Deep Soap: ‘The Young & the Restless’ and ‘Dallas’ Go to History Class

by | July 13, 2012 at 9:13 AM | Deep Soap

Joshua Morrow and Michelle Stafford of 'The Young and the Restless' (Photo: CBS)

The late, great soap writer Douglas Marland famously wrote that all story comes from backstory. Both “The Young & the Restless” and the awesome new “Dallas” are proving his adage right.

Watching Y&R had become a chore for me. There was not a single story I cared about, between the boredom of the various murder cases, the warp speed romances, and the newbies who seem to disappear just as soon as a reason for their existence is established. Then, bam, Y&R wisely resurrected a seemingly forgotten plot point — Phyllis (Michelle Stafford) deliberately running down Christine (Lauralee Bell) and Paul (Doug Davidson) because she was worried that Danny would leave her for Christine — and I got interested. At the time, I was cheering Phyllis on, but somehow in the intervening years, Christine became more tolerable (perhaps because she left the show for years), while Phyllis began to suffer from a case of Sonny Corinthos syndrome, in which transforming her into the heroine ultimately made her less likable. Now, over a decade later, Phyllis’s secret has been exposed, and there are numerous consequences. Phyllis’s umpteenth marriage to Nick (Josh Morrow) could be in jeopardy, especially because, instead of coming clean and persuading him that she was a changed woman who had always felt guilty about her terrible mistake, she told him that she was innocent. Reliving that time in their life is going to draw Paul and Chris together, possibly creating a love triangle between Chris, Paul and Nina (Tricia Cast), who happens to be Chris’s lifelong best friend. It creates tension between Phyllis and her best friend Michael, who is the D.A. investigating the case, and who for years had an obsessive crush on Chris. Then there is Danny (Michael Damian), who presumably will be back at some point since he was such a major player in the storyline. There is also the potential for other great uses of history. Nina and Ronan (Jeff Branson) could finally develop a true parent-child relationship as he helps her deal with her insecurities about Paul and Chris.

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That said, this is a far from a perfect set up. Paul being arrested for his son Ricky’s murder is ludicrous. The police know that Ricky kidnapped and knocked out Eden. Paul, a licensed private investigator, stumbled upon the crime scene. That, right there, would be enough for a presumption of self-defense. The autopsy would show that Paul shot him in the shoulder and that Ricky died from accidentally falling out the window. Then there is the fact that fathers usually do not want to kill their sons. If this were Port Charles, Paul would be given a key to the city. Worst of all, Y&R’s attempts at Law & Order: Genoa City are always boring, the biggest soap sin. Using Ricky and Daisy to expose Phyllis’s secret, then having them both die was also unsatisfying, convoluted storytelling. Then there was the strange prequel to the story in which Danny came to town for a few days, had a one night stand with Chris and then left. First of all, it will never be plausible for Chris, the Hope Logan of the 1980s, to have a one-night stand. Second, way to simultaneously kill any potential for lingering sexual tension and a slow-burn reunion for the two of them and make Chris look less-than-into Paul. Third, the decision to make this yet another procedural storyline is disappointing. When Michael revealed that the statute of limitations had passed, I wanted Chris to come up with an entirely legal way to enact revenge without sending Phyllis to prison. She could publicize Phyllis’s crime, convince Nick to go back to Sharon, and force Phyllis to wear baggy clothes. That could be fun and showcase a new side of Chris without sacrificing the characters’ ethics. But I am grading Y&R on a curve after the past few months of uninspired writing. I implore Maria Bell to do some more research into Bill Bell’s files and piggyback on his storytelling. It’s the show’s best shot at rehabilitating itself.

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It seems like the “Dallas” writers have been lurking on soap message boards and decided to address every fan complaint about shows not honoring their history. The new “Dallas” regularly references events that happened on the classic version of the show. Ewing family patriarch and matriarch Jock and Miss Ellie are frequently mentioned and even drive a current story even though they are long dead. Last week’s twist in which viewers learned that the original owner of Southfork split the land and mineral rights references the backstory of the first show. The acknowledgement of the show’s history is not confusing to viewers who weren’t around for the first series. The dialogue explains it all without bogging the show down in exposition. If you never saw Jock, you know he loved oil and J.R., while Miss Ellie preferred Bobby and did not want to drill. You understand that this is a fight that has been going on for decades and effects the psychology of every character on the canvas. If you remember the first series, then its grade-A continuity porn. It would have been so easy to ignore the original “Dallas,” to give J.R. (Larry Hagman) and Bobby (Patrick Duffy) just enough to do to placate fans, and focus exclusively on the next generation of Ewings. Instead, by crafting a multi-generational saga that is steeped in the past, the show has an emotional depth beyond the typical twenty-first century prime-time soap. And, as everyone knows, it’s a huge hit. I would love to see what “Dallas” showrunner Cynthia Cidre would do with a daytime show.