Life in Llanview is beginning to feel like running on a treadmill -- there's the illusion of getting somewhere and changing your fortunes, but people keep ending up back in the same old places. Blair tries to move on from Todd, but ends up engaged to a Machiavellian psychopath to make Todd look better by comparison. Natalie has her first soap pregnancy after nine years on the show, but she can't stop putting John and Jessica first. Dorian and David continue their endless dance of two steps forward, twenty steps back. And while Tika Sumpter is given Emmy material as Layla says goodbye to her sister, the death of Evangeline comes on the heels of Sumpter's own release from her contract, leaving OLTL once again without any substantial minority presence. Where is any of this going, and what does it mean? Is OLTL really on the go, or is it running in place? Let's take it apart in this week's On-The-Go Express Edition of Two Scoops.
A Forearm To Remember: Okay, so I admit I was not Evangeline's biggest fan. I found her boring and I would've rather been watching R.J. and Rachel every time she came onscreen. And these coma scenes where they only show her arm or hide her head behind a hospital monitor are always goofy. That being said, her death was anticlimactic and a waste -- now is the perfect time to resurrect the character in order to muck around with Layla and Cristian's relationship, especially after Cristian's "I am crying! Seriously! Hurrrggghhh!!" bedside confession in which he told Eva he'd always love her, too. And more of the one true Aunt Vivian is never a bad thing (come on, did anyone like Viv Mark II Daphne Maxwell-Reid?).
This storyline was a goldmine that was not properly seen through. It was generally well-written and acted, when it got a day onscreen -- but it only garnered a couple days a week for a couple weeks, and stumbled across the finish line without any real fanfare, as the writers seemed to offhandedly end it while focusing on Evil Eli's schemes. Eli's obvious distraction and disinterest regarding Lisa's calls almost seemed to mirror the writers' feelings. But come on, show; Tika Sumpter's been doing incredible work, and the least they could've done is honor her efforts and the fans of these characters with some actual time spent. However any of us felt about ol' Vange, this story had history and emotional weight, unlike most of the current plotlines. What's more, in ending it so swiftly, we are out yet another character of color, with Layla not far behind. Who's left? Destiny? Greg and his ridiculous medical metaphors? That's not enough. These actors and this material deserved a lot more attention, and I daresay if the characters had been Caucasian, the whole thing wouldn't have been treated so shabbily.
Roofie Madness: Okay, reality check. Is it just me and my sick mind, or have a fair number of stories in the last five years involved Rex mostly naked and drugged into unconsciousness, at the mercy of some evildoer? Didn't this also happen with Stacy a few times? Tate Harmon, maybe? And Adriana's other stalker, the guy who only stalked to pay his student loans? And now Bennett/Eli (Beli? Belial?) shows up, nattily-dressed, at Rex's hotel room, ready to take advantage of young Mr. Balsom's nubile vulnerability...by rifling through his, um, pertinent documents. BTW, this is a dumb complaint but I hate when people just show up with perfect Mickey Finns on soaps. Is Eli a master chemist too? How does he know exactly how many aphrodisiac -- I mean, anesthetic drops to drop into Rex's burger and chips? How do you know if he eats the right parts of the food first? I'd screw that up.
You know who rocked this dumb storyline this week, though? Glenn the Wayward Record-Keeper. That guy had real character and panache. He's going places, we'll see him in some comedy soon. I'm going to find his name these next two weeks and bring it back here. Talk about deadpan. And I'm sorry, after some delightful silliness with Jessica and Dorian last week, Kelly is back to annoying me, and being slightly scary. I don't know if it's the makeup or the lighting but by the end of the week, I thought she was going to eat me and carry my carcass back to her cave lair. I don't blame Gina Tognoni, really; she's a lovely lady. I blame the story, and the show's insistence on keeping her in McBain World with John. Dynamic duo they are not. Every time Kelly shows up in his orbit for another forced round of "Spunky Reporter Vs. Tough Cop" she loses any goodwill she's recently regained. The pairing doesn't work, OLTL. Stop it. Stop it now.
The Stepfather: ...So basically what OLTL is telling me is that Eli is now some weird combination of Robert Mitchum from Night of the Hunter, Joseph Cotten from Shadow of a Doubt, and yes, Terry "Locke" O'Quinn from The Stepfather. He is a master of disguise and false identities, proficient in a gazillion different methods of killing and scheming, he is responsible for just about every evil deed since February, yet he keeps refusing to kill off the two key witnesses to his reign of terror who could sink him for good. Huh? What? I mean, every week he does this -- "Don't cross me again, Ford! How dare you threaten me? I warned you not to call Cole, Hannah! You guys knew what would happen! Okay, well...one more chance! You guys are totally on probation! You're gonna have to work to earn my trust again!" He's like an overly lenient elementary school teacher. If Beli is this forgiving, how did he ever live to scheme and murder this long? Finally he pulls out the nine-millimeter on Friday, but will he ice Hannah? Of course not, because this whole thing suffers from a serious case of Idiot Plot.
I'm not saying David Gregory or Meghann Fahy are bad actors -- they're decent. The problem is that so much of this story currently hinges on two thinly-written newbies talking about a third dayplayer all the time, usually by themselves. That kind of character configuration is not a recipe for audience investment; it's why near the end of the Spencer Truman storyline, the writers had to make Spencer put Viki in an Ultimate Fighting Championship headlock just to get any interest. Just like that story, what does this have to do with anyone I care about? Why do I care if Ford or Hannah live or die? Because Ford's mom is Jessica Leccia? And why is Hannah's Fantasy Cole distinguished from Real Cole by way of some sort of unfortunate 1950s ducktail haircut?
Now Jack's back in the mix, and of course the kids are always the first to know in these stories, even if it's abrupt and makes no real sense. Then you have the inconsistent writing for Dorian, who first loved Eli, then was skeptical, and now she's cool with it again. By virtue of poor writing and John's godlike powers of deduction, suddenly half the town finds Beli Clarkson (you see what I did there?) shady and Blair is ripped out of a great love story and made to play the fool. Again. Some more. Also. Fine, whatever. I'm over this mess. Unless they can pull out some magic way to save poor Matt Walton, I'm dying to change the channel on this particular story. Are any of us really clamoring for a repeat of last year's lethal Téa/Todd/Blair triangle when this is over and Evil Eli is vanquished? Because y'all know that's what's next.
Death Takes The 6 Train: And I'll bet Todd jumped the turnstile in the subway and held the doors open with his arm. Once again OLTL pulled off the best location work in the business for Todd, Téa, and company's trip to New York -- even if it was part of a story I find tiresome, I had to applaud the effort, and Florencia Lozano's performance in particular. Her scenes in Central Park as she retold Danielle the story of her childhood brought Tea's character full circle, and Lozano was simply mesmerizing; even when I sometimes dislike her character or her storyline, I always feel that her full-throttle approach to her role is what soaps are all about.
The difference, and larger problem with the twin Manning-Cramer engagement stories, is that while Téa's capacity as a long-suffering (anti)heroine is acknowledged and touted by OLTL, Blair, who I think is just as capable, is left on the sidelines. Witness the tearful reception for Téa back in Llanview, with the Manning clan falling at her feet, as Blair and Eli Manson, Attorney-at-Law, are all alone planning their Instant Wedding of Evil. And while I may think Todd's character is a smoldering wreck of bad writing, even if he did do the right thing regarding Cole's case, I happen to think that Téa and Blair's characters can coexist on an equal playing field without one or the other being shortchanged. Is it necessary for Blair to fall for another madman while Todd and Téa are once again coronated? How does that validate one couple or the other in an honest way? These women are worthy of more than this kind of story handicapping.
Mother Stands For Discomfort: Is Natalie seriously considering abortion for the sole reason of making Jessica's life easier? For real? I've felt the focus on Natalie was lacking since Jared's death and I still think it's problematic; while the character is in a major storyline, her every action is predicated on how it will affect two characters the show seems to value more than her, namely her sister and her once and future boyfriend. Natalie finds out she's pregnant, for the first time, and her whole reaction is "what about Jessica?" Thankfully, Gigi's there to try to add some perspective, asking Natty what she really wants. Melissa Archer is doing wonderful work, but I fear this show is still thinking about ten paces ahead of her character, onto John's next pairing and Jessica's next man, who I pray to all available deities is not Ford.
Maybe it's me -- I still like Jessica and Brody a lot. I think they deserve to be happy. I hate the idea that Ford actually did take advantage of Jessica, and that once again she'd have conceived a child while mentally ill, and that we're supposed to like Ford anyway. And if I was still a fan of John and Natalie together, I'd be annoyed by their lack of airtime together as a couple -- the most he does is ask her what's wrong and tell her to pass him the forensic equipment. Ho hum. This could be a good story, but its focus is all wrong right now -- Natalie doesn't have enough individual power in the material.
Automotive Non-Excellence: I speak, of course, of Llanview's newfound Ford dynasty. As I've already made clear throughout this column, Ford and family are still not working for me. For the love of Snoopy, who cares about these people? Why would Langston ever talk to Ford again? Is she honestly that dumb? Why do I care about Ford's misogyny issues? Why do I care if Bo helps Inez out? We know nothing about her other than she is another Long-Lost Soap Mom -- and that tired cliché is not enough when every character involved has been on the show less than a year. Poor James at least has a great chest and a winning demeanor to help him through, and it's clear he's next for Starr, with her relationship with Cole losing ground every day (especially after his confession on Tuesday), but all in all, this is an object lesson in how not to introduce a new family on a soap. It makes me long for the days when someone piled all the boring newbies onto a bus and drove them off a cliff on Another World in the '60s. Maybe James can escape out the emergency exit. Heck, an auto accident would even have roots in the characters' crime storyline!
Call The Cyberpolice: Okay, I'll say it -- David and Dorian's "MyFace" antics were kind of fun, especially when they pulled in Kelly, Darren, and Destiny. And hooray for the surprise return of Clint from the Phantom Zone, agreeing to squire his ex around town in order to secure "Buchanan Field." Good to hear he's still looking for his "Kimberly," too (I melt when Jerry verDorn says that, not going to lie). But at core, this story is still as junior high as it was before poor Viki and Charlie headed for the hills. It's filling time and space when OLTL could be doing something real and substantial with these people. Does anyone really believe D&D will reunite when we know Tuc Watkins has a regular, time-consuming gig on Desperate Housewives? Does OLTL think we don't know about that? What is the point of this endless tease? The social networking wars between this once-great supercouple had reached their saturation point with me by Friday; it's no longer funny, now it's just juvenile again. How many ways can you string out the same basic plot? I guess we'll find out next week.
And that's where we leave it -- a lot of stories, running on a treadmill, heading back where they started. Now we're back where we started, too, which means I'll see you guys in two weeks, hoping these stories will start to surprise and delight me again. Until then, please remember: "Bad chips!"