Monday, August 22, 2011

The Rise of Los Angeles

In a recent blog post, I lamented the state of The Young and the Restless, and I referred to The Bold and The Beautiful as my "also-ran" soap. I'm not alone. If you track the ratings, media attention (anything, really, but the international appeal), B&B never quite has seemed to measure up to Y&R.

At the same time, in the last few years, the dynamic has changed. B&B has won the "Best Show" Emmy (in a shrinking field) for the last three years. While I hold my nose at this (not because the show is bad, but because Brad Bell and his team have scripted VERY SPECIFIC "Emmy shows", usually involving Susan Flannery and Betty White), it's hard to miss the fact that the dynamic of B&B has changed.

For those of us who are William Bell acolytes, it is also hard to miss that most of his proteges (folks who brought Y&R to Number One status with him)--Kay Alden, Jack Smith, David Shaughnessy, Ed Scott--toil on B&B in one way or another. Many of B&B's most interesting cast members these days also are those who were jettisoned by Y&R (Sony) in recent cost-cutting regimes.

So, I'm still ambivalent about proclaiming B&B as my #1 soap. B&B still does infuriating things that are simply eye-rolling. Examples: Steffy declares the much-older Bill Spencer Jr as her soulmate--but when he dumps her (in a great, heartwrenching arc), she turns her attentions to his son THE VERY NEXT DAY. After decades together, on the SUSPICION that his wife Brooke might have had berry-fueled sex with his son Thomas, Ridge dumps her--has a wedding with ex-wife Taylor the same WEEK--and dumps Taylor at the altar and returns to Brooke THAT NIGHT once the truth is revealed.

So, why can I forgive B&B, which has made a habit of these sudden story jumps (and of hiring top-notch soap performers from other shows, but dropping them within one or two contract cycles )? I think it has to do with the fact that B&B embraces its identity as classic soap.

Take the example of the Steffy tale, mentioned above. In the current story, Steffy now lusts after Liam (Bill's son). Liam wants to be engaged to the virginal Hope. Steffy's lust for Liam makes sense--he's BILL'S son, and he's in love with a LOGAN (the family she blames for all her troubles). Liam also saved her life recently--a bonding experience. In this triangle, we have three core families (The Taylor-Forresters, the Logans, and the Spencers) all mixed up. Liam's lust makes sense...he's a horny young guy and he's been veeeeeerrrrry patient with Hope. Hope's sexual reticence makes sense--she seen how her mother's "Slut from the Valley" ways have often caused mayhem. Bill Spencer Jr. will be torn with jealousy if his son takes up with the woman (Steffy) he was recently about to leave his wife for. The downstream stuff will be even better. Fighting for their daughters will pit Brooke versus Taylor against each other again...but for once not over Ridge!

I've often complained about Hunter Tylo's Taylor...who was once the sanctified oncologist/psychiatrist...but who really WAS the voice of sense on B&B. In recent years (since her second return from the dead), Taylor's been off the rails -- alcoholic, vehicular manslaughter, sleeping with Brooke's son, sanctimonious...endless. Taylor is now a spastic, hypocritical, controlling and sanctimonious (I use that word again because it is DEFINITIONAL) controlling mother.

Now, positioning Taylor as the show's evil mother is BRILLIANT. Evil mothers used to be the stock in trade of the best soaps! (think Phoebe Tyler and Enid Nelson on All My Children; think Vanessa Prentiss on Young and Restless). With Susan Flannery being open about wanting to retire (and her character having Stage IV Lung Cancer), the show needs a new "bad momma". Hunter Tylo is now perfectly positioned for that (living through her children because her own life is bereft; using her children to fight old battles).

The beauty of B&B is that the throughline of characters is not forgotten. Rick has ALWAYS hated Ridge (as the man who chased his daddy--Eric--away). Thomas grew to hate Rick (after Rick slept with both of his sisters AND his mother AND took a certain primacy at Forrester Creations). It was enough that Thomas tried to scare/hurt Rick twice. Amber, the needy social climber BRILLIANTLY played by Adrienne Frantz (much missed, by me, on Y&R), took BOTH of their virginities. Word that Jacob Young is returning in the role of Rick makes me think that a Rick-Amber-Thomas triangle is automatically going to unfold...and how amazing will that be? The triangle makes sense, the actors are capable, and we can already predict every reasonable beat in the story.

In the end, that's the thing about B&B that makes it best. It embraces classy soap storytelling. (Friday's cliffhanger was a very public proposal from Liam to Hope--and she was clearly ambivalent about it), it follows core families and doesn't mostly kill them off. Actions from decades ago are remembered and fuel today's characters. The show almost never veers into crime-drama or science that one knows one is going to get good domestic/romantic/business stories. Even now, the show is setting up a Bill Spencer/Nick Marone alliance to bring down the House of Forrester (again)...and the story will be leavened with decades of justifiable personal resentments. The alliance is also on shaky ground, because both Bill and Nick have strong emotional connections to Bill's wife (and Nick's ex-paramour) Katie Logan. However this story goes, it will force Forresters, Logans, and Spencers (all intertwined already) to pick sides. That's how you write a soap!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Genoa City Lost

Readers of daytimeconfidential can discern the truth of Jamey Giddens' recent critique of Y&R. The state of the show is appalling...but it is also curious. All the elements -- from production to writing to acting -- are why is the show so bad?

In short, the problem is the absence of heart...of emotion, nostalgia, or sincere feeling. Even remarkable actors who have bled on the stage for us in the past are clearly not connecting to the rushed, plotty show they're putting on.

My credentials: I have watched Y&R since 1973 (I was a wee 8 year old, but mom put it on). Y&R is so ingrained in the narrative of my life that I view it not from a "technical" perspective, but as someone who knows intuitively when the show is true to its nature. Or when -- as now -- it is not.

Right now, we have a canvas filled with original or veteran faces (Kay, Victor, Jack, Paul, Phyllis, Nick, Sharon, Ashley, Kevin) and characters we saw born on this show (Billy, Victoria, Chloe, Ronan)...but it all feels so flat. Characters are doing things they'd NEVER do (Kay annulling her son's marriage out of spite, Victor throwing a woman out of an ambulance and taking a son away from his father).

This happened once before. After a promising start, Lynn Latham's second year got seriously off the rails, as Nikki (Nikki!) ran for Senate and the entire town clustered around some rural village that was being turned into a resort (Clear Springs). Little made sense. Ratings began to decline precipitously during this period, and continued to do so well into Maria Bell's "rescue regime".

It is curious that Maria Bell's Y&R feels so off right now. We know she's capable of heart. Her nadir-story was "the death of Kay". Kay's funeral and eventual reunion were the ultimate of "heart", as a touching romance bloomed with Murphy, old friends and rivals reunited at Kay's funeral, and Marge got a touching "ghostly farewell" to the tune of Perry Como's "Papa Loves Mambo". Greatness!

But then the Silver Chipmunk happened. It is fair to say that, since then, Y&R has progressively devolved back into a crime riddled (Richard Hightower! Skye's multiple deaths! Patty's reign of terror! Corporate shenanigans!, Diane's murder! Baby stealing! Over-the-top Australian mobsters!) mess. Not only do these stories not elicit feeling or emotion...emotion is decisively left out. Examples:

Diane -- a character with a thirty year tie to Jack -- gets nary a tear (except, maybe, from the terrific Christian Leblanc's Michael). Adam is betrayed by Sharon, and embarks on a spree of revenge (thank heavens Michael Muhney -- and his eyes!! -- work against the malevolence of the tale). Three touching couples are made -- well -- not touching.

- Billy and Victoria: The story here would have been to see them stay together -- fight together -- against obstacles. Instead, they folded as soon as the first marital assault hit them. Where's the rooting value in that?
- Nick and Phyllis: Apparently they're sex buddies again. Okay. The actors still FIRE UP the room in every scene when they're together. So why is there no emotion or tenderness or motivation in their scenes?
- Lily and Daniel: (Controversial here--I know Cane/Lily have major fans). There's something beautifully touching in a pair that damaged their union through youthful mistakes rediscovering each other from a grown up perspective. Daniel feels he doesn't want to be a father (shadows of his own damaged childhood and paternity/maternity issues??)...but could Lily make him feel secure in his nurturing skills, so that he would be a good stepdad to her kids...and even dad to his own Lucy?

There WERE promising emotional stories.

The Lear-esque "Fall of the House of Newman" was especially good...and it really made the most out of Marcy Rylan/Eric Braeden's terrific chemistry. The family was fractured. This promised YEARS of rivalry and reconciliation. is over. Forgotten. Done. Huh?

Phyllis -- inexplicably -- tried to pull baby Lucy from the secure loving parents who were raising her. (I guess I get has to do with making up for her own previous shortcomings as a mom). Everyone picked sides. It was an agonizing story. Then...Phyllis got Lucy, was ostracized for week, then Nick and Michael seemed to mostly forgive her...and it's over. Forgotten. Done. Huh?

The Y&R canvas is OVER-STUFFED. The show seems to have little motivation to write for Tricia Cast/Doug Davidson, Kristoff St. John ... Yet the show also refuses to decisively clean house, and to commit to protracted story arcs we can invest in.

These days, I find little compelling material to draw me to the show. There are a few very capable actors (Muhney, Leblanc, Rylan, Thomas-Scott, E. Davidson) who are still finding emotion in every scene they do. There are a few others who rise to the occasion when they can connect with the material (Bergman, Braeden, Heinle, D. Davidson, Stafford). Still others seem utterly emotionally disconnected from this plotty show...even actors who have given us AMAZING performances in the past.

I still check in every day, but more and more reluctantly. My thoughts stray to cable (Breaking Bad, Torchwood, True Blood, Big C, Weeds). B&B (that's another blog post) --always my also-ran soap--has become my first soap of choice!. I guess I'm waiting for Genoa City to welcome me back to a big, nostalgic, sloppy, feel-good-or-feel-bad-BUT-FEEL-SOMETHING homecoming.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Why I'm dismayed by Y&R Diane Jenkings Murder Mystery (Killer "revealed")

This adapted from a twitter-stream in which I ranted this morning. Surely I'm not the only one who feels this way. Ugh...

Structurally, I actually LIKE the murder mystery, and if I'm reading it right (see the section at bottom for my guess about the killer), it's one of the best-constructed for Y&R in yrs.

What I don't like about the murder mystery is the underlying emotional mistruths and plottiness it forces us to endure. To wit:

(1) We KNOW (subjectively) that none of the nine prime suspects is a killer......even Adam, we KNOW--because Muhney's eyes tell us he's not. (He did NOT kill Hightower).

(2) Too many crime stories (Hightower, Patty, mob, murder) have infected Y&R since the latter days of Lynn Latham. What about emotion, love and family drama in small Wisconsin town? That Y&R seems to be dead, eh? (Interesting that GH, AMC, DOOL all seem to be RETURNING to the formula of emotional family-based drama...and B&B is excelling in that category these days...with nary a murder in sight).

(3) Murder derails the show in a single umbrella story. So many interesting tales (Nikki's recovery, Villy, Daniel/Lily rediscovering each other, Tucker's son) are ignored.

(4) The story is ultimately pure plot, minimal character. There are a few actors on this show who can still evoke emotion with their faces and body language (Muhney, Leblanc, Ryland, Braeden [when he cares/is invested], and ... shockingly, Heinle). Strangely, Peter Bergman has been really emotionally disconnected from his scenes for a long while, and all that reads now mostly is coldness. But while this crew is front-and-center in the plot, most of them aren't finding the emotional truth of it at all. That relates to my next point.

(5) Y&R is totally ignoring the emotional HEART of this story. Diane has been on canvas since 1982 and some DID care for her. Only Michael Baldwin, briefly, got to play the emotion. I suspect that owes itself 80% to Leblanc's strengths as an actor--his constrained emotions and tear-brimmed eyes told the story of his outrage.

If I had my way, Y&R would do a two-year moratorium on death and crime, and see what else they could come up with.

Also, it bears noting that while many of us felt Maura West was an odd casting choice for Diane, and the character was scripted from jump (during West's watch) as a lost woman with no sense of her self-worth, no real identity, just money-grubbing man whore, she still thrived in it. West reinvented Diane as utterly broken, and she pulled it off. It is the writers' fault that Diane's successful past as a fashion maven, model, and architect were all fully ignored. (Empowered Diane couldn't have filled the show's obviously much-desired victim niche). Nevertheless, during her brief year on the show, West was a STAR. She captivated attention even in the most throwaway scenes.

My predictions about the killer are below, in white font. I'm pretty sure I'm right. Highlight the text with your cursor to reveal:

I think the killer is Patty. As such, it's actually a brilliant move because it makes sense based on THIRTY YEARS of history.


Motive: Patty's life derailed, basically, when she married philandering Jack Abbott. The NIGHT before his wedding to Patty, Jack slept with Diane...and the affair continued after the marriage (leading to Patty's miscarriage). The show cleverly reminded us of this rivalry in a one-off episode when Haiduk's Patty confronted Susan Walters' Diane during a brief visit.

Opportunity: Patty is missing. No one knows where she is. We have a sense that she may be "around", when Adam talked on the phone to "someone" last week, telling him/her to stay away and that he was sending him/her enough money.

Character: Patty's a killer. Kitty-Kitty, Zapato, endangering Summer with peanut butter. It also seems likely -- although the show introduced ambiguity here -- that Patty killed Richard Hightower. (Adam reminded her that she did it...but we weren't clear if he'd really uncovered the memory, or if he'd implanted it). Let's not forget that as early is the early-80s, Patty went into a fugue state and shot Jack (for revealing, to Jill, he never loved Patty). Remember that Patty shot Jack MULTIPLE times? Just like Diane got bashed in the head MULTIPLE times. Girl's got anger issues.

Rumor: Someone told me, after I guessed this, that Haiduk had been seen on the Y&R set for a few episodes to "wrap up" her character. Plot construction: Suddenly, the criminally ignored Doug Davidson resurfaces. He's sudden the lead local detective (special investigator) on the Diane Jenkins murder. (Negative points to Y&R for ignoring how many years Paul and Diane had intertwined lives, from when she was married to his partner/best friend Andy. Davidson should have been allowed to grieve for what Diane once was). Anyway, why put Paul on the case (rather than, say, Coco from FAME??). So he can react with trademark shock and heartbreak when he realizes HIS SISTER IS THE KILLER.

I must confess, it is this last part of it...rooting this murder in 30 years of history and positioning Davidson to play the emotional beats of it...that makes me hate this story less.