama as she did in her '90s heyday. It's like she hasn't aged or the show changed at all. That kind of relentless intensity is understandably harrowing and exhausting for the audience, and for some it may be too much to watch day in and day out; I get that, especially when other characters fall by the wayside. But when Marty opens up on the audience, no matter what, I can't help being sucked back in every time. She comes, she sees, and she conquers, and good storyline or bad storyline, no other returnee or their story can beat Susan Haskell for 2008.

Worst Story: I'm not going to lie; in this department, despite OLTL having a pretty good year, the competition is fierce. There's the Mendorra mess and 1968, both a lot of fun but deeply flawed in execution. There's the return of Dallas subplot. There's Tess and the secret room, which, oy. There's the "John and Talia have an affair" rewrite debacle. And of course, there are the life and times of Vanessa and Lola Montez. I wish I could just name Vanessa and Lola's story and be done with it. But I can't. If I'm being as honest with myself and with all of you, and with OLTL, as possible, there is only one story I can name the Worst Story of the Year, despite its merits, and despite some wonderful writing and acting that has made OLTL compulsively watchable through the early winter months of 2008. That story is, of course, Todd and Marty.

I name Todd and Marty's "love affair" the Worst Story of 2008 with a heavy heart and not without thinking long and hard. It's true, as I said, that OLTL is now intense appointment viewing again, for me as well as, I'm sure, many of you. Since early November and the close of the previous dismal chapters on the Todd and Jessica storylines, both have moved into exciting and incredibly compelling new areas; in fact, I could never call Jessica's current story in St. Anne's with Brody and the baby mystery the worst - I think it's become the most promising of 2009. And as I've said, the drama in the Todd and Marty storyline since Marty was discovered has been riveting, almost uniformly excellently written and performed, with nuance, caring, and a modicum of responsibility. So far. But that goes to the root of the problem with the story from the beginning, and running to today. Despite the great courtroom drama, despite the incredible performances by Susan Haskell and others, despite Haskell and Trevor St. John's chemistry, despite the wild and woolly return of madwoman attorney Téa Delgado, despite the improvements in the show and storyline, the one question that keeps running through my mind week after week is: Was it worth it?

In examining the Todd/Marty story, I have to examine what it's cost the show and the characters. For one, Todd and Blair have been smashed to ruin; many don't care about that, maybe as many as those that do, and so that's a side issue despite my enjoyment of the couple in the past. But for their fans, it's been a heartbreaking loss, especially after such a wonderfully penned, low-key reunion this time last year. What's more important and more germane to the question is, look what's become of Todd overall. To many of us in the audience, myself included, he has now done what we were told, and believed, he could never again do: he has raped, and he has violated his same victim, the one against whom his sin had served to catapult his life in a dramatically different direction.

We have been told for over fifteen years, Todd is not the same man who raped Marty, he is no longer a sexual predator; Marty herself even told us that in 2004. We believed in his soul and his hope for a future, for some semblance of redemption, love, family, redemption. But we believed that as he went forward. Today, Todd has repeated his sins, fully cognizant and knowing what he was doing; his romantic delusions only account for so much of his choices. He lied to Marty, used her, manipulated her, and bedded her, and somehow, made himself out to be the pitiful ingénue who couldn't help but fall in love. In a way, his rape of Marty this second time is almost much more insidious than the first. At least the first time, Todd had the balls to look Marty in the eye and make sure she knew what he was doing and why. Todd's familial ties are shattered; his callous use of Jessica has ruptured his relationships with her, Viki, and the other Lord-Buchanans, possibly for good. He pays almost no attention to Starr and Jack, except to endlessly, vacantly reiterate his platitudes about Marty and why he tormented their family for her love. And in one of his sickest acts ever, Todd plotted to repeat his vile crime against his wife, and Starr's mother, by acting against Starr herself, and stealing Baby "Hope" a.k.a. Chloe Brennan. In doing this, Todd had changed his outlook forever IMHO; Starr had become not his cherished firstborn, not "Shorty," not a jewel of his heart to be treasured forever, but just another faithless woman for Todd to manipulate to suit his whim. Is it any wonder that Starr and Viki look at Todd now and see Victor Lord reborn? They are both apex sexual predators, and they both have seemingly little remorse. Who is Todd Manning now, at the end of 2008, on the eve of 2009? I knew who Todd was this time last year; I trusted in Trevor St. John's fine portrayal and Ron Carlivati's excellent writing for the character. Today, I see a black mass in his place, an opaque void, unknowable beyond his sudden, rampant, pathological obsession with Marty. There is no connectivity to this character for me, as a member of the audience, to hook into as I did before. Todd Manning has become alien, unknowable, irredeemable, all his potential for fifteen years...gone. And this is just the effect on his character we're talking about. The Manning family dynamic with the children is ruined. The Viki/Todd relationship is gone, as mentioned. Blair is whiling away her days with John in an unremarkable if passable romance. And Marty, for all her fire and vows of vengeance, is still a double rape victim with few romantic prospects and a questionable future on the show. Marty has gone from victim to fighter many times, but this time, despite excellent writing, the strain of credulity is almost too much to bear for me. Despite loving her current revenge mode, I don't know how I can ever see her as anything but a victim of sexual violence again, unless her character is dramatically retooled and positioned away from Todd and the Mannings. (Which would be a unique and interesting angle.) They went to the well of suffering too many times, and for as exciting as her character is currently, I fear that long-term, Marty may turn out to be irrevocably broken, just like Todd but in a different way. I hope I'm wrong.

The thing is, though, when it comes to the Todd/Marty storyline you get very tired of saying "I hope I'm wrong." "I have a feeling they might kiss, but...I hope I'm wrong. I don't know if they'll have sex but...I hope I'm wrong." Because so far I haven't been that wrong when I listened to my heart of hearts on this, as I haven't wanted to. The story since sweeps has been great drama, amazing to watch, and the writers should be commended for it. The problem is that Todd as a character is now unsalvageable to me no matter who plays him, and that is a colossal waste. They have been treating Todd for months as a disposable stock villain, failing to give us proper insight into the method of his madness, and now I just want him to die. And the thing is, I hope I'm wrong, but I don't think Todd will be killed off. Maybe, but I bet it won't last. I think he'll stick around, and they'll try to find some way to weasel him out of this. But there's no going back for me, and for many outraged viewers. So when I say I have enjoyed the post-reveal storyline "so far," I mean exactly that; we are watching a soap, and Todd is an iconic character, ruined or not. "So far" it is okay, but soon a penny will have to drop, and something will reverse itself and somehow we will be expected to allow Todd to continue as a long-term contract player who the audience can enjoy. That's too much to ask from me today. I know it's too much to ask from a lot of you, too. Not all of you, but a lot of you. And I think that needs to be understood, not just to have your voices heard but to understand the scope and depth of my complaint, for why Todd and Marty's "love affair" was named the Worst Story of 2008. Yes, the writing is generally great for these characters lately (save Todd), but it's a "pyrrhic victory" - it came at too high a cost, for the characters, for their potential and their futures, for their relationships, and for everything we have ever invested in them. When it's over, what do they all do next?

The deeper, final sin this story committed is something Ron Carlivati talks about a lot in interviews, but doesn't realize how he's mishandled it: the subtext of Todd and Marty's prior strange, tortured bond is now fully textual, made solid and tangible through their real-life love affair. This is a lethal mistake when it comes to these characters and how they interact. For years throughout the '90s we had scene after scene, post-rape, of Todd and Marty being forced together in many situations, tearing into each other, relating to each other in surprising ways, confessing to each other and confounding each other. Remember when they sat by the fireplace? Or when Todd went to Ireland to find Marty and help her for her young patient? Or when he saved her from the car crash with Jessica? Or when, after Powell was unmasked as the hospital rapist, Todd sobbed out a halting apology for his crimes after being humiliated and violated by his former co-conspirator, and Marty, almost without being able to control herself, touched his face tenderly...then recoiled and fled from the room as though she had touched an open flame? Their connection could not have been called love (though some wanted to call it that even then), but it was definitely strange, chemical, powerful, mental, metaphysical, forbidden; the incendiary chemistry between Susan Haskell and Roger Howarth alone led OLTL to attempt to pair them romantically in the mid-'90s, leading to Howarth's inevitable original exit, from which his performances never really recovered. These scenes disgusted some fans and fascinated others (me included), but there was no denying that Todd and Marty were, again, compulsively watchable together.

The trick was, nothing was ever spelled out. There were no easy answers or obvious solutions to explain how Todd and Marty linked into each other after he raped her. There was no tidy solution, no easy psychoanalysis, no single answer, nothing that any of them wanted to understand or admit to, nothing any of us in the audience necessarily wanted to understand! But it was there, and it made for great TV with two great actors. What we counted on, and what we respected, was that OLTL would never cross the line and pull the curtain back on this strange connection between Todd and Marty. When you do that, the mystery, and the mystique is over, smashed, destroyed. When Todd mouths platitudes about his love for Marty now, how it has always driven and haunted him, how it has influenced him since that day fifteen years ago, it falls like lumps of uncooked dough off the script and out of his mouth with a flat plop. There's no more power in how they interact. There's no hidden fire. There's no sparks, no indistinct je ne sais quois, nothing unspoken and puzzling, no more mysticism. It's not exciting anymore. By analyzing and overanalyzing the mystery of Todd and Marty this year, Ron Carlivati has inadvertently destroyed it. I can watch Marty take her revenge on Todd all day long, but watch Todd and Marty together again? Who cares? They've officially gutted the golden goose, and worse, they ruined half a dozen characters and their relationships in doing it. Truly, the Worst Story of 2008 -- even if it's being told exceptionally well right now.

Best Story: The fall of the Buchanan empire. It started with Asa's death, and things seemed innocuous and intriguing enough; the ramshackle Buchanan clan had to come together in the boardroom throughout 2008 to save the family business, or Asa would exact a penalty from beyond the grave. We saw characters who rarely related of late work together and be shown as a cohesive family for the first time in years, with all their unique flaws and idiosyncrasies. Meanwhile, Bo struggled with his storm of emotions over Asa, Jared conned his way in but lost his heart to Natalie, Alex Olanov hid the truth from David Vickers, "Charlie B." risked his true love for his wayward son, and Dorian got her heart broken...and broke the Buchanans as payback. From Nigel finding Asa sleeping with the angels in August 2007 to Nash's memorial service in the summer of 2008, the fall of the Buchanans was a massive umbrella story, a rich tapestry tying together several exciting new romances, characters, core families, and returnees. No one was left unscathed, nothing was left the same, and many characters would never be the same as before. A story that seemed almost Bill Bell-esque in its scope, depth, and astonishing "un-ABC Daytime" intelligence, it was unlike anything I have seen on OLTL in the last ten years and, I hope, will become the model for any future business intrigue stories on this show. It gave Natalie a new Romeo. It gave Nora a secure place on the canvas (knock on wood). It gave Buchanan Enterprises a real face. It gave Clint and Bo separate, unique characters. It made Dorian dangerous again. And it gave Viki a man. And, it's not over yet! The Buchanan family opera of 2008 is my vote for the best tale of the year, and I hope their Y&R-esque squabbles give Maria Arena Bell conniptions into 2009 and beyond.

Worst Couple: Again, lotta contenders, but really, no contest. Todd and Marty. You don't need another monologue, right? Right. Let's move on to our number one with a bullet...

Best Couple: Cut the suspense -- it's Viki and Charlie. Jared and Natalie were a very close second; I'm one of their biggest fans, but I can't deny the power of Viki and Charlie, not just because they are truly wonderful together but because of how very hard-won this couple was for those of us who are longtime, dear fans of Viki and Erika Slezak. There was a time not very long ago at all that I felt sure Viki was pretty much done on this show; they shut her in a drawer sometime in 2003 and never really let her come out again other than to sprout an alter or wring her hands and say things like, "Oh, not my Jessie! Ack, my heart!" Sure, we saw her a reasonable amount of time, but was she ever really doing anything? Even her lovely heart transplant story in 2004 only served to incapacitate and isolate Viki further; every time Dena Higley wanted Viki tossed aside, she would have Erika clutch her chest and crumple to the floor. It was like Redd Foxx screaming, "I'm comin', 'Lizabeth!"

Worse still, near the end of Higley's tenure, Viki seemed to exist for nothing but endless scenes of Clint castigating her, followed swiftly by either Clint or Dorian, or Clint and Dorian flouncing around humiliating Viki in the worst possible ways. It's like, "Okay, Clint: Sloan is worm food. Get over it! Let's move on!" Anyway, I was sure that as OLTL's ultimate leading lady, Viki was pretty much done for; she'd always be an icon, but a Viki-centric story was verboten. Then came Ron Carlivati, who gave us the Paris, TX storyline, and Brian Kerwin as "Charlie B." Not just an incredible actor of stage and screen but a lovely human being, Kerwin is too good for soaps, but then so is Erika Slezak (though she'd rap my knuckles for saying that - maybe I just mean "current soaps"), so they're a perfect match onscreen. Their chemistry is easy, unforced, natural and startlingly real, raw and unpretentious in a way we rarely see on daytime anymore. Through all their trials and tribulations this year, Viki and Charlie are the epitome of "keeping it real" together (as opposed to the Dave Chappelle sketch, "When Keeping It Real Goes Wrong"). It's not all hand-holding and picnics on park benches, either: when we see them in bed together, their bodies are no more hidden than other, younger actors; Viki and Charlie just happen to be two mature people in love. That is reality, especially in 2008, where "60 is the new 40." Their long, hard path to a reunion this Thanksgiving was hard-fought and well built up to, and they make me cry every single time. Charlie is the man I want to see Viki grow old with, and they make me believe that the honor and dignity of our veteran characters can still exist no matter what show you're writing for.

So that's it, folks. Should I have done more? It's my first time, that's a pretty decent selection of categories, right? Right? Anybody? Yes? No? Maybe? Anyway, let me know whatcha think. I'll see you kids in 2009. Enjoy your New Year's Eve, and stay away from skylights or high railings. And remember the Téa Delgado Rule: When you've got a problem you think you can't solve, try the crazy eyes! Good night, everybody!

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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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