Why it worked for me

It’s no secret that I’ve been enjoying the last few months of Guiding Light. Lest my readers think I’ve got stars in my eyes after my set visit, or have had too many servings of the Peapack Kool-aid, I wanted to talk about why it worked for me – and mention a few remaining points of contention.

Let me say this, first and foremost: The material that I’ve seen in the last four weeks is the strongest material I’ve seen since the fall of 2004. That was when we were treated to Jonathan’s introduction, Roger’s funeral, and Phillip’s shooting (which started very well, before imploding months later).

Honestly, I don’t care who’s officially writing what, or what title they have. It seems clear that these changes can be at least partially attributed to Jill Lorie Hurst.

What worked for me, and why?

Pacing: One of the biggest and best improvements has been in the pacing. Longtime soap fans have been frustrated by the pacing on many shows lately; All My Children spent about thirty minutes killing off Josh and giving Kendall his heart, and As The World Turns has seemingly fit an entire Harry Potter book into 35 minutes on some of its episodes.

For much of 2008, GL was wildly uneven in its pacing, with big, boring patches of nothingness and lots of talking with no forward plot movement – then a week’s worth of action would explode in a day.

But many of the current stories – the Beth/Coop/Alan story (which ran smack into Phillip’s return) and the Otalia story, in particular – have been told at a great pace. They’ve kept a steady pace without boring us – and without giving us whiplash. We’re getting a chance to get a real sense of what the characters are thinking and feeling and even *gasp* getting a sense of subtext in these scenes. (Yes, subtext – an endangered species and rarely seen on any soap in the last few years.)

Characterization: I really feel like many of the scenes I saw this week refocused the characters and really took them back to who they are.

Beth has been a mess for the last few years, and we’ve shaken our heads at what she’s done. Some of her actions seemed so foolish and out of character. But this week drove home for me the fact that Beth is the queen of codependency, which really ties her actions together and gives us a throughline. She loves Phillip, of course, but their relationship isn’t exactly healthy.

I was really concerned that Phillip would return and be Craig Montgomery redux – ie, evil and one-note. But this was a Phillip I recognized, with some interesting edges. He seems to be the Phillip I remember – mostly a good guy, but with flaws and a capacity for anger.

I think the best scenes of the week were the Alan/Phillip ones, because they captured the dynamics of these characters SO well. Phillip is angry at Alan, hates Alan sometimes, and wanted to make Alan shiver and, as Grant Aleksander said somewhere, “change his shorts.”  But when Buzz wanted to attack Alan, instinct kicked in and he said, “Leave my father alone.”  So much said in that sentence. Phillip is conflicted about Alan, and also loves him, sometimes and to some degree. (Of course, when Alan started taunting Buzz, Phillip moved out of the way as if to say “he’s all yours.”)

It’s too early to say for sure, but it seems to me that Phillip’s been brought back in a way that addresses all of Phillip’s history, and leaves options open for his future.

Focus: Another significant complaint about GL in 2008 (and a seriously valid one) was that much of the focus was on people that we simply didn’t care about. Whether they were supporting characters or day players, we were seeing an awful lot of these bores sitting around talking last year, and it was NOT must see TV.

But in these last few weeks and months, we’ve seen a great focus on the characters and stories we know and love.

  • The Lewises and O’Neill’s have been focused and reenergized around Shayne’s return, and we’ve seen a lot of our favorites, as well as a new favorite in Shayne. The Spauldings have been front and center, and so have the Coopers.
  • I was so bored with the Cooper/Spaulding wars a few years back, but instead of words and vendettas, this conflict was put back into motion, with meaningful consequences. With Company near foreclosure, Beth brokered a deal for Alan to buy Company and keep the Coopers on. With Alan’s history (he was responsible for Tammy’s death, after all), Coop’s car crash has a big question mark over it.

An odd thing happened this week: I saw Daisy, Ashlee, and even Mallet and Marina and….I didn’t hate seeing them. They were played this week as supporting characters, which is what they are. And in that capacity, those characters worked. I started to even like Daisy – and though her Pollyanna act may be a little irritating, it makes total sense for a teenage girl.

Jeer within a Cheer: As I said, almost everything worked for me.

I’ve been mostly accepting of the new production model, and there’s a lot I like about it. There are a few sets (the seedy motel room) that read horrifically on camera, but I like most of the sets, especially the outdoor moments.

But there was a jarring sequence of scenes today, when Phillip and Lizzie were at the wreckage talking. The roads were clear and  you could see grass. In the NEXT scene, it was snowing – and the ground was covered in snow. I’m not bitching about the snow – it’s like live theater to do it this way, and I think it’s cool that the snow is real. But it’s a big leap for the ground to be green in one scene and completely white in the next.

My other bone to pick was also about Lizzie. Her conversation with Phillip was touching, but it reminded me of the most confusing story point I’ve seen on Guiding Light in the last few years: Why, again, did Lizzie give up Sarah? And if you answered “Alan”, then why in the hell has Lizzie been following in Alan’s footsteps, being his protege, and taking Team Alan’s side in the Coop/Beth/Alan triangle? It’s very murky and confusing, and I hope that Hurst and the writing team clarify this or resolve it.

So what did you think of Phillip’s return? I’d love to hear your thoughts. I’ve seen a wide range of responses. Some viewers have enjoyed it. The usual negativistas are chanting for the show’s death again this week (no surprise). But what did you like? What didn’t you like?

And what do you think about the writers going back to the future, with next month’s return of Krista Tesreau (Mindy) and a score of other GL characters (Marah Lewis, Michelle Bauer, Roxie Shayne and Danny Santos) being talked about these days, on screen or on the Interwebz?

3 thoughts on “Why it worked for me

  1. Yes it is some of the best stuff GL has had since those couple of weeks in 2004, but who is to say there won’t be a repeat, starts well and falls apart.

    My main complaint about the pacing would be how they should have shown Beth and Coop fall for each other on screen and not just flashback it.

    What I liked about the characterization was the part when Lizzie and Phillip were talking and he said how he understood what it was like for a father to betray him.

    Focus, well I don’t care about Shayne yet. No offense to Jeff Branson. Seeing all these characters mourn Lara, a character we never met I find kind of annoying. She’s an angel, she’s Edmund’s kid, so what? Also, why is it that Alan is the only one who can afford to help Buzz out with Company? Doesn’t Lillian have money after all these years living rent free in the Spaulding Mansion?

    ICAM more about Lizzie being on Alan’s side in this situation. Why would she want her mother with her grandfather even without what happened with Sarah? I still don’t get it.

    My issue with Phillip’s return is that if someone watches GL and didn’t know or care about Phillip they may have been bored last week. It is how I am with Y&R, even though I hear great things about it, at this time I just have no inclination to watch it regardless of any raves I may hear.

    BL, I agree it would have been better for us to see Beth and Coop get together. But considering how quickly it came together in the beginning, I was really invested in what happened. It was a case of knowing pretty much what WOULD happen, but it was mesmerizing to watch it happen.

    You’re right, it could all fall apart again. But I hope not. I’d like to think this will all get a chance to play out.

  2. ICAM with what you wrote, Patrick. This show worked for me for the first time since 2004. I actually wanted to see what happened the next day. And I swear to you, the 2/11 episode was the first time I haven’t FF scenes in over four years.

    I was amused by the snow, because that’s one of those uncontrollable things you deal with on the East Coast. It disrupted the continuity, but we do have days where we have sun and snow in the same, so it wasn’t that far out of the realm of reality.

    What’s buggin’ me now is the music. I LOVE my soap music, and this folky-rocky guitar stuff just doesn’t do it for me, especially not when good soap is happening. Hearing a young woman sing about her angst while Beth and Phillip are playing the gravity of 25 years of drama just ain’t right!

  3. Patrick,

    I’ve been back to watching GL daily (well, almost daily) since Christmas, in anticipation of Phillip’s return. Contrast that with most of 2008 where I only watched a handful of epioses each month (usually Reva/Josh centered ones).

    Yes, the show is better than it has been in 4 years. Killing off Phillip may have looked good on paper, but it certainly destroyed the show. Even worse, David Kreizman, who came up with the idea of killing Phillip, has continued to helm the show on a disasterous course ever since. Luckily, new co-headwriter Jill Lorie Hurst seems to have a better sense of what Springfield is all about. And I don’t think its a coincidence that Grant Aleksander’s return is tied to her promotion.

    I was very happy with Phillip’s return. He seemes like the character I loved since 1982 once again — complex and angst filled, but basically a good guy trying to deal with the things life throws at him. I especially liked the scenes with Alan at teh graveyard — one of their best uses of the outside locations so far.

    Looking forward to seeing more of Phillip, as well as Mindy’s return.

    I’m very happy with the sets these days, with the exception of the seedy motel room set which photogrpahs awfully (and I believe is Jill Lorie Hurst’s office when not being used as Shayne’s motel room — I’d go crazy quickly if I had to work in that room regularly).

    The Spaulding den set looks great, Cross Creek feels like a real home now and the Company set especially seems warm and welcoming. Even the hospital set is working for me (despite the bambo tiki lounge motif)

    I think a lot of that has to do with them finally getting the lighting right for those sets. Previously, the lighting was not flattering at all. But that’s one of the many kinks they had to work out.

    My two main complaints are fairly minor:

    1. Continuity. I can overlook snow falling in scenes where the sun was shining earlier. That’s one of the dangers of shooting outside. But continuity inside has been a problem. For example, while it was so cold outside that you could see the actors breath when they exhaled, the back door to Company was sitting WIDE OPEN. Characters come and go from outside (on the studio sets) wearing a light jacket while other characters (who really are outside) are bundled up under seveal layers.

    2. Background Music. As Damon mentioned above, the music isn’t working entirely for me, especially the folk guitar stuff. When the music swells to dramatic tension, it signals for me to pay closer attention since something important is happening. Or when they play lighthearted music, it helps me know to interpret a scene as comedic. But GL isn’t doing that consistently and I’m sometimes missing important beats in the story. Had never realized how much of a difference the music cues on soaps made until GL suddenly stopped using them consistently.

    Hi James – thanks for checking in, good to hear from you again!

    You are right, the seedy hotel is Jill’s office. And as my previous posts have said, I totally agree – it just doesn’t look good at all on screen.

    Most of the music doesn’t bother me – some of it sounds sort of indie or ambient, and I like that – but there is a big dose of plucky folk-rock coffeehouse music and I can understand why people OD on it sometimes; I do too.

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