Deep Soap: Changing of the Guard

Steve Burton on General Hospital (ABC)

Ronn Moss (Ridge) is leaving “The Bold & the Beautiful.” So is Susan Flannery (Stephanie).  Steve Burton (Jason) shocked the soap world earlier this week when he announced he was leaving “General Hospital.Peter Reckell has filmed his last episode of “Days of Our Lives.” It is probable that the regime change at “The Young & the Restless” will result in the departure of one or more longterm cast members. Suddenly, daytime’s biggest stars are packing up their bags and saying goodbye to the genre. None of them have been fired, though Moss and Reckell acknowledge that they were unhappy about being asked to take paycuts. It feels like a huge shift in the genre, as a whole generation of soapdom’s A-list departs. Flannery has always been part of B&B’s mature set, but the other three actors began their careers as hot young men who made female viewers swoon and drove storylines. Burton, after 21 years, still fills that role, as his character Jason Morgan improbably evolved from goody two shoes teen to brain damaged angry young man to mob enforcer that was regarded as a heroic moral compass by all the other characters. Jason is still regarded as the hottest guy in Port Charles by most of the town’s female residents and much of the audience. (As I consider his character, who was created in the 1990s, I realize how few iconic soap men have been created in the 21st century on any soap. No wonder the genre is in trouble.)

Watch the Latest Episode of “General Hospital”:

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Reckell and Moss, whose characters Ridge and Bo, were created in the 1980s, had segued into the “veteran” age group, involved in as many storylines that centered around their younger relatives as were about their own lives. Bo has not had a decent storyline in years, ever since DOOL’s writers managed to squander the potentially epic return of Carly (Crystal Chappell) instead of writing the Hope/Bo/Carly triangle that could have practically written itself. The Brooke/Ridge/Taylor triangle was B&B’s main storyline from the show’s inception (though it began as the Brooke/Ridge/Caroline triangle) to 2011 when the show decided to recreate the triangle’s precise dynamics with the show’s younger generation. Ridge was suddenly relegated to worrying about his daughter and stepdaughter’s relationship with the twenty-something version of himself, though he engaged in remarkably little introspection about how ping-ponging between both of their mothers for decades impacted their psyches to the point that they think it’s perfectly natural to compete for the attention of a man who has little respect for either one of them.

It’s unfortunate that all of these actors feel so dissatisfied that they opted to leave, even knowing how difficult it can be for soap stars to find other work. Flannery is of retirement age, but her lack of a storyline since her character recovered from lung cancer surely factored into her decision. Burton claimed in his interview with TV Guide that he had been planning to move to Tennessee for years, and only held off because of the difficulties of selling his house in California. Moss also cited less clearly defined personal reasons for leaving in his interview with Entertainment Weekly. But I can’t help thinking that if the shows had figured out how to let the characters mature and evolve without marginalizing them in the way that the new “Dallas” has masterfully done with Bobby and J.R. if we’d still have them on the canvas.

On the other hand, I am cautiously excited by the opportunities that their departures could create. B&B showrunner Brad Bell has said that Ridge’s absence will lead to an interesting new storyline for Brooke. We could find out who Hope is without Bo. GH without Jason will allow the show to regain a semblance of morality and result in more balanced storytelling. Daytime has gone through these generational shifts before, but I can’t recall so many high -profile actors leaving in such a short amount of time. It feels like the end of an era.

The Joy of Continuity

It’s odd to describe a storyline about a terrorist plotting to kill an entire town as great fun, but Jerry’s tainting of the Port Charles water supply on “General Hospital” is proving to be a great umbrella storyline. It’s campy and ludicrous, but in a good, smart way that harkens back to the show’s glory days in the 1980s. The Batman inspired scene in Monday’s episode in which Jerry (Sebastian Roche) appeared on television to inform everyone that they were going to die if they did not meet his demands was perfectly executed. Jerry was genuinely scary. We got to see the reactions of all the characters — who were conveniently watching television at the perfect moment – as the stage was set for a high-stakes, action storyline that will hopefully help keep people watching when the show moves to its new, hour earlier time period on September 10.

Everyone’s lives are at stake. Unlike other recent GH disasters, there are surprising twists. Duke (Ian Buchanan)  is alive! (Technically, that development happened in another country, but the timing was perfect, and unspoiled.) Jerry is working with Ewen (Nathin Butler) , Joe Junior (Richard Steinmetz), and, possibly, Duke for some yet to be determined purpose. Joe Junior is no longer a one dimensional villain; he gave his dose of the antidote to Tracy. Jerry’s plan somehow has to do with the Dead Man’s Hand deck of cards that originally brought Sam (Kelly Monaco) to Port Charles. I don’t remember the storyline, and wasn’t watching when Duke was on the show, but I love the idea that everything ties together. Headwriter Ron Carlivati seems to get a real kick out of using the show’s history, and his glee is infectious.

There’s even a little romance. Shawn (Sean Blakemore) kissed Alexis (Nancy Grahn) just in case he’s dying, while Jerry injected Alexis with an antidote because he still loves her. It’s a good week to be Alexis.  Characters besides Jason and Sonny (Maurice Benard) are allowed to be heroic: Jax stood up to Jerry, Patrick helped Liz deal with the suddenly psycho Ewen (though he ended up getting conked on the head with a baseball bat) while kidnapped Liz (Becky Herbst) managed to use her cell phone to alert the police to her location while trapped in a speeding car with her hands tied together.

While it’s clear that there will be few, if any, casualties, I have no idea how this will ultimately be resolved or what the longterm consequences will be. What a beautiful disaster.

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

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