Deep Soap: ‘General Hospital’ Character Makes Unwelcome Return

Same character, new guy playing him: Roger Howarth turned up on "General Hospital" this week in a role formerly played by guest-star James Franco (inset) (Photos: ABC)

Why? That is my biggest question about “General Hospital’s” revelation that the new character Roger Howarth is playing is none other than Franco, the grossest, most annoying, least essential villain in the show’s history.

The artist who used murder as a canvas only existed because James Franco decided it would be fun to be on a soap for a couple weeks.

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He was vanity stuntcasting. It is every bit as ridiculous as if Howarth returned as the reporter masquerading as a doctor that Katie Couric played for an episode, except that might actually be funny.

If I take my emotions out of the equation, which is difficult given my white-hot hatred for all things Franco-related, I sort of understand why it might seem like Franco has a built-in storyline.

Way back when headwriter Ron Carlivati retconned that Franco was Jason’s twin, that made him a Quartermaine. At that time, the point was to establish that Franco had a long lost daughter running around who was a Quartermaine heir. But thanks to the pesky lawsuit that prevents Howarth from playing Todd anywhere but on “One Life To Live,” the show had to come up with someone else for him to play. Instead of “Long Lost Quartermaine we have never heard of before,” (or Cassadine, or Weber, or interesting new person who has moved to Port Charles), the show went with Franco. I can only assume that no one in the bubble that is the actual production of the show realizes exactly how much most of the fandom hated the character.

Catch up with “General Hospital”: Here’s Thursday’s episode of the ABC soap:
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However, Franco was not written to be a sustainable, long-term character. He was a serial killer, a kidnapper, he raped Sam, and he hired an inmate to rape Michael while he was in prison. Given that Todd started out as a gang rapist, I’m not going to say that it would be impossible to redeem Franco to the point where the audience was rooting for him, but that’s not what “GH” did.

Instead, the writers decided to absolve Franco. He gathered everyone whose lives he impacted in the same room and presented videotapes proving that he did not actually rape Sam (Kelly Monaco), he just led her to believe that she was violated in order to upset Jason.

Carter was supposed to protect Michael (Chad Duell), not assault him, but he disobeyed Franco’s orders.  There was always some ambiguity about what happened to Sam, but trying to absolve Franco of Michael’s rape was ridiculous. Are we also going to find out that all of the people that he killed were just actors he hired to convince Jason that he was a serial killer and that the graffiti he painted all over town was actually an attempt to cover up tags written by gang members, thereby improving the safety of Port Charles?

If the show wants to bring Franco back, then bring back his baggage. Otherwise, just create a new character who did not rape or murder anybody. Howarth certainly isn’t playing him like the old character. He just seems like Todd with a different name and backstory.

Watch another episode of “GH”: This one’s from this past Wednesday:
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Of course, the two other “One Life to Live” turned “General Hospital” actors, Michael Easton and Kristen Alderson, are also back in new roles. Easton plays Silas, the brother of his Port Charles character, Caleb, who it was established looks just like his “OLTL” character John.

Everyone notices that Silas is a dead ringer for Caleb but nobody thinks that Franco looks any different than he did when he was played by James Franco, or that Alderson’s character, Kiki, looks exactly like a darker haired version of Starr. Since Kiki is, in fact, Franco’s long lost daughter, it seems like the whole stunt was convoluted way to keep Howarth and Alderson playing father and daughter.

Looking at this storyline the way James Franco the actor/philosopher might, “GH” is playing with the concept of willing suspension of disbelief. The writers were forced into the nightmare scenario of writing off three popular characters than simultaneously bringing back the actors who played them in different roles. The Powers That Be had to operate on the assumption that much of the audience would know about the behind-the-scenes drama that necessitated the change. So casting Howarth as Franco, a character who was named for the actor who played him, is basically winking at the audience, and saying, “Yes, we know this is ridiculous. But isn’t it also hilarious and soapy?”

James Franco wrote a pretentious article on soap acting in which he claimed that his mere movie star presence on the show required a suspension of disbelief. Now the show is both enacting a bit of revenge and adding to his meta commentary about soaps by recasting him. Coupled with the fact that Todd himself was recast for years on “OLTL” before Howarth returned, at which point it was revealed that the person viewers thought was Todd was actually Todd’s twin, and the whole thing is 20 pounds of meta in a 10-pound bag.

The problem is that nobody is tuning in to watch an academic experiment about breaking the fourth wall. That was a big part of why Franco’s story flopped in the first place. Carlivati’s version of “GH” has been campy, and successfully sold all sorts of ridiculous plot devices including Faison (Anders Hove) impersonating Duke  (Ian Buchanan) with a rubber mask and A.J.’s (Sean Kanan) return from the dead because ultimately the payoff was something that most viewers wanted: the returns of beloved characters. This is replacing a character that the audience has been invested in for decades with someone that the majority of viewers were willing to expunge from the show’s canon. This time, I’m not willing to suspend my disbelief.

Extra Scenes From ‘The Young & the Restless’ Tribute to Jeanne Cooper

In contrast to “GH,” Tuesday “The Young & the Restless” broke the fourth wall in all the right ways when it aired a Memorial Tribute to Jeanne Cooper, who played Katherine Chancellor for 40 years. Numerous past and present cast members appeared as themselves, not their characters, as they shared the memories of Cooper. They painted a memorable portrait of a woman who mentored younger actors, flirted with all the men on the show, and was a great friend to everybody. They had so many memories that they couldn’t all fit in an hour. Fortunately, CBS made more of their reminiscences available.

Check out these deleted scenes featuring Michelle Stafford (Phyllis), Peter Bergman (Jack) and others telling more stories about Cooper:

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

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