Deep Soap: Best and Worst of the Year in Soaps

Steve Burton on General Hospital (ABC)

I thought 2012 would be a terrible year for soaps. It began it the darkest of places, as “One Life to Live,” the best soap of 2011, aired its final episode in January 2012. The deal to move it, and “All My Children” online had just fallen apart. All three of the networks seemed to have given up on the soap genre. I suspected that at least one of the four surviving soaps would be canceled in 2012. Instead, the ratings are up from last year, “General Hospital” has undergone a miraculous creative transformation and “The Young & the Restless” is rebuilding and there are reports that “All My Children” and “One Life to Live” may be resurrected online in 2013. Here are my picks for the best and the worst of a surprising soap year.

Best & Most Improved Show “General Hospital”

“General Hospital” became so bleak, meanspirited and downright unwatchable in 2011 that many fans felt that it was the soap that should have been on ABC’s chopping block. When departing ABC Daytime Chief Brian Frons handed the show to “One Life to Live’s” dynamic duo of headwriter Ron Carlivati and executive producer Frank Valentini, many wondered if the show could be saved. In eleven months, they have turned GH into must-see entertainment. The show is flat out fun to watch with storylines for the entire cast, likable characters, and well-done camp that is true to the show’s glory days in the 1980s. In fact, all of the show’s changes have been steeped in history, from the return of popular former cast members, who are used so that their presence impacts characters who are currently on the canvas, to the decision to resurrect the nurses ball, to the dialogue that references all three of the ABC soaps. GH has stopped trying to an imitation of “The Sopranos” and action movies and started reveling in the fact that it is a daytime soap. Adding several OLTL characters to the cast was a risky move that worked, with each of the three who became series regulars interacting primarily with GH characters, not each other. The show even survived changing time periods and the loss of one of its most popular characters, Jason (Steve Burton) without missing a beat.

Worst Show “Days of Our Lives

I was going to write a list of everything I dislike about DOOL, but midway through I fell asleep. The show is boring. All of its storylines boil down to some characters keeping a secret from some other characters for months. Then, when the truth is revealed, nothing happens.The soap manages to squander the potential of even the most interesting storylines. Will (Chandler Massey)  and E.J. (James Scott) blackmailing each other was fascinating, so of course the storyline was dropped. There was much drama to be mined from Will coming out of the closet in what has been portrayed as a conservative, Catholic town. Instead, after some initial reservations from a couple characters, everyone is accepting, including the resident priest. Sami  (Allison Sweeney) and E.J. looked like they were finally going to have a full-fledged romance. Instead, DOOL veered away from exploring the explosive chemistry, and has Sami once again waffling between Sami and Rafe without writing an actual story that would give either potential pairing its due. Kristen’s (Eileen Davidson) return has been fun, but she is not wreaking enough havoc to make an impact. Let’s hope in 2013 there will be yet another Plan to Save Days that will fix the show.

Best Episode – Penultimate  Episode of “One Life to Live”

The second to last episode of “One Life to Live” centered around the final episode of soap-within-a-soap “Fraternity Row.” The show’s matriarch, Vicki, (Erika Slezak) delivered a monologue about “Fraternity Row” once meta-commentary on the show’s imminent demise, a cathartic moment for fans, and a thesis statement about why soaps are worth watching and saving.  It was a bittersweet love letter to the genre that I would like to think inspired everyone who is still working in the genre to fight a little harder for the shows.

Best Couple – Michael & Lauren “The Young & the Restless”

Michael (Christian LeBlanc) and Lauren (Tracey Bregman) on “The Young & the Restless are proof that it is possible to craft storylines for characters that are happily married. Not all of the stories have been good, but on a show where people meet, get married and divorce within the span of six months, it’s nice to see two people who have been married for years, respect each other, are still attracted attracted to each other, and are committed to handling life’s challenges together. Whether they are dealing with an interminable legal case, an evil lookalike (sigh), a brother who is robbing banks while disguised as a chipmunk (double sigh), a bad seed son, or just trying to find time for a romantic evening, they are always entertaining. I hope they stay together long enough to celebrate their silver anniversary.

Worst Couple – Daniel and Jennifer “Days of Our Lives”

Is their anyone who cares about Daniel (Shawn Christian) and Jennifer’s (Melissa Reeves) relationship? The doctor who has dated everyone in Salem, and the heroine who has never worked with anyone but Jack have a romance that is based seemingly only on being two characters who are about the same age. They were boring the first time they dated. Jennifer left him for Jack. Then, after Jack died, they were thrown back together again. They are still boring. Daniel is like the word fetch. DOOL needs to stop trying to make him happen.

Most Improved Character Sharon “The Young & the Restless”

Midway through the year, Sharon (Sharon Case) was running away with the most ruined title. I will never understand why Y&R chose to turn a popular heroine with the realistic interconnected flaws of insecurity and a slightly overactive libido into a scheming bitch who married the man who she had viewed as a father figure for well over a decade. Fortunately, the show’s new headwriter realized that her character needed to be restored, and crafted the only plausible explanation for her bizarre behavior: she was mentally ill. In a genre where that usually means psychotic breaks or split personalities, it’s daring to show someone realistically treating  her bipolar disorder with therapy and medication, and working to get her life back on track. Welcome back, Sharon.

Most Ruined Character Will “Days of Our Lives”

Will was a fascinatingly grey character played by an Emmy winning actor. He caught his mother, Sami, cheating with her ex, E.J., and opted to blackmail E.J. Then, when E.J. turned the tables on him, revealing that he knew Will shot him years ago and let his father take the rap, a fascinating game of cat and mouse ensued. Will was attracted to the DiMeras wealth and power, though he was at heart a Brady. He truly was his mother’s son. He also happened to be gay and in the closet, but that was just one aspect of his character, not his entire identity. Unfortunately, once Will came to terms with his sexual orientation, he lost his moral ambiguity. He cut all ties with E.J. He is now a bland good guy in a cliched paternity storyline. What a waste.

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

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