REFRESH: The “audacious” list

pencil

Since it’s been quite some time since this blog began, and since there’s a big time gap between posts, I decided to do a weekly “refresh” post to revisit older posts. It will be fun for me to revisit what I said then — and see if I still agree!

For my first Refresh post, I’ll be posting links to my “Audacious” list. This was a list of ten trends, tropes or issues that I thought were hampering daytime’s success.

These posts were created in 2008 when there were still eight soaps; we now have only four remaining network soaps, though web shows are breaking through these barriers.

One: A lack of diversity

Two: As if feminism never happened

Three: Fear the Frankenshow

Four: Not pruning the tree

Five: The fan that knew too much

Six: Bad apples redux

Seven: Tearing apart the tapestry

Eight: Nothing matters in a vacuum

Nine: Supercouples, or soap kryptonite

Ten: Complete loss of identity

I’d love to tell you that a lot has changed here, but I really don’t think that it has.

Since the reboot of this blog, I’ve already touched on Point Number Two with Cady McClain’s role on The Young and the Restless.

And our news feeds have been filled in the last few months with examples of Point Number Six: Bad Apples Redux.

I mentioned Dena Higley in that original 2008 post, and, like a bad penny, she’s back at DAYS for a third go-round.

And of course, we know Chuck Pratt has delivered his special brand of warmth and congeniality to Y&R.

I still think my Point Ten, about the loss of identity as to what a serial is and was, is true, too.

I also still believe in the last paragraph of that post: Soaps aren’t [dead], people. We still tell stories to each other, all over the world. We just need to tell a great story, and respect the history of the story that was passed down to us – as well as the intelligence of the one who’s listening to the tale you’re telling.

Phelps and Pratt interview: The allergic reaction

How many Y&R fans feel about Pratt and Phelps.

How many Y&R fans feel about Pratt and Phelps.

My social media feeds were on FIRE this week with the reaction to the TVInsider two-part Michael Logan interview with The Young And The Restless executive producers Jill Farren Phelps and head writer (and co-EP) Chuck Pratt. (You can find it here: PART ONE and PART TWO: BULLSHIT BOOGALOO.)

Many of Pratt’s responses, in particular, are just as tone deaf as you’d imagine they might be. He and Phelps dismiss criticism as the work of “haters.” Most of the explanations he gave for why a story came to be — like the two Jacks story — defy explanation here. Character seems to be profoundly unimportant to Pratt, as it was at All My Children, and his discussion of storyline and characters seems so oddly disconnected and dispassionate.

I’m not surprised about the reaction — not really — but I remember many folks in the soap blogosphere being more cautiously optimistic about Pratt’s arrival.

To which I say (apologies for the language, but it fits): Did anyone ever expect him to be anything other than that asshole uncle that comes over to your house on holidays and makes a mess of everything? Metaphorically speaking, it’s what he did on AMC — which added to the injuries that eventually ended that show — and almost definitely what he’ll do here.

Pratt clearly has serial chops, but writing for nighttime shows like Melrose Place and Desperate Housewives is a completely different animal. There are many similarities, but the pacing and the format allow for a little more sustained over-the-top action. I’ve liked shows that have had Pratt’s work, like DH and Ugly Betty.

But the kind of stories that played well on Santa Barbara and General Hospital are not for every show. They didn’t fit Pine Valley, and they are not a good fit for Y&R.

Y&R is a snoozefest and it clearly needed to be shaken up. But instead of remodeling and updating the house of Jabot, Pratt sees it as a tear down, and will use the wrecking ball itself  as a Friday tag. What will be left standing at the end? Good question.

Meanwhile, we get an EP who claims she’s never heard the online chatter about Kevin and Detective Harding – aka “Harder” — or actor Greg Rikaart’s comments about having Kevin come out as a gay man — because she doesn’t go online.

That gets a serious side eye from me. As does almost everything else about this show these days.

The Dowager senses foolishness and shade in Genoa City.

The Dowager senses foolishness and shade in Genoa City.

The rich tapestry of Mad Men

Mad Men at its beginnings, circa 1960.....

Mad Men at its beginnings, circa 1960…..

In case you’ve missed the other 3,876,941,092 online mentions of it, the AMC drama Mad Men is ending its run this week, at the end of its seventh season.

I launched this blog in 2008, but I have to admit, I was late to the Mad Men party. I missed the first few seasons and then got so far behind it was hard to catch up. But I finally did, and it’s been the most rewarding serial drama experience for me in years.

It’s a mixture of the serialized elements, the fact that the show is a period piece, and the way that it actually tells a story that I find so engaging. It’s not for everyone; I often hear how “boring” the show is from people who expect a big event or plot twist at the end of every episode.

My fellow soap fan, analyst and writer Lynn Liccardo and I have talked about the fast-forward culture in soap watching, and I’ve said to her before that I tended to enjoy shows more when I watched them beginning to end, catching every nuance and every bit of story.

That certainly proved to be the case with Mad Men; except for these last seven episodes, I watched them all sequentially over the course of a few weeks.

But I think there are two things I’ve loved most about Mad Men. They’re related, and they’re also part of the parallels I draw to the halcyon days of daytime.

(1) They explore characters and relationships so well, so deeply and outside of grand plot movement, and 

(2) They spend a significant amount of time on small moments, like painting a portrait that eventually becomes clear as the art is realized.

It’s not as if Mad Men is plot free, of course. Things have happened. John Deere tractors have been unleashed. People have come and gone: Bob Benson, Lane, Sal, Miss Blankenship.

The central story is as old as Shakespeare: the dueling identities of Dick Whitman and Don Draper – one and the same, played by Jon Hamm. It’s fueled so much of the show’s narrative. It’s both a very meta story (Who are we? Who do we present to the world? Are those two different people?) and very specific to these people and this place. Don and Betty’s marriage was blown to smithereens by Don’s secret, both in the keeping of it and its revelation.

It’s also refreshing, and hugely ironic, that in an era when I’m still complaining about sexism and tired old representations of women on daytime, that a character from the 1960s — Peggy Olson — has given us one of the fullest, best portraits of a modern woman ever seen on TV. (And she’s only up to 1970!)

The relationships on this show are so rich, and it makes it so easy for the story to evolve organically from those connections. While Peggy mostly interacts with Don and her staff and coworkers, the scenes with Peggy and Roger (including the most recent one) are divine. Don and Joan have had a complicated relationship, but one with affection at its core. Peggy and Stan have challenged each other since they met, and have managed to become quite a team without becoming a couple.

The things that I take away from this show are the broad questions that soaps used to ask. Who are we? What do we believe about ourselves and the world? 

It’s the Harding Lemay question: Why? 

Or maybe I should look at it from the journalist’s questions: the who, what, when, where, why and how.  Daytime covers the who, what, when and where, but it’s not always paying as much attention to the why and how.

I know that Mad Men‘s where is an admittedly big part of my appreciation for it. I was born a decade after the show’s primary setting, but I recognize these people and their surroundings. My father worked for a computer company, not unlike the one that made that big, hulking machine that drove Ginsberg crazy. (It was a well known company, but it made the bet in the 1970s that no one would want a desktop computer. We all know how THAT story ends.)

He often worked in an office where his coworkers were very Sterling Cooper. I’m not sure they drank in the office, but there were many nights they hit the bar together after a long day. He had men like Don and Roger around him, to be sure.

I knew a lot of Bettys, women who were trained to focus on appearance. My mother certainly shared some of her disappointments about the limitations of the role she was expected to play.

The show captures both the feel of the city and the feel of suburbia perfectly, and the unease that was starting to creep into both at that time.

It hasn’t been completely perfect, of course. The pacing has for the most part been right on the mark, but some stories have dragged on a bit too long. I wasn’t one of the Megan haters (there’s a contingent who loathes her existence) but I definitely felt her story could have ended sooner. The whole Diana thing was a huge WTF moment, though I suppose it fits into Don’s habit of finding a new focus for his energies (as Dr. Faye once said, he only loves the beginnings of things). And, well, Glenn was an odd story then and an odd story now — though probably a bit realistic in its messiness and the uncomfortable weirdness of a kid and his crush on a grownup.

It certainly inspires the same level of fandom, of living in the story. Nearly every week of Mad Men will generate stories about that episode — not just recaps, mind you, but stories about what that episode means.

A recent article examined a Don Draper road trip. That fact is notable both for the level of attention the show gets from media (and fandoms), and also for the road trip itself. Mad Men takes advantage of the kinds of storytelling arcs that daytime has in the past — long side trips that allow a character to escape, to refocus, to resurface, to find themselves — and also lets writers stretch out and savor a story before it reaches its end.

Don’s journey may be the bookend at the end of the series, but it’s not the first time he’s bolted and made a trip to reboot and restart his life. Just like Lily Walsh running off to Wyoming, or Alexandra Spaulding contemplating her life while on an island, a journey can give a character and a story time to catch its breath and think about where it’s going next.

I’ll definitely miss Mad Men when it leaves next week, and I wish we could find more ways to reclaim this kind of storytelling in all of our shows – web and daytime. Grand plot reveals, wig snatches and Oh No She Didn’t moments have a welcome place in daytime, of course, but a few more scenes in that corner bar, a quiet chat between two friends, the romance of family — whether it’s in the Francis house, or at SC&P, or in the Bauer kitchen — would be a welcome return to form, and a reminder of why we watch, and why we still watch.

POSTSCRIPT: Of course, we can’t let a MM post go by without mentioning the As The World Turns connection. While it was only a few minutes onscreen, we saw an early grab at the brass ring by Joan when she became engrossed in an early ATWT story, and brings it to the attention of Harry Crane.

We also see a brief bit of ATWT when MM shows the famous clip, interrupted by the news of President Kennedy’s shooting. Harry is a TV ad guy – one of the guys who thinks soaps are the things that fill up space between his ads.

And Mad Men now, circa 1970. (Photo: Frank Ockenfels 3/AMC)

And Mad Men now, circa 1970. (Photo: Frank Ockenfels 3/AMC)

PS on B&B and Maya’s story

Last week, I sketched out a number of concerns I had about the story on The Bold and The Beautiful about Maya’s story, and the revelation that Maya is transgender.

A few days after I’d initially posted that entry, I thought maybe I’d overreacted about some of it, particularly how Maya’s trans status was being used as a secret and as a “dun dun dun!” plot point.

Then I saw this.

Huh. Not overreacting at all.

B&B’s storytelling past (the breakneck speed with which romantic couples change course) doesn’t bode well for a slow burn of a story, or the somewhat contemplative touch this probably needs.

I’m willing to be surprised by B&B. But so far, the red flags just keep popping up.

Nurse’s cap

National Nurse Week starts today (May 6), and we’ve had nurses on the brain with this week’s Nurses Ball on General Hospital.

Which got me thinking about nurses on soaps.

Who’s your favorite nurse?

I’d love to hear about your picks in the comments.

For me, there was only one real choice.

Nurse Annie Dutton strikes again!

Nurse Annie Dutton strikes again!

 

Bay City Confidential

According to We Love Soaps, yesterday was the anniversary of the launch of Another World.

I’ve had AW in my head lately, because I just re-read Harding Lemay’s memoir of his time as AW’s head writer, Eight Years In Another World. After many years of being out of print, I learned a few weeks ago that Eight Years had been published on Kindle. (As much as I’d love the hardcover, ten bucks trumps a hundred bucks – the price of some of the rare used copies!)

AW is, in fact, probably most responsible for the initial formation my soap watching habit.

My mother was a fan of DAYS and AW, so I watched both shows with her on those sick days and rainy days, and would often make a point to catch the shows during summer break. While DAYS served up high drama with Doug and Julie, something about AW felt so real.

AWIt felt like we were eavesdropping when we’d see Rachel and Iris and Mac, or when Ada and her omnipresent dishtowel were dispensing advice (or scolding the hell out of someone who was being an ass).

We laughed at Vivian’s mishaps and escapades, and some of Iris’ odd friends.

There are many different species of soap, and when the media covers soap operas, they usually talk about the hair-tossing, oft-wedded, no-one-ever-dies garden variety.

Every show, of course, has been guilty of that kind of trick from time to time – some more often than others.

But AW was the first show that felt like watching real people. It was like watching a theater performance every day. I’d feel that way about later iterations of ATWT (during the Marland years) and about GL. 

As I get older, I find the reminders of the passage of time increasingly rude. So the realization that AW has been off the air for sixteen years is one I find hard to believe.

But AW is still accessible, with a number of clips on YouTube. It continued as text-only for several years.

I mentioned that a big reason for rebooting this blog was the clicks my older entries have been getting, and the amount of chatter over the P&G soaps I was seeing online.

I cracked up when I saw someone on a message board identify themselves as “Ada Hobson’s Dishtowel.” (Lemay said in his book that Constance Ford loved using props during a performance.)

When AW was cancelled, many of us thought it was a sad ending for a show that had just suffered too many changes in producers, writers and cast in its last fifteen years.

What we didn’t realize was that it had been a cautionary tale and a harbinger of things to come.

As we start seeing more web soaps and more shows on new platforms like Amazon and Netflix, I hope that they’ll study AW and remember that the characters and their lives are the glue that kept things together and kept us in our seats — not mobsters, guns, doppelgangers and forensics.