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?