So, okay, yes, it is now 2011. Happy New Year, everyone, auld lang syne, should auld acquaintance be forgot, and yada yada yada, okay -- my head hurts. I hope your holidays went as well as mine. My family's Irish Catholic Christmas (Jewish on my father's side -- oh, Chanukkah!) was a delightful haze of Jameson whiskey and Nintendo Wii. And I don't know how you spent your New Year's Eve -- I was at a very boring party hosted by people far more well-to-do than me who had free booze. I'm a cheap date, all right? Shelter and alcohol are about my only prerequisites for New Year's Eve.
It was either going to that dull party, drinking alone, or heading down the MTA subway tunnels and kicking it with the New York mole people in their underground society. Then, some friends plied me with a honey-flavored Polish grain liquor called Old Krupnik, and the entire evening faded into a garish yellow pastel blur, which has left me the following day barely able to form sentences with my mouth, guzzling coffee by the supersize, cowering in a Barnes & Noble where there is, inexplicably, a manhole fire outside, sending sewer fumes spewing into the open air.
Suffice to say, I am a Columnist in Pain. I do it all for you, my public. My debauched bacchanal, however, was all my own fault. As long as the boys from the fire department outside don't hit the siren again, my throbbing head should survive long enough to complete this annual Best and Worst Column for 2010. It's been a long time coming, but you folks are more than worth it, and I had a pretty fun time guesting on the Soap Central Live podcast two weeks ago, talking about said year in review -- so much so that I'm thinking of going back again for more, provided there's any interest.
But enough about my fragile ego, it's time for us to autopsy the year that was -- 2010! Summer and winter, highs and lows, good times and bad! Bo and Nora, Ford and Langston, Kyle and Oliver, Nate and Inez! Eli the multi-named serial killer and all-purpose terrorist! Stacy's audition for Skating with the Stars! Téa's fake tumor! Rachel's "trip out of town to visit a friend in rehab!" Rick and Lili! David and Dorian's unwedding! Marty monologuing ad nauseum! Women forcing John to break up with them at gunpoint! All this and more! Here now, without further ado, are Michael's Best & Worst of OLTL 2010: The Hangover Edition!
Best New Character, Grasping At Straws Edition: Um. Well, just about everyone new and substantial introduced last year was a Ford or Aubrey, and -- no. So, I really -- I've got almost nothing to work with here. Oh! Uh...how about...Detective Theo Price? Yes, let's go with that, it's pretty much all I got. Uh, what can I say, really? As played by Max Tapper, Detective Price is a gorgeous, engaging man of color who instantly captured audience interest for delightfully superficial reasons. He's got a (rarely seen) family in snobbish Darren, and is constantly at John and Brody's side during important cases. Furthermore, he has yet to garner Internet notoriety with questionable dramatic choices à la poor Terrell Tilford (Dr. Greg Evans). For OLTL to continue to squander this fine specimen and potential leading man is foolhardy -- surely Rachel could come back for another shot at love with someone who doesn't throw chairs around the hospital or poison her best friend? Then again, I think Natalie could do better than John, as well.
Worst New Character: Nate Salinger. My feelings about Nate are no doubt painfully clear by now to anyone who's been reading my column. There's absolutely no reason for this character to exist beyond someone at ABC Daytime deciding that Eddie Alderson's muscles were not up to snuff. At the start of 2010, OLTL had established a promising, endearing teen pairing with Matthew and Danielle, chockablock with familial tension courtesy of dueling longtime power couples Bo and Nora, and Todd and Téa. However, because Matthew is a realistic (and more importantly, realistic-looking) teenager played by the most talented youth player on the show, he was apparently deemed "not hot enough" for Todd's newly minted daughter.
Cue the untimely arrival of Nate, a random, well-muscled, film-obsessed jag-off sitting in the high school gym bleachers. We don't know him, and he has no personality, but he's Danielle's new boyfriend and we're going to watch him at least three days a week, because ABC says so. He also appears to be in at least his mid-twenties opposite his sixteen-year-old love interest, which has led to my privately referring to him as "Old Face Nate," à la the underworld-connected shopkeeper "Old Face Andre" on HBO's The Wire.
Nate is the age-old complaint of an interfering and youth/superficiality-obsessed network made incarnate. He fulfills an aesthetic function but has no other redeeming value. To the casual viewer, at first glance, he would seem to be the jock Matthew must persevere over to win Dani's heart; instead, he is the boy deemed more appropriate for Dani and forced on the audience, while even more offensively, both Matthew and Destiny are relegated to relatively lesser supporting roles, by virtue of being realistic teenagers and -- it must be said in the cases of Destiny and Darren -- characters of color. Nate and his clan are the most glaring examples of what became of OLTL for a large portion of 2010 following a contemptuous purge of compelling minority characters last winter, and we're going to discuss it some more in a few entries here. Right now, I'm sick of talking about Old Face Nate, his creepy eyes, and his bad Al Pacino impression. Yeah, thanks, Nate, I saw Scent of a Woman and Cool Hand Luke too. Dawson's Creek got cancelled, you can stop.
Runners-up: Inez Salinger, Reed Wagner, Bennett Thompson, James Ford. What's to say about Inez? She's even drippier than Jessica Leccia's pre-lesbionic Natalia on GL and twice as pointless, but fortunately she serves a dramatic function for Bo, Nora, and Clint. World traveler Reed was a horribly miscast, wooden Euro-ponce with not a lick of chemistry with Gina Tognoni, which unfortunately led to his obvious role as Melinda Cramer's killer being fobbed off on Eli Clarke, a.k.a. "Bennett Thompson" a.k.a. Freddy Krueger a.k.a. the Unabomber. And teen rebel James, while mildly more tolerable than the rest of his brood, is no Lucky Spencer or even Dusty Donovan. It's January First, has he stopped crying yet?
Best Return: Echo DiSavoy. As I said on the SCL podcast, I didn't think this could possibly work -- Kim Zimmer's Echo was an obscure, forgotten character from a bizarre era of OLTL history, and the news of her return seemed at first to be a cynical ploy to net GL viewers with another weak nostalgia trip à la 2009's ludicrous Powell Lord story. As it happens, I was totally wrong -- the Zimmer is exactly what Llanview needed to wrap up old, rotting business (Who is Rex's father? Part 9) and kick-start new stories for OLTL's celebrated veteran characters (Viki and Dorian team up, Clint's reign of terror).
While it's not 100% perfect -- Charlie is being a bit too dopey and Dorian's motives are paper-thin -- with Echo on the scene, Viki, Clint, and Charlie are onscreen every week, doing things, acting on their own behalf, making their own choices, and conducting their own personal business, as opposed to merely worrying about their children's problems. It feels new, fresh, and exciting. I never thought Kim Zimmer would be the flashpoint to return OLTL to its natural state as an intergenerational soap opera, but I welcome Echo's DiVine madness (ouch, sorry). Perhaps the success of the Echo/Clint//Viki/Charlie/Dorian mega-arc will galvanize ABC into allowing OLTL to give beloved past characters like Andrea Evans' Tina another chance, and finding Dorian a new love story all her own.
Worst Return: Hmmm...if I'm hard-pressed, I'd have to say poor, beautiful Jason Tam as Markko Rivera. That's not to say there was a thing wrong with Tam or Markko -- the problem is he came back for a couple weeks to do nothing more than hold Cole's hand and bless Langston's wretched relationship with Ford. Markko was hard done by both Langston and the writers, and is a more compelling young character than all the Fords combined; Tam's prodigious talent and his extensive theater experience were never mined properly by the show. For shame. This return was a huge waste of potential.
Runner-up: Kelly Cramer. You knew it was coming. Since the start, the talented Gina Tognoni's return to Llanview has been confused, muddled, and outright schizophrenic. Despite her issues with ex Kevin and illegitimate son Zane being at the forefront of Kelly's angst, the show has stridently avoided dealing with the wild Cramer cousin's most pertinent recent history, focusing instead on a ludicrous murder mystery even Tognoni disliked; endless, obnoxious chemistry tests with Todd, John, and Rex; and now a fairly dodgy story with NuJoey Tom Degnan and Terri Conn, where the lights of her life -- Kevin and Zane -- are once again absent, unacceptable in any story that seeks to deal honestly with Kelly and Joey's history. Tognoni's too good for this shoddy improvisation. Here's hoping OLTL gets it together with Kelly in 2011.
Best Exit: In a pinch, I have to say it goes to Crystal Hunt's Stacy Morasco, simply because I was so frickin' glad to see her die, and die slowly. I don't care who took those damn boots -- woodland creatures, Santa's elves, whoever -- so long as I don't have to hear her voice ever again. It was a dramatic end to a loathed character, and her death triggered killer story for a slew of characters who then promptly made their own foolish, rushed exits. More on them in a second, because it's time for the....
Worst Exit: TIE: Mitch Laurence and Rachel Gannon. For the life of me, I cannot understand why anyone at OLTL thought Mitch being sent off to the clink in an orange jumpsuit was a remotely satisfying exit for the show's most notorious and frightening supervillain. I said it before in the podcast -- jail is just a paid vacation for Mitch Laurence. When you imprison him, he chills out, kicks back, turns on some pre-Lindsay Buckingham Fleetwood Mac, and waits for the next sweeps period to continue his madness. This man has died onscreen, twice, and always gotten back up to rape, kill, and speechify again.
Like Godzilla or the Cloverfield monster, our conventional weaponry cannot harm Mitch Laurence. He has murdered, tortured, and molested his way through over half the town, and his insane cult followers are legion. He is the Big Bad of this show, yet for some reason, OLTL seemed to run out of interest in dealing with Mitch in early 2010, fumbled his return storyline and sent him offscreen in the most unceremonious way possible. He never even got to kill a Cramer! You can't tell me that a final, mortal showdown with Viki vs. Mitch would not have netted viewers and ratings -- instead, OLTL chose to undo their entire carefully told paternity story and forget the name Mitch Laurence was ever uttered. For shame.
An even bigger shame, though, was the abrupt, pointless dismissal of the talented Daphnee Duplaix as the best Rachel Gannon since Ellen Bethea. Duplaix's Rachel was a confident, complex adult woman of color who could have driven story for years, but because she was over 21 and African-American, her life folded up overnight as Rachel had a two-second breakup with Dr. Greg, dropped her growing connection with Schuyler, and "left town for the weekend" to see to a friend in rehab, never to be seen again. She didn't even reappear in time for Bo and Nora's wedding, or Nora's abduction -- and the Ford brothers took her apartment.
Daphnee Duplaix's firing was a horrendous waste of a promising female lead who broke from the tired conventional daytime framework, but Rachel wasn't the only character who got shafted in 2010. I direct you to our runners-up: Oliver Fish and Kyle Lewis, Kimberly Andrews, and Schuyler Joplin. All these characters, plus Rachel, were of a similar breed -- the outcasts, the checkered or grey types, the kind of people you don't see on daytime TV everyday. These were people who had either seen hard times, or faced injustice for being different, or challenged the conventions of polite Llanview society, or all of the above.
In their tragically brief run as "Kish," Oliver and Kyle changed gay representation in the American soap opera forever, and nothing can take that away from them. They also challenged conventional views of gay characters on American television -- Oliver was a capable police officer who assisted Brody in apprehending Mitch, while Kyle was a feisty ex-schemer prepared to be a father. Rachel was a recovering drug addict and convicted murderer who had painfully rebuilt herself and dedicated her professional life to social justice. She faced an uncertain future with fellow addict Sky, who wanted to be a better man and beat the odds against him but couldn't help but fall back into deceptive patterns of behavior before learning he was the son of the Antichrist. Sky's nemesis, Kim, also wanted to prove polite society wrong, and fell head over heels for ascendant Buchanan king Clint, who was old enough to be her grandfather. In him, Queen Bitch Kim found a man she could be honest and vulnerable with, and in Kim, Clint found both a protégé and a potential new soulmate.
These kinds of ethically challenged and difficult, complex characters, diverse in background, race, and orientation, embody the kaleidoscopic crazy-quilt OLTL's original canvas was built on. They are what the show is supposed to be about, along with our core families. Remember, a show with Viki and Joe Riley also had room for ex-hooker Karen Wolek, pimp Marco Dane, and passing-for-white Carla Hall. To erase these characters and their stories, as OLTL did last year, in favor of hard-bodied assembly-line creations like the Fords, is a travesty and a black mark on the show's history, to say nothing of the network's shameful treatment of Scott Evans and Brett Claywell in the soap press. Worst Mass Exit of 2010, Worst Exit anywhere. In their hearts, they know it wasn't right.
Best Couple: Bo and Nora Buchanan. As angry as the "purge of 2010" made me, OLTL also got some things very right last year, and one of those things was the renewed focus on Bo and Nora as the tent pole supercouple of Llanview. We know who they are, what they can do, and why they love each other again -- last year, we got to rejoice in their picture-perfect, dashed-from-the-jaws-of-defeat re-wedding, right down to the original outfits, which seemed like nothing less than a celebration of everything OLTL has ever gotten right, even as it screwed some things up. Bo and Nora have "it," like silent star Clara Bow, and they simply can't be beat. They've been like family to me since I was a young child, and they're still vital and interesting today.
Runner-up: Blair Cramer and Elijah Clarke/Bennett Thompson/The Zodiac Killer. You know it's been a wild and woolly year when one of the Best Couples is Blair and a damn serial killer, but there it is. They were hot as hell and incredibly entertaining during a period with a lot of bum stories, even when Eli's character was thrown in the shredder to salvage Todd and Kelly's storylines. When I root for a mass murderer over Todd in Blair's life, something's wrong with the show. That aside, I'm exceedingly grateful that the show may have actually learned something from the Eli mess, and possibly even begun to recognize Kassie DePaiva's audience clout in the New Year by giving her a new exciting romantic lead of her own: GH alum Ted King.
Worst Couple: Nate Salinger and Danielle Rayburn. I think you got the idea the first time over in Worst New Character, right? Right. But wait...there's more!
Runners-up: Robert Ford and Langston Wilde, Starr Manning and Cole Thornhart, John McBain and Natalie Banks, Todd and Téa Manning. Whatta Sophie's Choice! It's a real toss-up between Nate and Danielle and Ford and Langston for me, but little brother Ford wins by virtue of sheer pointlessness. Nonetheless, Ford and Langston are easily OLTL's most outright loathsome couple at the moment -- they were built on a sleazy affair, which broke the heart of the sweetest boy in town, and after the Coward Robert Ford seduced a mentally ill woman into bed for a round of, well, rape -- it was rape! -- he won Langston's heart back by making a lot of surprised faces and talking about his abusive childhood at the mercy of the Flash. Ford is a vacant character with feeble pretensions to morality and depth, and Brittany Underwood's promising Langston has been eviscerated by being paired with him, reduced from Starr's more interesting BFF to a shallow, sex-crazed caricature, to the point that her character sadly has little value left to the show in my eyes.
As for Starr and Cole, and John and Natalie, well, it's more of the same for them -- same old stories, same old complaints, same old clichés. Cole grew even more dim and immature with Hannah, while Starr grew more shrill and helpless, a shadow of her former self; James is not much better. John and Natalie's "reunion" in the wake of Jared's violent death was the most lazy, rushed affair I have seen in ages, as Natalie hopped back into John's bed less than half a year after her husband's murder. Yet John didn't even seem to emote or make a particular choice between the two women in his life, leaving me with no clue why both Natalie and Marty's fiery characters are being assassinated for a "hero" who rarely seems to care.
Finally, there's Todd and Téa, and here I must simply reiterate my complaint from last year: It's the rapemance, people. While the brain tumor story and Téa's saccharine "bucket list" bored me to tears, Todd and Téa are to me nowhere near as poorly presented and acted as the younger couples I cited. Florencia Lozano is a consistently entertaining and talented leading lady who I enjoy watching, she has heat to spare with Trevor St. John, and if anyone bothered to repair the character of Todd, he, too, could flourish again. But the fact is that Todd has never been redeemed for his actions against Starr and Marty in 2008, which has left any and all stories featuring Todd and any love interest fool enough to be with him emotionally empty and a drag. Why should I believe Todd loves Téa, let alone anyone? Why should I believe Téa when she tells Dani that Todd has changed? Why should I enjoy watching Todd bond with a new family he has not earned? Todd is the reason Todd and Téa are a worst couple, and Todd is now the reason a million other characters like Eli, Marty, Ross, and Cole must fall to make him work again.
Worst Story: Jessica Brennan's Sweet Valley High. Seriously, Teen Jessica? Why? Why? How many variations on a "Jessica goes crazy" yarn must I watch in a five-year span? Bree Williamson's "Tess" schtick grew stale three years ago, and she's talented enough to do much more than what they've given her, but since no one seems to want to develop Jessica as an adult leading lady, we get dreck like this. It's one of the worst stories I have seen in almost twenty years as a viewer, and it set off a chain of unfortunate events with John, Natalie, and Ford that threaten to send Jessica and company further into creative purgatory for years to come. Here's a challenge to the creative minds at OLTL: You and I both know you can't keep up this weak stuff with Fragile Little Jessica forever. Her daughter is almost a preteen. Either give her a story as a sane and competent leading lady for the first time in ten years, or take a cue from Crazy Laura Horton and Little Jennifer Rose on DAYS and write her out until you come up with something new.
Runners-up: The Ford Invasion, Dances With Balsoms, and Who Killed Melinda Cramer? I've spoken at length about the Ford mess here, so I won't reiterate it again. As for these other jokers, well, that "Rick and Lili" story was another ugly dog with fleas that I couldn't believe I was actually watching. It was as though the show had actively schemed to think up the most cloying, irritating story for Rex and Gigi to follow up their year-long reign of suck in 2009, aping not only the "1968 time travel" story but also all sorts of hoary old Native American stereotypes, and topping it off with Farah Fath stealing Hillary B. Smith's ratty black wig from the abysmal "Troy's wife Joanna" story from 2002 to play Lili. Remember that? When HBS played "Joanna" in flashbacks, from behind, with a black wig on her head? Yeah. Thank God Clint unmasked this cruddy story for what it was -- a cheap, lame paperback romance.
As for the Melinda story, OLTL clearly had no idea where this was going from the start. First, Mitch blackmailed Dorian by ransoming her girls' lives, but after months of build-up, it turned out he had not been the one to murder off-screen, rarely seen sister Melinda, who modern fans had little to no connection to. Instead, this kicked off a ludicrous umbrella story involving Marty's miscarriage, Ford's bedroom assault, Téa's schlocky tumor tale, and Blair's fun new love interest turning out to be a cartoon villain who was invincible and omniscient, and not in a fun way like Mitch. I still can't understand the explanation regarding Eli, Melinda, and mental patient Rodney. This story ate the show for months, benefiting only John, Todd, Kelly, and the Ford brothers -- and then they somehow managed to toss the dull, constantly changing Hannah subplot into the mix. When Eli finally died, I breathed a sigh of relief, while mourning the exit of the formidable Matt Walton. Our long, boring national nightmare was over, and I hope to not hear the words "tumor," "chemo," or "Bennett Thompson" on OLTL for at least another thousand years.
Best Story: The Emperor Buchanan. This actually goes part and parcel with our Best Couple -- Bo and Nora -- and Clint as our Best Antihero. Re-establishing Clint as a monarch to be feared and pitting him against Bo and Nora as well as Rex and Echo has proven to be story gold for OLTL. And hinging the tiresome Inez/Ford family drama on the weakest link in Bo and Nora's reconnection -- their unspoken tension over Nora's night with Sam Rappaport, which destroyed their first marriage -- was a stroke of genius, because as with Rex and Clint, it tied a lame set of characters who I might otherwise not give a fig for into a couple (or in Rex's case, Clint, Viki, and Charlie) I cared a great deal about.
By using Inez and Eddie as conflict points for a much more popular couple and linking them to the new, ruthless Clint, the show was able to create friction for Bo and Nora that was both organic, as it looked at their existing issues, both as a couple and as a family with Clint and Matthew, yet also external enough to not show them as behaving out of character. When Eddie took Nora hostage, I watched, rapt, because here was a female veteran I had watched and cared about for nearly twenty years, in trouble in a classic soap scenario that did not betray either Bo or Nora's characters. It's as simple as that -- an exciting, history-rich umbrella story featuring three core characters, where newbies are only playing supporting roles to the main event: Bo and Nora.
Likewise, using Clint and Echo's machinations to energize the Rex story saved it from the creative abyss, making Rex interesting for the first time in ages while giving Viki and Charlie real stuff to do. As I said while discussing Echo as Best Return, the reign of Clint and how it has affected his friends and enemies has led to the resurgence of the veteran and intergenerational cast. It's also made OLTL the most multi-tiered soap on daytime today, salvaging Llanview's 2010 not a moment too soon.
So that's Besties and Worsties, and just in time because my laptop battery is about to die. I think the fire department's finally cooled that manhole off, which means I can go home and lie down with a hangover remedy. Happy 2011, everyone, and I'll see you in two weeks, or maybe on a podcast near you if my voice wasn't too annoying. Let me know! Later!