This week’s episodes of “The Young and the Restless” were the first shows produced by Jill Farren Phelps and written by Josh Griffith. In just a few days, the duo has made some aggressive moves to change the floundering show. Some I like. Some perplex me. And a couple I flat out disagree with.
In just a few days, Jack (Peter Bergman) has taken over Newman Enterprises, the attempted murder charges against Phyllis (Michelle Stafford) were abruptly dropped, Summer (Hunter Haley King) caused a car accident that killed Chelsea’s (Melissa Egan) unborn child, and Sharon (Sharon Case) set the Newman Ranch on fire.
After months of an amnesiac Victor (Eric Braeden) lobbying for improved work conditions for some random dock workers, it’s fun to watch significant things happening to characters that I actually care about. The characters themselves seem to be inching toward being in character. Sharon had scenes where she flashed back to the innocent girl she was when she met the Newmans that helped put her bizarre behavior from the past few months into context. I think Griffith’s decision to give her a mental breakdown, then rebuild her as the character that audiences have loved since the 1990s is the only way to salvage her.
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At the risk of sounding cruel, I am thrilled that Chelsea’s baby is dead. Chelsea and Adam’s (Michael Muhney) rushed marriage turned Adam into a sap. Chelsea, though played by a terrific actress, is a dull, poorly defined character. Having Adam lose a child will hopefully turn him back to the dark side, without having him veer into the one-dimensional psycho that he became under prior headwriter Maria Bell. The car accident also defined the character of Summer. King, who’s a vast improvement over her predecessor, portrays Summer as a spoiled, selfish, entitled brat. I wanted to punch her when she whined to her parents about how tough it was for her to discover she killed a baby. I sure don’t like her, but she could evolve into a character that I love to hate. On a shallow note, I keep wondering why Phyllis’s daughter looks like Sharon’s little sister. Given how similar King and Case’s features are, maybe King should dye her hair red.
In theory, I love the idea of Jack taking over Newman Enterprises. It’s about time he got the upper hand on Victor after doing nothing but lose for the past couple years. A rivalry is only interesting when both characters are evenly matched. But I hate the way it is playing out. It is clear that the audience is supposed to think that Jack is in the wrong. Not a single character supports his actions. He was even visited by the ghost of his father, who scolded him. Suddenly, Victor is a victim. He ended up in the hospital after collapsing, implicitly from the stress of losing his company, though the doctor said Victor’s recent head injuries — which Jack had nothing to do with — were the culprits. Jack legally, albeit using shady tactics, took over his company. Over the past couple years, Victor gave Jack’s psycho ex plastic surgery so Jack would unwittingly date her. This ultimately resulted in both Jack’s paralysis and the death of Jack’s niece, Colleen. Victor had Jack’s brother Billy thrown in a Burmese prison on trumped up charges and led Chelsea to break up Billy and Victoria’s marriage. Victor suffered no consequences for any of the multiple felonies he committed against Jack and his family. Jack’s actions were not just justified, they were downright mild. I hope that Griffith will throw a curve ball and let Jack maintain ownership of Newman for as long as Victor owned Jabot.
I hate that after months of build-up the Phyllis-Christine rivalry was dropped. While I was disappointed that Christine (Lauralee Bell) was trying to get Phyllis thrown in prison instead of just publicly exposing Phyllis’s crime so that she would again be branded the town pariah, there were all of the elements for a great storyline that utilized the show’s history. Instead, Christine was portrayed as uptight for being upset that Phyllis tried to kill her. Usually I root against Christine, but this time she was right.
There are also changes in the show’s production style. Newer, more contemporary music has been used in some scenes, while the show’s traditional, soothing background music has been used in others. I support modernizing the show as long as it still seems like Y&R, but the scene in which a pop song blared while Sharon wandered around a living room was weird. There has also been more stylized direction, such as the montage of Nikki pacing and sitting by Victor’s hospital bed. I wholeheartedly approve. More compelling visuals draw me into the show. It’s one area where daytime truly needs to catch up with prime-time and cable.
It’s too soon to judge the new Y&R regime. None of the new characters that they are introducing have aired yet, nor have the departure storylines for the numerous characters that they are writing off. A veteran writer once told me that it’s easy for a new headwriter to do a great job in the first few months of his tenure just by fixing all of the glaring mistakes that got the previous writer fired. Time will tell. But I do know that I enjoyed Y&R a lot more this week than I did last week.