Love's labours lost...and found

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OLTL Two Scoops: Love's labours lost...and found
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The week of June 15, 2009
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This past week, everybody in Llanview was either on top of the world or at the bottom of the heap.

I know, the title, what a cliché, right? I couldn't help it, I'm at a loss today, what can I say? Seriously though, it's a fair summation of the week's events, no? Everybody in Llanview was either on top of the world or at the bottom of the heap. Dorian lost it all, while Viki got more airtime per single episode than she'd had in ages; Michael and Marcie gained a daughter, while Starr lost one due to her inability to spend the last few weeks doing anything other than casting mute puppy-dog glances all over the place. Meanwhile, the show worked overtime to make us understand a sociopath, and John, Marty and Blair took an old Nashville classic for a spin. No, there's no wacky format change this week - I'm trying to alternate 'em. Here now is another round of Two Scoops. But what flavor scoop, I ask you? I mean, if my column had a flavor what would it be? Personally, I go in for "Cake Batter, Batter, Batter" when I go to the Cold Stone Creamery, but do I think my prose tastes like birthday cake and cookie dough? No. But I suppose that's beside the point, right? Right. I just hope it doesn't taste like soap. There's really no way to make that work. Not even with another format change.

Aaaaanyway. Viki and Charlie. Engaged. Let's just do it one time together: Squee! Yes, it was a lovely build-up, it was a lovely proposal, great acting, lots of manly tears were shed, it's good times. Some might say it's too soon for Viki and Charlie to hit the altar, but I'd remind people that they met in the fall of 2007, whereas Viki's last husband, Ben, Mr. "I'm Not Balding, This Is Just My Unique Cranial Structure" Davidson, met her in early 1999 and was married to her by the end of 2000 (complete with assassination attempt at the reception). So I think the timetable's pretty reasonable. What struck me here, though, was how much time and effort the writers clearly put into Viki and Charlie's wonderful scenes, perhaps knowing they were among the few of substance the characters might get for awhile, though I certainly hope that's wrong. It's easy to scoff when a soap heroine with the mileage of a Viki or an Erica or a Marlena Evans gets engaged or married yet again - how many surnames is this for Viki? Let's see if I can do this - Viki Lord Riley Burke Riley Buchanan Buchanan (twice? Y/N?) Carpenter Davidson. Is that correct? Anyway, the point is, it's easy to roll your eyes every time someone pops the question to one of these ladies. But it's in how the material is presented and delivered that makes it work or makes it laughable each time. Case in point, Charlie's proposal and Viki's acceptance - they didn't need to say out loud that Viki has done this way too many times, because we all know that. So instead of a lot of virginal histrionics or pomp and circumstance, Viki's acceptance of Charlie's love was simply quiet, dignified, and adult, and I appreciated that. Don't take that to mean "the vets should be seen and not heard," either, far from it. I just think that Viki's unpretentious approach to her latest (and hopefully last) engagement was, well, let's say, elegantly understated, in a very Victoria Lord sort of way. Well done, OLTL. Now where's the story?

By contrast, there's Clint and Nora. Nora's frozen rictus of terror as Clint made all sorts of high-handed marriage plans suggested nothing less than "poison sarin gas is filling the room - how do I escape?" And instead of taking his brother's advice and talking to his fiancée about personal issues with the family, Clint again takes the easy route by buttonholing her with wedding crap. Could Nora look less into this? I'm honestly not sure. I'm so ready for this slow-build, intriguing storyline to hit high gear, and for Bo to take a more active role. Also priceless this week: Nora, Viki and Charlie's "happy" reactions to Renee's suggestion of what might one of the most awkward double weddings ever (though aren't they all?). Maybe Viki will claim to be excited about this idea next week, but I'm sorry, Viki and Charlie both almost did a spit-take on Friday.

Then there's young love. Young, "who needs more medical bills?" summer love. I speak, of course, of Jessica and Brody. Her alternate personality kidnapped a baby last week; this week's she's one baby less and out shopping in the streets. WHUT? I love this couple, don't get me wrong, and their scenes were great, but this seems a tad, oh, I don't know, abrupt? No re-integration? We're just going to sweep it under the rug again, say it happened by itself when Jessica gave Hope back? She's just back on the town because OLTL doesn't want to deal with Jessica spending any more time in St. Anne's? I call bull on that; I think if you're going to do a baby switch story you have to be prepared to play more fallout, even if it may come off as repetitious based on what the character did before.

But this speaks to a larger problem. While Bree Williamson is often excellent and has great chemistry with Mark Lawson, the more DID/trauma stories Jessica has, the less I have any idea who she is. Her horrible tragedies and the people who have taken advantage of her have come to define her; Norman Leeds, the Music Box Killer, Mitch Laurence, Tess, Bess, Nash's death, the loss of Chloe, and so on. When was the last time we saw Jessica at work? What does she want to do with her life? Does she really still want to work for Todd, the man who had a hand in prolonging her illness and the baby switch? When was the last time we had a real grasp of her relationship with her child the way we have with the Cramers, or even Marty and Cole? When was the last time you could give me a summation of Jessica's defining character traits versus Natalie's? (Natalie appeared this week, BTW, which is always a nice change.) I find that Jessica has been a plot-driven heroine since the recast; even when Erin Torpey's stories were bad, I still knew who the character was. She seems lightyears away from the cool-headed, mature young woman she used to be, and let me hasten to say this isn't Bree Williamson's fault at all - it's the writing. No one seems to be willing to step up and re-define this poor woman with any strength or internal character logic; things simply happen to her, death, assault, men, babies, you name it. Jessica and Brody are a fine couple, but who is Jessica? What does she do, what does she want, other than Brody and Bree, and before Brody, Nash, and before Nash, Antonio? Even Brody is more well-defined than Jessica now in my opinion, and he's only been on the show a little over a year; Jessica was born in the mid-80s! Until OLTL commits itself to rebuilding a character and not another couple or a story arc, Jessica's traumas will be just that to me: Heartbreaking traumas, ones that do make me cry or feel for her, but where the character always seems a little distanced and uncertain. I can admire Brody and Jess together, but there's a hesitation to it because I have not come to know this latest integrated Jessica the way I have Brody, and I haven't really known Jessica for a long time. And that is unacceptable.

At the other end of the spectrum, we have too much exploration, or rather, too much emphasis on the wrong things. Case in point, Starr and the Hope debacle. It seems like Starr has been wandering the streets for a year, giving people mourful, silent looks as she promises to give her baby away and then looks away and sniffles to herself. At this point, she all but flashes a neon sign which screams GIVE ME MY BABY BACK BABY BACK BABY BACK RIBS above her head. Enough, please. I am intrigued by Starr and Cole having grown from their ordeal, and there have been good performances and scripts since this story turn (Starr and Cole giving the baby to Michael and Marcie was a great scene), but Starr as a whimpering, whining milquetoast who can't speak her mind (Starr Manning - did you ever think she'd turn out like this?) is utterly unwatchable. If Starr really has grown up, why can't she just tell Marcie the truth? Why is she always equivocating, backing off, or hyperventilating and dissolving into tears, pulling at her clothes, crying on people's shoulders? Is this the grown-up Starr, always pining for Cole or her baby, never doing anything for herself? Or is that an ABC Daytime vision of the perfect soap heroine, always suffering, always in someone's arms, only happy but for the grace of others? Fans have been screaming for Starr to get her power and her edge back for years, or at least some semblance of growth, but she's a young mother and she's still bleating and moaning. What will become of her when or if she gets Hope back? Starr, too, is a character desperately in need of re-definition from a character standpoint, and not simply a plot-driven or dramatic angle.

Oddly enough, Cole's struggles still are far more moving to me; I used to despise him, but when he deals with the rigors of everyday life as a recovering addict, I believe every moment of it, mostly because it's often underplayed and rarely repeated over and over the same way as Starr's dilemma has been. Unlike Starr, each step Cole takes is forward-moving and unique, and he reacts differently; with the graduation and his lack of a degree (something anyone who's taken summer school or had to make college coursework up can relate to), what would be a mild shame for anyone else is magnified for a substance abuser, and he finds himself back on the docks meeting his former dealer, or as I call him, "Count Supertwink." Now, here again, the question is, are Cole's struggles better rendered than Starr's (or Jessica's) because of a male-driven creative process at ABC Daytime? We've seen it at play in the past, and certainly with characters on General Hospital or All My Children. I think Ron Carlivati's work at OLTL has, in the past, been very female-centric, and there are still some female-driven storylines on this show. But right now, the men still seem to be the ones coming out in focus; either they've got the action, or the women are simply orbiting them and their problems. Even now, all Starr talks about other than Hope is...Cole.

It's not just the kids who have this problem, though. Take the latest wretched Todd Manning triangle. That's right, Blair and Téa are still lusting after the repeat rapist and baby snatcher, and I haven't a clue as to why. Well, with Téa, I do; she's just freaky like that. But I must have missed when and how Blair was able to soften to Todd after everything he's done to the point that they're sharing cutesy scenes on the stairs at La Boulaie. I understand their family strife with Hope trumps everything, but that doesn't mean to have be that cozy again so soon. Todd hasn't done enough to redeem himself, but it seems the show officially just does not care. If you caught Todd blithely giving a one-line exposition to Téa on Wednesday about how he no longer was in love with Marty and didn't feel the same way anymore, you were probably as shocked as me. It's a good thing OLTL never bothered to illustrate this character beat onscreen with a series of carefully-written scenes, otherwise I might've gotten confused! Apparently we're supposed to take that line of dialogue, accept it, and move on. Okay. I know my place. I'm supposed to go back to rooting for Todd and Blair now, and forget what happened last year. People may rag on Trevor St. John, but like Bree Williamson, he is a capable actor, and this is not his fault; it's shoddy writing. After the Marty mess, the show seems to have no idea who Todd is anymore than Jessica, and have decided that in lieu of having to stretch themselves and figure it out, they will simply revert to an old paradigm and hope no one notices. That's crap, and so is this storyline so far. If people think Todd's character is inconsistent now, I would cite the writing first; St. John can be an incredible actor, but he has to something to work from. And OLTL and Ron Carlivati have both done better than this. BTW, Téa, if you are Todd's surprise witness, I swear to God I will beat you to death with a wet hen. She's willing to get disbarred for him? How pathetic can one woman be? Téa: You So Crazy!

Then there's Blair herself. Not only is she back to playing Betty and Veronica with Téa over Todd, but she finally got dumped by John, who skillfully inverted the old country tune from Robert Altman's Nashville - "For The Sake Of The Children, We Must Say Goodbye." Note to the writers: I know John and Blair were not interesting, but if you want to drum up sympathy for their alternate couple, try to avoid having John race over to Marty's for some loving within the same episode in which he dumped his wife. Klassy with a K, guys.

I will say this; I did love the scenes with Marty at graduation, struggling to dash back and forth across town for her court appearance yet still snap pictures of her son in cap and gown. That is a slice of life, and that kind of everyday storytelling is an increasingly rare commodity in American soaps, whereas domestic dramas used to be our lifeblood. Now everything is plot-couple-plot, and the smaller moments often get missed. Those scenes are the essence of life, and it's what we ourselves do everyday; why shouldn't we see it, with a more romantic twist? Isn't that what soaps are? Interesting moment this week as we met Markko's parents, too. A couple years ago, Markko would be the last guy you'd expect as school valedictorian; he was introduced as a very cliche "bad boy" teen, but within months, he had settled in being this very nice guy. I actually find Markko's sweet character refreshing on soaps, where most teens now have to be "edgy" or on the make; Markko's simply a good guy, and he and Jason Tam don't get enough credit or material.

The watchword of the week is apparently, 'hurry up.' The way A Martinez's Ray Montez was hustled out of town like a convict was disgraceful; he hadn't appeared since weeks before, on Camila Banus' (Lola) last airdate, and then made a quick, though heartbreaking cameo to dump Dorian and disappear forever. In my opinion, this was a grave disservice to the fans who had come to deeply invest in Dorian and Ray's burgeoning relationship, and the incendiary chemistry between Martinez and Robin Strasser. Apparently, because these two characters are over 50, we shouldn't expect them to get much airtime, and Ray can be dealt with offhandedly as Dorian speedily reverts back to "woman scorned" mode. That's not to say Robin Strasser doesn't do this very well, but how many times can I watch it? Dorian rejected by a man is what drove her last meltdown, which led to the abortive BE takeover; what will losing Ray prompt her to do to totally unrelated people? And why would that storyline be unique? Wouldn't seeing Dorian and Ray forge a relationship and a family unit with Langston and company be far more compelling new ground? I'm sure whatever Dorian's got coming next as she circles the drain will be very watchable; Dorian almost always is. I just don't know if it will be very different. And the loss of a fascinating new male lead like Ray Montez is a real blow.

We saved the worst for last: The Morasco Fiasco. Hey, have you heard that Stacy is just a troubled young girl who needs help? She's really not so bad, after all, she wants to teach dance! Probably to very small young children, none of whom will have cancer which she can use to blackmail their families! Poor Scott Clifton worked overtime as Schuyler this week to try to save the writers from Stacy's black hole, spinning like a top to explain to us how Stacy really is redeemable, no, we swear, but I don't buy it, especially after Stacy herself trashed her only friend to Rex. The worse Stacy gets, the worse Rex's character gets for being such a fool around her, and for treating Gigi so shabbily in the process. Meanwhile, the only silver lining is the loss of Shane's absolutely ridiculous latex bald cap, and the burgeoning bond between Gigi and Schuyler; their "Scooby Gang" detective work has really rehabilitated Gigi's character for me. I'm just not sure how Rex and Gigi will ever come back from this, and I'm afraid it's another typical recent move by ABC Daytime. Despite being a reasonably popular new couple, Rex and Gigi were happy together for less than five months before Stacy appeared. Now, Rex is into her sister and calling her a whore. Nice. Please end this story now, and drop Stacy down a well. I'm willing to take up a collection plate, guys.

I want to end this week's column with a brief note about what I've written here, and in the past. I always get great feedback from people, and I can never get enough of it. You guys are wonderful. However, I don't want anyone to think that I hate One Life to Live, and don't enjoy watching it or writing about it. I love this show, and I've watched it for close to twenty years; if I didn't love it, through good times and bad, I wouldn't watch or write. Some days may be better than others, some characters and stories better than others, but everything critical I write in this column is done out of love and caring for the show. As I look back over my column and recent ones, I acknowledge that there's been criticism of the show, but I think what I've had to say is valid and fair, and not without humor, or hope or praise for what does work on the program, and I think there's a lot of that, too. I couldn't write about GH or AMC, because I don't find those shows to have much hope or praiseworthy material left; OLTL does, in spades, even on its worst day. I'm still in the game if you are, and I'll always believe in this show, even at times when it doesn't seem to believe in itself. That being said, I promise another six paragraphs about Mark Lawson's pecs next time. Love to all, and please remember: the only cure for multiple personality disorder is bedrest, bedrest, bedrest.

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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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