Wow. All of a sudden ‘General Hospital‘ is brilliant! It’s like it’s a whole different show. The dialogue is rich. The characters are flawed and multi-dimensional. The show is balanced. The mob no longer dominates the show, nor is it glorified. The production values are lush. Wait a minute. These are reruns. ABC’s Brendapalooza (or to be official the “Brenda Barrett’s Men” special, which could have been titled “I Love the 1990s”) on Tuesday was the most satisfying three consecutive hours of daytime that I have watched this year. This trip down memory lane was both thrilling and a sad indictment of the current state of ABC daytime.
The first episode heavily featured Brenda’s (Vanessa Marcil Giovanazzo’s) ill-fated wedding to Jax (Ingo Rademacher). I had forgotten how good GH was in 1996. A very young Carly (Sarah Brown) had broken up Bobbie’s marriage (Jackie Zeman). Bobbie had no idea that Carly was her long lost daughter. The scenes between them were gut wrenching, a middle aged woman ceding the father of her child to a younger woman, well aware that the young woman is not fully aware of the gravity of what she has done. Both women had clear, sympathetic points of views. Carly really did feel like Tony was the first person who had ever loved her. Bobbie also had a hilarious in retrospect line: “Nothing really bad has ever happened to you yet.” I wanted to tell Bobbie to be patient. In a few years, Carly would be shot in the head while giving birth. Talk about karma!
Other highlights of this episode include a teenage Amber Tamblyn as Emily, and the entire Quartermaine family front and center. As for Brenda and Jax themselves, I fell in love with Brenda all over again when she told Ned (Wally Kurth) that she did not want him to walk her down the aisle saying, “I don’t really belong to anyone to give. I’m mine to give.” I had forgotten that despite her often poor judgment when it comes to men, she has a strong sense of self and is not hung up on tradition. Then Sonny showed up with one of the worst characters in daytime history, Jax’s presumed dead first wife Miranda (Leslie Horan) and ruined the wedding. The chemistry between Sonny and Brenda was incendiary as she accused him of taking pleasure in ruining her life and told him she wanted nothing to do with him.
The second episode was essentially a clipisode of Sonny and Brenda’s relationship, after Sonny left her at the alter at yet another ill fated wedding. I wish ABC had elected to show an episode highlighting one of the couple’s best moments, like one of the Puerto Rico episodes. Seeing the S&B greatest hits, devoid of context, drained the scenes of their power. One moment Sonny was exploding after discovering Brenda was wearing a wire, the next they were making love on the beach. It ended with Sonny sending Jason to deliver the infamous line to Brenda, as she waited in her gown for a wedding that would never happen, “It was a great ride.”
I realized that the reason Brenda is not as annoying as most other characters who are the object of every man’s affection: in the end, the men she loves always leave her standing in the rain. She never gets a happily ever after. Anyone who has ever been dumped by a significant other, which amounts to pretty much everyone, can relate. I like to harbor the delusion that even the most beautiful girl in the world does not always get what she wants when it comes to romance.
The third episode was the most fun: Brenda’s marriage of convenience to Jason (Steve Burton) in Las Vegas. Seeing Brenda, wearing ripped jeans and a horrid late 90s ensemble that featured detached sleeves that only she could make work, actually succeed at marrying a man she despised was still hilarious, despite the numerous Vegas cliches. I had forgotten the moment when all the gay men check out Jason in the elevator and that the wedding was actually a series of flashbacks that was held together by an increasingly ridiculous series of lies on both Brenda and Jason’s parts.
One of the biggest surprises for me was that in these episodes, Sonny definitely got – to borrow a term from the world of reality shows – the villain edit. He was a jerk in all of the showcased episodes. Back in the day, I always thought he was the right man for Brenda. Now he struck me as selfish and mean. Maybe it’s because I cannot separate the arrogant, omnipotent Sonny of today from the Sonny of the 1990s, who was supposed to be a villain with a heart of gold. I was also struck by how different Jax, Jason and Sonny were not only in appearance but in what the actors brought to the role. Why aren’t these talented actors putting forth the effort they did back when we all smelled like CK One?
The episodes aired were not the best of GH in the 1990s. At the time I remember thinking the show had declined in quality from the days when Claire Labine was the headwriter. This was not Click-Boom or the Lullaby Massacre, to cite two memorable Brenda episodes. There were plenty of characters and storylines that did not work: Katherine Bell’s forced, chemistry-free romance with Stefan; Miranda’s existence; Jason’s relationship with Courtney; Jax’s temporary paralysis. Yet compared to the show today, it’s Shakespeare. There were families and characters who actually seemed to like each other and stories that had a beginning, middle and an end. It was unintentionally courageous for GH to remind viewers of the show it used to be. I have this crazy dream that Brenda is bringing quality writing back to Port Charles.