The Young and the Restless began celebrating a milestone this week far more profound than the 35 years on the air the show sort of exploited earlier this year, and so far, it seems that they're taking this new milestone far more seriously, reverently, and juicily than the other. As much as a show is loved, it's hard to wring an emotional reaction out of fans only by managing to stay on the air another year. Thirty five years of TV is nothing. Eighty years of real living is something special. Bringing joy to the lives of millions? That's homage worthy.
Jeanne Cooper (Kay Chancellor) turned 80-years-old on Saturday. Eighty. She stands there before us on our television screens as an example of what we aspire be ourselves when it's our turn to hit that marker. She's hearty and hale. She's pithy, salty, vivid and glittering. It's not the jewelry or the embellished jacket collars that grabs our attention when the camera turns her way - it's the life in her eyes and the way she speaks her lines. After all these years, Cooper still means it.
Y&R is making the most of Cooper this fall by making Kay Chancellor a centerpiece for Sweeps, showing the audience that they not only know what they've got in Kay, but that they know what they've got with Cooper. Most importantly, they're showing that they not only know what the audience wants, but that they care enough about how the audience feels to give it to them - for once. The fans don't get a shout out like this very often, and after the last two years, the show couldn't time it any better. In that sense, Jeanne Cooper's parents having a baby on October 25th, 1928 seems like a gift planned by a heaven who saw the need coming, eighty years ahead of time.
Kay Chancellor is not having a renaissance. Even during the spans of time in which she hasn't been driving story, her scenes have never played like afterthoughts. Considering the tumultuous situation with the Y&R writing team over the last few years, it's hard to figure that the credit belongs to a revolving staff of writers, some of which were probably winging the writing for Kay (and everyone else). Kay's perpetual relevance is a credit to Cooper, a dynamo on screen and behind it, an actress capable of demanding attention in the most mundane scene. It's not about being old and venerated, it's about being damn good and appreciated. She's an icon, not a relic.
The scenes between Kay and her daughter, Jill, were beautifully done this past week. When you look into Jess Walton's (Jill) eyes, full of pain as she considers her apparently senile mother, you forget about the stolen husband, the cruel disenfranchisement, the cat fights, the vicious insults, even the switched and bartered babies, and see nothing but the love these two characters have for one another. There's a lot that's sick and wrong about Jill and Kay - but there's a lot that's affirming as well, and it's wonderful to see them play it.
Y&R has been in a holding pattern for some weeks now. Some of it is probably due to the constant state of adjustment behind the scenes, some of it probably has to do with getting all their ducks in a row for Sweeps (and holding back the good stuff for that) - most of it has been frustrating for viewers. It's hard to watch characters and storylines run in place, harder still to care about watching it. Yet, this past week had moments of near brilliance, giving the viewer the sense that maybe - just maybe - they're shaking off the stagnation and getting ready to bring it back to life now.
Some casting genius or lucky savant found actress Abby Wathen to play Young Gloria. In a series of flashbacks, what happened the day the bomb went off and killed the bank janitor was explained. The resemblance to Judith Chapman (Gloria) is uncanny, the morphs from Young Gloria to Gloria today were effective. Chapman exploited one of her rare chances to make Gloria rootable for all it was worth - the scene where Gloria berates River for abandoning her and little Michael was wrenching.
Michael Gross (River) has struggled with the role. He's mentioned in interviews that the pace of soap operas is just not what he's used to. He's probably not used to quite this much retooling behind the scenes, either. Regardless of the reason, River has had a hard time finding his path on Y&R. He began as a belligerent, barefoot, pot brownie waving radical with a "yeah, whatever, man" attitude towards his misdeeds. Nothing rootable there - and nothing sexy or dangerous to make up for it, like Gloria's other no good ex, Tom Fisher. Someone realized this wasn't working, and as it typical of Y&R these days - retooled it. Lately, River is noble, nearly beatific - and sexy, too, for those that find earnestness and apologies attractive. Gross is clearly more comfortable, and the storyline is finding its groove.
Even River's obnoxious daughter, Eden, has softened. It's amazing what a few smiles (and an apparent strongly worded dictate not to yell, growl, or make faces) will do. Eden's been curling her hair, wearing girly colors, hugging her brother, and making goo-goo eyes at sweet Noah Newman. Bingo! That's how you avoid having to cart a lot of angry letters to the recycling bin down the hall.
Bringing back Victoria Rowell to reprise Drucilla Winters is obviously not going to happen any time soon - and her allegations of racial imbalance and unfairness behind the scenes dumped a big problem in Y&R's lap. You can't find any internet connected soap fan who hasn't heard of her infamous interview - or doesn't have an opinion about it. What to do to both bolster the Winters family and stabilize the show's reputation? Bring back Devon's aunt Tyra (Eva Marcille) and her singing daughter? No. (Not that they didn't do it anyway.) Bring back popular and respected Tonya Lee Williams (Olivia Hastings Winters), a well known advocate for minorities and multiculturalism in acting and theater. Nicely done, Y&R! Tight laced brainiac Olivia will never quite fill the void left by tempestuous Drucilla - but her instant negative reaction to Lily's (Chrystal Khalil) dimwitted ass of an ex-boyfriend, Cane "Hurricane" Ashby (Daniel Goddard), had fans punching the air with enthusiastic approval all the same. There are few things more satisfying on a soap than having one of the bright characters agree with what you've been muttering at your TV set for weeks.
Y&R had a parade of low moments this week. They wasted yet another opportunity to expand the story around Chloe-Kate Valentine Ashby (Elizabeth Hendrickson), and her Forrest Gump-ian mother Esther (Kate Linder), by forcing another tedious scene with mean snarky Chloe disdaining her mother's cutesy gift - instead of developing the story by shedding more light on what makes Chloe tick. Devon (Bryton) was barely visible at all, reduced to a bit player in the drama surrounding his annoying aunt and cousin-sister. (Hello? Why are these characters here? Because of Devon - an interesting character played by an actor who can actually ACT! See any irony here?) Adam (Chris Engen) is stuck on stupid, while overly evil Jack (Peter Bergman) overkills the nastiness, and everyone's nemesis Victor Newman (Eric Braeden) is still somewhere on vacation. Assistant District Attorney Heather Stevens (Vail Bloom) can't remember that there are actual dead people in Genoa City who need her attention, and her father, the rarely seen Paul Williams (Doug Davidson) betrayed his own child - for the sake of Victor Newman, someone who could buy his way out of any jam without batting an eye, and doesn't give a damn about Paul himself except when he needs him.
Nikki Newman (Melody Thomas Scott) spent her time and her dwindling brain cells trying to protect a man who's labeled her dysfunctional and sick, and wishes she was dead (way to put a fresh spin on romance, Y&R!), while her daughter-in-law Phyllis Newman (Michelle Stafford) tried to persuade her son to her point of view while wearing a red dress so low cut it's no wonder he wasn't paying attention to anything she SAID. It's becoming more and more obvious that Stafford's boobs are jealous. Her legs and hips are the stars of the show's bumper sequences - the girls clearly want their own spotlight. Maybe even a spin off! Someone needs to set them straight before the show is mistaken for something in the really high cable channel numbers.
Among the week's final scenes are glimpses of redemption and forward movement... the forger puts an idea in Adam's head that Jack may not be trustworthy. Heather understands that the Newmans might be toying with her. Sharon (Sharon Case) and Victoria (Amelia Heinle) are kind to one another, bonded by their shared love for their family patriarch. Kay reaches towards Jill with love. Victor himself is seen in the confessional at a Catholic church in France, asking forgiveness for the many sins he's committed since leaving the orphanage as a boy.
Another scene (shown in the preview sequence for the next episode) has Cooper, in a bar, apparently at her lowest, tossing back another guzzle of booze while beside her sits a pink, strong, vibrant version of herself. Yin and yang, before and after, old and new again. A parallel for real life and reel life, and also, hopefully, a parallel for Y&R itself, struggling to set itself straight again after its own battles - and one hell of an opening salvo for November Sweeps.
The poem Kay tried to remember is The Children's Hour, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. It starts as she said, setting a scene caught between dark and dawn, but the fourth stanza goes like this:
Elizabeth Lee is a freelance writer and contributor to soapcentral.com. She is filling in for Nita while she is on vacation.