Falling down

by Michael
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Falling down
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The week of April 19, 2010
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This past week forced viewers to peer under Todd's rock yet again, and look at the ugliness that's still skittering around in the dark.

I admit, I wasn't a huge fan of OLTL's original high school musical in 2007. The relationships seemed forced, the point in the larger narrative of the show seemed vague, and the best that could be said about poor Brandon Buddy's singing voice is that he got an "E for Effort." This week, Llanview High's latest musical, STARR X'd LOVERS (note the extra "r" for Starr and the edgy "X" where "crossed" should be on the poster -- sigh), dominated the story, and so far its backstage intrigue with the younger teens isn't really grabbing me that much, either. But what it is doing, by sending up the highly inappropriate story of Todd's assault on Starr and Cole and their subsequent teenage pregnancy (is it any wonder the local parents are complaining?), is drawing back into sharp focus several core issues which OLTL has avoided for months now -- such as, how Starr, Cole, Todd, and Marty are supposed to live together after what happened, and how Todd as a character is supposed to continue to live in Llanview.

Regardless of what occurred at the close of Friday's show and who's responsible for Marty's big fall, this week forced us all to peer under Todd's rock yet again, and look at the ugliness that's still skittering around in the dark. In invading Marty's office and spewing his paranoid schizophrenic fantasies of how her return to town and "seduction" of him and his daughter (through Cole) was all a conspiracy to destroy him, Todd was returned to the very low point in the character's existence that he's been circling since the end of the 2008 Hope/Marty saga -- he may as well have never left that deep, dark place. In my view, he never has. But hey, that was on Friday's show -- on Wednesday's, we were asked to instead worry about whether he and Téa would ever get back together, and if he would ever become a beloved father to Danielle. Is anyone else sensing a jarring conflict with tone, here?

Interestingly enough, Starr herself, as well as Blair, make for convenient onscreen surrogates for the kind of indecision that seems to plague the showrunners regarding Todd, from the head writer to the producer and all points above and below the executive level. No one seems to want to commit to any distinct point of view. Starr knows better than anyone what Todd did to her, knows what he's still capable of, knows Cole is in all likelihood telling her the truth about his and creepy Hannah's close encounter with Daddy Dearest, yet she still can't bring herself to condemn him -- why? Starr's excuses are more organic than the creative team's; Todd is blood, her father, and she's more like him than she is yet willing to admit. So instead, she hedges, and with her so goes the show itself. When Todd said, "Starr always forgives me," you believe him, and the problem is that Starr's resignation to Todd's will appears to be OLTL's philosophy as well.

Me personally, I take a different approach. The confrontation between Todd and Marty was electrifying, played with flesh-crawling intensity by Trevor St. John and Susan Haskell, and in that scene, in that episode, you remembered everything about the man who made Starr and Marty's lives a living hell two years ago. That is the character the show asked us to buy back then, it is certainly the character Trevor St. John continues to sell with all of his considerable acting ability, and that is still the character they also have to pay for. Todd's behavior this week, particularly with Marty, proves he hasn't changed or evolved at all. Todd in his current state is too far gone -- there is no way Cole, Marty, Starr, and Hope can or should be expected to continue to live with the presence of this man. This "Starr-Crossed Lovers" storyline provides the perfect opportunity for OLTL to confront this very dark version of Todd that they created, either inadvertently or intentionally, and either exorcise it once and for all and rebuild the character, or exterminate him. I just wish I didn't have the feeling that OLTL still thinks it's enough to simply show Todd as bad, then walk away from the problem and do something lighter with him. I guess the remainder of April and May will tell.

The heavy stuff aside, there was a lot of other craziness this week, musical and otherwise -- creepy ol' Hannah just can't get enough of listening in on Starr and Cole, and Ford can't stop schtupping that pizza girl, even though Langston is now going triple-secret double agent on her friends and family to protect her playa ways. All she needs now is a blouse with "Pimpin' Ain't Easy" in bedazzled block letters on the front. Langston is playing Starr, Cole, and Markko from a position of sexual freedom that's usually reserved for scheming male characters, yet she's still undermined by the fact that we know what she doesn't, namely that Ford is not really all that into her and she's just another conquest.

If I didn't fear the story would end with Langston in some sort of stockade in Angel Square, pilloried for her sins and then written off the show, I'd be a bit more into this. The other major problem is that, as always, too much of this teen story is driven by the ciphers, Ford and Hannah. I don't know them and don't care about them, especially not Hannah; the faceless anonymity of these barely-characters who we are expected to acknowledge as major agents of change in the story reminds me of the Dena Higley writing era, when suddenly people like Margaret Cochran's niece, Todd's assistant, and Nash's ex-girlfriend's dad were supposed to suck us into storylines. Hannah has two character traits: Clingy and Unstable. Ford has one: Horndog. I don't care if they get mid-show promotional ads during All My Children, but there was Hannah, smirking her way through a promo in between ads for Zoloft and Pine-Sol.

Then there's the kids in the musical. I like Matthew, Danielle, and Destiny, but somehow the deeper they go into this musical, the more boring it gets. Once again, as with the last musical, random teen characters are suddenly conjured up from out of nowhere to drive an interpersonal conflict that could've been better played out amongst people we already know. I don't care whether the remarkably old Nate Salinger is interested in Danielle or not, and the story itself appears to be moving too fast, and in an abbreviated fashion, as though we were getting a "CliffsNotes" version of a teen triangle. I know we've only got two weeks to sweeps, but if even I, a battle-hardened fan, don't care about this quickie story, how are the tweens with all their iPads and Twitter supposed to?

Meanwhile, the Buchanan sisters didn't exactly cover themselves in glory this week. First we have the Jessica storyline, for which I age ten years every day it appears -- Jessica, unfortunately, remains seventeen. Despite some cozy moments with Brody during the hospital vigil for Bo and yet another half-naked basketball game starring Mark Lawson's chest, Jessica is, inexplicably, still obsessed with Cristian and that old Selena song, which I don't remember ever being this annoying. I blame the storyline. C'mon, when a girl can see Brody's pecs and still beg off, you know there's something really, really wrong with her.

Jessica's latest charming plan is to get Cris to "take her virginity" on prom night, and between the suspected trigger for Jessica's memory loss and her history of sexual abuse and her ongoing mental illness and brain damage, it is all just ninety-nine shades of ewwww. How did anyone behind the scenes think this storyline would be a light, frothy sex romp? She has brain damage! She is a victim of child molestation! Who the hell wants to watch widowed mom Jessica run around the high school, listening in on Starr and Langston and plotting what kind of birth control to pick up for Cristian? Gah!

Then there was Natalie. Oh, Natalie. I love you, Natalie, I always have and I hope I always will, but all I wanted to do to you this week was reach through the television and clock you with an Easy-Bake Oven. I'm not sure where I'd get one at this late date, but it seemed the most appropriately kitsch weapon of choice. Look, I am no fan of the John and Marty "romance," which made a compelling case for my nearly turning off the show not just last year but in 2007 as well. But after the way John and Natalie ended things, I couldn't be much less of a fan of theirs, either. Both these women are better than John, I've said that before. Unfortunately, this week one of them went to his level and possibly below; in my eyes, sorry, guys, that woman was absolutely Natalie.

I've commented before about my aggravation with Natalie's endless "encounters" with John and her begging for the crumbs of affection he rarely offers, as well as her behavior towards Marty, which I find far more passive-aggressive than anything Marty's done here. Marty's no saint and Natalie's no whore, but right now what Natalie is is an idiot. She and Marty basically got into a playground taunt-fest in the middle of Hallowed Grounds, this from two grown women. And yes, I believe Marty is fooling herself about John's level of commitment, but that's what all women who get involved with John do -- Natalie included, both in the past and the present. In the end, it boiled down to Natalie standing there, bullying a pregnant woman about her ex-boyfriend, while her own husband hasn't even been dead six months.

I haven't been able to buy into Natalie's suddenly renewed "love" for John, nor do I understand how she segued from grieving for Jared to wanting John back so quickly, or so very badly, to the point that she is more than willing to throw down with Marty in a public place in what amounted to "nanny nanny boo boo, he kissed me again." How old are these two? Natalie's a lot of things, but I never figured her for a bully. I haven't disliked the character that much in a very long time, and I hope she's redeemed, but I fear it won't be with John, who she's clearly headed for. If this means I am no longer a "real" Natalie fan, so be it, but I'll continue to hope for better for her. She deserves it, even after that foul display this week.

And now it's time for...The Rest. In rapid-fire succession, here are some quick takes on what were relatively minor stories this week.

He Gets No Respect: Poor Rodney and his baseball cards. All he wanted to do was call out and order some cheese sticks and instead he gets John and Kelly on his doorstep in a California mental hospital. I like Gina Tognoni a lot, but you know what makes Kelly interesting? Her family, her history, fun adventures. You know what's boring? Kelly being tested with lots of men she has no business with in dreary adventures where, for some reason, no one else in the Cramer family apparently has no interest in being involved. Poor Tognoni looked almost as bored with her duet with John as I did this week. As for who killed Melinda? My bet: John. Just so he could get out of his current story and invade another one. It's genius!

Nurse Unpronounceable Name Which I Will Not Attempt To Spell: Rex and Gigi continued their snoozeworthy quest for his third or fourth "real family" by tracking down a Llanview Hospital nurse who might have some information; before that, however, they were there to say goodbye to lil' Sierra Rose, and with her, both Kyle and Oliver, my beloved Kish. I won't belabor this with my umpteenth speech about their departure, as I think I've said it all before. However, the couple's final scenes, on separate days, clearly indicated that neither Claywell nor Evans' dismissals were planned by the show; the exit was sudden and without a real conclusion. Implying onscreen that both still exist, and are still walking around in Llanview, was particularly cruel, as we saw Kyle on Friday at the hospital, but will apparently never see him again. If we can have Moe and Noelle or Destiny and her family in regular supporting roles, why not Kyle and Oliver? Good on Gigi, though, for her impassioned speech ceding custody of Sierra to the boys. Sniff.

Brian Kerwin Gets Paid: Charlie returned from Where's Waldo? territory this week just in time to accept Dorian's City Center contract, along with a lot of inappropriate touching from poor Mayor Lord, who really needs a new man who is not Viki's. I expected her to whip out that rose Mel's ghost left her again; maybe it was there and I missed it, she's been lugging that thing everywhere for months. Unfortunately, Viki, back from London yet still somewhat poofy-haired, walked into the Palace just in time to see Dorian going all Bad Touch on her man. I love Viki and Charlie, I'm glad to have them back, and I hope it's not just for fifteen minutes every month. I liked seeing Viki counsel her children, but if I have to swallow a triangle between these three just because Dorian, Charlie, and Viki are the only game in town (okay, maybe Clint too), I make no guarantees for my gag reflex or the potential for some serious hurling.

It's Not A Tumah, Or Is It?: Come on, Téa has to have a brain tumor. Or cancer, or something. Maybe lupus again? A heart murmur? When I said I wanted new storylines and a new approach for the character, I did not mean "a debilitating illness storyline which keeps her out of the courtroom and drives her right back to Todd." If they think they can use a reunion with Téa (or Blair, or anyone) to redeem Todd after his latest bit of stellar behavior, OLTL has another thing coming.

Supercouple: Then, finally, there comes the unequivocally great stuff of the week. How is it that Bo and Nora were broken up for a decade but right now, they feel like they've been together all along, as Llanview's cornerstone couple? Sure, it helps that both Hillary Smith and Bob Woods hadn't left the show in the interval, but somehow their obvious affection and love shines so bright, it's like they'd never missed a beat. Like they've always been together, like a Bob and Kim Hughes, or Joe and Ruth Martin. It feels like they've always been there for us to count on, and enjoy celebrating the renewal of their marriage -- or maybe it's us who kept the faith, and aren't used to having it justified. Love them. Can't wait for the re-wedding.

So that's your week on One Life to Live. I'll see you in two. Until then, please remember, when faking a treacherous fall down a studio stairwell, always let go of the railing. 'Cause that just looked fake. Peace!


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