Serial Killers: How to Fix Daytime Soap Operas
Soaps have been a lot of things to me over the years, but boring isn’t one of them. Not until now. Although there is just enough delicious drama to keep me dedicated to watching four of them every weekday on YouTube (NBC’s “Days of Our Lives” and ABC’s “General Hospital,” “All My Children” and “One Life to Live”), lately I find myself fast-forwarding through large chunks of action, praying for the madness to end.
As many of my fellow soap addicts continue to wean themselves off love in the afternoon (though Oprah Winfrey, who celebrated the daytime-TV staple on her February 9 show, is apparently still happily hooked), it’s only a matter of time before a few other serials find themselves joining the recently and dearly departed “As the World Turns” and “Guiding Light” in the soap graveyard. CBS’s “The Young and the Restless” and “The Bold and the Beautiful” are the only ones still pulling in a daily average of more than three million viewers, so who knows how much longer NBC and ABC will stay in the soaps business?
That said, things could be worse — at least onscreen. I recently spent an evening watching Mexican telenovelas on Argentinian TV, and I was shocked by how different they are from their U.S. counterparts. On one, a family squabbled loudly for an entire hour over who had the right to live in some tacky mansion, and on another, a guy spent a full 60 minutes melodramatically dying in the arms of the woman he loved. Though I was impressed by the actors’ level of emotional commitment, I could — and have — staged equally compelling drama in my bedroom. Yes, my soaps could be worse.
But not much worse. Of course, in the U.S., it’s not over till the fat lady sings, so while we wait for her to take her place at the mike, we interrupt our normally scheduled pop-music musings for some potentially life-saving soap suggestions.
Throw out the babies with the bathwater. I love babies as much as the next guy, and I do enjoy logging onto Facebook and seeing all those photos of my friends’ cute tots, but I find fictional baby stories about as interesting as real-life ones. No show has gone as egregiously overboard with tall tales that revolve around little ones as “Days of Our Lives,” which, like pretty much every soap, always seems to have an expectant mommy or two among the ranks.
Sami Brady hasn’t had a story in years that wasn’t about her brood (one character recently compared her to the old lady who lived in a shoe — to her face!), and Chloe, who’s always dressed more appropriately for cocktail partying than breast feeding, has been completely sucked into baby drama. Melanie is barely out of her teens, pregnant by her soon-to-be-ex-husband Phillip and being pressured by Phillip’s mom Kate to raise not only her own kid but also Chloe and Phillip’s. Where’s a good old evil twin or a back-from-the-dead spouse when you need one? At least I can’t get my fill of those soap clichés on Facebook.
Find new jobs. Just because “General Hospital” has all but abandoned its medical foundation doesn’t mean all of the other shows have to pick up the slack. Over on “Days,” three major characters and one recurring one are doctors (and that doesn’t include three short-term doctor baddies in the last two years), one is a nurse, and the entire Salem police department is run by Bradys and a Brady in-law.
“GH” has four lawyers and three cops currently among its ranks, while “All My Children” has six doctors, four attorneys, and two police officers (just down from three), and “One Life to Live,” which, shockingly, is without a major character who practices medicine full-time, has two attorneys, three cops and one forensics expert. It’s tax time. Where’s a good accountant when you need one?
Let the bad guys (and girls) pay for their crimes. On “AMC,” Dr. David Hayward not only faked his death, made a mockery of the Pine Valley legal system and cost taxpayers a ton of money with a monkey trial for the murder of someone (himself) who wasn’t even dead, but he also escaped police custody and tried to off his rival on said rival’s roof. I know Erica Kane is the closest thing to a soap superwoman, but am I supposed to believe that she can secure him a pardon with just one late-night phone call to the governor of Pennsylvania?
I adore Stefano DiMera on “Days” (though not so much his spoiled, petulant brat of an offspring E.J., who embodies every negative British stereotype under the cloud-obscured English sun), but it’s time for the old guy to see the inside of a prison cell. Among his recent transgressions: spearheading a prison organ-theft ring that almost killed Bo and Hope Brady and left Jennifer Devereaux on life support for several hours — and without a heart! — until Dr. Daniel Jonas came to the rescue and re-implanted her ticker (yes, watching it was even more ridiculous than typing or reading that last bit), and now kidnapping Rafe Hernandez and replacing him with an imposter all so that E.J.’s kids don’t have to grow up around his arch nemesis, who is married to their mom Sami Brady.
I barely paid the organ disaster any mind and, thankfully, neither did the show, which gave it a few scenes per week before recently wrapping it up with the fastest heart-transplant surgery in history. But if the DiMeras are willing to go to such great lengths to get Rafe out of the picture, why not just skip the clueless doppelganger and shoot him in the head when no one is looking? They know as well as I do that they’d get away with it because no main character, unless it’s Hope Brady, ever pays for his or her crimes in Salem.
The most head-scratching thing about this storyline, though, is how E.J. can go around extolling his own paternal virtues while allowing his kids to live in a house with a total stranger — all so he can pull one over on Sami and get Rafe out of the picture. You know a story is full of holes when tipsy Nicole comes across as the best parental figure in it.
Leave the classics alone. The recent forays of “One Life to Live” into “High School Musical” have been bad enough, but now this? “General Hospital” is not “Dangerous Liaisons.” The Robin, Patrick, Lisa story had me onboard when it was “Fatal Attraction”-lite, but messing with Glenn Close’s other ’80s classic is going too far.
First of all, Lisa Niles is no the Marquise de Merteuil. I refuse to believe that any doctor would relocate from Texas to upstate New York to seduce Robin Scorpio just so that he can get an ordinary-looking chick like Lisa into bed. And if Lisa is so dead set on getting a guy to lure Robin away from Patrick, couldn’t she have picked a better-looking one than Terrell? I appreciate the show’s attempt at rainbow casting, but I’d be more into this story if the black actor playing Sean had been cast as Terrell instead or, even better, if Sean had been made both a handsome doctor and a pawn in that interminable must-abort-immediately Balkan storyline. I’d buy his lusting after Lisa even less, but at least he’d make the storyline easier on the eyes, if not the brain.
Let love rule. Whoever invented the soap-writing notion that a happy couple is a dull one on the backburner should be forced to spend eternity watching the mind-numbing exercise in futility that is Erica Kane’s love life. If the soap writers would create more multi-dimensional characters who aren’t defined by their relationships and parental status, it would be easier for them to come up with compelling stories that didn’t require them to trash perfectly fine couples.
Take a cue from “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Desperate Housewives,” two night-time soaps that have main characters in happy, if flawed, long-term relationships that aren’t always threatened by some interloper with nice tits/pecs and a great ass. Susan Lucci is in her mid-60s, for God’s sake. I know Erica Kane is still supposed to be about fortysomething, but if Lucci can pull that off, then surely she can handle a storyline that doesn’t involve hand-wringing and moving mountains for the kids or waffling in her dedication to Jack.
I have no idea what Erica does for work these days, but I hear fictional Pennsylvania could use a new governor who’s tougher on crime and insusceptible to the charms of aging divas.
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