Deep Soap: B&B Gets Real on Skid Row

by | October 29, 2010 at 2:56 PM | Deep Soap

Susan Flannery in The Bold and the Beautiful (CBS)

Susan Flannery in The Bold and the Beautiful (CBS)

B&B Gives the Homeless a Voice

The Bold and the Beautiful‘ brought back an 80s primetime television tradition, the Very Special Episode, on Thursday.

In a continuation of Stephanie’s (Susan Flannery) cancer storyline, the Forrester matriarch returned to Skid Row, determined to help the homeless people that she met there.  In an innovative twist, the show used real residents of Skid Row, who were paid the standard dayplayer rate for their work.

Much of the show was unscripted.  As Executive Producer Brad Bell told TV Guide, the episode was largely improvised, with the Skid Row residents telling Stephanie their stories in their own words.

I am impressed that a show that usually aims to be mindless fun is taking on such a serious topic. It’s ambitious and daring, given that so much of B&B’s audience is international and tunes in to see an aspirational fantasy about American life.  People all over the world will hear the stories of Skid Row.  Using real people not only resulted in more authentic dialogue and acting but actually gave a little financial assistance to some individuals who really need it.

This storyline hearkens back to the classic social issue plotlines that soaps did in the 1980s and 1990s.  There is a lot of nostalgia for the best of those, like Robin and Stone’s struggles with AIDS on ‘General Hospital.’  At their worst, these storylines were preachy lectures, like Cricket saving a group of senior citizens from being evicted from their apartment building on ‘The Young & the Restless.’  This one has the potential to go either way.  So far it is not a story about homelessness.  It’s a story about a wealthy woman who goes on a journey of personal growth and gains the strength to fight cancer because of her encounters with homeless people.  That may split viewers opinions in the same way that the film ‘The Blind Side’ does.

B&B is to be applauded for using real people.  Many of the performances were incredibly powerful.  The Skid Row residents were interesting and, yes, inspiring because they were working hard to improve their lives despite numerous obstacles.  They spoke of lives far removed from those of most wealthy soap characters.  One man told Stephanie, “At 12 years old, they took me away from my parents. And from there, they ended up putting me into a foster home. By the time I was 18, I went back home to my mother, and it was like mother already had a lot of kids. I mean, I’m the oldest of eight, so there was no room. So when I came back home, she was like, ‘you can’t stay here.’ I didn’t have nowhere [sic] else to go.”  It was impossible not to be moved.

Yet, in part because most of the people featured were community activists, the show chose to use the fictional trope of noble poor people who view their suffering as a character building experience.   Nobody complained.  All claimed to enjoy living in the Skid Row neighborhood.  There was little explanation of how they had gotten past the problems that brought them to the neighborhood.  One woman who fled multiple abusive relationships claimed, “A lot of times, we look outside of ourselves to find things, you know, but everything you need is already inside of you. So I looked within myself and found love and started loving myself, you know, and developing self-love and self-worth.”  It’s a beautiful sentiment, but it makes it sound like there is no need to improve the social safety net or increase funding to charitable organizations because people can solve their own problems by watching a few episodes of  ‘Oprah.’

I hope B&B will ultimately delve into the root causes of homelessness.  The characters on B&B have collectively been fired from their jobs dozens of times, abused numerous substances, and had every type of dysfunctional relationship.  Yet none of them have ended up on the streets — unless they were suffering from amnesia.  I thought the show would go there when Stephanie asked, “How is this possible in this country, this wealthy nation, that we can’t take care of everyone here? It’s just amazing to me that we somehow let people slip through the cracks we shouldn’t.”  But the question went unanswered.

Since B&B has signed the talented Kristolyn Lloyd (Dayzee) to a contract, and has indicated that Stephanie’s work with the homeless will be an ongoing storyline, I hope the show will dig deeper and explore homelessness from the point-of-view of the homeless themselves.  I would like to see Dayzee become a multi-dimensional character who has a greater purpose than teaching Stephanie about life.  Hopefully, she will end up working at Forrester Creations and prove to have a few human flaws.  It is nice to be watching B&B for more than just crazy fashions and nearly incestuous love triangles.