Our Latest Soap Opera Digest Column
In our latest column, we pulled no punches when it came to All My Children and General Hospital. After the jump, Becca feels alone as she wonders what's so special about GH's special effects and why the powers-that-be have chosen sets as the one thing on the show they want to be realistic, while Mallory feels like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, trapped in a life of endlessly repeating AMC and GH storylines.
By Becca Thomas
Sometimes I wonder if I'm looking for different things from my soaps than most other viewers are.
When I read an article about executives putting lots of effort into making soaps available on cell phones to satisfy fans' needs, I think, "Huh, I never realized that my soap-viewing experience could be improved if only I could see the shows on a screen smaller than a saltine cracker, but clearly I'm wrong." Certainly that would improve the appearance of GENERAL HOSPITAL's special effects.
Oh, those special effects. It seems the execs behind them are very proud of themselves, and people with far more soap-critiquing credentials than I have are impressed, as well. But I have to say, I find GH's stepped-up "special" effects – the exterior of Wydemere, Jason the ArgoNot on that boat in the middle of a "storm," Diego's car dangling off that "bridge" over a "river" far below -- to be laughable at best. I suppose on a cell phone they might look realistic, but on my regular screen they look lame. Why put all that effort into something that's never been important in the soap genre? I just don't get it – who is watching soaps for the computer-generated special effects? One of the 27 Pirates of the Caribbean or Spiderman movies is on cable every ten minutes if that's your thing.
It's possible I'm just bitter because I think of the money spent on those effects and wonder: Why didn't GH spend that it on better scripts, or cases of brown hair dye to undo all the excessive highlighting that has befallen the cast's many pretty brunettes of late?
I also don't understand why anyone would have a major complaint about soap sets not being realistic enough. This may sound hypocritical coming from someone who has dedicated many paragraphs to the parade of ugly winter scarves on DAYS and the increasingly bad hairstyles on GH, but, really, isn't escapism, not realism, what soaps are about? And how fantastic is a show otherwise that anyone's main beef is the sets look a little fake? Maybe it makes me a bad fan, but I have always gotten lots of entertainment out of soap sets' fakeness. Why would anyone want to deprive us of the hilarity of GH's Carly hitting her head on an obviously Styrofoam rock or Nikolas standing on his castle's paper maché parapet? Or of DAYS' teen set partying on the "beach" that is clearly a sandbox in the middle of a studio, accompanied by the roaring surf that we all know is totally accurate for a town that lies on the shores of . . . a river? Who wants snowflakes that actually melt? Or swimming pools larger than a postage stamp?
It seems like the people in charge seem to promise lots of new bells and whistles, but at some point that seems like noise meant to distract us from the thing that I thought most people really want from their shows: better storytelling. Am I really different from most soap viewers in hoping for that?
My Take, Too
By Mallory Harlen
I don't normally do investigative journalism, as criticism and bitterness are more my speed, but a rash of repeated storylines is making me wonder what's going on in the writing rooms at certain soaps. Has the ratings erosion hurt budgets so much that it's cheaper to just recycle scripts from years ago rather than pay people to write something new? Is there a limited well of storyline possibilities that writers choose from randomly? Or do the writers think that, since we're still watching, we must have loved the original story so much that we want to see it repeated now?
ALL MY CHILDREN seems to operate under the assumption that the show isn't worth producing unless Ryan, Greenlee ands Kendall are front and center. So they decided to go back to 2004 for storyline inspiration, where the three of them were front burner all the time: Ryan was in love with Kendall and that made Greenlee mad. Thanks to a convenient case of amnesia, Ryan has forgotten the ensuing years and is back to being in love with Kendall, which irritates Greenlee. How...original. The dynamics of this triangle stopped being interesting years ago, not least because it brings about the most obnoxious parts of their personalities: Greenlee becomes even more selfish and mean (much as the show tries to gloss over it, she really was steadfast in her pursuit of Ryan back then), Ryan becomes more sanctimonious (I'll never forget him referring to Kendall as "a soulless cancer." This is your romantic hero, AMC?) and Kendall becomes irritatingly neurotic. The first go-round was brutal; it's mean to make viewers go through it all again.
GH's reveal of the text-message killer would have been far more dramatic if it wasn't something that we had already seen a few years ago when the writers introduced the Port Charles Stalker storyline and, upon realizing that they had no idea who the culprit would be, randomly pinned it on Diego. The motives are even the same: Last time, he was out for revenge on the people who had hurt his cousin Sage; this time, he was trying to get even with the people who killed his father (and, um, him, but that's a complaint for another day). This was either laziness or an example of Diego being fiercely loyal and undoubtedly committed to revenge. Since we're talking about a writing regime that has done the same mob war story since 1997, I'm leaning towards lazy. Emily Quartermaine and Georgie Jones, legacy characters with years of potential, were killed off in a repeat of a storyline that wasn't good the first time around? That's a shame.
I'm not asking for something as zany as always doing original stories (that's how things like Casey the Alien happen), but if we're going to run repeats, can't the writers at least retell stories that we actually enjoyed the first time around?