Last week, ‘All My Children‘ featured beautiful, touching scenes between Angie (Debbi Morgan) and Jesse (Darnell Williams), as he supported her decision to forgo treatment for a disease that could blind her so that she could carry an unexpected pregnancy to term. Some of the dialogue may have been sappy, but the actors sold it. The characters still have the same magic that they did during their initial romance, twenty years ago.
On Friday, when Jesse took Angie for a simple day in the park so she could enjoy looking at nature while her vision was still good, my heart melted. I found myself wishing that I would some day experience that sort of unconditional love.
That same day, I was pulled back into the magic of ‘General Hospital’s‘ Sonny (Maurice Benard) and Brenda (Vanessa Marcil Giovinazzo), as Brenda reminisced about their relationship. The show pulled out the good flashbacks, of their adventures in Puerto Rico. They were bigger, better and more exciting than anything on the show now.
As Brenda said, “The way he loved me was stunning. You know, for a while, it was the only thing that mattered in my life. I would have done anything. I would have given up anything. I would have been anyone to hold onto him.” That’s the kind of relationship I want soap opera characters to have. (In real life, it would be, as Brenda’s friend Suzanne pointed out, self-destructive and horrible.) I want to watch these sort of sweeping, epic romances. I cannot think of a current burgeoning soap romance that qualifies.
That, to me, is the biggest creative reason why soaps are in trouble. I cannot figure out why daytime no longer writes larger than life love stories. The success of the movies like the ‘Twilight’ series shows that people still like to watch them. There are plenty of appealing actors. There are decent set ups: GH’s Dante (Dominic Zamprogna) and Lulu (Julie Marie Berman) are attracted to each other, but he’s both an undercover cop and Sonny’s long lost son. ‘The Young & The Restless’s‘ Billy and Victoria are sparring partners from from feuding families who impulsively and drunkenly got married.
In the past, these couples would have spent months overcoming their numerous obstacles. Dante and Lulu would have been ripped apart when his identity was revealed and it appeared that their relationship was part of his undercover persona. Billy and Victoria would hate each other, but decide to stay together in name only because it served some financial purpose and slowly fell in love, facing opposition from their families every step in the way.
Instead, Lulu and Dante are already discussing marriage, Billy and Victoria’s marriage turned out to be invalid but then they decided to be a couple anyway. It is all easy and comparably realistic and boring.
Soap writers seem determined to give short shrift to the most interesting part of the story: how a couple falls in love and forges a committed relationship. Characters meet, get married, and get divorced within a year. Whether it is network pressure to pick up the pace, or concerns about job security influencing writers to rush story development so they can be sure they’ll get a chance to finish what they started, nobody is building supercouples anymore.
The word supercouple is still thrown around, but I cannot think of a single soap relationship that has began in the past five years that has truly lived up to the name. ‘All My Childen’s’ Ryan (Cameron Mathison) and Greenlee (Rebecca Budig) are marketed as a supercouple, but I have yet to meet anyone who actually likes them together.
AMC’s Zach (Thorsten Kaye) and Kendall (Alicia Minshew) really seemed like they had what it takes to go the distance, but a series of stupid plots, like the Kendall lookalike in prison, greatly diminished their appeal.
‘Days of Our Lives‘ Sami and E.J. have explosive chemistry, but giving them two children together before their romance ever really started hurts their arc.
‘Guiding Light‘ had promising pairings in Olivia (Crystal Chappell) and Natalia (Jessica Leccia) (killed by the show’s cancellation) and Jonathan (Tom Pelphrey) and Tammy (Stephanie Gaschet) (killed when the show could not figure out what to do after they got together). Many other potentially great couples like ‘One Life To Live’s’ Nash (Forbes March) and Jessica (Bree Williamson) never reached their full potential because writers opted to kill off half the pairing.
Nearly all of the most popular daytime couples, the ones viewers want to see together even when they are broken up, (DOOL’s Hope and Bo, AMC Jesse and Angie, and Jack and Erica), ‘As The World Turns’ Holden and Lily and Jack and Carly, Y&R’s Victor and Nikki and Nick and Sharon) have been around since the 1980s or 1990s. If the genre is to have any hope of surviving, it needs to create new relationships that have every bit as much of a hold on the audience. If all it can offer is nostalgia, then it is only moving backwards and admitting defeat.