Our Latest Soap Opera Digest Column
For our column in the December 29th issue of Soap Opera Digest asked us for our thoughts on the Best and Worst of 2009 in soaps. And we had...well, we had many thoughts, which we compiled for this month's Our Take. (It's our first ever jointly authored one, for those keeping track -- which we assume is roughly zero). You've seen some of these choices before in the Serial Drama Best and Worst of 2009 entry (along with those containing profanity, as well as thoughts on One Life to Live), but we are both slightly OCD and bring you the column below anyway, because incomplete archives would drive us crazy and/or to drink. Plus watching soaps has taught us that redundancy is not only a good thing, it earns you the most prestigious awards in your field. And we're totally shooting for that.
As two practically semi-professional list-makers, we look forward to Best and Worst lists at this time of year like little kids do to holiday gifts. In truth, we look forward to holiday gifts with similar zeal, but it seems shallow to admit that, so…on with the year-end soapy analysis!
2009 brought a regrettably large number of stories that can be aptly summarized with a groan and an eyeroll, but standing out as the Worst Story is the murder of Stuart Chandler on AMC. It’s troublesome that the show’s powers-that-be listened to the storyline we can only assume was pitched as “The three times a year that Stuart is onscreen being cheerful and sweet is just too much, so for our big sweeps story, he gets murdered. And then it turns out that ADAM killed him. What’s more exciting than a twin killing a twin? Nothing! And then Kendall confesses to the murder that she didn’t commit because…well, the ‘because’ part isn’t important” and not only didn’t run away screaming from the story’s inherent badness but agreed to film and televise it. The debacle’s lone saving grace is David Canary, who proved again that he is daytime’s Best Actor by rising above the material and giving amazing performances in a story that does not deserve it.
There are things we criticize GH for (summary: virtually everything), but its casting department is truly top-notch. This year’s Best Casting Decisions were bringing James Franco and Jonathan Jackson to town. We’re still confused about the former (“I just got nominated for a Golden Globe, so the next logical step is heading to Port Charles to play an artsy murderer”), and we have mixed feelings about the latter, since we both grew to adore Greg Vaughan as Lucky. But we can’t deny that having Jackson in the role has given the GH writers a renewed sense of interest in the character of Lucky. He’s given stories, and is allowed to have a point of view and is written like a smart, complex character.
And GH’s casting skills extend to less headline-making roles, as well. Sonny may be a character we’ve found loathsome since the late 90s, but he is surprisingly good at giving us entertaining children. His kids are our picks for the Best New/Newly Aged Characters. Lexi Ainsworth (Kristina) and Drew Garrett (Michael) have been part of some terrible stories this year (Kristina is in an abusive relationship and Michael killed his father’s wife which, for some reason, did not seem to faze anyone in Port Charles, which says more about the show’s moral compass than anything), but they’ve done fantastic jobs at making their characters appealing and entertaining. And Sonny’s latest (or as it turns out, first) offspring Dante/Dominic has been played excellently by Dominic Zamprogna, a fantastic addition to the GH cast.
The youngsters on DAYS fare less well on our list than their Port Charles equivalents. Salem has the Worst Teen Scene in daytime. Will and Mia are a step beyond really boring, and Chad has the potential to be interesting but doesn’t have much promise for compelling stories if he continues to keep such boring company. Melanie was inexplicably launched into the late-20s, early-30s scene, when they really needed her outsized personality with the teens. This whole young set needs to revamped, because otherwise, DAYS is virtually guaranteed a repeat in this category in 2010.
It’s too bad that GH’s many well-cast, talented actresses are saddled with soaps’ Worst Portrayal of Women. GH’s continuing myopic focus on plot-driven mob stories not only elevates hired killers to romantic leads, it sidelines female characters and frequently makes their sole purpose to be rejected or rescued by big, mobbed-up, gun-toting men. This show desperately needs more women friendships (like that of Alexis and Diane), more relatable female leads (Carly and Lulu, among others, frequently veer into screeching harpy territory), and strong women with careers who aren’t painted as uptight and bitchy.
On the flip side of the casting coin, Y&R made the Worst Casting Decision in all of soaps by choosing to kill off Colleen Carlton, rather than just send her out of town to speak in an Australian accent off-screen. She was a young, gorgeous heiress, and the daughter of Brad Carlton and Traci Abbott. That should have been enough to drive stories for decades! But the writers chose to squander all of that potential by drowning her, and we’re baffled as to why. Yes, this led to some great performances by Beth Maitland (Traci) and Peter Bergman (Jack) and sure, there were some genuinely emotional moments, like when Brad returned to take Colleen, but those aren’t reasons enough to kill her off. This story also reinforced our opinion that Victor Newman is daytime’s Worst Hero: he brings an unstable crazy person to town who poisons his granddaughter and is responsible for Colleen’s death, lies repeatedly about his involvement and then gets shot, and suddenly that makes all of his awful behavior okay? No, Y&R, it does not.
On a positive note, DAYS is 2009’s Most Improved Soap. This time last year, the emotion most episodes of DAYS stirred in us was the strong desire to beat ourselves about the head and face with our remote controls. Now, the stories are better paced, there are more 30-something romances and stories (an age range gap the show desperately needed to fill), the returns of 80s favorites Justin and Carly, there is a bit less Stefano and more Victor, and the daily dialogue is much better. There is still room for improvement, but the show is evidence of year’s worth of good work.
A slightly smaller victory, certainly, but DAYS also gets our vote for 2009’s Most Welcome Haircut. James Scott’s gorgeousness was being marred by unwieldy locks, so we were thrilled when that situation was remedied. It’s not quite on par with, say, curing cancer, but restoring our daily eye candy is super-important!