Psycho killer

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OLTL Two Scoops: Psycho killer
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The week of February 23, 2009
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It's not that Susan Haskell, Florencia Lozano, Kassie DePaiva and Trevor St. John are not all fine actors; it's that the material they have seems aimless and pointless.

Let me get the obvious question no one asked me out of the way right now, since I've been gone a few weeks: Horror movies, a pint of Ben & Jerry's "Chunky Monkey," a 36-hour Winamp playlist and a lot of alcohol. That's how I spent my Valentine's Day, and now I am a chunky monkey. There, now you know. I blame the economy and not any overcomplicated relationships with ex-boyfriends. Come to think of it, did anyone in Llanview celebrate Valentine's Day? Other than Michael and Marcie? It's not like they've got anything else to do, really. No, the rest of town was busy with estate heists, fistfights, serial murder, prison breaks, and extraneous new characters I simply do not care about, Stacy Morasco. That said, it was an okay week in Llanview as we prepare for, uh, "March Sweeps." Okay, but deeply flawed, so let's get to it. "March Sweeps." That sounds weird, doesn't it? I think so. Thanks a lot, DTV. With sweeps off-kilter, I feel like the temporal mechanics of the space/time continuum are melting around me. And by the way, did we really need another serial killer? If I count Mitch Laurence's reign of terror (Mitch killed under-fives like he was getting a commission), Troy McIver's dead-hospital-staff meltdown in the summer of 2003, and Daniel Colson's killing spree, I have us at five serial killers for this decade, not counting the current perp. And it's not even 2010 yet. Someone call Lance Henriksen and the Millennium Group! Okay, riff dead, let's go. You know what I blame for the serial killers? MonaVie. It's the acai berry.

So: The Go Red Ball. Now with 75% less stuff happening. I mean, yeah, okay, David was crowned as the Buchanan heir, finally, but we all knew that was coming, am I right? Honestly, somehow the aborted Writer's Strike Red Ball from last year felt more eventful than this to me. We had the Allison Perkins story, we had her big secrets, which are all still simmering on the backburner today, we had the promise of something big and exciting. I feel like all we got this year was an obvious payoff, then a drunken brawl between a bunch of deeply obnoxious, overexposed characters. Except poor Wes, who we'll get to in a moment. It's not that Susan Haskell, Florencia Lozano, Kassie DePaiva and Trevor St. John are not all fine actors; it's that the material they have seems aimless and pointless. Everybody is basically orbiting John and Marty, and the more Marty is around John, the less I find myself caring about a woman I have rooted for for almost twenty years. Blair's character beat vacillates between fawning supplication for King McBain and Wicked Queen cartoon villainy every two minutes, Marty is doing some sort of Nancy McKeon from The Facts Of Life routine, and Téa's function is to be only slightly crazier than Nadya Suleman while Todd stands around grinning like a goon as three women he has brutalized get into a fancy-dress catfight. I feel like I'm seeing people doing stock bits from other characters or storylines, and it all smells very "John/Natalie vs. John/Evangeline" to me. We all remember what a delight that era was, right? The cheerleader barbecue? No, thanks. I've got no interest in going back to the days of John McBain, White Knight, doing his best "emo guppy" stare as women fall at his feet in various states of character destruction. But clearly, someone at OLTL or at ABC Daytime is interested.

Take, for example, poor, dead Wes Granger. Like Marty, I mourn for Wes and his extremely acceptable physique. But things have begun to feel very predictable in this part of town. Once again a Llanview lady wakes up next to a corpse; we've been here before. And of course, who's on the case but ex-cop civilian John? How long did his 'retirement' last? Two months? Less? I was honestly touched by Marty's statement for the police record, when she said Wes was "a very gentle guy;" I don't believe he killed Lee Halpern, and I think he was really just a troubled man trying to do the right thing. And I happen to think Ron Carlivati excels at writing genuinely decent, flawed people; that was the strength of new characters like Charlie, Brody, and even Gigi for me. But in a Frons-ified ABC Daytime, the nice or unique must die so the moody pouters can run the table and eat the airtime. Michael Easton keeps flashing the same dead stare again and again, and I find myself wondering if perhaps I'm missing the subtle nuances; perhaps the fractionation of his narrowed eyes or the varying width or seal of his pouting lips are the true signposts towards John's murky emotional landscape or cryptic internal character mechanics. It's not that I think Michael Easton is utterly without talent; I think he may be hamstrung by the character, perhaps dying to play a more open, down-to-earth character with real humor, vigor, or external stimuli. When we see traces of Easton's wit from time to time, there's something very unpretentious and endearing about him. But it seems that Easton's soap "image" has been so submerged in pretension and dour mystery, so "typed" in what film theorist Jeanine Basinger calls "the star machine," that his Caleb/John McBain act is all he is allowed to play, even as that image has long since been usurped by any number of lissome young emo godlings of 2009; My Chemical Romance, perhaps, or those insufferable Twilight people. Port Charles was a long time ago; no young teen's going to look at John's whiskey glower and sketchy beard when they can go to a Barnes & Noble and read about Robert Pattinson not touching them too freshly. It's ovah, y'all, but someone behind the camera is refusing to see it. And as for the existing female audience, I somehow doubt that John's treatment of women is gaining him any fans at this late date. He marginalizes and belittles Blair with the same mute contempt he gave Natalie, and infantilizes Marty the same way as well. Even when she was making her own choices with Wes, he was second-guessing and undermining her at every turn. Aren't we past the days of the trashy paperback fantasies, with stormy men treating women like dirt while lighting a fire in their loins? Until recently, I felt Ron Carlivati's OLTL was extremely female-centric, which, as I've said, is how I feel the show needs to be. I just would like to know who in the writers' room or the production offices thinks "the John McBain Solar System" is still an operational story model for this show. When I see promos where John's gravelly voice promises me more serial killers and detective work, all I get is nauseous. When did the network heads decide that OLTL 2005 was some kind of golden renaissance?

But I digress. As to other characters: John gave Blair the brush-off because she had ended up passed out at Todd's. I have to say I found Drunk Blair to be absolutely hilarious. Far preferable to "Blair McBain," anyway. It's almost painful to see that Trevor St. John and Kassie DePaiva still have excellent chemistry together, which almost saved their scenes at the Red Ball. The problem is that Todd's character is stuck in a perverse kind of neutral; they copped out of the misguided Tarty storyline by letting him off the hook again and now OLTL or ABC or both seem to be hoping that we will simply go back to accepting Todd as the gleeful town ne'er-do-well. My memory isn't quite so spotty, however, and I still remember what Todd did to Marty and Starr; I can't imagine a way for Todd to go back to his family or Blair now that wouldn't completely strip those women of their self-respect. As amusing as Todd and Blair can be together, as much as I enjoyed their riotous back and forth, coasting on chemistry is not a replacement for the kind of painstaking character reconstruction necessary to rebuild Todd's ravaged presence on this show. Unfortunately, so many stories and characters on the show right now seem slapdash, half-assembled, hastily thrown together. BTW, my vote for "serial killer": Téa Delgado. I think it's the logical progression of her delightfully daffy character, and I've got Florencia Lozano to back me up on this one. Hit me up, Flo-Lo.

I'm ready to talk anything other than the Quadrangle From Hell, aren't you? So let's get to the good of the week: The fall and rise of the Buchanans. Yes, the old guard has been banished from the mansion, and David Vickeroshi has given way to the fully actualized David Buchanan, who has traded in his orange robes for a ten-gallon cowboy hat. I've gotta say, he wears it well. This story may be played for laughs, and I don't think it's been bad comedy, but I have to say I think that there seems to be an internal, emotional thread running through this: David and Dorian's love, and David's quest for identity. However goofy it has been at times, I feel the David we've seen since December - since Ron Carlivati took over the show, really - has been a David searching for himself, or for things (money, Nirvana, show biz success on "The Supermodel Crime Club") that would make him "whole." A common criticism of David's short stints since 2007 has been that the character has no purpose, no long-running or valuable storyline; I totally disagree. I swear to God Ron Carlivati isn't paying me, just hear me out. David may have seemed like "Candide" at times, the vacuous innocent or clueless schlub off on a lark, but he has always had a central role in the trials of the Buchanan empire - true to one of the oldest rules of narrative fiction, when David isn't around, everyone is talking about him, and when he is, everybody's freaking out. He has tried everything under the sun to make himself happy, to find what he thinks he wants, and now he discovers he is the Buchanan scion. I know a number of people felt that David's dressing-down of Clint and Renee last week was well-deserved, and David's lines about Renee turning him away from the Palace resonated for me as well; David has long sought to be something, and suddenly he finds that he already was, even if others can't accept him. David has reached his destination, and he and Dorian have re-discovered their passion for one another without ever intending to - special props go to Robin Strasser and the writers for the heart-wrenching, surprising scenes in which Dorian testified about her love for David in the last several weeks, BTW. So what's next for David? I don't know, but I know I've enjoyed the journey, even if it's been a bumpy road due to the actor's status. I feel they maintained the consistent threads of his character and the plot properly, and I feel confident that no matter what the results of the Buchanans' latest DNA test, David will still have "a family."

Speaking of that family, though, I loved the Buchanans' last night in the big house. Their drunken bingeing was, to me, emblematic of everything out-sized, rough and ready about the Buchanan clan, everything that has given these "usurpers" staying power since the 1970s. The "Bukes" aren't the Abbotts, the Newmans, the Bradys or the Quartermaines; they're hard-drinking, hard-loving, hard-gambling, horse-riding, time-traveling, occasionally rapping (yes, Asa rapped - YouTube it!) renegades who struck black gold and got way too much money. Yes, they were selfish and judgmental to David, but they had good reason to distrust him as well, and to lose the Buchanans' scrappy, occasionally wrongheaded grandiosity and make them a bunch of austere upper-crust goody-goodies destroys what makes this family unique on soaps. I hope they never lose their larger than life country-fried madness. I also hope that Bo/Nora moment was not another go-nowhere tease. Man, that made me happy.

...And then there were "The Rest," as the announcer on Gilligan's Island used to call them. Jared, Natalie, and The Mystery Of The Parking Pass continues at a snail's pace, but at least it's going somewhere. I would so much rather watch these guys and Jessica and Brody (and Viki and Charlie) than have to endure more and more "Quadrangle." Maybe next week. Cole continues to eat Tic Tacs by the fistful, and I still don't care much. Can you OD on Tic Tacs? Is that possible? Has anyone tried? Seriously. What's in them, some kind of peppermint compound flavor? What would actually happen to your stomach? Would it function like a "charcoal rinse" at the hospital and make you throw up? I might have to actually try this when Cole's "drug problem" begins to cycle out of control; just get a couple boxes of Tic Tacs or a couple rolls of Mentos and "OD" myself. Just to "get inside Cole's head" and write appropriately about this "hard-hitting storyline" about teenage confectionary abuse. Watch this space! My eyewitness expose is coming straight for you. Also, so sorry, Layla, but your snippy, holier-than-thou backburner ways have led delectable bear cub Oliver Fish into the tentacles of Guiding Light refugee Crystal Hunt, who is clearly just happy to be filming scenes on a soap with walls and central heating. I can't blame her, but I'm already tired of Sttaaaacccyyyy. Again, it's another sudden new character who seems much more half-written and slapped together than what I am used to from Ron Carlivati. What I'm not tired of, though, is Shane's insane haircut. He looks like he is ready to join Tokio Hotel.

A special note of praise for Starr and Mr. Joplin's Friday scenes. I finally found myself caring about them together and believing in their rapport. The chemistry between the actors has been evident from the start, but up til now their scenes have been a mixture of uncomfortably skeevy, physically inappropriate, and clunky with portentous exposition and awkward, unrealistic dramatics. Kristen Alderson looks too young, plays her part too young, and there is no excuse for Starr and Schuyler constantly embracing, invading one another's personal space and crossing professional boundaries of behavior and discussion again and again. In the real world, "Mr. J" would be at least suspended by now, in fact, even on TV he's pushing it; look what happened to poor Ryan on 90210 a couple months ago! And he didn't even get romantic with a real student! In any event, Starr and Schuyler's scenes over the microscope on Friday's show were exactly what they have needed all along, easy, comfortable, exploratory dialogue which flowed from the characters and showed us how they could relate to each other without a lot of forced sturm und drang about "my father, your mother, my boyfriend, your drug problem" that no real student and teacher would discuss with each other like this, much less so soon. I'd like to believe OLTL will keep taking things slower with these two, but I have my doubts, especially with the advent of other recent lackluster characters and stories. For every good idea and storyline on OLTL right now, there seems to be a larger, lesser one growing beside it.

And there's no storyline more "lackluster" than The Montez Saga. Note to OLTL: David Fumero's wack goatee does not make him look like a grown-up. It feels like this sad excuse for a storyline has been gone for a year and suddenly, they're happily married with facial hair. Just think, a little over two months ago Cristian was swearing love to Sarah. Random! It's like OLTL is trying to trick me into thinking lots of time has gone by. And all of a sudden he's grown this thing on his face and I swear to God, it looks like he has entered Witness Protection and is trying to pass himself off as a floor manager at Circuit City in Duluth. What was the thinking here? "He's with a sexy adult lady person, time for a beard!" It looks ridiculous. Lola is right; he does look like the cliche idiot stepdad. "Everyone says you framed your last husband for murder, but for me, that just's sexy talk, Vanessa!" Thank God Ray has arrived to end this madness, or so I hope. It seems too convenient, though. Perhaps Uncle Enrico Montez will arrive, or sexy cousin Maria Montez who secretly ate Vanessa's baby with chipotle. I fear we will never be rid of The Montez. Rather, someday, when we least expect it, The Montez will be rid of us. Bolt your doors!

So that was the week that...was, and I hope we have a more even and satisfying upcoming as we go into crazy-pants "March Sweeps." On a serious note, I want to take some time out to pay my belated respects to Clint Ritchie and Phil Carey, two giants of One Life to Live. When I started watching as a preteen, one of my earliest memories in my first couple years was Asa's Egyptian wedding to Alex. It was a crazy story, and very quickly, Asa became like another "Grandpa" to me, the same way he was to Jessica or Matthew or Natalie. I loved Asa dearly, and Clint too, both in different ways. Where Asa was the apex Buchanan - "bigger than life" - Clint Ritchie's Clint was more of an even, faithful, solid paternal presence, with a voice like weathered leather and a calm to him like the poetry of the Western landscape. While Jerry ver Dorn has been a excellent replacement, Clint Ritchie, like Phil Carey, offered a personal identification with his character that one knew came from years of hard work, commitment to character, and deeply-felt personality and influence. He was Clint, just as Phil Carey was Asa. We came to count on them. Maybe we even took them for granted. I know I took Asa for granted, even when Dena Higley tried and failed to write him out in a terrible way. These men were part of the bedrock of OLTL, and their strong, steady hands at the wheel (along with Robin Strasser, Robert S. Woods, and of course, the eternal Erika Slezak) gave viewers who started watching in 1983, 1993, or 2003 a sense of something which I believe is the paramount, invisible force that network heads cannot understand, that which draws all young viewers to daytime drama, much more than hot guys or high school stories: A sense of family, and of a home, waiting for you wherever you go. Our home is a little more empty for not having Phil Carey and Clint Ritchie in it, but they're not really gone, as long as we remember: That is the magic of daytime, and serialized narrative. It doesn't surprise me that they passed away close together; knowing of their personal relationship, I suspect they wouldn't have had it any other way. Godspeed, cowboys. See you in two weeks.

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