Deep Soap: The Missing Link

by | June 3, 2009 at 8:24 AM | Deep Soap

I’ve been feeling meh about daytime.  There are some good storylines and some plot twists that make me want to go Travis Bickle on my TV. (Fun fact: Travis was watching a scene from The Young & The Restless featuring Brock and Brenda Dickson’s Jill when he decided to shoot his television.)  But, on the whole, soaps are not inspiring any strong emotions in me right now.  It seems like every show is missing a key ingredient that could make it great.  From my lofty perch as a perpetually unemployed soap writer — it is much easier to criticize than it is to actually do the job — here is what I think each show needs.

All My Children — Joie Di Vivre

AMC used to be a genuinely sweet show.  It was filled with characters that, despite their numerous flaws, viewers would want to befriend in real life.  The tone was, on the whole, upbeat with plenty of comic relief to balance the strum und drang.  Sometime around the start of the infamous baby switch Pine Valley became a dark, cruel place.  Characters delight in saying hateful things to people they allegedly love.  Romantic partners treat each other in ways that, in real life, would constitute emotional abuse.  No wonder the audience is responding to the few positive storylines on the show, including Jake and Amanda’s fun, loving relationship.  Watching them fall in love as they watch telenovelas together is entertaining.  Watching the early part of their relationship, when he constantly called her a slut, wasn’t.  My suggestion: everytime the writers get the urge to be edgy and mean, they should ask themselves What Would Stuart Do?

As The World Turns — A Longterm Plan

As I mentioned in Monday’s column, ATWT has abandoned traditional storylines for an experiment in short-term arcs.  ATWT needs to go back to what has always worked in daytime.  All the show needs to do is mine its rich history to come up with complicated, interlocking plots for the Snyders, the Hughes’ and the rest of Oakdale’s families.  The show needs to craft a detailed longterm story for six months beyond its alleged cancellation date of September, 2010 then invite the audience to emotionally invest in it again.

The Bold & The Beautiful – A Sense of Place

As a proud resident of Los Angeles, I’ve always been mystified by B&B’s decision not to exploit the inherent soapiness of its setting.  This is a city of heiresses who fritter away their money on clothes and hardworking immigrants who struggle to pay their bills.  The fashion industry is where their paths cross.  Everyone here comes from someplace else in pursuit of their often grandiose dreams.  This is a place of wild successes and spectacular failures.  Yet B&B treats L.A. like any other small soap town.  Where are all the fashion publicists desperate to make sure Forrester dresses end up on the Oscar red carpet? How about the Forrester garment workers striving to make better lives for themselves? I want to see the guys who lease top of the line BMWs but live in studio apartments, and the barely employed Eastside Hipsters who go to a different club every night. There are a million stories in this city.  B&B should tell them.

Days of Our Lives — Romance

DOOL used to be the most romantic show on television.  Its supercouple story was simple: find two actors who have fantastic chemistry, put them in conflict with each other, let them spend the next six months staring at each other across crowded rooms building to their first kiss, then rip them apart, send them on an adventure, and bring them back together.  For some reason, DOOL has abandoned this in favor of insta-romances .  Phillip and Stephanie are engaged after dating for a couple of months.  I’m still not sure when Lucas and Chloe fell in love.  I find Sami and Rafe the most appealing couple on the show right now because, thanks to those interminable months in the safe house, I actually saw them grow to love each other. Now that the show has made other improvements, it’s time to bring back the supercouple.

General Hospital – Morality

In GH’s determination to to center the show around mobsters, the show has developed a bizarro vision of good and evil.   In order to make Sonny and Jason seem heroic, GH has decided the police are evil.  The mob has been a part of GH since the 1970s.  Organized criminals make great bad guys.  I loved Sonny when he was a villain with a soft spot for the people he loved.  Back in the say, Luke struck a chord with the audience because he was struggling to free himself from the mob’s clutches.  It’s so easy to restore the moral order in Port Charles.  All the show has to do is bring back Robert and Anna as forces of good who are every bit as powerful as the mob.  The two sides could have a fascinating adversarial relationship. If GH is determined not to bring back its veterans, the show could build up Lucky as the 21st century version of cool law enforcement.  A couple other characters could join him on team: not criminal.  I’d love to see Maxie become the world’s most fashionable undercover cop.

Guiding Light — A Direct Intervention From God

When GL was a radio soap, its main character was a reverend.  I believe that the canceled show has indeed had meetings with cable channels.  P&G’s clout as a major advertiser is enough to get other networks to consider its programming.  But, from a cold business perspective, the show’s poor ratings make it an extremely tough sell.  Unfortunately, its creative resurgence has not improved the ratings.  So I pray that the show’s creator Irna Phillips has some pull with God, because the show needs a miracle to stay on the air.  While I’m at it, I’d like to increase its budget so it no longer looks like a student film.

One Life To Live — Payoff

Ron Carlivati has a gift for setting up intricate plots that weave together multiple characters and cleverly utilize the show’s history.  Unfortunately, soon after he gets all the balls in the air, he drops them.  Dorian took over Buchanan Enterprises… and nothing else happened.  Then the Buchanans got the company back way too easily a few months later.  The Todd/Marty saga spent months building to what promised to be a shocking conclusion.  Would one of Todd’s numerous enemies kill or at least maim him?  Would he once again be a true pariah and villain?  No.  He got away with everything.  Blair loves him again.  Starr is letting him back into her life. Marty seems to have made her peace with him.  So what was the point? The show needs to start crafting endings to its stories.

The Young & The Restless — Strong Women

Y&R is consistently entertaining and well-structured.  But it has a bit of a female problem.  Since Dru departed, there has been a dearth of strong, take-no-prisoners, kick ass female characters.  The majority of the women in Genoa City are focused solely on the men in their lives.  Phyllis and Sharon care only about Nick.  Ashley is a victim of Adam’s machinations.  Amelia Heinle’s Victoria has never had the strength and power of Heather Tom’s version of the character and is written accordingly.  Right now 80 year old Kay is the only fully empowered leading woman.  Jill has been stripped of her wealth and career.  I’d like to see some of the women on the shoe become forced to be reckoned with in the vein of Erica Kane, Dorian Lord, and Alexis Davis.  Jill should take her rightful place as someone who can go toe to toe with Victor and Jack and win, without anybody else’s help.  Nina is another potential power player.  If Chloe dumps Billy for good and sets about building a fortune of her own, she could become the fiercest Genoa City woman under thirty.