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!


Anonymous said...

I completely agree. I have been a lifelong soap watcher (I was raised by a single mom) and sadly most of the (remaining) soaps are too focused on crime stories/action adventure and do not play up the emotional story lines I remember watching in the 80s. B&B, with it's admittedly rushed plots, still play like classic soaps most days.

KAB said...

I miss Amber on Y&R too...I'm okay with Kay being a little more "hard" but it would be more believable if she had Amber around to balance a softer side. The Chloe/Kay interactions just aren't the same, it is always focused on Chloe. With Amber and Kay it was mutual. In fact, I think Y&R's Amber is missed because she was actually written with heart, something that show sorely needs right now.

Other than the writing for Amber, which I have not been a fan of...I agree that B&B is really doing some things well right now. Looking forward to the House of Forrestor drama coming up.