READ: Dawn also offers up her picks for Best and Worst of 2011 in last week's Two Scoops column.
MORE YEAR IN REVIEW: Check out our Year-in-Review columns dating back to 2005.
...Y'know, my loyal readers, you never really know how you sound until you hear yourself recorded. Just ask anyone who ever worked for J. Edgar Hoover, am I right? Thanks, I'm here all week, try the fish. But seriously, folks -- in my case, my reckoning with "radio" came with my latest (and second ever) appearance on Soap Central Live, as I enumerated a rambling, extremely unfocused, off-the-cuff analysis of the Best and Worst of Llanview 2011. And good gravy -- all I can say about my brief flash of podcast stardom is that I am not now, nor have I ever been, a recreational Vicodin user, despite how it may have sounded to you folks at home. Either I talk really fast (likely) or was not close enough to the phone (equally likely), because all I hear on that podcast is mumbling and mushmouth from yours truly. The shame, readers, it burns cold and deep from within.
Meanwhile, it's New Year's Eve, and I'm on a strange train to nowhere, back to a place I vowed I'd never go again. No, not Ryker's Island -- to New Jersey, the darkest, most craven heart of the Eastern seaboard. The things I do for friends. That said, I have some free time on this phantom express to Purgatory, and I'm feeling awfully embarrassed about my mumbly SCL appearance, and I know we're all ready to party and looking to move before the ball drops and not waste too much time reading. So all I can do here, now, to try to atone on this frenetic New Year's Eve, is give you the straight skinny, no fuss, no muss, just cold, hard, biased opinion, with a sprinkling of wit and televisual theory, and a minimum of remorse and self-pity -- that'll come tomorrow morning with our hangovers, and then again in two weeks' time.
So, take this Best and Worst One Life to Live 2011 (and Forever) in the spirit it's intended -- streaming off your phone's smudged monitor as you try to get a signal on the street, with a double shot of espresso, a slosh of champagne, and a Jello shot chaser. Or, just at home, on a desktop, curled up with someone you love and an Irish coffee. Incidentally, wear some sort of fashion accessory, won't you? A guy at Penn Station tried to sell me the light-up New Year's glasses, but they're ten dollars. Ten dollars! For ten dollars, they better write this column. What were we talking about? Oh, yeah...
Worst New Character: Deanna Forbes
NGTL (Not Going To Lie), people, I totally just had to Google her last name. I bet you forgot she had one. Don't play innocent with me, girl, you know it's true! Nafessa Williams was a beautiful young lady who seemed to be trying her very best in the role of James's wayward ex-girlfriend (an already thankless role), but Victor Lord Jr. knows this character went nowhere and did nothing except make an amateur porno with James's kid brother at Llanview's inexplicably-very-popular no-tell motel in one of the most execrable storylines in recent years. She came, she saw, she boffed, and she left us with some unforgettable reaction GIFs of her finest "dramatic moments" which you have most likely already seen -- like when pervy Austin Peck ordered her and Nate to do the Dew. Sarah Bernhardt this young lady was not. Yes, Deanna flickered like a brief flame, then was extinguished, and with her, her tawdry, ultimately completely pointless storyline which not only wasted all our time, but didn't even get rid of Nate Salinger as promised. What gives, OLTL?
Runners-up: Rick Powers and "Wes" Come on, people; Austin Peck is admittedly hilarious as Rick, but he's never had a distinct purpose in any material of import. This sleazy character has just been a time-waster for months on end in silly story after silly story. I can think of a zillion things I'd rather be watching the characters in his orbit do, specifically, watch Starr spending more and more time with her returned father, and getting her spine back.
Likewise, Jessica's latest (and last?) alter, "Wes," was a disgrace, a cheap lesbian joke that also made a poor farce of Brody's soulful brother-in-arms, the late Navy SEAL Wes Grainger, who I always liked a lot, especially with Susan Haskell's Marty. What was the point of this dissociative identity disorder twist? A couple "cute" scenes with "Wes" hitting on chicks at Ultra Violet (har har, imagine if they actually had a gay character on contract! When would that ever happen, Brett Claywell?) and an excuse for Bree Williamson to try to do a Duane Reade Blue Light Special version of The United States of Tara for about eight minutes? Please. Erika Slezak did it better -- all of it -- years ago. But then, OLTL knew that when they first began demolishing Jessica's character with DID in late 2004. You get what you pay for, or in this case what you sell with your writing, and that's why, in my opinion, no one really cares about Jessica today.
Best New Character (and Couple): Vimal and Rama Patel
What can I say? These two are a delight, and a sadly rare jewel on American daytime, portraying East Indian characters with more than three to five lines per year, if they have in fact ever been seen before -- honestly, the closest thing I can recall would be those awful Arab terrorist stereotypes on B&B. Always angling for chemistry tests, OLTL toyed with a fairly trite flirtation between Rama and Cristian (when in fact Cristian should've exited with true sweetheart Layla some time ago), but ultimately realized they had a new kind of staple couple, however minor, in the Patels, drawn from the classic tradition of Wanda and Vinnie Wolek.
Even as a third-stringer, Rama, played with irrepressible zest by Shenaz Treasury, is another iteration of that perfect extrovert-dreamer archetype that's populated daytime since Another World's Rachel Davis (Robin Strasser, natch) and the advent of the Agnes Nixon soap opera. Like so many dissatisfied Llanviewites out on the tattered fringe that we've seen before her, Rama spends her days watching Access Llanview and devouring every bit of Erica Kane's glam-wisdom, just as Erica once dreamed of New York, Karen Wolek of riches and excitement, and Carla Gray of stardom as a white leading lady. Ultimately, though, Rama realized that her home and hearth was with high-strung, unassuming Vimal (the fabulous Nick Choksi), and the Patels' union was re-affirmed. In recognizing the value of Vimal and Rama's fire and ice dynamic, OLTL gave us a solid new supporting couple with real, down-to-earth rooting value.
Other Best New Couple: Victor Lord, Jr., and Téa Delgado
Sometimes the beauty of a retcon is how it makes everything old new again -- or in the case of the "Two Todds" storyline, how it remakes a couple I found toxic ("Todd" and Téa, Mark III) into something new and fascinating. With the unmasking of Trevor St. John's "Todd Manning" as Todd's brainwashed twin, Victor Jr. (and in doing so, finally validating the inconclusive "Heart of a Lord" storyline Michael Malone only half-told eight long years ago), we were forced to re-evaluate everything we'd ever seen or heard from Trevor St. John's "Todd" in a new and fresh light.
Yes, Téa and Victor were a volatile couple, twisted in just the right way ethically and sexually, and perfect for each other. Trevor St. John and Florencia Lozano's chemistry was incendiary. With Victor as "Todd," the couple had rung false to me, or at least, morally bankrupt and hard to swallow, given what Victor had done to Starr and Hope in the guise of a character I had believed in for years. But with the unmasking of the true Todd, everything changed and all bets were off, from Victor's prior culpability of his past actions to what he truly thinks and feels -- he became a spellbinding new, living mystery to discover. The feud between brothers and the women they loved, and have shared, could have fueled story for years to come, and in creating Victor Jr., OLTL reinvigorated a decimated character and created an all-new one to discover. Because who actually believes Victor died, right?
Worst Return: The back of Patrick Thornhart's head
What more need I say here? OLTL could not get Thorsten Kaye to reprise the role of renegade poet Patrick Thornhart, but they wanted to give Marty a "happy ending" despite utterly assassinating her character in the baby storyline (more on that in a moment). Therefore, we got the back of Patrick's frickin' head, being talked at by dayplayers -- "Don't worry, Thornhart," they insisted, "you'll see your wife soon!" Right. Then, Susan Haskell had to pretend "Patrick" -- whose survival and imprisonment were never remotely explained -- was waiting just off-camera for her. Come on, OLTL, really?
Worst Story: Babypalooza '11, or "Please, God, Kill Me"
Talk about a story that annihilated everything it touched -- the Liam/Ryder baby caper with John, Natalie, Jessica, Ford, Brody, and Marty destroyed multiple viable characters, and wasted months upon months of time in the ultimate pursuit of two couples that I found to be the pits. Brody's place on the canvas was dismantled in favor of whitewashing Bobby Ford, leaving him without a son or a hope for a future, while Ford shone at Lt. Lovett's expense, positioned as the "perfect man" for Jessica despite his reprehensible history. Jessica's character once again went back to the tired well of DID and "wacky" alters, leaving me with virtually no sympathy for her. And even after eight years of tortured romance and bearing a child with Natalie, John can't find the words to commit to her as a functional adult. Then there's poor Marty, who turned into a knife-happy psycho to support this endless mess of a story.
Stringing out drama only works if the destination is something worth the wait. With the baby mess, nothing worked, and nothing's been worth it.
Runners-up: Stacy is Gigi; "Hold the Diploma" and Rick Powers Productions
I'm going to keep this brief: The Stacy/Gigi story is ludicrously silly, and a kind of piss-take of Hitchcock's Vertigo on acid. It was obvious she was actually Gigi all along, and on the eve of cancellation, I frankly didn't have any time for yet another front burner, tired storyline about Rex and Gigi, which a once-promising couple cannot handle.
Then there's the porn sphere. I call it a sphere because Rick's various plots and schemes simply never end; they only subsume more characters, from Nate and Deanna to Baz and Starr. What is the purpose of this crap? Again, is there nothing else our legacy teens can do with their time? Other than frickin' porn?
Best Story (and Return): The Two Todd Mannings
Like I've said so many times: The "rapemance" storyline of 2008 killed Todd Manning for me. He had been one of my favorite characters for years, but that storyline completely destroyed him in my eyes. Téa, Blair, it didn't matter; after what he did to Marty, to Starr, and to little Hope, he was dead to me. Until, against all odds, Todd Manning came back from the dead.
The "Two Todds" saga defied all conventional storytelling wisdom, because it was so utterly bat guano that it had to work. The powers that be at OLTL realized that two Todds with no waiting would not only splinter fan bases, but create whole new ones -- Victor/Téa, Todd/Blair, Todd/Téa, Victor/Blair, you name it, they have it in the bag. Lord vs. Lord, brother vs. brother was lightning in a bottle, ready-made for years to come, and while the story was totally ridiculous, it was executed well by having all the actors playing the material to the hilt, right down to Barbara Rhoades' über-campy turn as the undead Irene Clayton Manning. Meanwhile, Roger Howarth re-inhabited the role of the one, true Todd with a visceral force that made us wonder how we could have ever gotten along without him.
Was it Shakespeare? Definitely no, yet perhaps also yes -- the climax of the "two Todds" caper had the execution and subtlety of a Mac truck done up in children's finger paints. But the immortal conflict of blood upon blood is as old as the hills. It was a massive gamble, and it paid off, both in numbers and in establishing a potential future history of Todd vs. Victor -- even for a so-called cancelled soap.
Worst Couple: Jessica Brennan and Robert "Call Me Uncle Bobby" Ford
"Okay, sure, he date-raped her -- but just look at his abs!" This has been OLTL's apparent attitude regarding gym bunny from hell Robert Ford since the night he bedded down with the "teenaged" Jessica, and they've been trying to whitewash his character every day hence. Ford and Jessica are beyond vapid, beyond loathsome -- Brody's entire life was willfully destroyed in the hopes of turning fans onto this creep, and crazy old Tess even fell for the lothario to try to prove to us that Ford was just a wild, crazy guy with a heart of gold and a penchant for "manic pixie dream girls."
I don't buy Ford, and I never did. Maybe that makes me a stick in the mud, but they never wrote a believable redemption for his character, and his attitude towards his behavior, towards Jessica and to her mental illness, has been consistently disgusting. He repels me, and I think Ford is probably the worst thing that's ever happened to Jessica's character, other than the introduction of her DID. On their lowest of low days, Nash and Brody had more class in their pinkie fingers than Ford in any of his other...appendages. I can't see the back of him soon enough.
Best Couple: Cord and Tina Lord Roberts, and Todd Manning and Blair Cramer (tied)
It's like I said before: Everything old really is new again, starting with Cord and Tina Lord Roberts, and a pitch-perfect, short-term story which reunited this supercouple properly after their shabby treatment several years ago.
As the fall wore on, Andrea Evans and John Loprieno essayed as screwball comic artists, recreating the daffy charm that Cord and Tina always had while coming to terms with their present and future as Tina finally chose between romance and avarice. I wasn't sure OLTL would ever get the chance to do right by our Tina, but they sure did, and I couldn't be happier for the incredible gift of seeing Cord and his "girl" together again. This time, it gets to be forever.
The other top couple for me is admittedly obvious: Todd and Blair, the first, last, and only edition. I was always among the first to criticize Roger Howarth during his lazier periods on OLTL past, and I thought his record at As The World Turns was spotty at best and laughable at worst. That being said, he came back to Llanview at the top of his game, ready to play, reintroducing an impassioned, committed Todd Manning who knows what he values in his damaged existence and wears his heart on his sleeve while fighting for it.
The depth of feeling we see in the current Todd is not new to the character, or unfaithful to his roots; Todd's original "redemption" storyline, such as it was, was built on his angst and guilt over what he had done to Marty and other women. What is new is how overtly passionate Todd has become in his pursuit -- the delicate dance of intimacy between Todd and Blair has shown us how deep the chemistry between Howarth and Kassie DePaiva still runs, and when it climaxed with their heart-stopping embrace and kiss this past week, I realized that not only did they still have it, but they never stopped, and always would. Todd wants one woman in his life, and wants her like he needs oxygen to breathe. Despite his schemes to win her, his ultimate intent is not about revenge, or how he feels wronged, or petty jealousy. Blair and their family are what keep Todd going, and rediscovering what makes him -- and them, as Todd challenged Blair to stop being a "victim" -- tick has been an incredible journey into the heart of an immortal supercouple which I never thought I'd ever welcome back into my heart.
So that's your econo-sized Best and Worst for your holiday blitz, guys. Spare yourselves the waterworks about this being our last rodeo; we'll have plenty of time for tears in two weeks. In the meantime, please, please, please accentuate the positive -- enjoy your holiday, drink responsibly, get lots of water for the morning, and have a very, very happy new year. I'll see you back in Llanview in 2012. We've still got some tomorrows; in remembering our Best and Worst, let's make them count. Toodles!