Archive for the As I Saw It Category

As I Saw It… The Young and the Restless

Posted in As I Saw It with tags on January 30, 2009 by Jeff

jeanne-cooperI’ve watched eight soaps in the last eight weeks. Some were good (All My Children), some were great (One Life to Live), and some made my week with them feel like an eternity.  Then along came The Young and the Restless.  I admit I was never a huge Y&R fan.  I watched it occasionally over the years but I was never a hard core fan.  After last week, I’m a convert.  I could write about all the happenings in Genoa City last week and how I enjoyed them, but instead lets focus on what Y&R does right.  Afterall, these are the things that won me over.

1. It’s The Veterans, Stupid!  Most shows push their veteran actors to the back burner after they stop looking hot in a bedroom scene.  Y&R not only relishes the fact that almost half of their cast has clocked in at least one full decade on the show, but the show’s producers are smart enough to know that those are the people we want to see.  If you go to a party who are most likely to want to spend time with?  Is it the person you don’t know or someone you’ve known for years?  Of course, everyone wants to be around familiar faces.  It makes sense that we want to watch the characters we’ve grown to know and love. Y&R has it’s share of newbies, but the vets are kept front and center.  Name one other show that has an eighty year old actress in a front burner storyline that involves half the cast? 

2. Talent On Screen/Talent Off Screen.  When Y&R first premiered it was known for being the “beautiful people soap” because it employed unknown actors who were, for the most, beautiful.  Not all were great actors, but they looked great.  Y&R is still glamorous, but the acting is superb.  It’s not fair to list them all because it would take up the entire page, but I have to mention that Melody Thomas Scott is the most underrated actress in daytime.  She brings Niki to life in a way that is so natural that you feel like you are watching a friend or a relative, not an actress playing a role.  All the great actors and actresses in the world can’t do justice to a show that’s not well written, produced, and directed. Fortunately, Y&R has a talented production team that knows how to make a good soap opera.  The writing is brilliant.  The storylines are great and the day to day writing is wonderful. The sets, the lighting, even the background music is all a notch above the other soaps. 

It’s a Soap Opera! At the end of the day, The Young and the Restless succeeds because it knows what it is.  Y&R doesn’t try to be Sex and the City or 24 or The Sopranos. Y&R doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel.  The show’s producers know that soap fans want to see a good soap opera and that’s what they do: they make a good soap opera.  

And now my experiment is over.  I watched eight soaps, and I liked half of them.  Of the four I kept on my TiVo list (AMC, B&B, OLTL, and now Y&R), I will keep two for daily viewing: One Life to Live and The Young and the Restless have brought this former fan back to daytime.  

If you haven’t watched soaps in a while, please check out your former favorites because daytime television needs every viewer it can get.  If I wrote something about a show you like (or don’t like) that you don’t agree with, please don’t take offense.  I love soaps and I genuinely hope the industry will bounce back.   Thank you for reading my blog.  I appreciate the feedback I’ve received and I’m humbled by the fact that people actually read what I wrote and bothered to comment.  

Special thanks to Snark from Snark Weights In, Nelson Branco from TV Guide Canada, and Mark from MarkH’s Soap Musings for their kind words.  And check out The Chronicles of Von Klapp entertainment news blog next week for an article about soaps in which I was asked to participate.

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As I Saw It… One Life to Live

Posted in As I Saw It on January 18, 2009 by Jeff

susan-haskellI haven’t watched One Life to Live on a regular basis in years, but last week I felt as if I had never left Llanview – and I don’t think I’ll want to leave for a long, long time!  I haven’t enjoyed a soap this much in a decade.  Where can I start?  From the minute the show starts, it is beautiful to look at: lush sets and warm lighting bring the show to life.  And what a show it is! The acting, writing, and direction is truly remarkable. 

Headwriter Ron Carlivati has wisely weaved new characters into the canvas by mixing them with veterans.  Unlike As the World Turns and Days of Our Lives, there was never one scene last week where I scratched my head and wondered “who the heck are these people?”  I might not have known every character at the start of the week, but I knew who they were interacting with, and that helped me to quickly follow along with the story.  

I admit that I was not looking forward to anything to do with the Todd/Marty rapemance, but the fallout of this controversial plot will give OLTL years of storyline to mine.  Trevor St. John, who needs an Emmy, tore up every scene last week as Todd Manning.  St. John’s Todd is anything but a one-note villain.  Sometimes you hate him, sometimes you pity him, but you can’t take your eyes off of him.  The character can easily be compared to ATWT‘s John Dixon of the 1970’s and GL‘s Roger Thorpe of the 70’s and 90’s.  Is Todd basically a good guy who does really bad things because he can’t help himself or is he a really bad guy who does good things despite himself? Freud would have a field day with this guy! Emmy winner Susan Haskell is mesmerizing as amnesiac Marty Saybrooke, who was duped into a romance with the ringleader of her gang-rape all those years ago at the Spring Fling Dance.  I admit the thought of the storyline turned my stomach and I thought the show was throwing part of it’s rich history out the window, but I was wrong.  This new chapter in the lives of Todd and Marty compliments the classic 1993 storyline written by Michael Malone.  Marty is not the typical soap anmesiac who wanders around wondering “who am I” but instead is comfortable with the person she is now -the only person she knows herself to be.  While she acknowledges that she doesn’t have memories of her son Cole (Brandon Buddy), she doesn’t hide the fact that she really doesn’t have an emotional attachement to the boy.  Haskell effortlessly makes Marty real, raw, and heartbreaking – often in the course of a single scene. 

One of the things I like best about OLTL is that the show doesn’t bring out it’s younger cast here and there and forget about them.  The kids of Llanview have active lives and the actors who bring them to life hold their own in scenes with heavy hitters like Bob Woods (Bo), Hillary B. Smith (Nora), and others. The standout is Kristen Alderson (Starr). This girl is going to be a star. If she plays her cards right, she’ll be the next Julianne Moore (ex-Frannie, ATWT).  She hits all the right notes, never goes over the top, and makes Starr a believable teenager regardless of the elevated dramatics of her storyline.  

Bree Williamson is great as Jessica and her alters as she carries on her family tradition of dissociative identity disorder.  Robin Strasser (Dorian) and Tuc Watkins (David) are always fun.  John-Paul Lavoisier (Rex) has grown into an impressive actor, and I like the pairing of Rex and Gigi (Farrah Fath).  Mark Lawson’s scenes of Brody’s visions of a dead Iraqi boy were interesting and well done.  Of course, Erika Slezak never misses a beat as Viki.  She’s the heart and soul of OLTL

What is most impressive about One Live to Live is that last week was not a “big reveal” week for the show.  Storylines continued along, but nothing culminated or took off. In a week where it was business as usual, the show managed to excel and hook a returning viewer. 

All in all, OLTL is the best of what I’ve seen since I started my experiment last month.  With my Y&R week staring tomorrow, and all the buzz about how great that show has been, I still have to wonder if it can top One Life to Live.

Needless to say, OLTL has gone to the top of my TiVo list.

As I Saw It… Guiding Light

Posted in As I Saw It on January 11, 2009 by Jeff

kim_zimmerThis has been the hardest article to write since I began my experiment last month.  It’s difficult for me to keep an open mind on what used to be my favorite soap.  Part of me wants Guiding Light to survive – in any shape or form – just for nostalgia.  The other part of me remembers this was a show that I went years without missing a single episode; not because it was a habit, but because the stories were so compelling that if you missed a day you truly missed something great.  

The current state of Guiding Light couldn’t be more further from “great.” The show can create as much buzz as they want over new production models, armies of headwriters, and visiting bloggers, but they can’t seem to put together a well-written and produced soap opera.

No offence to the nice people of Peapack, but could executive producer Ellen Wheeler have found a place that looks more like a city that is home to the headquarters of global corporate giants (including manufacturing conglomerates and oil companies) and less like Mayberry? Hell, I’m poor and my house looks nicer than most of the exterior locations on GL. Why didn’t they use the locations from The Sopranos? Many of The Sopranos outdoor shoots looked more upscale than the dirt roads and overgrown fields that we see on GL.  

Everyone knows that the most important aspect of any show is the writing. This is where GL is really lacking.  This is a show with over 70 years of  back story and the best they can give us is “Did Bill kidnap Lizzie” and “Reva the Middle Age Mom-to-Be.”  The most enjoyable story last week forcused on little Emma (Jacqueline Tsirkin) working on a class project with Olivia and Natalia (Crystal Chappell, Jessica Leccia) about why their “family” is unique. It was cute, but that’s not what drives a story. This show needs one large umbrella storyline to tie together all the loose-end plots and characters and bring things into focus.   

GL still has some of the best actors in daytime.  Kim Zimmer (Reva), Ron Raines (Alan), Justin Deas (Buzz), Gina Tognoni (Dinah) and others shine regardless of what they are given to work with.  Some of the newer cast members are a bit lacking, but many have potential.  

Lately the show has been buzzing about the return of Grant Aleksander as Phillip.  I have to remember that a year ago, we saw a media blitz about the famed “new production model.”  The day it premiered, GL offered us a show in which absolutely nothing happened for sixty minutes.  I like Grant Aleksander and I like Phillip Spaulding, but I’m not getting my hopes up.  

For me, watching Guiding Light last week was like bowling. Have you ever bowled and suddenly realized that your ball was heading directly for the gutter? Did you use every fiber of your being to wish you could magically send that ball back to the center of the lane? Did you find your entire body leaning in the opposite direction of the gutter thinking that maybe, just maybe, you could somehow will that bowling ball away from the gutter and into a glorious and triumphant strike? Friends, all the leaning Guiding Light fans in the world cannot save this soap from the gutter. It’s over.

As I Saw It… General Hospital

Posted in As I Saw It on January 10, 2009 by Jeff

general_hospitalWhen soap operas were first created as radio programs back in the 1930’s, they were – for all intents and purposes – a modern take on morality plays.  Audiences waited in eager anticipation to see if their favorite hero or heroine overcame the machinations of reviled villains. Those same audiences cheered as the villains were exposed and punished.  Soap in general have followed that same pattern.  General Hospital stayed true to that format for years.  In the 1960’s, Steve Hardy (the late John Beradino) was the doctor who could do no wrong – no matter who or what he had to face.  In the 1970’s,  Dr. Lesley Webber (Denise Alexander) was the epitome of the soap heroine.  She even went so far as to confess to a murder she didn’t commit to spare her daughter Laura (Genie Francis) from standing trial and going to prison.  In the 1980’s, the scales tipped as supporting character Luke Spencer (Tony Geary), infatuated with Laura, raped her on the dance floor of the campus disco and forever changed the definition of a soap opera hero.  When the writers and producers saw the chemistry between Francis and Geary, they quickly re-wrote the story as a “seduction” and the biggest supercouple in daytime history was born.  

By the late 1990’s something had happened to General Hospital.  It became hard to determine who was a villain and who was a hero.   Mobsters like Sonny Corinthos (Maurice Benard) and Jason Morgan (Steve Burton) were criminals – but written as romantic leads.  Fans cheered for them instead of hoping they would be apprehended and sent to prison for their crimes.  General Hospital was no longer a take on morality plays.  

When I watched last week, I expected to see a violent mess of a television show.  I was pleasantly surprised.  Sonny and Jason, still the Tony Soprano and Christopher Moltisanti of daytime drama, acknowledged Michael’s birthday in a tender scene.  

The wedding of Robin and Patrick (Kimberly McCullough, Jason Thomspon) was like watching a big soap wedding from the 1980’s – and not just because it showcased two daytime superstars from the 1980’s in Finola Hughes (Anna) and Tristan Rogers (Robert) – but because it featured long scenes with large amounts of the cast dancing and talking and going over plot points.  

Bradford Anderson’s Spinelli is an acquired taste.  Viewers either really like him or really don’t.  Put me in the “like” category.  He’s not a typical soap hero, but he’s so like able that he jumps off the screen.  There is definite chemistry between Anderson and Maxie Jones (Kirsten Storms).

It was odd seeing Laura Wright as Carly.  For years, Wright was Cassie Layne on Guiding Light on CBS while on ABC Sarah Brown was Carly.  Now Wright is GH‘s Carly and Brown is GH‘s Claudia.  Both actresses are wonderful, but to me, Brown will always be Carly and Wright will always be Cassie.  That said, Sarah Brown didn’t have much to do as Claudia, but she can still tear up a scene with co-star Benard.

The writing on the show is a bit uneven, but the show still boasts some of the best dialogue writers in the business.  The sets, once some of the most elegant on soaps, are starting to look old and drab. The direction, however, is still top notch.  

While GH didn’t make the cut for my “Must See” TiVo list, it was better – a lot better – than I had hoped.

As I Saw It… Days of Our Lives

Posted in As I Saw It on December 31, 2008 by Jeff

arianne-zukerWhat in the world happened to Days of Our Lives?  I wasn’t impressed when I last sampled the show during the “Marlena is a Serial Killer” storyline, but at least I could figure out who-was-who on the show.  What made it so hard for me last week to figure out who the new characters are, is because all of the stories on the show appear to be self-contained.  There was no intermingling of stories when I watched.  What was happening with Sami (what was happening with Sami?) had nothing to do with what was happening to Bo and Hope, which had nothing to do with what was happening with Kate and Daniel.  I remember the good old Days several storylines were intertwined and that made for interesting viewing.

Acting has never been one of Days‘ strong suits, and for the most part, the acting by the younger set leaves a lot to be desired.  Powerhouse Arianne Zuker does wonders as Nicole, even in a stereotypical “pretend pregnancy” storyline.  She deserves a better story. 

The budget cuts are clearly visible on the show, which used to boast some of the best sets on daytime.  The show has a shabby look to it, and the lighting isn’t flattering for the actors.  

In the end, I just couldn’t get into the show.  I knew going in that this wouldn’t be Masterpiece Theatre, but I was hoping for some fun. There weren’t any supercouples or quirky stories.  What I found was a lot of filler and no substance.  For a show that has a rich history and has had many creative highs, this is a low point for Days of Our Lives.

As I Saw It… The Bold and the Beautiful

Posted in As I Saw It with tags on December 20, 2008 by Jeff

bold_and_beautifulMy Bold and the Beautiful went by in a flash.  I enjoyed the half hour format because there were less characters to get to know, quick moving stories that were easy to follow, and a cast of actors who – for the most part – were familiar to this former viewer.  

Speaking of those familiar faces, I can’t say enough about the amazing Susan Flannery (Stephanie).  She takes anything they throw at her and makes it look like it was written by Shakespeare.  She never chews the scenery or tries to overpower her co-stars; instead she uses her talents to add to her scenes instead of stealing them.  What surprised me the most is just how good of an actress Katherine Kelly Lang (Brooke) has become.  Maybe I never noticed before because of the redundancy of her past storylines, or maybe I noticed her beauty more than her acting, but she impressed me a lot this week.  John McCook is always great as Eric, and Ronn Moss does a capable job as Ridge. 

The story last week focused mostly on the effects of the death of Ridge and Taylor’s (Hunter Tylo) daughter Phoebe, which was caused by Brooke and Eric’s son, Rick (Kyle Lowder).  Another storyline was about Eric and Donna (Jennifer Gareis) troubled marriage, complicated by Thorne’s (Winsor Harmon) machinations.  

I enjoyed the fast pace of the show.  Some story points were cleared up within the week, while others were left hanging to keep viewers waiting. Although none of the stories were peaking the week I watched, they were interesting enough for me to look forward to the next episode.  Now that the week is over, I want to see more.  And in the world of soaps, that’s the point!

As I Saw It… As the World Turns

Posted in As I Saw It with tags on December 13, 2008 by Jeff

as-the-world-turnsLast week I went to church.  As a Catholic, I received  Holy Communion and went back to my pew to pray.  I looked up and saw an elderly woman pick up her communion wafer from the palm of her hand and attempt to place it in her mouth.  The wafer flew by her mouth and hit her nose, only to land on her tongue and be eaten – all while her eyes bulged out in horror.  It looked very much like a frog grabbing a fly with it’s tongue.  I know now as I knew then that it wasn’t supposed to be funny – but it was.  I laughed.  I tried hard not to, but I couldn’t help myself.  Why am I telling you this as I begin my tale of a week of watching As the World Turns?  Keep reading.

First off, it was very jarring for me to watch ATWT when so many familiar characters have been recast with familiar actors from other shows.  What is most jarring is that the characters don’t behave as they did when I watched before.  Meg Snyder was a sly schemer who grew into a ethereal heroine. Now she’s really dumb.  The Dusty Donovan that I remember was the epitome of what every mother wanted her daughter to bring home, except for the fact that he had an annoying habit of greeting everyone with a handshake.  Now he’s a criminal.  Paul was a good kid who was tortured by his father’s legacy.  Now he acts like Todd Manning.  It’s hard to root for anyone in this storyline because Dusty (Grayson McCouch) and Paul (Roger Howarth) aren’t very nice and Meg (Marie Wilson) isn’t very smart.  The most recent recast is Jon Lindstrom as Craig Montgomery.  Lindstrom, a  very good actor, is paired with Deirdre Skiles as Dani Andropoulos – the daughter of his first love Betsy.  If that isn’t enough, Dani was born while Betsy was married to Craig and was believed to be his biological daughter until Steve was proven to be her father.  Pairing Dani with someone she once thought was her father is really creepy.  But then again, so is the romance between Lucinda and Brian Wheatley (Elizatheth Hubbard, Laurence Lau).  The age difference doesn’t bother me, but Brian kissing his stepgrandson creeps me out.  Apparently it creeped out grandson Luke (Van Hansis) also, because Luke is on a mission to learn everything he can about Brian – starting with Brian’s ex-wife Carolyn (Marcia McCabe).  Carolyn obviously knows that Brian has a secret and I have a hunch that it’s more than the obvious.  Aside from the overall creep factor of the storyline, I like mysteries and this could be interesting.  However, at the end of Monday’s show, I wasn’t waiting with baited breath for the next episode.  It’s actually a good thing I wasn’t anxiously awaiting Tuesday’s show because when it aired not one character that appeared on Monday’s episode was on Tuesday’s show!   I felt as if I was watching two completely different soaps.  

While Monday was all about the Paul/Meg/Craig/Dani/Dusty situation along with the Lucinda/Brian/Luke storyline, Tuesday was all about Jack’s (Michael Park) impending marriage to Janet (Julie Pinson) despite their financial problems.  Just when I was making a mental note that the show added a dash of reality and current events as Jack discussed not being able to pay for an expensive wedding in the middle of a recession, Carly (Maura West) and Jack’s son Parker (Mick Hazen), aided by Janet’s daughter with the unfortunate name of Liberty (Meredith Hagner), decided to forge Carly’s name on one of his trust fund checks for the tune of twenty thousand dollars. Within the course of one hour, Janet and Jack had realized they didn’t have enough cash for the reception, Liberty and Parker took the check to the Lakeview Hotel, Carly discovered their shenanigans and blamed Jack, only for Carly, Jack, and Janet to find Liberty and Parker and show them the error of their ways. I thought I was watching As the Brady Bunch Turns.  In the same hour, Alison Stewart (Marnie Schulenburg) cheered up job-searching Casey Hughes (Billy Magnussen) by telling him, “Look at me. I was a drug addict and a porn star. Now I work in a hospital!” Casey asked his grandfather Bob Hughes (Don Hastings, who still reminds me of my own dad) for a job and was hired on the spot as a janitor. Casey didn’t need to fill out an employment application or have to go through a background check.  He didn’t even take a drug test.  Within minutes he was mopping floors as Alison checked on a patient.  The patient turned out to be one of the guys who attacked her and she left him unattended – just long enough for him to go onto the roof in a drug induced stupor and attempt to jump because invisible people were telling him to do so.  Casey (mop in hand) saved the day.  I know that attempted suicide is not funny and drug overdoses have no humor, but just as in church last week, I couldn’t help but laugh.  In fact I laughed harder at that scene than I have laughed at any primetime sitcom this year.  Next, Bob checked on Casey to see how he was enjoying his new job.  Casey gleefully told his grandfather, “I just saved a guy who was going to jump off the roof. He was one of the guys who kidnapped Alison and tried to rape her!” Did Bob call the police?  Of course not.  He told Alison to document the patient’s chart, take a break, and come to his office later – while Casey whispered in Alison’s ear that someone might be getting a raise.  This show needs a laugh-track.

As the week progressed, I finally got to see Noelle Beck as Lily.  In the 1980’s, I enjoyed both Martha Byrne as Lily and Noelle Beck as Loving‘s Trisha.  It was odd to see Beck as Lily.  Her take on the character is far more mannered and reserved than Byrne, who played Lily as spunky and full of emotion. Beck is a good actress, but she isn’t Lily.  ATWT has changed so many characters to suite the actors who have taken over roles (Roger Howarth, Grayson McCouch), that one might imagine Lily as an entirely new character after the recast.  The brightest part of the show for me was Julie Pinson as Janet Ciccone.  Pinson is one of those rare performers who generates chemistry with everyone she’s paired with.  Her scenes with Michael Park sparkled despite weak dialogue.  Maura West is always great and her scenes displaying Carly’s utter sadness over Jack’s marriage to Janet were wonderful.  This is what makes ATWT frustrating: just when you think it’s safe to turn it off, they throw in a gem like the scenes of Jack and Carly the night before Jack’s wedding to Janet.  For me, the cons outweighed the pros.  Part of it is because there are so many villians on the show that it’s hard to find enough characters to cheer for, but the bottom line is that ATWT, which boasts some of the best actors in the industry, simply isn’t very well-written.