Deep Soap: ‘All My Children’ Remembers Palmer; Riegel Debuts on ‘Y&R’

James Mitchell on All My Children (ABC)

James Mitchell on All My Children (ABC)

Rest In Peace, Palmer Courtlandt

It’s a macabre sentiment, but the deaths of beloved actors brings out the best in ‘All My Children.’   The memorial service for Myrtle (Eileen Herlie) was probably the show’s strongest episode in the past three years.  Tuesday’s memorial for Palmer, which doubled as a remembrance of the actor who portrayed him, James Mitchell, was another beautifully written tearjerker. The show honored Mitchell, Palmer’s history, and the fans.  For an hour, it felt like Agnes Nixon was writing the show again.  It would not surprise me in the least if she put her stamp on this important episode.

When I started watching ‘All My Children’ as a kid, I was fascinated by the mean old man with the dobermans and his bohemian on-again, off-again wife Daisy.  I was not watching when he was at his most diabolical, allowing his diabetic daughter Nina to go blind so in order to keep her away from her true love Cliff (Peter Bergman.)  So I had no trouble unabashedly rooting for Palmer as he meddled in the lives of his relatives and wheeled and dealed in a never-ending battle with Pine Valley’s other mogul, Adam Chandler.

I was delighted that Palmer and Adam’s rivalry played a central role in the episode.  There were ample classic flashbacks showcasing their complicated history. As was acknowledged, they were the male equivalent of Erica (Susan Lucci) and Brooke (Julia Barr).  Adam acknowledged what everyone else already knew:  that his hatred for Palmer inspired him to achieve greatness.  “I damned you to hell for quite a few years, but the truth is I wouldn’t be the man I am without you… Because of you my happiest days are still ahead of me.”  It was fitting that this reminder that life is short inspired Adam to declare his love for Brooke.

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AMC honored Palmer’s history by bringing back Daisy (Gillian Spencer) and Nina (Taylor Miller) and giving them meaty scenes.   They, along with Opal (Jill Larson) were the most important relationships in his life.  I had forgotten how strong an actress Miller is — and she, like Peter Bergman has not aged a day since the 80s.  I was amused that though Palmer has been largely off-camera for the past few years, he and Daisy have kept up their Same Time Next Year arrangement.  Way to keep enjoying life, P.C. The revelation that Daisy had come to see Palmer because she knew that he wanted  to go back to Opal was nice closure for Opal.

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The writers and producers made several inspired decisions that made the episode great. They showed never before seen footage from Palmer’s final appearance on the show’s 40th anniversary episode, of Palmer talking about his dobermans.  Mitchell looked so frail that I understand why the show initially opted not to show it.  Now it felt intimate, like I was seeing some of his final moments. I appreciated that footage of a younger Palmer was used as the show’s bumper at the halfway point.   I loved the way all of the characters lit candles at midnight, in separate venues, in his honor, each reminiscing about their relationships with Palmer.  It was a powerful device that may have been born out of budgetary necessity. Then, the surprising coda:  Dixie welcomed Palmer to heaven. That was when I started bawling.  Well played, AMC.  If only it did not take a real life tragedy for the show to be this good.

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Battle of the Recasts

Tuesday was the first airdate for two major recasts.  Eden Riegel took over the role of Heather Stevens on ‘The Young & The Restless’ from Vail Bloom and Chad Duell assumed the role of Michael Corinthos III on ‘General Hospital.’   When Riegel first appeared on ‘Y&R,’ I had a moment where I wondered what  ‘All My Children’s Bianca was doing in Genoa City. The curvy, brunette Riegel is the physical opposite of the blonde, slinky Bloom.  It was strange watching an actress who played a strong but saintly heroine be tough and snarky.  That’s not to say that Riegel did not do a good job. Though she had little to do but lament that she was taken off of Adam’s murder investigation and flirt with Billy (Billy Miller), she put more layers into her scenes then Vail,who tended to play Heather as a tough ice queen. Riegel’s Heather seems softer.   Her wardrobe, to quote an ancient ad campaign, looked like it came from the softer side of Sears.  The ill fitting blazer with three quarter length sleeves and the frumpy necklace were a strange choice for her debut.

Duell took over the role of Michael under difficult circumstances. Taking over a role from an actor who was popular with both the audience and the cast under short notice is not easy. Duell wrote on his Facebook page, “It honestly has been kinda rough. Trying to get used to the pace, and everything. Things are getting better day by day, but ya not the greatest start sadly. It will get better though.”

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He should relax. If his first day was him at his worst, he is going to do a good job. Though he seemed a little tentative in his phone call with Morgan, he came to life when Dante (Dominic Zamprogna) showed up at his door with a subpoena.  Duell seems like a kinder, gentler Michael.  This Michael does not hide all his emotions under a wall of anger. Though it’s ridiculous to judge after one day, it’s hard to imagine him demanding that Sonny let him join the mob, or declaring that Claudia got what is coming to her.  Given how unlikable Michael had become in the past few months, the writers may be using the recast as an occasion to give him a few redeeming qualities.  I hope that the audience won’t blame Duell for the Garrett’s departure. It was not his fault.   He is taking over at a pivotal moment in Michael’s storyline, as Michael prepares to take the witness stand in Sonny (Maurice Benard’s) trial.  I think he has the potential to rise to the occasion.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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