Our Latest Soap Opera Digest Column
By Becca Thomas
I am not anti-villain. I love a soapy bad guy or girl. I have adored DAYS OF OUR LIVES’ Victor Kiriakis and his malevolent deeds since acid-washed jeans were popular the first time around. And one of Victor’s worst enemies, Stefano DiMera? Who doesn’t root for him, at least a little bit, every time he comes back from the dead to wreak havoc? Then there’s GENERAL HOSPITAL’s Helena Cassadine, who is a kidnapper, brainwasher, and murderer many times over. Yet I love her! I could go on for pages with examples of my solidly pro-villain stance. And I also understand that even good guys have to have some villainous qualities now and then, to keep things interesting. But lately with Luke Spencer, GENERAL HOSPITAL has replaced what was a layered and interesting sometime villain with an unrepentant jerk who has lost all rootability in my eyes.
Even people who’ve never watched GH before know Luke Spencer, and know that he has certainly had his villainous moments. The character is probably best known for being a rapist, for goodness sake. But for many people, some of GH’s best years were those in the 90s, in which a mostly reformed Luke, clearly devoted to Laura and their children, made the Spencers one of Port Charles’ central families. Luke conquered many of his demons, and while he still dabbled in the occasional con and interacted regularly with the mob (which had thankfully at that point not yet consumed the entire town), he was a great, flawed, nontraditional leading man.
But now, those of us who watched during those years are supposed to believe, thanks to recent revisionist history expressed through clunky dialogue, that among other things: Luke was routinely cheating on Laura, Laura knew about this cheating and, in fact, even accepted it in advance; Luke never wanted to be a father and Luke needs a new son to replace Lucky who for some reason is a huge disappointment. None of this has come off as organic character development. Instead, it all seems to be a poke in the eye to longtime viewers from a writing team that appears to have absolutely no investment in honoring Luke and Laura’s history. And even setting aside that storied relationship, how is a logical viewer supposed to cheer on this new Luke moving forward? Am I honestly supposed to hope this vile version of Luke makes things work with the awesome Tracy Quartermaine (played by the fabulous Jane Elliot)? Sorry, but no.
Luke could absolutely have grown out of his family-man stage, rebelled against that traditionalism and turned back to his con man ways without gutting the Luke and Laura relationship and eliminating the engaging character traits that drew viewers to Luke in droves over these last few decades. Instead, we’re stuck with illogical contradictions and disjointed history rewrites that are beyond tiresome; they’re downright infuriating.
GH had enough bad guys, though since the powers-that-be seem to have long since forgotten that the mobsters were supposed to be the bad guys, I guess it’s understandable that they had to look elsewhere for their newest villain. It’s just too bad they chose Luke Spencer, in the process destroying one of soapdom’s great characters.
My Take, Too
By Mallory Harlen
Spotting a veteran character on GH not named Luke Spencer is exceedingly rare (and I’d argue that what they’ve done to Luke’s character recently makes me wish that his time on-screen was similarly rare). The Quartermaines have been systematically killed off, Bobbie appears twice yearly and Mac is basically an extra. It’s like they think, “Well, the audience had a few decades with these characters. Surely, they can’t want more of them!” which is, as is often the case with GH, completely boneheaded. If I had the choice between watching Bobbie and Monica or Rebecca and Ethan? I’d choose Bobbie and Monica every time. The show would really do well to follow the lead of ALL MY CHILDREN and YOUNG AND RESTLESS, who have centered their stories on veteran characters and are all the more entertaining for it.
I don’t completely agree with the decision to kill Stuart off on AMC, because I am always opposed to killing people off for a sweeps stunt, especially a character as well-loved as Stuart. There’s something sadistic about the whole thing. It’s very much, "Oh, this character is beloved, and you'd rather him live peacefully off camera and occasionally interact with his son? That's cute. Hold that thought while I violently murder him." However, I can’t deny that it has given David Canary ample opportunity to remind everyone that he’s probably the greatest actor in daytime. The scenes leading up to the murder were hokey, to be sure—what are the odds that that many angry people wishing Adam dead would descend upon the Chandler mansion in a storm, armed with a weapon (or picked up one of the many weapons handily strewn about the estate if they forgot theirs) all at once?—but the aftermath has been pitch perfect. Adam’s pain when he realized that Stuart was dead was palpable, and you practically see his heart breaking every time someone confronts him and blames him for Stuart’s death. I’ve taken to arranging my afternoons around AMC so that I don’t have to miss anything Adam-related. Considering that I needed to bribe myself to watch a full episode just a few short weeks ago, that’s high praise, indeed.
One thing Maria Arena Bell has done so well since taking the reins at Y&R is making the divine Katherine Chancellor one of the show’s focal points: Jeanne Cooper languished for too many years on the backburner and the show suffered for it. Now she’s the show’s leading lady and Y&R is more entertaining than it has been in ages. Coincidence? I think not. Katherine is one half of daytime’s sweetest and most adorable romance, she and Jill are back at each other’s throats (which, I think, is where they belong) and the continuing saga of Cane/Philip Chancellor III promises to be one of the most entertaining stories of the year. My only complaint is that Jess Walton’s Jill hasn’t been afforded the same awesome writing, which I hope will be rectified soon (Hint, hint!)