Fans of The Young and the Restless were subjected to another wildly uneven week as the latest team to write, produce and direct the show struggles to find it's footing again. This week saw the welcome return of longtime director, Mike Denney, who refugeed from the reign of ex- executive producer Lynn Marie Latham by taking shelter with Ed Scott (ex- executive producer, Y&R) over at Days of Our Lives. He lost his job there when Scott lost his, but unlike Scott, found himself back at Y&R again.
Denney was the cornerstone of Y&R's steady staff of directors during the 1990s and early 2000s, collecting nominations for Outstanding Drama Series Directing team every year for sixteen years, and winning six times (1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2001 and 2002). Team Latham gutted the directing team, opting instead to go with a more casual approach, using guns for hire like Phideaux Xavier - who is a great guy and a talented director - but going back and forth between directing episodes of General Hospital and episodes of The Young and the Restless does not suggest a consistent hand at the helm. Many of Y&R's hallmark motifs got lost in the shuffle during the LML regime.
Denney started at Y&R in 1987 as a camera operator. Denney knew Bill Bell - he was brought up through the ranks by Bill Bell - and Denney is someone Y&R fans can count on to bring back a little bit of that Bill Bell magic. It's fitting that he's back, the same week as Y&R celebrates airing it's 9000th episode.
Meanwhile, the Hogan Sheffer/Maria Arena Bell led writing team still struggles to sort out the tremendous messes put in motion by LML, the writer's strike, and the "who's on Y&R's staff THIS WEEK?" chaos of the last year and a half. The biggest tent pole character Y&R has, Victor Newman, has spent most of the last few weeks AWOL, and only shows up now and then to whine, whimper and waste away over the loss of his most recent wife du jour, the insipid Sabrina. Victor's scenes play like shoulder shrugging concessions from Eric Braeden, who seems like he just can't wait to be picked up by his limo and whisked away to his annual vacation, and is only going along with it all out of contractual obligation.
Most of this week's scenes with the Newman family and their various hangers on and relations play the same way. A palpable sense of running in place, waiting for someone to shoot the starter gun that starts the big race called November Sweeps, is drowning the Newmans. They're running in quicksand. The best thing that can be said about Victoria is that her hair looked nice this week. Nick, as usual, is beats behind the brains around him - but hit a new low when his dumb as dirt mother Nikki took the lead in plotting the family response to the "Save Victor!" plot. J.T. Hellstrom, also known as Mr. Victoria Newman, emerged from the closet he's been hiding in for weeks, sorting his wife's baggy gray dresses by shade from lightest to darkest, to fall in with Nikki Einstein's great plan to thwart a multinational investigation into the death of Walter Palin.
Yup. No one's going to get in trouble for this, Nikki. The FBI likes it when people create false evidence chains.
Heather Stevens has been drinking the tap water at the District Attorney's office. You'd almost think impotent DA Glenn Richards is still in charge down there, locked in his endless, fruitless pursuit of Victor Newman. These days, Glenn Richards is probably curled in a ball in a padded cell, muttering Newman, Newman, Newman... but Heather's picked up where he left off. What gives with the writing for the Heather character? Why can't Heather be dogged in her pursuit of this case because of all the people Walter had a hand in murdering? David's wife the special agent, Ji Min Kim, Skye Lockhart, the limo driver, David Chow, Sabrina Newman and her baby... why isn't Heather talking about justice for these people? "My career!" she crows. "My career will be saved if I get Victor Newman!"
Talk to Glenn, Heather. And switch to bottle water. It's allowed now - LML is gone.
Nick Newman spent his time this week mooning over his ex- wife Sharon, and disrespecting his current wife, Phyllis. Misremembering Sharon's last name as "Newman" was a sweet nod to the love he clearly now remembers, but he's damn lucky his current spouse didn't hear the apostasy. Phyllis is a decisive woman. The violence she was once capable of isn't likely to be revisited, but there are ways for an angry Phyllis to metaphorically eviscerate Nick in ways the big dummy isn't capable of anticipating. Her tightly controlled reaction to learning that Nick hired Sharon back at Newman Enterprises foreshadows an ugly explosion later.
One of Y&R's apocryphal hair models resurfaced in Genoa City this week to struggle through her scenes while the more accomplished actors around her watched helplessly. Eva Marcille is an engaging performer when given a pretty simple list of goals to accomplish per scene, but what should have been a dramatic, wrenching look at a mother who's lost her child at a skeezy bus depot ended up playing like a tepid look at a modeling contest winner who can't find her flat iron. It didn't help that no one looked forward to finding Ana. There was plenty of foreboding and tension in that scene - because viewers were terrified that once found, Ana would start singing again.
Nia Peeples grabbed on to one of her rare chances to shine with the material they give her character when Karen explained to Victoria exactly why she has no children. Karen's mother died of a devastating, hereditary cancer when Karen was a little girl, leaving the motherless girl to vow to herself to never leave her own child behind that way, or to continue passing the cancer gene on into future generations. Powerful stuff. Too bad we didn't get to see more of Karen and Victoria talking, and a lot less mindless Newman and Winters mess, bogging down these two characters. Who wouldn't want to see the show spend time exploring honest emotional issues that resonate, instead of watching plot driven water treading - with the added bonus of anticipating Neil-anderthal Winters and his inevitable caveman reaction to yet another woman who doesn't want to define herself by having his babies?
Health issues troubled Kay Chancellor and her daughter Jill Abbott, as Kay's belligerent demand to hold the cake until Phillip arrived scared the crap out of Jill. They never said which Phillip Kay was waiting for - the old dead one or the young dead one - but it didn't matter. It was creepy and heart wrenching, and the love that flowed after Kay snapped out of it and told Jill a little bit about what's going on with her, health-wise, was touching. Jill has been used as a one note ranting harpy ever since Ji Min died, and it's such a disservice to the character. Jill is more than just a middle aged woman in a permanent bad mood, and the relationship between Kay and Jill is one of the cornerstones of Y&R. It's nice to see them play it.
Creepy doesn't begin to cover Jack Abbott stepping into the skin of his nemesis, Victor Newman, as he laid out on tape everything he wanted the diary forger to write. The biggest and best super couple Y&R ever made is the Jack and Victor combo. They've been more faithful to their hateful, dysfunctional relationship than either has ever been to a wife or a family member, and this week, Jack proved that he knows Victor better than anyone. And why not? Jack has devoted the last 25 years of his life to it. (It didn't hurt that Peter Bergman's dead on imitation of Eric Braeden's accent and speaking style evoked memories of the legendary conflicts between the two actors, giving the at home viewer a juicy opportunity to indulge in a little armchair Dr. Phil-style analysis. Pass the popcorn!)
Adam Wilson's supposed journey from farm boy to Michael Corleone took an annoying turn as the putative Victor Newman Junior got smacked with the stupid stick that's rendered his brother Nick intolerable for years. Jack danced circles around the second smartest student at Harvard Law, making darn sure only Adam would be left holding the bag if the diary scam went south. All points tally to Jack's scorecard for now... but it remains to be seen if Jack will hold on to them. Jack almost NEVER wins, so it could be that the second smartest student will wise up and strike Jack down in the end. Here's hoping, anyway.
River Baldwin's arc took an inane and predictable turn as the extended Baldwin family all displayed varying degrees of hysteria as River went on the lam. People say Gloria puts her own self interest before her children's needs. At least Gloria's children are adults and capable of making their own criminal decisions and being fully responsible for the consequences. River, Genoa City's current Worst Dad, got his 15 year old daughter to smuggle a handcuff pick in her mouth into his guarded hospital room, spit it out into his hand while his guard watched unaware, and then follow him to a pre-arranged assignation point - one of GC's many convenient abandoned warehouses - only to tell her at that point that he just loved her too much to let her go off the grid with him again. Well, if Eden spends the next three years in juvenile detention for aiding and abetting a prison break, at least River will be comforted knowing she's safe. Right.
The latest installment in the "Loveline" arc ended up being surprisingly entertaining. The previous episodes that included the popular radio show came off as too self conscious and clunky, but the third time was the charm as Phyllis Newman got her comeuppance for her Jocasta complex. Her decision to intrude into son Daniel's lovelife by phoning in and arguing with Amber on the air not only earned her backlash from Daniel ("Ha, ha!"), but set in motion Daniel's decision to not only admit he loves Amber, but to reunite with her romantically. What a lovely mother of the bride Phyllis will make, if Daniel decides to take his love to the altar. Phyllis looks fabulous in purple, even when she's wearing it on her apoplectic cheeks.
Here's hoping Phyllis never finds out the role her perky employee Chloe had in Daniel's reassessment of his romantic situation - her lecture on the ridiculousness of his behavior was on point and effective. She missed a golden opportunity though to point out that he not only dithers like a girl, he habitually dresses like one, too.
Another uneven week full of hits, misses, and long periods of tedium wound to a close in Rio and France, very exotic locations for head scratching scenes of alternating boredom and plot driven mayhem. The Newman family and their loyal minions scrambled to plant clues in South America, while Victor counter productively sent up as many smoke signals as possible to let everyone know exactly where he is, making it clear at the same time that he's still in a very, very bad mood. At this point, Y&R seems to have all it's ducks in a row on the production end. The headwriting team has been stable for several weeks now - a near record lately! - while new executive producer Paul Rauch (also celebrating a multi- week anniversary with the show) has figured out how to get beds back onto the set for characters to make love in. All bodes well for a strong November - they're certainly holding back enough story for it - let's all keep our collective fingers crossed that Y&R uses Sweeps to get it's groove back.
Elizabeth Lee is a freelance writer and contributor to soapcentral.com. She is filling in for Nita while she is on vacation.