A wobbly “World” (Part I)

2458624050_aa643cdf90_oI’ve been talking so much lately about the exciting stuff that’s been happening at Guiding Light that I haven’t had as much time to talk about, or focus on, what’s going on at As The World Turns.

As much as I wish ATWT would hit its stride or have the same kind of renaissance that its sister show GL has had, we’re not quite seeing that onscreen. Viewers are pretty frustrated with the show right now.

Roger Newcomb over at We Love Soaps beautifully outlined some of those frustrations here and here.

It’s not all bad news – there are still worthwhile reasons to check into Oakdale.   The Luke/Noah story is still going strong. It’s great to see Tom and Margo more frequently – working TOGETHER as a couple. As I’ve mentioned before, Jon Lindstrom’s take on Craig has really given the role, and the show, a shot in the arm. And Julie Pinson’s Janet is one of my favorite new characters.

But I wanted to try to diagnose some of what ails the show – and suggest a few courses of treatment.

The mistakes and missteps:

20080724_bmagnussen_atwt_240x3201A blur of faces: It’s been said before, but bears repeating – ATWT has had recast fever, particularly in the last four or five years.

I went to the CBS.com page for the show and looked at the cast list there. Of the 34 actors listed there, 9 of those (mostly major characters) have been recast in the last few years. That’s 38% of the cast!

Add to that 7 more roles with relatively new characters at the front burner (I’m including Nuke here) and that’s over half of the show. And I’m not even factoring in some of the other strange faces the show has increasingly used, like all of the day players in the recent murder mystery.

I’ve watched the show since 1986, and there are days that honestly, I don’t know WHO the hell I’m watching. (You can imagine how confused occasional viewers or lapsed viewers might be!) 

You could make the argument that some of these fine actors have made the characters their own. And some of the recasts really have worked – in particular, Billy Magnusson as Casey and Jon Lindstrom’s Craig. But I think no matter how talented many of these folks are, the writing for the characters has so completely contradicted their history that they may as well have come on as a completely new character.

Paul’s personality shift might – MIGHT – be explained by his lineage, but in other characters the change is far more abrupt. Meg Snyder 2006 vintage bears almost no resemblance to Original Recipe Meg. Alison Stewart has had more faces, names and boyfriends than any of us can keep track of. Her personality seems to shift with the direction of the wind.

Every once in a while, a show can get away with retrofitting a character that perhaps wasn’t a hit the first time around, or that wasn’t deeply developed. That’s why Austin Peck has worked as Brad. But ATWT desperately needs to stop giving a new face to old favorites. 

Brunettes have more fun: While we’re on the topic of unfamiliar faces, here’s a small but important point: QUIT CASTING ALL YOUR FEMALE CHARACTERS WITH BRUNETTE ACTRESSES.

Viewers were just as confused watching GL in the 1990s, when executive producer Paul Rauch seemed to have a thing for blonde actresses. We were at least familiar with most of those actresses, but here on ATWT it’s just plain confusing. 

There are STILL times when I watch a scene and think, “That’s Julie Pinson….no, wait, it’s Noelle Beck. No, definitely Julie….” until Holden and Luke come in and I realize that, indeed, it was Lily onscreen (and therefore Noelle).

It may be just the hair color, or the fact that many of the actresses had the same hairstyle. (At least Marnie Schulenberg cut her hair shorter, so we could distinguish Alison from the other Brunette Babes.)

I can’t even blame it on Chris Goutman’s personal preferences – after all, he’s married to the very fabulous Marcia McCabe, who is blonde – but perhaps the production team just wasn’t aware of how confusing it looks on screen.

Deja vu: Storywise, ATWT seems to have fallen into a rut. There are several themes or textures that keep repeating over – and over – and over again.

Baby rabies. Katie and Vienna are only the most recent Oakdale residents to fall victim to this disease. We get that Katie loves Brad, and that she’s as impulsive as big sister Margo, but having her be so driven to get pregnant so quickly made no sense. These ladies join a pool of baby-rabies sufferers that included Gwen, Meg, Rosanna, and Sofie. Couple that with the big focus on Johnny and Eliza, and the audience is on toddler overload. 

Guys and dolls. It’s a given that soap characters will commit crimes, or be accused (even if wrongly so) of committing one, and characters are more fun when they’re not perfect. But the writers at ATWT seem to be stuck in a rut, and in an attempt to make characters, especially younger characters “edgy”, they’re all saddled with criminal pasts or a generally thuggish personality.

They want us to buy the Casey/Alison/Matt triangle, but it’s hard to find the rooting value in a triangle with two ex-cons and an ex-porn actress. Lucy is a kidnapper; Will Munson was a killer (albeit an unintentional one); Adam an attempted rapist. And most of the day players we’ve seen (Elwood, Reg, Mark) all had semi-criminal or criminal aspects to them.  

It’s exciting to watch a real anti-hero, but we don’t want to see a canvas full of them. There are ways to make young characters edgy and/or relevant without giving them a rap sheet. I wish ATWT would find them!

Age-inappropriate stories. Speaking of ways to make younger characters compelling, ATWT also needs to stop giving its teen characters so many adult issues. Parker and Liberty’s marriage is almost an exact copy of Gwen and Will from 2 years ago. 

And poor Casey Hughes has, in his short life, dealt with an almost-dead brother, a serial killer, and a jail stint. Enough already!

I’ll give ATWT points for not giving us a bunch of glib, vapid teenagers who speak in text talk and whose skills are limited to tossing their hair and saying “OMG!” But as I said above, there are ways to be relevant and edgy without giving them the same stories that older characters are saddled with.  

Doom and darkness. ATWT has become much darker thematically in the last five or six years. As much as I love Grayson McCouch as an actor and appreciate his portrayal of Dusty, the writing for the character seems to be lifted directly from an episode of General Hospital.  Meg’s relationships with Craig and Paul border on abusive – a pertinent topic in the wake of the Chris Brown/Rihanna incident. Guns, drugs or murder have permeated nearly every corner of the canvas.

You need to have darkness in a story to appreciate the lighter aspects. But the opposite is true as well – we need light to muddle through the the complications. ATWT is often varied shades of gray and black, storywise.  

Veteran vacuum. Let’s be honest here; ATWT is unique in that it has a significant cast of veteran actors who, whether recurring or contract, are part of the canvas. Nancy, Bob, Kim, Lisa, Tom, Margo, Emma, Lucinda, Barbara, and Susan are characters/actors who are all around or over 50 and have been part of the show for over 20 years. 

Hastings.HaysBut other than Tom and Margo, we’re not seeing any of those characters on a consistent basis. Involving Lucinda in the Nuke story was genius, and the revelation that Brian is gay was inventive, but after that story played out, Lucinda seemed to disappear.

I know there may be extenuating circumstances as to why we haven’t seen Nancy (though we’d still love to see the show do the tribute to Nancy – and Helen Wagner – that was announced last fall) and Barbara (with Colleen Zenk Pinter’s health scares – get well Colleen!).

We did get to see Bob, Kim and Susan in the midst of the Chris/Alison story last year, but they’ve been in hiding since. 

The bigger point, as Roger Newcomb recently said, is that we’re totally missing a sense of community. It’s not that we expect all of these characters to be front burner every day. But new viewers have no sense of who many of these people are, or what they mean to each other. And that’s sad. 

 

See Part II here to read a few humble suggestions for making Oakdale a more compelling place to visit. 

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One thought on “A wobbly “World” (Part I)

  1. I agree with a lot that you stated. I wish TPTB would get the show back on the right track. It’s a hot mess and it seems to get worse with each day. ATWT has one of the strongest casts coupled with some of the worst writing not to mention the wretched storylines on repeat.

    When I watch the show, I often feel like TPTB aren’t even trying to provide entertainment anymore to the audience and are just going through the motions. It’s dreary and unexciting 95% of the time.

    And what’s with telling stories at breakneck speed?

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