David Vickers is the perfect reality star: Vaguely amoral, yet still so desperate for affection and attention, not necessarily in that order, that he is willing to bare his soul, or perhaps a carefully tailored version of it, for the cameras, and America's edification. I think that's the trick of reality TV: It convinces its participants that they are in on the joke, but it's actually an autopsy of the human ego, and the need for personal validation. Everything is so heightened or even staged, perhaps to the point of hysteria, but there's always some perverse grain of truth, of need. When you watch VH1 schlock like Rock/Daisy/Bus of Love or My Antonio (and oh, talk about art imitating life - how far has Antonio Sabato fallen after the heights of Night Shift 2?), where a gaggle of increasingly bizarre women drink, strip, catfight and meltdown for the cameras, there comes a dizzying moment of realization where you think, oh my God, part of this is actually real; these women are really that upset about the possibility of losing a man they barely know. Of course, that's not the whole truth - most people on reality television do it for the professional exposure, and always remember to play for the cameras. But if you ask me, there's only so much you can fake, and when you see these reality gladiators' frenzied outpourings of truly irrational emotion over, say, Bret Michaels or Flava Flav, you have to ask yourself, how did this happen to them? When did they stop playing for the lens and simply get caught up in the artifice, in the experience, in proving their worth not just to some overcooked has-been celeb, but to the audience? And if the camera can so easily create these extreme emotional conditions in what is essentially a dating game show where hardened, cynical people thought they were signing up for instant fame, how insecure are we all?
That's just one layer you can unravel in David's new storyline, which ramped up this week as the prodigal son took the Buchanan manse by storm and announced that he was going to give America "the Bukes" in all their Southern-fried splendor. It's hilarious, like all of David's storylines, but in my opinion, just like the "David Does Buddha" arc, it goes somewhere deeper. In that story, David and Dorian's lost love was explored and revived, as Dorian grew to love the genuine "new David," only to lose him again and be a bit sad about it as he made tracks for L.A. In this one, the dangling threads of the 'David-as-Duke-of-Bukes' (not the actual Duke Buke, who died when a church fell on him) story are finally being picked up, namely his new relationships with people like Bo and Matthew. David's on-camera soliloquies this week were priceless, as he explained how he would play himself in the film version and Matthew would become Zac Efron, describing Nora only as "a reformed Jew [who has] a half-black daughter with a history of drug abuse." But even as David shoved Bo at the camera and screamed of his need for "Dad" to teach him how to fish at the old swimming hole, even as we laugh, we can see there's more to it. In his most unguarded moments, David admitted a need to get to know Bo, and Bo vice versa; his speech to the camera about how he needed his dad may have been a theatrical pose to him, but like most reality TV participants, David has been tricked, and the lie is not far from the truth. When he sneaked (snuck?) back into the house to ask Matthew about the real risks of his controversial operation, we could see that David genuinely cared for "my horribly disfigured little brother." So if humor is the best way to do a David Vickers storyline, I say OLTL should use it, and keep doing what they're doing, allowing David's crazy schemes to draw together several other, more serious storylines, like Bo and Nora's hidden passion, and Matthew's battle in the courts. David is the connective tissue, a living apparatus for "umbrella stories" unto himself, and he works like a charm. I can't complain at all about this storyline, or David's vaguely tragicomic presence; I think he is just what the Buchanan storylines have needed to punch them and catalyze, sending them spinning in new directions. I also want to single out praise for Eddie Alderson, who has grown so much as an actor in the last year; his onscreen facial expressions as he preened for David's cameras were priceless.
Mind you, other things did happen this week on OLTL. There was the addition of Amanda Setton as Kim Andrews, the "Cristal Connors" to Stacy's "Nomi Malone" from legendary box office flop Showgirls, and if you think I'm taking this analogy too far, you either have never seen that epic disaster (which is understandable, but really, it must be seen once in life; like the Matrix, Showgirls is impossible to describe, "you have to see it for yourself"), or haven't been paying close enough attention to the show. Here comes a big old digression, so feel free to skip over. Eagle-eared Showgirls aficianados will recall that in Stacy's debut episode, she and boss Stan outright referenced the film's "heroine" Nomi herself (played by Saved By The Bell's Elizabeth Berkeley, whose cinematic career imploded the minute Showgirls began shooting). And when Kim was introduced at the end of last week, they dropped another Showgirls ref as the scheming strippers talked about their old pals from Vegas like "Twila" with the problematic g-string. This is not idle talk; each of these mentions references an immortal character from the original celluloid masterpiece. Someone on the OLTL writing staff knows this mega-bomb of a film as well as I do, and frankly, that scares me.
Anyway, back to the show. Just like in Showgirls, the supporting character is more interesting than the lead - Kim is Gina Gershon to Stacy's Elizabeth Berkeley. Amanda Setton has clear acting chops, and in just a week she's done something as Kim that Stacy never has - she made me laugh. Kim may (or may not) be just as trashy, slutty, and morally void as Stacy herself, but somehow, Setton's warm, enthusiastic embrace of the madness has suddenly elevated this storyline. With Kim around, Stacy is almost bearable; the gaudy bimbos suddenly become sort of a Marx Brothers-by-way-of-thongs. There's just no way not to giggle as these two tramps strut around town enacting their "brilliant" plan to get several uninterested guys, two of whom are gay, to sleep with Stacy - they think they're so smart, but we know they're in for a letdown. That's what makes this fun, all of a sudden: For the first time, we knew Stacy was going to fail at something, and we knew she was going to fail before she even got started. In the past, she's just been smug, cold and invincible. Now, thanks to Kim's enervating presence and the screwball antics bound for catastrophe, Stacy's portion of the storyline has become entertaining. I still don't care what happens to Stacy, but I find her watchable because the tone of the story has shifted, almost to a quasi-Tina comic level, with Setton-as-Kim pulling most of the weight. Setton may be a keeper if they can allow Kim to begin to feel remorse, or disgust with Stacy's toying with a child's life. When Kim spoke to Schuyler on Friday about Stacy's delusions, the character danced the knife-edge between truth and put-up job; you knew she was there to try and soften Sky to Stacy, but you couldn't say for certain whether despite her friendly assistance, Kim might also believe what she was saying about Stacy being delusional about Rex, and lost in her fantasies. If that is the case, Kim has a shot at longevity on the show. Stacy, on the other hand, can still hit the bricks. Her Nomi is nothing without Kim's Cristal.
By contrast, the Rex/Gigi/Sky leg of this storyline remains dismal and grim. This week was taken up largely by Rex knocking Sky around, and abusing Gigi by association. When Rex tried to convince Sky to leave town, Sky rightly called him on putting Stacy and the baby before Gigi. Rex's character is a mess these days; he's so self-righteous, so arrogant, and so unsympathetic to the other characters' issues, and he transitioned seamlessly from "Stacy's a great girl" to "not now, Gigi, Stacy needs me." Meanwhile, Gigi works tirelessly at Rodi's and waits for Rex's leftover attention. Who can blame Sky for wondering if he still has a shot at her? He's right that Rex will lose her all on his own, but regardless of Scott Clifton's performances, watching this part of the story is like slow, agonizing death, similar to what is happening to Rex and Gigi's relationship. I didn't wait for Stacy to be exposed just so I could watch Rex and Gigi eat their family alive, and fall apart due to neglect. It's depressing, it's stupid characterization for Rex, it's weak characterization for Gigi, and worst of all, it's pretty boring. Please, let's move on.
If the Stacy storyline had brought us nothing else this week, though, it brought us quite a lot of Kish. Kish at Serenity Springs, Kish with hottie Nick, Kish all over the place. And I'm not complaining. This storyline is still pitch-perfect, so much so that there's not much to say about it this time around other than keep on keepin' on. I can't believe Cristian hasn't told Layla the truth yet, though. What exactly is he waiting for? Layla's need for love and to be in love is painfully palpable, and even I, never Layla's biggest fan, find it painful to watch her standing on a trap door. Someone needs to drop the bomb on Fish, be it Kyle, Cristian, or Nick and his amazing chest.
Despite some lowlights in the Rex/Gigi/Stacy story, most of Llanview's latest goings-on are new and much improved. For example, the Cole undercover story remains gloriously homoerotic, but also, actually interesting, which I never knew Cole could be. Starr, unfortunately, remains clueless, having to be talked out of becoming a "beauty school dropout" by no less than Langston. Oh, Starr. It's like five years. Will you ever be interesting again? Actually, Greg and Rachel's storyline has steadily improved as well; I liked their scenes this week, clashing, again, about an important, canvas-wide storyline (Matthew) as well as solid personal business, as opposed to the kind of immaterial, paper-thin, isolated issues that soaps like the post-Victoria Rowell Y&R have begun to use to segregate (sadly, that's the word I have to use) their characters of color, where two people break up and no one else on the show notices, because that's how much of an "island" the black characters are in. Not so on OLTL. Greg and Rachel have begun to hold their own individually as well as in the larger storyline, because they were introduced carefully first, among the larger stories, properly linked to the other characters, and were not asked to go it alone just because they were the wrong skin color.
The real good news is this, though: Wonder of wonders, Jared, Natalie, and Viki have all come back into sharp focus. You know the good times are rolling when Jared and Natalie's triumphant return to the small screen gives us that timeless soap classic of desk sex, followed of course by a crazy stalker with a snuff DVD. What could be better? It helps that this stalker story is genuinely creepy and unpredictable; when Brody blew onto the windowpane and saw the heart left for Jessica, a chill went up my spine. I have a pretty good idea who's behind this - I'm convinced it's Rex's father, who I suspect is none other than Mitch Laurence. When last we saw him, Mitch had an obsession with 'daughter' Jessica and a real grudge against Natalie. If I'm right, we're in for a real ride. Either way, however, this storyline is shaping up well, with real thrills and a good sense of pacing and the characters involved, unlike last spring's disastrous KAD revisit. I loved seeing Madame Delphina again, too; Lea DeLaria always underplays the hoary old "soap psychic" cliches of the James E. Reilly school, and does so much with dry wit. But mostly, I'm so happy to see Jared and Natalie with a major role in a good story again. As long as there's no Tess, we're in good shape.
Then there was Viki. Yes, that's right, Viki. Viki has a storyline. Charlie may be locked in the cupboard, but we do have Mrs. Banks. We can all see where this feud with Mayor Lowell is going: As Dorian suggested, Viki is going to run for mayor of Llanview again. And I say, bring it on. The original Viki-as-mayor story is before my time, but I think anything that gives Viki a centralized role on the canvas again is a good idea, and I love when soaps attempt political/social storytelling, even if they often fail. (Michael Malone had a great setup with Kevin Buchanan as Banner editor-in-chief and Lieutenant Governor a couple years ago, but seemed to fumble that story at every turn.) What I wish someone would mention, though, is that Lowell's corruption runs deeper than just his bias against John or any potential involvement with the drug trade; Lowell was also in bed with the equally corrupt Lee Ramsey (remember him?), and, in a plot point even the writers seem to have forgotten, Lowell knew Ramsey and Todd had Marty months before she was found. Remember last summer, when Fish got John the security footage from outside the penthouse, which showed Todd and his bodyguard wheeling Marty away from the scene? Lowell saw that footage, and confiscated it before John could see it, probably because he didn't want to be implicated in Ramsey's criminal activity. The point is, I would love it if Viki dug that up during her bid for mayor. Anyway, long story short, I'm excited about this story so long as Charlie doesn't show up on a milk carton soon.
Unfortunately, it's not Two Scoops unless I have to talk about the Téa/Todd/Blair triangle again, and everything that comes with it. Oh, lord. Lordy lordy lord. I can safely say that Todd is the least interesting part of this mess, and that should never happen with his character, but when he comes onscreen now, I tune out. Téa and Blair's fights are great, Blair's schemes are fun, Téa's private duels with Elijah Clarke are fascinating, but when Todd is the axis it all spins around, the whole thing comes apart, because he seems to have checked out on all of them. Todd keeps mouthing platitudes about loving Téa, but frankly I don't believe it anymore than I did when he said it about Marty, because I don't think Trevor St. John believes it. Trevor St. John is a wonderful actor who has fabulous chemistry with all his leading ladies, but he's said many times that he suspects (rightly so, IMO) that Todd may be a sociopath or some other kind of self-obsessed void, imitating human behaviors like "love" and "parenting" to impress others. I think that kind of detached imitation is what St. John is playing Todd with these days; the only passion I see in him for Téa is when he becomes angry with her, or when they have sex. When Todd tries to go all hearts and flowers and soft music, I'm unable to believe it, anymore than I'd believe him doing that with Blair or any other woman, or believe him when he tells Blair in a bored tone of voice that he loves Téa and she should move on. This is not to say that Todd is only "real" with Blair, because like I said, I don't think that's the case, either; I think Todd's character has become very hollow and strange, and his motivations pretty inscrutable. Is he playing? Is he trying to make Blair jealous? Is he trying to gain permanent sway over Téa by promising her what she's always wanted? What does he really think? Why does it all suddenly sound the same, no matter which woman he's with? This kind of void of character could be fascinating if it was being written for, but unfortunately the actor seems to be going it alone; the writing is trying to tell us that Todd genuinely wants a heartfelt relationship with Téa again, but it hasn't told us how that's happened or why, and St. John seems uninterested in filling in the gaps. And I can't blame Trevor St. John for that, because he's not the writers. They're the ones expecting us to invest, but the writing isn't doing the job in my opinion; all we have are the actors' great chemistry to hinge the romance on. It's sort of a zombie version of Todd and Téa's romance from the '90s, where, even if you didn't like it, you could never say it wasn't written for and explored ad nauseum. This story is supposed to be about women wanting Todd, fighting for Todd, keeping things from Todd, trying to prove things to Todd, but Todd looks like he's just marking time with these people.
If nothing else, while Todd has become a dud, the character dynamics between Téa, Blair and Elijah remain stellar. Matt Walton could do well with either woman if the show chose to chemistry-test him; I hope he's not wasted. Unfortunately, Kassie DePaiva is doing the heavy lifting on her side of the story, as Blair grows increasingly desperate for Todd's mumbling drone. I can understand her going after Téa, but the fact that Blair's still so hung up on Todd is killing her spark in scenes with Rex and her nemesis, and the writing for her remains fairly anti-women. Speaking of misogyny, we were also treated this week to the unholy spectacle of Todd becoming Marty's, yes, Marty's new patient. That cork-popping sound you just heard was the universe imploding. I can't begin to account for the thousands of ways in which this would never even remotely happen in real life, so let's just suffice to say that the cavalier, casual treatment of Todd and Marty's recent experience and now their interplay together is still incredibly offensive to me. I was happy to see Marty back at work as a professional, but I can't stand that she continues to only be defined by John and her two-time rapist, whom the show seems to think is her only draw as a character. I disagree, and I'm not feeling too positive about this latest disgrace to Todd and Marty's history at all. Maybe I'll get lucky and she'll stab him to death with a scalpel.
Despite some duds, though, this week was a triumph in Llanview, in my opinion. The David storyline has become tragic and comic, the Bankses of every generation are back in style, a stalker's on the loose, and Kim can make any scene work. This is me happy with One Life to Live. Okay, kids, it's been real. See you in two weeks, and please, until next time, remember: Steve McQueen is dead.