Sunday, December 21, 2008

Myrtle's Farewell

I have already gone on record with my sadness at the passage "Great Aunt Myrtle". Beyond losing the phenomenal Eileen Herlie, long-term lapsed viewers like me also lost yet another touchstone to the Pine Valley of our memories. And, along with the loss of folks like Darlene Conley (B&B's Sally Spectra), it also seems that the era of the great "broads" (meant with ultimate respect, as strong women who spoke their mind and fiercely protected their "brood") has passed.

So, of course, I would not miss her funeral for the world! In this post, I confess that I feel a bit petty for having some less than positive things to say. I have no complaint about the way Myrtle was honored per se, but I find myself reacting to the fact that I think this funeral was actually a fair demonstration of the relatively poor health of All My Children these days. It is in that "meta" sense that I offer these impressions. I apologize to those who feel AMC is doing better these days, or who loved the episode unabashedly.

Now, let me start with fulsome praise. The fact that AMC would even honor its fallen vet, in the modern era, is remarkable. For a show that just let Julia Barr disappear, this is a terrific gift. There was genuine love, too, from all of the cast members who were present. Thorsten Kaye showed every drop of his true love for Herlie, and his poem at the end was goosebump inducing. The flashbacks were a special treat.

But even as I was grateful for all this, as a lapsed viewer who just watched the "funeral" for Katherine Chancellor on "my" show (Y&R)...well...the contrasts were stunning.

Where was Dr. Joe? Where was Tad? Where was Linc Tyler? Where was granddaugther Skye Alcazar? (They explained that daughter Rae Cummings was overseas).

All in all, there was so much the sets used, the characters used (some of whom had little meaningful connection to Myrtle). There was only one notable return, even though most of Pine Valley has lived with Myrtle at some point.

Sadly, I have to compare this to Y&R, where no expense was spared, from a sumptuous church set, to a half dozen returning favorites (who made sense and were logically connected to Kay).

There was also a heavy handedness in the AMC treatment that I, as a non-regular viewer, didn't like. The tinkling bells everywhere. The gold-burnished fadeouts on the flashbacks. The "crystal ball" made me feel I was watching Passions, and there was no need for that device...especially one that broadcast images to both Opal and Petey simultaneously. That, sadly, purely provoked eye rolls.

In the end, as a "visiting" viewer, it was clear to me that this was a departure episode with very little integration into the larger current canvas of the show. Moreover, as a "historical" episode, apart from a few flashbacks, there was very little attempt to link Myrtle into her larger history on the show. No flashback of Lenny/Langley?

There was no greater testament of how separated today's AMC has come from its' history than when "legacy" character (I know some folks hate that term) Petey Cortland had this exchange with his mother:

Opal: She wasn't fooling anybody. This here crystal ball's the real McCoy. She had this from way back when Phoebe Wallingford pulled her out of a homeless shelter to pose as Kitty Shea's mama.

Pete: Who?

It is such a sign of how much AMC has lost its historical throughline that Petey, legimitately, could have no idea whom his mother Opal she was talking about.

Ah, but in the end, at least Myrtle was honored, and that is all that mattered. In that context, I feel petty even listing these grievances. The heart strings were duly plucked.

It is my own selfish nostalgia...wishing for an AMC of my youth... I call this wish "selfish" because I did not hold up my end of the bargain. I did not "age along" with my old show. I stopped watching some time in the 80s, so AMC doesn't owe me any historical "feel good" hour. Theirs was an episode for current viewers.

Like a real funeral with a family you no longer often see, it was nice, for an hour, to come together with my old show, and some faces I remembered, and say goodbye to that wonderful old friend. The final poem by Thorsten Kaye was a beautiful ending, and I reproduce it here with gratitude, courtesy of the TV Megasite:

Now who will lead our carnival?
And who will make us stronger?
Who will mend our broken sleep when she is here no longer?
For whose part do we stand and bow?
What stories do we tell?
And will we memorize the day when great and greatness fell?
Say will this valley overcome, and will these shadows fade?
And will we lift our eyes to see the beauty that she made?
The disappearing last of her that leads to worlds unknown
has left a path to softly tread when sadness wanders home.
I'll meet thee where the highland winds divide wild mountain tyne,
where I will be forever yours and you,
forever mine.


Jeff said...

You have summed up exactly how I felt after watching the show. When I started watching again after more than a decade away, I was pleasantly surprised that I was enjoying the show again - but this hour let me down. I think the show has been through so many changes behind the scenes since the days when Myrtle was in the thick of things, that the powers that be really didn't know how to honor the character. How sad.

MarkH said...

Thanks for the comment. I should add that I have been enjoying your return voyage to daytime immensely! It is funny how you make me "root" for my shows.

PhyllisShnell17 said...

I loved the show. I have been an All My Children viewer since before Myrtle came on and have watched every day ever since. The changes over the years,whether good and bad, have been a lot to absorb sometimes. But, I love the show so much, I'm still here. Loving All My Children for me is the equivalent of a baseball fan who loves the Chicago Cubs. I didn't watch this episode with backstage politics and the history of it in mind. This episode wasn't perfect but it didn't need to be. The show had one goal, to honor a great character and actress with the resources and history that was available to them. It delivered big time for me. I'm sure Eileen Herlie would have been proud.

MarkH said...

Thank you, Phyllis, for that comment!

This is why I felt a little sheepish being critical. In the end, the good intention (honoring Eileen Herlie and Myrtle Fargate) is the most important thing...and I do hope I left that impression too.

I love your analogy to being a Cubs fan!

I have often thought that fandom for soaps, including those of us who like the "behind the scenes politics", has a great deal in common with sports fandom. (Indeed, Sam Ford has written BOOKS on the parallels between wrestling and soap fandom).

I personally think that watching the headwriter and executive producer and casting flips is a lot like tracking manager/coach/owner/player entrances and exits in football or basketball.

I also identify with what you say as a Y&R fan. In the last few years, there were some "regimes" that were not very popular. But still, I watched my show and even defended it. Because we "Cubs fans" are like that :-).

Thank you again for your comment. I really does remind us about what was most important!

Patrick Erwin said...

Mark, I agree with almost everything you've said. As much as I loved this episode, you could tell how sparsely peopled it was, and it was a shame that neither Skye nor Rae were brought back, even for a day.

But I disagree with your contention about Petey. I think it sort of makes sense that Petey wouldn't know about Phoebe. That seems very real-life, that a younger character may not know about people who lived in the town 30, 20 or 10 years ago. I give AMC points for at least trying to tie that all together.

MarkH said...

I hear you Petey--err--Patrick :-).

While you are probably right, I guess the problem I have is that I cannot imagine that Petey could have grown up/SORASd in Pine Valley and never have heard of Phoebe. My goodness...I imagine the Tyler and Wallingford name would be all over everything (e.g., all the off-screen libraries and hospital wings and so forth). And if it is NOT, shame on AMC!

But, I think I also didn't like that that line was a bone to throw younger viewers like Petey...but there was no attempt to explain.

Think about it: Opal had NO connection to Kelly and Linc. They were long gone by the time Jenny and Opal rode into town on a bus. What would she be the one to even mention the Kelly and Linc tale? Why? Because...who else? The canvas has so little connection to its history.

That the Martins couldn't even deign to appear...surely Tad and Jake (I still know him as Joey) and Joe and Ruth had at least a passing familiarity with Myrtle? (Obviously they did). But the show couldn't afford, I guess, an extra day beyond their contract guarantees if they were only going to serve as dayplayers.

I hate that I'm quibbling about this.

I really enjoyed Myrtle. But her death caused me to dive back into Pine Valley for a day, and I was struck that this did not feel like "home" anymore.

Anonymous said...

Your analysis of Myrtle's funeral was spot on. While AMC should be commended for acknowledging the passing of its best, the absence of key Pine Valleyites (Tad, Joe, Ruth, etc.) is further evidence that AMC has lost more than one of its stars. I miss the old days of AMC, and I'm not just talking about the 70s, 80s, and 90s. But the AMC that featured families, friends, and had genuine respect for history. I'm going to miss Myrtle, but I've been missing AMC for a long time now.