The long goodbye

by Michael
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The long goodbye
All Two Scoops for
The week of March 22, 2010
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We're seeing radical changes from the Kelly of the past, who almost always swept her own misdeeds under the rug, especially where Blair and the late Brendan Thornhart were concerned.

Erin go Bragh, everyone! Did I type that right? My Irish Catholic mother will never forgive me if I didn't, whereas my Jewish father will just shrug helplessly. Yes, it's been another bonny St. Patrick's holiday week in Llanview, with green beer, dancing, and rousing music for everybody, yet not all seems quite well with our august assemblage. Natalie is still giving John and Marty the side eye, Jessica keeps stalking Cristian, Langston can't stay away from Ford, Blair's having trouble committing to Eli, and now Allison Perkins has pulled a gun on Our Sky, not to be ours for much longer, it seems.

And truth be told, that's not even the half of it. Why, you may ask, does a week with such celebratory scenes of high frivolity among our lovely Llanviewites leave me melancholy? Don't blame too much Jameson -- as the briefest glance at the front page of the site will tell you, things just got real over at One Life to Live, and it seems the revolving door of characters is spinning out of control. This time next month, it may yet be all over, and we will begin to face a dramatically different cast, a dramatically different town, and a dramatically different show, one altered, I fear, not for the better. As the news keeps streaming in over Dan Kroll's trusty wire, I've found myself watching my favorite soap and many of the stories I currently am enjoying with a distinct and growing sadness, moving from depression to anger and back to passivity again, knowing now that much of it is slipping through our fingers. For the good characters and stories that will be left, I'm grateful for what I have, but for a lot of our very 21st century Llanview, April 2010's shaping up to be the longest, most painful Irish wake that I can remember.

Where to start this week but with Llanview's own St. Paddy's Day bash? I can't think of another soap out there (that's still on the air -- don't look at me like that, Maeve Ryan) that would have the brass to frame several episodes around half the cast's quest for more alcohol, but that kind of idiosyncratic approach to messy, uncouth realism is what I feel One Life to Live is all about, and let's face it, if you haven't spent one St. Patty's Day stumbling across town for more beer, I daresay you've still got a lot more living to do. I loved the scenes at Foxy Roxy's and Rodi's, even if much of the immediate plot was structured around the insipid Marty/John/Natalie "storyline." The great Melissa Archer's daily scripts now seemingly consist solely of kludgy stage directions in which she stares at John and Marty like a starving convict from various wings of the soundstages, followed by lots of heated improvisation over different ways to say the same line -- "there's nothing going on between John and me, or is there?" -- ninety times. If this bores me to the point of brain death, I can't imagine how she feels, but God bless her, La Archer has never shown, will never show it.

Both Archer and Susan Haskell are eons above the Betty and Veronica dross they had to choke their way through on Wednesday; by the time those scenes ended, I expected Natalie to top the whole juvenile exercise in passive-aggressive judo off by telling Marty that John had given her his fraternity pin. John, as always, appears to spend all his scenes (the scene partners being interchangeable) pondering some sort of deadly serious existential maelstrom the likes of which us mere peons cannot hope to comprehend -- Mr. Easton did, however, manage to muster up enough investment to greet each mention of Marty's pregnancy with the face of a man who is slowly being gassed to death. Charming.

Why is this character our principal hero? And why am I supposed to choose between which of these poor women will be subjected to his "tender mercies" for the foreseeable future? Is death not an option? For John? My methods of expressing my discontent and apathy towards this story, you will notice, have grown increasingly florid week after week, month after month, even as my disgust remains constant; creative expression is the only rebellion against the plotline that I am capable of, as I am duty-bound to comment on the story whenever it appears on the show. You know it's bad when I find myself wistfully remembering another potential suitor for Natalie, Vincent Jones, the somnambulist scrub who cheated on Layla. Brrrr. Poor Marty. Poor Natalie. Poor you. Poor me.

Oh, but we've forgotten some people in the litany of woe, though: Poor Brody! Poor Layla! Or are they? Those two odd kids out spent most of this week hilariously drinking their cares away with clover and sympathy, and they always have made a cute couple -- me personally, though, I'm still very partial to Brody with Jessica, and Layla with Cristian. I'd like to believe that Cris's firm rejection and Blair's sage advice to Jessica has dampened her (crazy) ardor, leaving this ridiculous story to shift into another, hopefully better phase more enabling for Brody and Layla's characters, but I have my doubts. The faux-high school "flashbacks" with Fumero and Williamson stand-ins (displacing the wonderful Erin Torpey and Yorlin Madeira) were like tinfoil to teeth for me, elevating Cristian and Jessica's minor-in-the-grander-scheme teen romance to the heights of legend reserved for bigger, better couples, super and otherwise; even Nash and Jessica's marriage has a touch of the mythic now given his untimely death and the outsize tragedy of that tale.

I've noticed that OLTL has employed this tactic to "remind" viewers of past glories with either original or manufactured footage a number of times in the last couple years -- they also did it when Dorian cued up the "wacky Kelly" montage, crafted to remind us that Kelly wasn't always a psychotic hypocrite who stole a baby and bedded her stepson. And sometimes, reminding us of the past is important, a well-considered move to bring the current audience up to speed. But not everything old is good by definition, and please, Ron Carlivati, spare me another flashback brochure -- Cristian and Jessica have been over for a decade. Both characters have had successful adult pairings (thank God Cristian threw them in Jessica's face), and merely going backwards will not provide the impetus to rebuild the smoldering wreck that is Jessica's character.

If Blair's advice to Jessica to forge ahead on her own terms, but with the people she has in her life now (like Brody and Bree), is a signpost of the show's intention to reformat Jessica's character free of trauma alongside her current loved ones, then I welcome it, but if it is just a transitory scene, an obstacle in Jessica's delusional quest to party like it's the Clinton administration with Cristian, then I fear I will find myself wishing I was not contractually obligated to watch. 1997 is not a solution, it is merely a cynical, lazy ploy to avoid writing for a difficult, broken character, and I hope like heck that both Jess and the writing team will listen to Blair in the weeks ahead. Because seriously, seriously, I can't take much more of this crap.

Surprisingly, given my last column, what I can take more of is Kelly and Todd at the Sun. I stand by what I said two weeks ago: I would find a Todd and Kelly romance repugnant, and I think the characters only work as wary enemies forced to join at the hip -- Kelly's foolish sympathy for him is simply not plausible unless, as I suspect, Kelly is using her association with Todd to continue to alienate herself from the people who care for her, in order to continue punishing herself for her one-nighter with Duke. The fact that Kelly continues to bring Duke and Zane up again and again, the fact that she brought up her crimes against Blair, are radical changes from the Kelly of the past, who almost always swept her own misdeeds under the rug, especially where Blair and the late Brendan Thornhart were concerned. There's a very deep, tortured new characterization lurking here, I think, but I doubt anyone but Gina Tognoni has really tapped into it; brava to her. Nonetheless, Todd and Kelly's interaction crackled for me, even as I continue to find Todd unwatchable and unredeemed, and certainly, pairing him with neither Kelly nor Blair nor anyone else is going to change that unless OLTL turns its attention away from fluff like ladies catfighting and back to finding a way to fix the Todd they are left with.

Todd aside, Blair and Kelly's difficult familial relationship remains prickly and interesting. They have to kind of love each other, as we see in Cramer family scenes, but they don't like each other -- Blair even said so -- and I can't remember anyone ever delving into exactly why that is, though I'm sure we all have our own ideas. Nor do I find this schizophrenia unrealistic; I imagine some of us can cite similar thorny family relationships in our own lives. I was very pleased to see that Blair bounced back from her lame fanbase-tease scenes with Todd and Kelly to realize what really mattered to her: Her new relationship with the increasingly-attractive Elijah Clarke.

Blair was all over town this week, she hung with the adults, the kids, and the adults who thought they were kids, but in the end all her travels led her back to a single man: Elijah, who wants more than she thought she was willing to give. One would hope Blair's epiphany about playing the same old losing game with Todd will not come too late to extricate Eli from Téa's black velvet clutches, but more competition over a different man could hardly be the worst thing for either woman, considering the 2009 they both "enjoyed" with a three-time rapist. Kassie DePaiva and Matt Walton's chemistry is scorching (and Florencia Lozano isn't doing too badly, either), and it hit me like an unexpected bolt from the blue just as it seems to have done with many fans.

Sure, Elijah is not the most central character, but Blair and Eli's relationship is fun, healthy, interesting and new. Remember new things, OLTL? We're about to lose a lot of them, so let's consider keeping a few. What kind of message does it send to a predominantly female audience if, after giving a brain-damaged young woman smart advice, neither Blair nor Téa can walk away from a violent, abusive ex for a new relationship with a well-to-do hunk who sends dirty text messages and retains a healthy take-home pay from all those Optimum TV commercials Walton appears in? I ask you, daytime television, did Farrah Fawcett torch Paul LeMat in The Burning Bed for nothing?

Let's talk about something slightly less frustrating: The Sierra Rose story, with the cutest, most chillaxed baby ever. Any time anything happens in a scene, that baby could not even care. Rex bursts onto the scene, orders Rachel out of her own damn apartment and embarks upon yet another live audition for Tool Academy? "Whatev, I'm good." Allison Perkins arrives, strapped and ready to go to war for her corners? "It's cool, just warm my bottle." It's obvious that Sky is most likely Roxy's son and Rex's brother, judging by the gauzy flashbacks which imply that Allison, at the least, pulled another Nat-Jess baby switch on Rox lo those many years ago, and I'm fine with that; what I hate is the idea of this fascinating, tortured character leaving our screens just as his world on the canvas is expanding rapidly. I watch Sky with Sierra, Allison, and Rachel, and I care; I watch Rex and Gigi considering marriage and I find myself falling asleep, unable to even muster much more anger. It's a real problem and one I will address from a higher vantage at the end of the column.

But first: That's right, it's the teens. Markko, I love you, but you are one dim boy. How much are you willing to bet that he still doesn't put the whole sordid story together despite Langston's loose button ending up on Ford's office floor? Meanwhile, overdose victim Hannah and her Margaret Cochran, Jr., eyes didn't interest me half as much as the potentially interesting implications of a Starr-Langston rift over the musical, instantly quashed of course by their girl talk. Yawn. Outside people are brought in, yet little changes with this foursome; even if Ford and Hannah ultimately bust them up, it will be in the service of a thoroughly artificial story. Kudos to OLTL for being realistic by showing "sexting," an unfortunate phenomenon in the digital age, but where is this going? OLTL seems thoroughly unwilling to take substantial risks with the dynamic of its prefabricated "Fantastic Four," and Ford and Hannah are transitory issues. A real story would have to do with the long-running contract players we have come to know, and organic issues within Starr, Langston, Cole, and Markko's own interaction. So for now, count me out of this tomfoolery, unless Langston and Starr's truce snaps.

Now, before I leave you darlings again, there's still the issue of the pervading melancholy I'm feeling viewing the show of late. Here's why: Almost all those young people I enjoyed so much this week and last are on their way out. As I said at the top of the column, you only have to look at the front page of our OLTL section to know what's going down behind the scenes -- a wholesale culling of virtually all players non-Buchanan, non-Cramer, and yes, non-white, non-straight. Kyle and Oliver are out like disco, very soon, and will apparently not even get an official goodbye. Of course, heartbreaking though the loss of "Kish" is to me, they're not the only ones. I'm reminded of the old tagline for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: "WHO WILL SURVIVE, AND WHAT WILL BE LEFT OF THEM?"

While "Kish" is slated to bow out by the end of April, many fear that Scott Evans, Brett Claywell, Scott Clifton, and Daphnee Duplaix may be but the tip of the iceberg. Worse still is the shameful way Evans and Claywell were treated regarding their exit -- Scott Evans finding out he was fired thanks to a TV Guide article and Twitter is about on par with the late, great Lillian Hayman (Sadie Gray) being fired in the parking lot and locked out of the building before she could collect her things, and neither Hayman nor Ellen Holly were smeared in the press as unprofessional employees by "network sources." One gets the sense that if we weren't dealing with a high-profile, controversial gay storyline, ABC Daytime would not feel so emboldened to treat these two actors so cavalierly before what they perceive to be a divided, and thus apathetic, audience.

I loved One Life to Live long before Kyle and Oliver and I'm perfectly capable of loving it after, but all this leaves me with a very foul taste in my mouth, particularly as a gay fan. Even in the 1960s, ABC did not fire Ellen Holly or Lillian Hayman and publicly blame ratings trouble on "black overload;" instead, they withstood anger from Southern affiliates and upheld the courage of their convictions, and continued to tell a groundbreaking story. And the loss of vibrant, unique characters like Sky (recovering drug addict) and Rachel (black Jewish social worker), or others widely rumored to be on the chopping block, makes me question what kind of show ABC thinks I've been interested in watching all these years.

No one dared tell Agnes Nixon to cut all the difficult, troublesome characters -- no one said she could only have one Jewish Siegel, one Irish Riley, one Polish Wolek. No one told Gordon Russell there could only be one cowboy Buchanan, or that someone like Marco Dane or Karen Wolek, potentially unsavory but fascinating, charismatic, and layered, had to go in favor of more conventional stories and characters. One Life to Live has always been about risk, about different walks of life mixing like blood and plasma, between heaven and hell.

As a child, I seized upon the show because at first glance it offered me something real and unvarnished, whether it was Marty Saybrooke shivering in the aftermath of the sexual violence done to her, or Robin Strasser's Dorian without makeup, behind bars, unbowed and vengeful. That show was unafraid; it understood that OLTL could not be OLTL without Viki having Dorian, without Marty and Kevin having Todd, Hank having R.J., Larry having Karen. It understood the importance of a risk like Carla Gray, or Karen, or Billy Douglas, or Kyle and Oliver, or antiheroes, or ex-addicts, or scarred soldiers. Yes, I adore Viki, and Bo and Nora, and Natalie and many others, but this show cannot rely solely on core families (case in point: DAYS' Max Brady dating all his cousins), and certainly not on tired couples like John and Natalie and Rex and Gigi. I have zilch interest in what John or Rex do next week -- I'd much rather watch Roxy, Sky, Kyle, and Oliver's side of the world. I'd much rather watch Bo, Nora, Rachel, and Matthew, or Dorian and Blair, or Viki and Charlie.

As much as I enjoyed some stories and scenes, much of watching OLTL this week was like watching the world's most painful long goodbye, and I fear it's only going to get more tasking as we go into April, and the newfound color and diversity of this show once again begins to bleed out, leaving something stark and by the numbers. We have enjoyed a wild, diverse canvas under Ron Carlivati, and now I fear all I will be left with soon is Cristian and Jessica, Rex and Gigi, and John and Natalie in heavy rotation, with a side of Todd. Gag me, please. But before you get to my gagging, I urge you to write and call in, not just to me. but to ABC, on behalf of any exiting actor you happen to enjoy. They assume we are divided but apathetic about these characters, and that thus any response will be minimal so long as we can continue to vote in boring polls about which lady should "win" John McBain. I happen to think we're better than that, no matter who our favorite is. I happen to have a lot more faith in the audience and its capacity for new ideas, and I believe we're not scared to take a little risk. I wouldn't want to "live" in a Llanview without some risk, let alone write about it. Thanks, guys, I love you and I'll see you in two weeks.


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