Deep Soap: B&B’s Stephanie Tackles The Big C

Susan Flannery as Stephanie Forrester in The Bold & The Beautiful (CBS)

Susan Flannery as Stephanie Forrester in The Bold & The Beautiful (CBS)

B&B And The Big C

When I read that ‘The Bold & ‘The Beautiful’s‘ Stephanie Forrester (Susan Flannery) was going to be diagnosed with stage four lung cancer and hide it from her family, I was scared it would be a repeat of the godawful ‘Guiding Light’ storyline in which Reva kept her breast cancer a secret for no apparent reason and alienated everyone who cared about her. Instead, it is turning out to be more like Showtime’s ‘The C Word‘ with more emotional resonance, since viewers have watched Stephanie for decades, and far less Oliver Platt.

It is that rarest of daytime storylines: a celebration of female friendship.  Initially, the only person who knew Stephanie was ill was her lifelong enemy Brooke (Katherine Kelly Lang).  She was determined to persuade Stephanie to seek treatment while Stephanie was equally determined not to endure months of agony and, in all probability, die anyway.   The two were forced to work together, with Brooke reluctantly accompanying Stephanie on her bucket list activities, like riding the really tame roller coaster on the Santa Monica Pier, which improbably scared the hell out of Brooke. Brooke passive-aggressively confided her dilemma to psychiatrist Taylor (Hunter Tylo), at least subconsciously aware that she would figure out Stephanie was her sick friend.  Stephanie’s sister Pam, (Alley Mills) overheard them talking and learned her sister was dying.  Now all these women who do not always get along are thrown together, trying to persuade Stephanie to tell her family that she has cancer.

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The plot took an unexpected sentimental turn when Stephanie’s attempts to retrieve a lost scarf that belonged to her mother led her to a homeless woman, the terribly named but brilliantly acted Dayzee , and an odyssey through Los Angeles’ skid row.  B&B took full advantage of taping in its actual setting, Los Angeles, by showcasing parts of the city rarely seen on television.  It looked beautiful, with primetime quality camera work and editing. Kudos to directors Michael Stich and Cynthia Popp as well as newly installed producer Ed Scott.   The Angels Flight trolley really does have one of the best views of the city.  Grand Central Market is a great place to grab lunch if you are on jury duty.

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On Thursday and Friday, Brooke and Stephanie appeared to be walking through the Santee Market, an outdoor bargain hunter’s paradise.  Skid Row is just south of downtown, within walking distance of City Hall and numerous banks and law firms, yet it hosts one of the largest homeless encampments in the nation.  It is shameful that the infamous Tent City where Dayzee lives exists in a city with so much wealth, and B&B deserves credit for shining a light on the situation, and portraying the people who live there as decent human beings.

The exchange between Dayzee and Stephanie was terrific.  Stephanie was surprised that the obviously intelligent and ambitious Dayzee lacked the means to rent an apartment in one of the U.S.’s most expensive cities, while Dayzee was contemptuous and suspicious of the snobby westside matron.

As a native Californian, I was particularly amused by Stephanie reminiscing about visiting Reagan in the White House.  Not only did it make sense that Stephanie would have visited the former California governor in D.C. (I am sure Nancy Reagan was fond of Forrester Creations gowns), but Reagan is often derided for closing the state’s mental hospitals, and getting rid of a lot of social services, thereby creating the state’s homeless problem.  Trenchant yet subtle social commentary on B&B?  You be the judge.

I called bull on how surprised Stephanie and Brooke both were by Skid Row.  The Garment District is nearby.  Unless Forrester Creations couture is manufactured overseas, they should be familiar with the neighborhood.  I was also concerned that the characters of Dayzee, and Anthony, the street musician that Brooke met while she searched for Stephanie, veered dangerously close to the “Magic Black People” pop cultural stereotype, in which saintly, downtrodden African American characters exist seemingly only to teach the white protagonists life lessons.

This story followed the formula: after seeing Dayzee’s determination to take care of a friend’s baby and help her neighbors, Stephanie decided to fight her cancer. Granted, most residents of Skid Row are non-white — as is the majority of Los Angeles — but given the lack of diversity of B&B’s cast it was noticeable.  Thankfully, both actors were fantastic. I wish their names appeared in the closing credits or on CBS’s website so I could acknowledge them properly.  I hope that their roles are expanded and they become more than cliches.  I am enjoying this poignant storyline and hope that B&B will continue to write stories that have both emotional depth and humor.  On the off chance that headwriter Brad Bell is reading this I have a humble suggestion for a scene I would like to see: Pam makes Stephanie a batch of her infamous Lemon Bars with Legal-in-California Medical Marijuana.

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

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